216 posts categorized "Credit Policy & Regulation"

Sign of the Times: Tightening Mortgage Rules in Europe

posted by Jason Kilborn

EuroMortgageLoanTwo stories in today's world news caught my attention because they were both related to rising consumer debt and tightening mortgage rules. 

First, Sweden is proposing a particularly aggressive approach to reducing the weight of mortgage debt on consumers' balance sheets. The new accelerated amortization rules really struck me from a comparative US perspective: Swedes borrowing more than 70% of the value of their homes would have to pay the loan down by 2% a year (that's 2% of the principal) until the LTV falls to 70%, then 1% of the principal of the loan each year until LTV reaches 50%, the desired level. Wow. In the 15 years that I've been wrestling with a variety of home mortgages, I don't think I've ever paid 2% of the principal (given the back-loaded amortization schedule of most standard US home mortgage loans). To make matters worse (better?), the Swedish central bank is also considering grabbing onto the third rail of US tax reform--reducing tax deductions for mortgage interest. These are pretty aggressive moves to cool off the mortgage market and bring down consumer leverage, and they stand in stark contrast to efforts in the US and the other country in today's news ...

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A Bubble in Deceptive, Abusive Subprime Auto Lending?

posted by Jean Braucher

In a long story in today's edition, the New York Times is reporting a bubble in often deceptive and abusive subprime auto lending on unaffordable terms, including very high rates of interest.  Although not quite the threat to the overall economy that the subprime mortgage bubble created eight or nine years ago, this apparent new bubble in lending for used vehicles has some similar features (targeting vulnerable consumers, lax underwriting, securitization, investors seeking high returns) and is causing significant pain for low income and unsophisticated borrowers.  A few regulators are mentioned in the story, but oversight so far seems to have been lax.

Pre-paid Cards Enter the Credit Market, Thwarting the Primary Impetus for Using the Cards

posted by Nathalie Martin

A while back, The PEW Charitable Trust did two fascinating papers, found here and here, on prepaid cards. The studies reported that nearly 12 million consumers loaded more than $64 billion onto prepaid cards in 2012, and that three of the top 10 companies now offering prepaid cards are highly recognizable banking institutions that did not offer the product before. This is a big change. Indeed, we here at credit slips do not even have a category for stories on pre-paid cards, but the cards are the next big thing. Since these reports came out, I have seen numerous conferences advertised to help people learn more about how to make money issuing pre-paid cards. The business plan for making more money from a seemingly simple payment device? Offering overdraft “protection” for the cards, meaning that if the money is gone, the card holder can just overdraw the pre-paid card…for a few bucks of course. Hmmm…

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Debt Collection Complaints and Regulation: Last Chance to Comment on ANPR

posted by Dalié Jiménez

Today is your last chance to comment on the CFPB's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Regulation F, regarding debt collection.  I had the pleasure of working with Pat McCoy on a joint comment to the ANPR.  Our comment addresses documentation and information requirements for collectors, chain of title issues, and debt repositories.

After reading two reports released yesterday I'm even more convinced that these are among the most critical issues.  The FTC announced their top 2013 complaints (debt collection still the top industry complained about) and US PIRG released a report on the more than 11,000 complaints the CFPB received on debt collection over a six month period.  The PIRG report in particular highlights just how important the integrity of the information and documentation passed from collector to collector is (and how badly this is working right now).  Most consumers were complaining that the debt was not theirs (25%), they were not given enough information to verify the debt (13%), or that the debt had already been paid (11%).  

This is exactly the underlying issue that we address in our ANPR comment: something is very wrong when a debt buyer only gets a spreadsheet with some information about the debt, gets no documents in connection with the debt, signs a contract where the seller doesn't stand behind the information sold (and sometimes specifically says amounts or interest may be wrong), and then attempts to collect on that debt. I've argued that this violates the FDCPA.  In our comment we try to propose some ways to fix this problem going forward.

I urge Credit Slips readers to send in your comments before the 11:59pm deadline.

Debt Collection Industry Poised for Changes

posted by Dalié Jiménez

Like Pamela, I’m very delighted to join Credit Slips. As Bob mentioned in his kind introduction, I spent a year as a policy fellow at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. One of the most things I got to work on while I was there were the rules defining "large market participants" in the debt collection and credit reporting markets. After issuing final rules, the CFPB began to supervise these non-bank entities; marking the first time any federal regulator had the authority to do so. 

Recently, the Bureau published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on debt collection (comments are due by February 28). The ANPR marks the first time that a regulator will interpret the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a statute that has barely changed since its enactment in 1977. What's more, because of its UDAAP authority; the CFPB will be able to write rules defining unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices that apply to both collectors and creditors. I've written elsewhere about how the systemic problems in the collections ecosystem begin at the creditor, so this is exciting news. What might be surprising though is that the collections industry seems to share in this excitement.

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Supreme Court Discrimination Case Settles

posted by Alan White

Banks and insurance companies are apparently gnashing their teeth at the news that the Mt. Holly case pending before the Supreme Court has been settled.  The case itself does not involve financial services; it arose from a Fair Housing Act claim that a neighborhood redevelopment plan would  have a discriminatory impact on black residents.  The legal issue is whether the Fair Housing Act permits discrimination claims based on disparate impact.  This issue has been resolved unanimously by 11 Circuit Courts of Appeal.   HUD, the agency charged with enforcing the FHA, recently issued regulations confirming its long-standing interpretation that disparate impact claims are permitted. The Supreme Court's grant of review in the case is a clear signal that at least 4 activist Justices were prepared to overrule all 11 Courts of Appeal and HUD, and insist on proof of discriminatory intent in fair housing suits. 

The 1968 Fair Housing Act is not new, nor is disparate impact analysis, i.e. establishing race discrimination without showing intent to discriminate. What has prompted an all-out assault by banks and their lawyers is the decision by the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder and by other federal agencies to use disparate impact analysis against mortgage lenders, and not just against realtors and landlords.  Banks and their allies in the business press are hysterical about disparate impact analysis because it forces financial institutions to be mindful of the impact their credit policies have on the huge and recently expanded racial wealth gap in this country, and to adjust lending policies to mitigate the racial divide.  Between 2005 and 2009, white Americans lost 16% of their net worth; black Americans lost 53% of their net worth.  Access to mortgage credit, and the interest rates paid for that credit, have a major impact on family wealth.

If realtors and landlords must avoid discriminatory policies to further the goal of equal housing opportunity, it seems only fair that banks, beneficiaries of continuing taxpayer subsidies and safety nets, should have some duty to advance the same public goal.

Academics for Sale

posted by Bob Lawless

Whatever force academics have in public debate comes not from a claim that we are somehow smarter than others but because we can claim the persuasive force of having opinions that have not been purchased by others. Over the years, I have watched the line between legal academic and paid advocate slowly erode--a trend that is perhaps not uncoincidental with the downward drift of the influence of legal academics in public debate.

It seems The Nation has been noticing also. While I was on the road last week, the magazine published a story entitled "The Scholars Who Shill for Wall Street," The article begins with a discussion of the activities of Professor Todd Zywicki, who will be known to many readers of this blog.

The issues raised by this article are particularly acute for legal academics, where normative claims are often standard fare. Indeed, I often hear criticism of legal scholarship for failure to make a normative claim. There is no methodology -- at least no agreed-upon methodology -- to assess different normative claims. The article is entirely correct when it suggests more disclosure of academics' financial interests where they are speaking in public policy fora. And, these disclosures should occur not just for things like congressional testimony but in other outlets for academics' work -- including law reviews and, yes, even blogs.

New Empirical Paper on Home Mortgage Foreclosure and Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

RibbonHouse Cross-campus colleagues and I have posted a paper that studies intersections between mortgage foreclosure, chapters of bankruptcy, and other variables, using the Center for Community Capital's unique panel dataset of lower-income homeowners. An excerpt from the abstract:

We analyze 4,280 lower-income homeowners in the United States who were more than 90 days late paying their 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. Two dozen organizations serviced these mortgages and initiated foreclosure between 2003 and 2012. We identify wide variation between mortgage servicers in their likelihood of bringing the property to auction. We also show that when homeowners in foreclosure filed for bankruptcy, foreclosure auctions were 70% less likely. Chapters 7 and 13 both reduce the hazard of auction, but the effect is five times greater for Chapter 13, which contains enhanced tools to preserve homeownership. Bankruptcy’s effects are strongest in states that permit power-of-sale foreclosure or withdraw homeowners’ right-of-redemption at the time of auction.

Bear in mind that most homeowners in foreclosure in this sample did not file for bankruptcy. Among the 8% or so who did, the majority filed chapter 13. For even more context, please read the paper - brevity is among its virtues, and exhibits take credit for page length. A later version will ultimately appear in Housing Policy Debate.

Ribbon house image courtesy of Shutterstock.

New State Exemption Survey

posted by Alan White

Federal bankruptcy law defers to the states on a critical issue: what is the basic minimum income and property that debtors need not surrender to creditors.  Four states protect 100% of workers' wages, while 21 states allow creditors to garnish debtors' wages down to 50% of the poverty level for a family of 4, according to a new report from the National Consumer Law Center.   Similarly only 9 states protect a used car of  average value from seizure, and state home exemptions are still all over the map.  Even the exemptions that exist are often evaded by the $100 billion debt buyer industry, whose collection suits are dominating civil court dockets around the country. 

This comprehensive and timely survey will be an essential tool not only for bankruptcy research, but also for anyone who cares about economic inequality and the plight of the working poor.

Why Is the Fed Chairman a Bank Regulator (or an Economist)?

posted by Adam Levitin

The NY Times has a pretty significant error in its reporting on the Summers vs. Yellen Fed Chair race. It says that Yellen was the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which was Countrywide's regulator. That's wrong. FRBSF was never Countrywide's primary regulator. That was the OCC and then OTS. The regional Feds are not anyone's primary regulator, not least as they are private entities, not government agencies. They arguably have a secondary quasi-regulatory role, but that's it. They are not the same as the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, which is a federal regulator. Yellen really can't be tagged with any of the blame for Countrywide, at least based on what's reported. The NYT should correct this point, which comes off as a bit of a smear on Yellen.

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Buying Hope

posted by Melissa Jacoby

NumbersThose interested in The Stakes of Design back in April may appreciate Why We Keep Playing The Lottery. Thanks to The Morning News for alerting readers to the article, and thanks to author Rosecrans Baldwin for co-founding The Morning News, and . . . that's enough.

Numbers image courtesy of Shutterstock

Don't Fancy Games (For Your Kids' Financial Education)? How About The Theatre?

posted by Melissa Jacoby

MoneyTree"Make it fun and they will come," Lauren Willis discussed in the instructive post that evaluated the pros and cons of "The Gamification of Financial Education." Meanwhile, in London, a live show has been designed for children as young as five to teach them about the financial system. Interesting story on the show in The Guardian here. Tickets to "Bank On It" (running through the 14th of July) and other information here.   

Money tree image courtesy of Shutterstock 

Supreme Court to Hear Housing Discrimination Case

posted by Alan White
The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in MOUNT HOLLY, NJ, ET AL. V. MT. HOLLY GARDENS CITIZENS, on the question whether Fair Housing Act claims of race discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing can be proven based on evidence of disparate impact. The case does not directly involve credit, but is being watched closely by bank lawyers and fair lending advocates for the impact it will have on Fair Housing Act litigation against mortgage lenders.

Tire Rentals

posted by Bob Lawless

Wheel and jackThe latest twist on the rent-to-own schemes seems to be car tires, as reported by Ken Bensinger in the L.A. Times. Consumers end up spending many times more "renting" car tires than the cash price at Wal-Mart. Obviously, the transactions are principally just incredibly expensive ways to finance the purchase of tires, which makes me wonder why the businesses involved in the market are offering tire rentals instead of  just  expensive credit. People in dire financial straits will take extraordinary steps to get the necessities of life, including tires, but I wonder why calling it a "rental" rather than a "loan" seems to matter. Although a few Google searches suggested the market for used car tires is more robust than I would have thought, it would not seem likely that the possibility of repossessing and reselling a used car tire is motivating the economics of the transactions.

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Who is Mel Watt?

posted by Jean Braucher

On May 1, President Obama nominated Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to be the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

These two entities together currently back a large majority of new mortgages and hold or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages. Like other entities immersed in the mortgage market, Fannie and Freddie suffered great losses in the mortgage meltdown and were taken over by the federal government at the end of the Bush administration in September 2008.

Watt could be a key figure in the late stages of the mortgage crisis and in redefining the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going forward.  So who is this eleven-term congressman and what does he care about most?

Probably the most important points to stress are these:  He rose from humble beginnings through the meritocracy and is a Yale-educated lawyer who likes to immerse himself in the facts.  He is broadly respected at home in Charlotte, N.C., and represents a safe district where he has biracial support.  He carefully listens to the financial services industry, a major player in his community, and one that has supported his campaigns.  Most important of all, he has made working for the economic well-being of African Americans his life’s work, whether as a lawyer in private practice representing minority businesses or as a lawmaker seeking to shore up consumer protection, particularly to strengthen the legal basis for challenging predatory lending, often used against racial minorities and other vulnerable populations.

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Obama to Replace DeMarco at FHFA

posted by Alan White

with Mel Watt, according to an AP story today. Congressman Watt of North Carolina was a moving force behind Miller-Watt-Frank, the mortgage reform legislation that eventually found its way into Dodd-Frank financial reform. Given that our all-but-nationalized housing finance system is directed by this somewhat obscure agency, the occupant of this post can have a huge influence on the future direction of credit, housing and the economy.

If he is confirmed, Watt can be expected to make major changes to Fannie and Freddie policies, for example on principal write-downs and cracking down on mortgage servicer errors and abuses. Perhaps he could also begin to envision a more rational future assignment of the public and private roles in financing homes, in which public subsidy serves a public purpose and private capital carries the burden of its own credit risk.

IFR Scandal: Magnitude of Mortgage Servicing Failure

posted by Alan White
Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 9.56.52 AM

A remarkable tabulation of the more than 3 million homeowners found to have been victims of mortgage servicing errors or fraud was released last week by the Fed and other bank regulators.  About 25,000 foreclosures were started while homeowners were in bankruptcy, nearly 200,000 foreclosures were completed on homeowners in approved modification plans, and another 168,000 foreclosures sales were conducted while modification requests were pending. 

Recall that these wrongful foreclosure tallies include only servicing in 2009 and 2010, and that the 3 million estimated violations by 11 banks are out of a nationwide total of about 50 million mortgages outstanding, about 7 million of which were delinquent at any given time in that period. 

Worse, Senator Warren extracted an admission from bank regulators and the "independent consultants" at a hearing on Thursday (short version here) that neither the regulators nor the consultants checked the tally, which was produced by the bank servicers themselves.  The Fed and OCC also declined to release bank-by-bank tallies, or to share their investigation results with consumer victims who might want to seek compensation from the civil justice system.  If the large bank servicers are too big for the Fed and OCC to regulate, perhaps the CFPB can tackle this job when its mortgage servicing rules go into effect next January.

No One is Immune from Credit Card Fraud, Not even the Chief Justice

posted by Nathalie Martin

Wow. Credit card fraud really can happen to anyone, as the Washington Post's Al Kamen reported this afternoon.  Apparently U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts had his credit card number stolen and had to pay cash for his morning Starbucks.

This story raises so many questions.  First, how many credit cards does Justice Roberts carry?  Could it be that he carries just one? Second, what type of card was it? Third, where was it compromised? Fourth, how much hutzpah does this thief have? Did the thief not know who he or she was dealing with?  Finally, I wonder if this event might bear on future consumer law cases before the court. One thing is clear. Even important people have to watch thier backs.

A Final Pet Peeve: The Right to Consumer Financial Industry Data

posted by Lauren Willis

Thank you to the Credit Slips team for allowing me to use their soapbox for the last few weeks.  I leave you with a final pet peeve: Why does the government have to rely on commercially-collected financial industry data sets or voluntary surveys of financial firms to discover the effects of policies the government has put in place? This is just embarrassing. The U.S. government has so little power over the financial industry – an industry that only exists by virtue of the full faith and credit, payments systems, FDIC insurance, etc. provided by the U.S. government – that it cannot demand data from banks and financial firms, but instead must ask politely for voluntary survey answers or search the data market and pay for information like a commoner? 

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When a Billion Dollars has Eight Digits; Taking Authorization Seriously

posted by Melissa Jacoby

CloudytitleMove over, two ships Peerless. Even in legal regimes that prioritize substance over form, errors in the execution of formalities can produce significant consequences and the risk of transactional failure. And even chapter 11 cases featuring quick asset sales can generate litigation over such formalities for years to come. A recent example illustrates both points.  

On March 1, 2013, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York issued and certified a judgment for direct appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision grants summary judgment in Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors of Motors Liquidation Company v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. et al, adversary proceeding 09-00504, in the GM bankruptcy. The decision already has received in-depth summaries, at least in some law firm bulletins. If the Second Circuit accepts a direct appeal, I aspire to watch the oral arguments, but hope it will be easier to find a seat in the courtroom than in NML v. Argentina.   

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Dancing Around the Risk Question

posted by Lauren Willis

Reflecting on my last two posts – price caps, loan structure requirements, underwriting rules – discussing any of these puts the cart before the horse. We know we want to rein in risk without cutting off access to credit that is not too risky. But how much risk is too much risk when it comes to credit? 

I began posing this question to audiences at one of the very first talks I gave as an academic (a 2005 talk about predatory mortgage lending), but while most of my talks generate plenty of responses, not once has a single audience member attempted to answer this question.  

It is a remarkably difficult question to answer, one that varies with the expected costs and expected benefits, to borrowers, lenders, and society, of each extension of credit. Moreover, actual future costs and benefits are often unknown and perhaps unknowable (meaning we are dealing with uncertainty, not merely outcomes with known risk distributions) and incommensurable (meaning tradeoffs are difficult).

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The Virtues of Price Caps

posted by Lauren Willis

In the last post I discussed the potential benefits of price caps in the small loan market, one of which was to bring the price down to what consumer price shopping would produce if it were present in that market. Now I would like to turn to the potential benefit of price caps in even the most (albeit still quite imperfectly) price-competitive credit market, the mortgage market.

While superficially appearing to be about price, the primary potential benefit of credit price regulation is that it can rein in risk. Even in the small loan market, the primary problem is not paying high, noncompetitive prices, but the risk of not being able to pay off the principal and then being trapped in debt servitude to a loan shark. This trap imposes social costs and high psychological costs on the borrower. The primary problem in the mortgage crisis has also been risk, the risk of default and foreclosure. Risk is intimately tied to price in both situations, but setting a “fair” or “efficient” price seems to me to be to be secondary. (Then again, I am culturally tone-deaf, so maybe fairness in pricing is really what has motivated usury restrictions over the centuries; some historical accounts, however, place the risk of debt servitude as the primary motivator).

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Usury and the Loan Shark Myth

posted by Lauren Willis

Consumer financial education, disclosure, and defaults all dispensed with in my prior posts, shall we move on to “substantive” regulation, dare I even say “usury”? Before we do that, I need to clear up another myth that, like the belief in the efficacy of consumer financial education, is deeply ingrained: the loan shark myth.

Forthcoming in the Washington & Lee Law Review is a historical expose of the relationship – or lack thereof – between credit price regulation in the small loan market and loan sharking. The author, political scientist Robert Mayer, finds that what the popular culture has called loan sharking consists of two different types: violent and nonviolent. Both have been characterized by: (1) high prices, in excess of usury restrictions where such restrictions have applied, and (2) short-term, nonamortizing loans made to people who have a decent likelihood of being able to pay the interest amount due at maturity but a low likelihood of being able to pay off the principal balance, resulting in a steady stream of interest income to the lender as the loans roll over and over. It is this second feature that in the 19th Century first earned even nonviolent loan sharks their “shark” moniker – a single loan, even if it is expensive, looks harmless enough, but stealthily traps the borrower in a cycle of debt.

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Minimum Wage & Consumer Borrowing

posted by Bob Lawless

Over at VoxEU, economists Daniel Aronson and Eric French have a discussion about the their research of the effects of a minimum wage hike. I found my way to this post through Yves Smith's discussion of the topic at Naked Capitalism, which also includes some informative tables showing that the proposed hike to $9/hour is still below a living wage in many areas of the country.

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National Consumer Protection Week and Disclosure 3.0

posted by Jean Braucher

It’s National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW)!   Federal, state, local, and nonprofit consumer protection agencies and organizations are making extra efforts to promote consumer awareness

First I have to get out of my system thoughts of Tom Lehrer’s song, National Brotherhood Week:

                Step up and shake the hand/Of someone you can’t stand . . .

                It’s only for a week so have no fear/Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year.

But to get back on message, of particular interest to Credit Slips readers is this part of the mission of consumer protection described on the NCPW website:

    "Financial Fraud Scams: American consumers owe a whopping $11.31 trillion dollars in debt and are behind on paying about $1.01 trillion of that amount. Mortgages, student loans, and credit cards account for a large portion of that debt. Consumers are often haunted with huge monthly payments, and fraudsters take advantage of that with debt relief scams, tax scams, and other financial fraud scams. Scams target individuals who are in financial distress, but they fail to fulfill their promises, and typically leave consumers worse off than when they started."

Let me say that Lauren Willis has done a great job on this site recently taking us, patiently and painstakingly, through the many problems with the idea that disclosure can be refined into a digital juggernaut to protect consumers. See here  and here and here.

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When Nudges Fail: Slippery Defaults

posted by Lauren Willis

Now that my last few posts have bludgeoned consumer financial education and at least bloodied disclosure, and given that my suggestion of comprehension requirements is completely untested as a means of consumer protection for financial products, what about “nudges”? 

One nudge I have taken a close look at is the use of policy defaults. Defaults are settings or rules about the way products, policies, or legal relationships function that apply unless people take action to change them. Although some defaults in the law are mere gap-fillers and others, as pointed out by Ian Ayres and Robert Gertner, penalize one or more parties with the intention that the parties will contract out of them, policy defaults aim for stickiness. The idea behind policy defaults is to set the default to a position that is good for most individuals, under the assumption that only the minority who have clear preferences to the contrary will opt out. 

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Disclosure 3.0: Making Disclosure Smarter

posted by Lauren Willis

What if, instead of making the consumer smarter or the disclosures more comprehensible, as discussed in my last several posts, we made financial product disclosures smarter? For the uninitiated, “smart disclosure,” according to the federal White House Task Force on Smart Disclosure, is “the release of data sets in usable forms that enable consumers to compare and choose between complex services.” The Task Force description continues: “Smart disclosure requires service providers to make data about the full range of their service offerings available in machine-readable formats such that consumers can then use these data to make informed choices about the goods and services they use. While consumers may access the data directly in some cases, the data may also be useful in enabling government agencies or third parties to create online tools for consumer choice.” 

The idea is that both the government and firms will be required to release, in close to real time, complete price, feature, and performance data about products and services offered by the firm or government entity (“product data”) so that consumers can input their own preferences into on-line or mobile app tools (“infomediaries”) that can then recommend the products or services that will best meet those preferences. Kayak for everything! 

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Putting Disclosure to the Test: User Comprehension Requirements

posted by Lauren Willis

Given the limitations of Disclosure 2.0 and Disclosure 2.5 I described in my last posts, what is to be done? To answer this question, we might first ask what financial product disclosure is attempting to achieve. Although disclosure has several aims, one is consumer comprehension to the degree necessary to enable good decisions. Disclosure rules require particular information to be imparted, often in a specified format. What if the law instead allowed firms to disclose whatever truthful and nonmisleading content they choose in whatever format they choose, but required firms to demonstrate, through field-based testing, consumer comprehension of the key facts about the financial product needed to make a good fact-based decision? 

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Facebook & Credit Scores

posted by Bob Lawless

From the February 9th Economist:

Some firms piece together scores by analysing applicants’ online social networks. Professional contacts on LinkedIn are especially revealing of an applicant’s “character and capacity” to repay, says Navin Bathija, the founder of Neo, a start-up that assesses the creditworthiness of car-loan applicants. Neo’s software helps determine if applicants’ claimed jobs are real by looking, with permission, at the number and nature of LinkedIn connections to co-workers. . . .

Neo’s efforts to improve accuracy include recording borrowers’ Facebook data: Mr Bathija reckons that within a year there will be enough evidence to determine if making racist comments on Facebook is correlated with a lack of creditworthiness.

Racists? Sure, let's jack up their borrowing costs. But, if linking to cat videos on Facebook is correlated with a lack of creditworthiness, people are going to get upset.

The article is worth a read as it shows where we might be heading with Big Data and credit scoring. Regulation does and undoubtedly will play a major role in drawing boundary lines around what data can be used in credit scoring. But, where Big Data offers competitive advantages, companies will seek it out. It will be tough to get the genie back in the bottle once the horses have left the barn.

H/t to Frank Venis.

Disclosure 2.5: Moving from the Lab to the Field

posted by Lauren Willis

If financial education classes and lab-tested disclosures are unlikely to help consumers in their real-world financial decisions, what about field-tested targeted education/disclosure? Exciting work by Marianne Bertrand and Adair Morse shows that information given to payday borrowers can reduce their future borrowing, holding payday lender behavior static. Although this last caveat seriously limits the external validity of their results, the potential implications of their work are wonderful enough to be deserving of a full description here.

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Disclosure 2.0: Disclosure in the Lab

posted by Lauren Willis

If, as I suggested in my last post, making the consumer smarter is hopeless, at least for those of us whose prenatal and early childhood environments can no longer be altered, what about disclosure?  Could point-of-sale disclosure equip consumers to make good financial decisions? 

Simple disclosures appear effective in directly aiding consumer decisionmaking in some domains, the A, B, and C restaurant hygiene grades being the classic example.  But because financial products have many varying features that consumers need to understand to make good decisions, financial product disclosures are inevitably much more complex.  As a recent article by Omri Ben-Shahar and Carl Schneider details, generally speaking, consumers do not read, or if they do read they do not understand, or if they do understand they do not use correctly, the information presented in complex product disclosures.

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Which Consumer Financial Education Programs Are Most Effective?: Assuming a Fact Not in Evidence

posted by Lauren Willis

Thank you to the Credit Slips team for inviting me to guest blog.  First I must warn the reader that I am not a real blogger (I’m a bit of a Luddite - I don’t even have a smartphone).  But I’m going to join the 21st Century for a bit here.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts and some recent research pertinent to modes of consumer financial protection, from financial literacy education to policy defaults to product regulation.  As some of you already know, I have been critical of all of these.  But here I will also suggest some underexplored alternative routes to achieve the same ends of consumer financial well-being that have eluded us in the past.

I'll start today with financial education.  The CFPB would like your comments on “effective financial education approaches that create opportunities for consumers to improve their financial decision making capabilities.”  I thought I had blown up this myth already.  And others keep proving me right.  If you were at this past year’s Boulder Summer Conference on Consumer Financial Decision Making you know that a soon-to-be released exhaustive meta-analysis of past studies demonstrates that financial education does not produce better financial outcomes, and another study using a much larger dataset and a more robust set of controls than past work finds that financial literacy does not lead to improved financial outcomes. 

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Fair Lending Law Developments

posted by Alan White

Race -it continues to determine the availability and the price of credit, and particularly home financing, as each annual release of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data reminds us. No matter how much empiricists control for credit scores, home values, and other relevant variables, racial minorities, especially African-Americans, are more likely to be denied credit or charged higher rates than similarly-qualified Whites. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has just issued its final rule confirming that the Fair Housing Act prohibits home lending practices with a discriminatory impact on protected groups, and not just overt intentional discrimination.  Disparate impact analysis, based on the Supreme Court's longstanding interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, has been approved as a method of proving discrimination in all the Courts of Appeals to consider the issue. For example, the Justice Department's 2011 case against Countrywide alleged that the lender gave pricing discretion and created incentives for loan officers that resulted in discriminatory pricing.  The case resulted in a $335 million settlement.

Nevertheless, lenders' lawyers have been vigorously contesting the disparate impact issue in cases under the Fair Housing Act and also under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bans discrimination in all forms of credit.  The Supreme Court accepted cert. in a Minnesota case in 2011, but the City of St. Paul was persuaded to withdraw the case to avoid a ruling.  Civil rights advocates are hopeful that the HUD regulation will receive some deference from a Supreme Court that might otherwise be inclined to go with the banks on this issue.  Another cert. petition is pending before the Court in a case against Mt. Holly New Jersey.  The Court asked the Solicitor General to file a brief in the case in October, but has not ruled on the cert. petition yet. For more details, see the ProPublica story here.

OCC Review Whistleblower

posted by Alan White
Adam Levitin predicted here that the "independent" review of banks' foreclosure files ordered by the OCC in the wake of the robosigning scandals would be a sham, based among other things on the adverts to hire the reviewers.  Now, one apparently overqualified reviewer has told his story at Naked Capitalism, and it is worse than Adam predicted.  The banks are actively and successfully suppressing efforts  by reviewers to identify foreclosure errors and abuses and to identify and compensate victims.  Perhaps this could be the subject of a hearing for the newly constituted Senate Banking Committee...

What I Love about Kiva.org

posted by Alan White

Kiva.org is the on-line microlending network that allows anyone to lend $25 or more to individual low-income borrowers around the world for micro-enterprise and housing.   Kiva is an entirely different way of thinking about credit and financial intermediation. While it may be small, it is an example of the real utopias described by Erik Olin Wright in his 2012 presidential address to the American Sociology Association.

Through kiva’s web site, anyone wishing to make a loan can browse the descriptions of borrower projects. For example, a woman in Central America has applied for $350 to buy bricks, cement, wire, sand, gravel and iron to build on to her house, and proposes to repay over 15 months. NGOs prepare the loan descriptions, disburse and collect loans and provide support services to borrowers. 

The interest paid by the borrower covers the costs of payment transfers, underwriting and supervision of the loans and the administration of the program.  Lenders receive no interest.  Those of us with some surplus wealth can put it to productive use without insisting on enriching ourselves as a reward for being (at least relatively) wealthy.   This is especially painless at the moment when interest rates for savers in the conventional retail banking sector are low, but it can also give us an opportunity to reflect on the deep capture of contemporary economic thinking by the idea that capital is entitled to, and must always, earn interest for being put to use.

With its capacity to connect thousands of individual lenders with thousands of individual borrowers, kiva also points one way to solving to the maturity mismatch that creates so much risk for conventional banks.  An individual lender/saver can browse a list of thousands of potential loans of varying maturities, and match his or her own cash needs with the borrower’s.  There are no 30-year mortgages on kiva (yet) but the possibility is there. 

Whether microlending and microfinance generally are a net welfare benefit foScreen shot 2012-12-08 at 10.22.10 AMr poor borrowers is a complex and controversial question, to which there are a variety of empirical and theoretical responses.  Other peer-to-peer lending and crowdfuding experiments without the social mission have raised a host of problems, including high default rates.  I can say, though, that I experience more happiness browsing my kiva.org portfolio (see picture) than any of my other account statements.

CFPB's Anti-Abuse Authority: A Promising Development in Substantive Consumer Protection

posted by Jean Braucher

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is doing something promising with its anti-abuse authority under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  It is going after credit industry exploitation of consumers, particularly when business models involve using confusing terms that disclosure cannot adequately address.  See my paper on this topic. So I was not surprised to see George Will attacking this development.   We can't have smart, effective consumer protection, no matter how popular it might be.

In a column published in many newspapers this week,Will wrote: “The CFPB's mission is to prevent practices it is empowered to ‘declare’ are ‘unfair, deceptive, or abusive.’ Law is supposed to give people due notice of what is proscribed or prescribed, and developed law does so concerning ‘unfair’ and ‘deceptive’ practices. Not so, ‘abusive.’”

The flaws in Will's critique are legion. First, the CFPB has given lots of notice of what it is doing, in a detailed examination handbook.

Continue reading "CFPB's Anti-Abuse Authority: A Promising Development in Substantive Consumer Protection" »

MyConsumerTips.info

posted by Amy Schmitz
I have been working for a few years in developing and creating a consumer outreach website at MyConsumerTips.info.  The site is purely non-profit and has no sponsors or advertisers. It aims to simply provide consumers with “consumer tips” that change each day, independent summaries regarding debt-related and other consumer rights, quizzes and polls regarding such issues, and other consumer protection resources. It is user-friendly and interactive. This is part of my larger “Consumer Empowerment”service and experiential learning projects, and outreach endeavors.

Unfortunately, it is tough to gain traction for such non-profit sites without paying for promotions through Google or others. Also, there so many sites that purport to provide consumer resources that individuals suffer information overload and are not sure what to trust.

Hopefully, MyConsumerTips.info will deservedly gain trust, do some good and expand in ways that benefit consumers!  Check it out.

Protecting Public Rights

posted by Amy Schmitz

Contracts professors, policymakers, consumer groups and others have become particularly interested in another post-AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion case.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently agreed to an en banc rehearing of Kilgore v. Keybank, 673 F.3d 947 (9th Cir. 2012).  The issue in this case is whether Concepcion precludes courts from preserving judicial access for public injunctions under state consumer protection statutes by invoking the public policy exemption from the Federal Arbitration Act's ("FAA") mandate that courts enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms.  The en banc hearing is set for some time in December of this year.

The case is important on many levels.  It raises fundamental questions about the reach of FAA preemption in the wake of Concepcion, in which the United States Supreme Court held that the FAA preempted courts from using California unconscionability law to strike a class relief waiver and order class arbitration.  Moreover, the case implicates states' power to protect individuals' access to meaningful injunctive relief in order to enforce and protect public rights under state statutes, such as consumer protection statutes.  

Continue reading "Protecting Public Rights" »

Mortgage Market 2011 - Not a Pretty Picture

posted by Alan White

The annual Federal Reserve report on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data for 2011 paints a bleak picture.  Despite interest rates at or below 4%, mortgage lending volume continued its four-year decline.  The drop in mortgage lending was particularly steep for minority home buyers, and in distressed neighborhoods.  More than 40% of home purchase loans that were made were backed by government (FHA or VA) insurance.  Overall mortgage denial rates were 31% for black applicants compared to 12% for non-Hispanic whites.  Some of the difference is explained by income and credit variables, some by lender choice (or steering) and some remains unexplained.

Interestingly, the Fed staff also measured the extent to which homeowner income was overstated on 2005 and 2006 mortgage applications, by comparing HMDA and Census income information for those years.  They found that incomes were significantly inflated on applications for mortgages in Florida, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Rhode Island.  (Does this make Rhode Island a sand state?)

If historically cheap mortgage credit is not increasing supply or stimulating demand, then there remains a fundamental misalignment between home prices and household incomes and balance sheets.  Deleveraging still has a ways to go.

In Defense of Bankruptcy Courts (or, Is Bankruptcy Really That Exceptional?)

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Although not always acknowledged expressly, exceptionalism is pervasive in bankruptcy scholarship. Some work makes no attempt to contexualize bankruptcy within the federal courts, apparently assuming its unique qualities (for example, the disinterest in most bankruptcy venue scholarship about venue laws applicable to other multi-party federal litigation). But other projects are more deliberate in their exceptionalist pursuits.

Continue reading "In Defense of Bankruptcy Courts (or, Is Bankruptcy Really That Exceptional?)" »

New Frontiers in Systemic Risk

posted by Bob Lawless
My oldest leaves for college in the morning. Yesterday, we were talking to him about his new bank account and how to use it responsibly to avoid overdrafts, fees, and such. The conversation gave me a new factor to consider in assessing the amount of systemic risk: the number of 18-year old boys with checkbooks.

Overspending in India

posted by Bob Lawless

Check out this story in the New York Times about free-wheeling consumer credit in India. Much of the article focuses on how Indians are using consumer credit to pay for cosmetic surgery. At one point, I had a collection of online advertisements offering Americans easy credit for different types of cosmetic surgery, but that was several universities ago. One of today's disappointments was discovering that file has disappeared.

Continue reading "Overspending in India" »

Arbitration Unconscionability Post-Concepcion

posted by Adam Levitin

My Georgetown colleague Rebecca Tushnet has a great post about a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling, Brewer v. Missouri Title Loans, holding that an arbitration agreement in an auto title loan was unconscionable.  The case is important because it says that post-AT&T v. Concepcion arbitration agreements are still vulnerable to attack on generally applicable contract law grounds. Perhaps contract law isn't as dead as Justice Scalia claimed in Concepcion

It's a procedural unconscionability case; the court does mentions, but does not comment on, how payments of $1000 on a $2200 loan only reduced the loan balance by 6 cents. Even Walker-Thomas Furniture would be blushing.

Continue reading "Arbitration Unconscionability Post-Concepcion" »

Article 9 and Bankruptcy Judges

posted by Melissa Jacoby

prior post addressed a proposed amendment to Article 9's official comments stating that the date of an Article 9 filing relates back to the initial filing date even if the debtor did NOT authorize the filing at that time. This post returns to that topic for two reasons. First, although it is risky to generalize, I sense that bankruptcy judges may still be unaware of this proposed amendment. This is relevant because bankruptcy judges often are on the "front lines" of Article 9 interpretation. Second, I have heard, indirectly, that at least some people want this amendment to lend approval to some lenders' current practice to routinely file without authorization during the loan application process. In other words, the loan is likely to be given within a few days, so no harm no foul. Maybe I misheard or misunderstood?  

Continue reading "Article 9 and Bankruptcy Judges" »

Recommended reading: Broome on Article 9 Financing Statements

posted by Melissa Jacoby

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of giving priority to an Article 9 financing statement only from the date on which the debtor  actually authorizes the filing, and a proposed official comment contrary to this position. My colleague Lissa Broome has just posted on SSRN an article she has written about another dimension of the issue: when secured parties file financing statements with an indication of collateral that is far broader than what the debtor authorized in the security agreement. She discusses recent cases that do not deter this activity as well as potential implications, including the chilling effect on future lending transactions.

When the debtor's signature was eliminated as a requirement for a valid financing statement in Revised Article 9, the drafters justified the change by technology: medium neutrality and facilitating paperless filing. Functionally, though, the implications go far beyond technology when you combine this change with the opportunity to file all-asset financing statements AND the broadest possible reading of the first to file or perfect rule discussed a few weeks ago.

Platform, Infrastructure, Utility?

posted by Bill Maurer & Stephen Rea

While we’ve been blogging, Stevie has begun his dissertation fieldwork in Korea. He emailed Bill the other day: “Yesterday I opened a bank account here in Seoul, and conducted the entire interaction in Korean. For some reason, I don't get an ATM card, which is really strange. But in all likelihood I had no idea what the teller was trying to say to me, so I might end up getting a card in the mail next week or something. As ‘technophiliac’ as this culture seems to be, cash is still king; outside of the large department stores and global restaurant chains, I don't see any POS terminals.”

There’s hype, there’s reality, and there’s possibility around all the cashlessness claims that follow on the heels of mobile and other digital payment platforms. We want to conclude our guest blogging with a gesture toward some of the possibilities of mobile money--and a challenge for the Credit Slips community.

Continue reading "Platform, Infrastructure, Utility?" »

One Answer to Why People Hate Banks

posted by Bob Lawless

My last post mentioned a column by Joe Nocera on debt collection practices. Nocera's column is entitled "Why People Hate the Banks," and it appears on the penultimate page of the national print edition of today's New York Times. In a moment of sweet, sweet irony, Citi provides another reason to hate the banks just by turning the page.

Continue reading "One Answer to Why People Hate Banks" »

Is Loaning Money at a 350% APR Evil?

posted by Bob Lawless

In the early part of this year, a new start-up called ZestCash launched. Founded by former Google CIO, Douglas Merrill, it appears to be an attempt at short-term consumer lending with a Google-like "don't be evil" approach and markets itself as an alternative to payday loans.The venture caught my eye when mentioned in the New York Times this weekend as part of a story about Gil Ebaz's work of adding value to different services by providing better, more reliable data.

Continue reading "Is Loaning Money at a 350% APR Evil?" »

No Mortgage Deal but Banks get Free Pass

posted by Alan White

The national mortgage settlement among federal and state regulators and major banks, announced with much fanfare on February 8, still has not produced an actual written settlement agreement, judging by the dead link on the settlement web page. That hasn't stopped the Treasury Department from announcing that Chase and BankofAmerica will receive millions in HAMP payments previously being withheld because the banks were not complying with promises they made in their contracts with Treasury to modify loans. The announcement does not say the banks are now in compliance. This is a bit ironic, given that the point of the settlement was supposed to include improving mortgage servicer performance in preventing foreclosures. It does not bode particularly well for enforcement of any future promises made by the banks in the someday-to-be-released settlement.

Kudos to Arthur Delaney at HuffPo for reading the press release, with the anodine tag line "Obama Administration Releases February Housing Scorecard," all the way through.

Credit for Parenthood (in the Wall Street Journal)

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Wall Street Journal Reporter Jessica Silver-Greenberg casts a spotlight on the market for fertility treatment loans - including loans that enable the purchase of other women's eggs  - in the article "In Vitro a Fertile Niche for Lenders."  (subscription required). Perhaps this will prompt some coverage of the adoption loan market, which also has very interesting not-for-profit lending options; the direct financial price of the credit may be low but some complicated strings are attached. My earlier efforts to broadly evaluate the impact of loans in these markets are here and here

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, visit http://listserv.uiuc.edu/archives/bankr-l.html and click on the link for "Join or leave the list." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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