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CUs a voice of reason balance Mercer says

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Credit unions are a voice of reason and balance in a time of extremes, have gained a reputation of trust among consumers, and are a very attractive financial services option to many people right now, Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Chairman Mike Mercer said in Tuesday remarks at CUNA's 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC).

Click for slide show CUNA Chairs present and past; incoming Chair Mike Mercer (l) and former Chair Harriet May (r). Click for a slideshow from day two of the 2012 GAC.
Political views and the media are both becoming increasingly polarized, Mercer noted, and Wall Street banks and Washington politicians and government officials are the "poster children" for polarization. As the polarization continues, Mercer suggested credit unions could shift their motto of "Not for profit, not for charity… but for service" to fit the times. "How about… 'Not for Wall Street, Not for Washington… but for Main Street?," he suggested.

And while credit union's role in the overall scheme of things can seem small at times, "our perch in credit union work puts us in close proximity" to people of modest resources, average educations, and big dreams that "are trying to do good things with their lives," Mercer said.

"Fundamentally, credit unions help people afford life," he added.

"Each credit union has the freedom to serve its members in its unique way, but, I believe, each credit union also has a responsibility to protect and enhance the well-being of our cooperative business model," Mercer said.

Credit union unity can also help defend the cooperative business model against the onslaught of bankers and their trade associations that seek to eliminate "credit union uniqueness," troublesome regulations, and other issues.

For the cooperative business model to endure, engagement from credit union leaders and a determination to create a consensus among these leaders is needed.. Credit union advocates will also need to make their voices heard at local town hall meetings and in the halls of Congress, Mercer added.

Going forward, Mercer said, the combined voice of credit unions could be used to speak "with clarity and courage" and to speak up on behalf of the middle class.

Mercer, who is also president/CEO of the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, was elected chairman of the CUNA board on Monday.

Udall McCarthy back MBL efforts in Senate and House

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Members of the Senate and the U.S. House both touted their support for member business lending legislation (MBL), but told attendees of the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) that lawmakers will need credit unions' help to get the legislation passed.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), sponsor of MBL bill S. 509, told the GAC crowd that he is committed to his bill, and plans to introduce it as a potential amendment to any legislation that moves on the U.S. Senate floor this year.

Udall calls his bill a common sense way to help small businesses. It has bipartisan support and Udall considered seeking to have it attached as an amendment to a pending small business bill, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. However, he was not able to because of procedural issues. As a result, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has begun the necessary steps to bring S. 509 to the Senate floor for a vote as a stand-alone bill.

A vote could on the MBL increase could come in the weeks ahead, Udall said, and he noted that S. 509 could not have come this far without the advocacy efforts of credit unions. The bill has bipartisan support.

Udall said he would find a way to get a vote on his bill, which would increase the MBL cap from 12.25% of assets to 27.5% of assets, as soon as possible.

Credit unions need to fight for what they believe in on Capitol Hill, Udall said, to help members of the U.S. Congress convince their fellow members to support the legislation.

He encouraged the assembled credit union representatives to ask their senators to cosponsor S. 509, or, at the very least, to agree to vote for the bill. "If there are credit unions with capacity to lend, and small businesses that need loans, why not allow our economy to grow?" he asked.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who is a cosponsor of the House version of MBL legislation (H.R. 1418) said in her own remarks before the GAC that she could "do the groundwork" and tell her colleagues that it is good legislation, but said she also needs the help of credit union supporters to help get votes.

She encouraged credit union advocates that will meet with their elected representatives as part of the GAC effort to "believe in what [they] are doing" and tell their story to members of Congress.

McCarthy noted that she has heard from many small businesses in her home district in Long Island, N.Y., that were rejected by banks but have now received small business loans from credit unions.

"Your job, because you believe in it, I believe in it, has really helped so many people and small businesses," she said. McCarthy added that she has also heard from bankers in her district that oppose credit union interests, and has told them that now is the time "to let the credit unions serve the communities to the capacity they can, and help our small businesses and get the economy going. That's what's important."

CDRLF application period open to CUs

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (3/21/12)--Eligible credit unions may now submit applications for the 2012 round of the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund (CDRLF) Loan Program, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) announced in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

The CDRLF provides loans and technical assistance to federal and state credit unions that are designated as low-income credit unions, as defined by NCUA regulations. Assets in the CDRLF, including interest earned and appropriations, totaled $17.5 million as of Sept. 30, 2011, and the Obama administration has requested an additional $1.19 million in CDRLF funding in its proposed 2013 budget.

The NCUA noted that Congress has not made an appropriation to the CDRLF for loans for Fiscal Years 2012-2013, but said it expects to lend approximately $11 million in this application cycle. The agency expects the maximum loan amount for this cycle to be around $300,000, but said it could exceed that cap in some circumstances.

The agency said it would accept applications from May 22 until Dec. 31, but warned that available funds may be exhausted before the end of the year.

For more on this CDRLF funding round, use the resource link

CUNA versus NCUA View on regulatory burden

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Deputy General Counsel Mary Mitchell Dunn and senior National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) Adviser Buddy Gill offered differing perspectives about the regulatory burden on credit unions.

During a Tuesday afternoon breakout session at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference, Dunn noted that during the financial crisis credit unions were the institutions that "primarily got it right,'' but they are still facing an increased regulatory burden from the NCUA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies.

She noted that more regulatory agencies are issuing rules impacting credit unions than ever before and that when Congress wrote the Dodd-Frank Act credit unions were "collateral damage.'' Dunn said regulators often try to write regulations based on mistakes during the previous financial crisis, and while this is an understandable trend it sometimes results in overreaching.

Northwest Credit Union Association CEO John Annaloro, who moderated the session, noted that a study by his group found that during the two years following the financial crisis, there were approximately 18,000 pages of new regulations that impacted credit unions in some way. He said this represents a "crushing regulatory burden'' that is "unsustainable for any credit union of any size.''

Gill replied that many of the NCUA's rules were mandated by Congress and many of the documents issued by the agency aren't new rules but explanations of existing ones while others contain information about agency programs aimed at helping credit unions. He also pointed out that of the regulations and documents cited in the study, less than 13% came from the NCUA, and the vast majority came from the Federal Reserve.

He also noted that the agency has increased opportunities for public input, including a series of public listening sessions that begin next week. In addition, when the agency issues regulations it tries to give credit unions some flexibility and avoid a one size fits all approach. The agency has also expanded its regulatory flexibility program so that all credit unions, not just CAMEL 1s and 2s, can take advantage of it.

However, Gill noted that the agency can't go too far in relaxing regulations because that would be abdicating its responsibility for protecting the safety and soundness of the credit union system. He said that $26 billion in assets of member deposits are in credit unions with CAMEL 4 and 5 ratings.

Dunn said that while the NCUA had made improvements in the regulatory process, many credit unions are still unhappy with the way their examinations are handled. She added that CUNA will continue to work with the NCUA to ensure that the agency is clearer in what it wants from credit unions.

TCCUSGP scheduled to end Dec. 31

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (3/21/12)--The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), in letter to credit unions No. 12-CU-03, reminded credit unions that the Temporary Corporate Credit Union Share Guarantee Program (TCCUSGP) will end, as previously scheduled, on Dec. 31.

The TCCUSGP backs up the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund's (NCUSIF) coverage of all shares--excluding paid-in-capital and membership capital accounts--at corporate credit unions. This insurance extends beyond the customary $250,000 share insurance level.

All qualifying shares, including existing deposits and new qualifying deposits, will remain fully covered under the share guarantee until Dec. 31, according to the NCUA. Once the TCCUSGP expires on Jan. 1, 2013, NCUA coverage on deposits in corporate credit unions will be limited to the standard maximum share insurance amount of $250,000, the agency said.

The NCUA said it released the letter to ensure that credit unions that conduct business with corporates have the time needed to evaluate their current corporate account holdings and determine whether to make any adjustments necessary to meet their individual risk tolerance.

The agency encouraged credit unions to work with their corporate to explore options that best meet the credit union's specific needs.

The agency in the letter noted that the credit union industry is entering the final phase in the successful stabilization of the corporate credit union system, and said that "all products and services offered by conserved corporate credit unions will be seamlessly transitioned to other providers – with no interruption of service to members," by the end of this year.

For the full NCUA letter to credit unions, use the resource link.

Lawmakers discuss the relationship business of politics

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--"We're in a relations business when we're in the law making business," Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) told the audience during a breakout session at the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington Tuesday.

Jenkins and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) addressed the importance of establishing relationships with state legislators during a panel discussion entitled "From the State House to Capitol Hill: The Critical Nature of State Advocacy."

"It really is the relationships that make this job what it is," Jenkins said. "I know you would like to think that everyone has access to their lawmakers in the state house or here on Capitol Hill, but it is the ones you know by face and name that are going to be the most valuable to you."

Jenkins told how she developed a relationship with Kansas credit unions when she developed a public-private financial literacy initiative with the Kansas Credit Union Association.

"That relationship has carried over, as you would expect, when I came to Congress," Jenkins said. "I have most of those folks on speed dial. If I have a question these people I worked can give me an honest answer. I won't always agree with them, but I have a healthy working relationship with them, and that's all anyone really wants. The easiest place to start that is at the lowest level, even in your city council," she said.

Perlmutter said it's important to "plant a seed" with lawmakers because they have the power to rewrite laws. He developed his relationship with credit unions while working as an attorney before becoming a public official. In that role he represented credit unions, which helped him understand issues unique to credit unions, such as issues surrounding common bond or public deposits.

"You don't know when that seed is going to germinate," Perlmutter said. "You don't know exactly when something you suggested will come up, but when you focus on public officials, we have the chance to erase what is written and you having to deal within the confines of what is written."

Because of the number of members that credit unions have they have a lot of power with lawmakers, said Perlmutter.

"You have lots of families, lots of consumers, lots of business that are part of your group," he said. "It makes a difference to elected officials know that you have that many people. For me it's probably a majority of my voting population."

Both Jenkins and Perlmutter said credit unions should hold no fear of being too repetitive with their message. If an issue is important to you, "you have to keep pressing," Perlmutter said. Reaching consensus can be difficult, Perlmutter said, noting that legislators "are not going to get a touchdown on every play."

Jenkins said Congress is more polarized than ever. She suggested that the last few election cycles have produced nominees--and ultimately, legislators—on the far left and far right.

"When you look at the body today compared to ten years ago, there just isn't a working majority in the middle," Jenkins said. "It's hard to find that common ground. Until they electorate decides to change it, that just the way it is."

Waters pledges to be CUs best friend if she succeeds Frank

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WASHINGTON (12/21/12)--Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) promised to be "the best friend credit unions ever had" if she replaces the retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. Waters is currently the No. 2 Democrat on that panel.

Click for slide show Rep. Maxine Waters acknowledged that some credit unions feel burdened by regulations. Click for a slideshow from day two of the 2012 GAC.
Speaking before the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference on Tuesday, Waters vowed to "fight on" in support of increasing credit unions' member business lending (MBL) cap from 12.25% of assets to 27.5% of assets.

Waters, who identified herself as a member of Congressional FCU, told the audience she was "among friends" and she thanked attendees for their assistance in offering credit union members a hand during the recent financial crisis.

"Unlike the big banks that have received billions in taxpayer funds, credit unions did not contribute to the financial crisis," Waters said. "Credit unions did not prey on the communities they serve.

"Credit unions never used the growth of the secondary mortgage market to justify departing from the age-old edict of know your [member]. That's because credit unions are not motivated to cut corners at their members' expense. You are part of the communities you serve," she added.

Waters acknowledged that some credit unions feel burdened by regulations stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act and oversight provided by the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

"To that I say unlike the banks that caused our financial crisis you have an extensive history of making safe, sound and sustainable loans to your members," Waters said. "I believe history gives you an advantage in complying with any consumer protection rules that are issued by the CFPB.

"That history should also provide credit unions with an increased responsibility to provide more small business loans," she said.

"I know that in order for you to truly be effective, Congress has to give you the ability to help small businesses in need of credit," Waters said. "It's clear to me that the real legislative response we need to provide for credit unions is to increase the limitation on small business lending that is set at the arbitrary rate of 12.25%."

Waters said that small business serves as economic engines in underserved areas. She cited small businesses as key job creators.

CUNA and credit unions are urging Congress to increase credit unions' MBL cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25%. Doing so would open up more opportunity to offer MBLs, inject $13 billion in loans into the economy and create as many as 140,000 new jobs, with no cost to taxpayers, CUNA said.

The GAC continues through Thursday.

Capito pledges to remember CU burden in Washington

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told attendees of the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) that she will remember their best interests in Washington--particularly when it comes to the burdens of regulation.

Capito noted her recent participation, as a member of the House subcommittee on financial institutions and consumer credit, in a Texas field hearing that specifically asked financial institutions to report the impact new financial regulations are having on their ability to extend credit and stimulate job growth.

She also registered her concerns that a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that was designed to help credit unions and other small debit card issuer was failing to do so. She said the exemption to exempt financial institutions under $10 billion in assets, such as most credit unions, from the debit card interchange fee cap may not work.

"The Federal Reserve did reshape interchange, but it is still out there as an issue," Capito said. "You are not sure exactly what impact it will have on your individual credit unions. It could impact the services you provide…

"My cautionary flag is that we don't want to push people from low-income brackets out of your credit unions because that can't afford services as a result of any fees you were forced to tack on because of interchange."

A trend that Capito said she finds troubling is the financial institution compliance officers are among the fast growing job positions.

"If you're hiring a compliance officer, where are you diverting your resources from? From your members," Moore Capito said. "You're unable to loan more. You're unable to offer more services. You're unable to do more outreach. You have to do less recruitment because you're worried that the regulator will clip your wings. I think that's contributing to our stagnant economy right now."

Moore Capito said during her field hearings one credit union executive told her that it seemed credit unions had been forgotten during the formation of regulatory policy.

"I'm here to pledge to you that we will not forget about credit unions as we move our discussions through Congress," she said.

Moore Capito thanked CUNA for its support of the Financial Institutions Examination Fairness and Reform Act, a bill she is co-sponsoring with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and a bipartisan group of more than 100 lawmakers. The bill would give financial institutions the right to appeal regulatory exams to an independent ombudsman.

Capito said the bill will eliminate the "disconnect" between financial institutions and regulators, and lend more timeliness to the exam process.

"I think it will provide more certainty for financial institution in providing services and making decisions when regulators make their recommendations," she said.

Political analyst Cook predicts a close election year

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Political analyst Charlie Cook said he expects Mitt Romney to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he believes the general election against President Obama will be close.

Cook told an audience at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday that Romney's
Click to view larger imagePolitical analyst Charlie Cook says he expects Mitt Romney to win the Republican presidential nomination, but he believes the general election against President Obama  will be  close. (CUNA Photo)
challenge is that he must move to the right--probably more than he would like to--in order to get the nomination. But historically, victory in presidential elections usually is decided by a more centrist, independent, voting coalition.

"The middle is the place to be, and we will see how long it takes for Romney to move there" he added.

Cook said the 2012 presidential race likely will be determined by future economic numbers such as unemployment statistics and oil prices, which will have a profound impact on President Obama's approval rating.

"So far, we have seen a completely bizarre political year, during which there have been seven different front-runners among Republican candidates," he said.

But Cook pointed out that Romney now has 48% of the 50% of delegates needed to win the nomination, and that it is simply impossible for candidate Rick Santorum to close the gap.

Cook had some suggestions for convention attendees interested in tracking the ups and downs this political year.

"My advice is don t listen to the gas bags on TV," he said. "Do your own research. Stay with the facts and leave the commentary out."

He conceded some TV analysts offer useful appraisals of political trends, but he said the average citizen would do better by resorting to a more personal approach.

Cook is editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and a political analyst for the National Journal Group and NBC News.

Sherman CUs advantage members like them

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said he hopes to convince the U.S. Congress that broadening credit unions' access to capital beyond retained earnings, and increasing the limit on member business lending authority will work together to help all consumers.

Click to view larger imageSmall businesses are desperate for capital, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) emphasizes during his Tuesday speech at CUNA's GAC. He called capital the "blood supply" that businesses need to stay healthy.  Sherman is a co-sponsor of legislation to increase the credit union member business lending cap. (CUNA Photo)
"Each needs the other to be effective, he said in a speech before the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday. It's critical to provide capital, and let interested credit unions broaden business lending for members.

Small business is especially desperate for additional capital, he added, and allowing credit unions to play a larger role in this sector is critical. Sherman said capital was part of the blood supply that small business needed to remain healthy and competitive.

The congressman told the conference attendees that credit unions were the logical option for increased business lending services. You have one big advantage over banks, he added. Your customers actually like you.

Sherman said he hoped to continue serving credit unions in Congress, even though--for the first time in several years--he is facing a formidable challenge to his reelection because of a realignment of his congressional district.

But he said that so far he is ahead in the polls. I look forward to coming back and resuming his close ties with the credit union sector.

Chabot praises CUs expresses concerns about the economy

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WASHINGTON (3/21/120--Credit unions are "near and dear to my heart,'' and have "played an important role in the history of the country,'' Rep. Steven Chabot (R-Ohio) told attendees of the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) on Tuesday morning.

He said credit unions have done an excellent job of being a "source of capital to regular people'' and that's why he has supported efforts to expand lending opportunities for credit unions.

He noted that he is a co-sponsor of legislation that would raise the cap on member business loans from 12.25% of assets to 27.5% of assets and has also sponsored legislation that would increase Small Business Administration loan programs in which  credit unions can participate.

While the economy is improving, Chabot said, the crisis in Europe, Iran's buildup of nuclear arms and rising gasoline prices all have the potential to slow down growth. In addition, he noted that while the unemployment rate has been declining, he believes the data are misleading because they don't account for people who have stopped looking for jobs or are underemployed.

The 2012 GAC runs through Thursday.

Hyland defends need for proactive regulations

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--The National Credit Union Administration's (NCUA) efforts to beef up the regulation of interest rate risk  and credit union service organizations are needed because the agency has to protect against future losses to the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, according to NCUA board member Gigi Hyland.

She was addressing the Tuesday session of the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference here.

Hyland noted that the agency had been criticized by its own inspector general and Congress' Governmental Accountability Office for not having done enough during the lead up to the financial crisis to protect the safety and soundness of credit unions.

The stronger regulations, she said, represent "guard rails on the roads on which credit unions travel.''

Hyland, whose term expired last summer but who is remaining on the board pending the appointment and U.S. Senate confirmation of a successor, noted that many recent comment letters on various regulatory proposals indicate that credit union leaders are concerned about the growing regulatory burden.

Click for slide show NCUA Board member Gigi Hyland discussed stronger regulations in her address. Click for a slideshow from day two of the 2012 GAC.
She emphasized that she understood these concerns, especially as a result of her time as a lawyer for credit unions. However, the agency wouldn't be doing its job if it didn't force credit unions to prepare for potentially negative developments in the future.

When interest rates rise again, it will have a considerable impact on the balance sheets of credit unions and that is why the agency mandated that most credit unions develop an interest rate risk policy, which includes stress tests, she noted.

She said that credit unions will be especially impacted by higher rates as a result of having increased the number of real estate loans they have made and because they are keeping a lot of first-time, fixed-rate mortgages on their books.

She pointed out that in 1990 65% of credit unions had no first mortgage real estate exposure, 60% have such exposure today.

"Growing real estate and growing deposit bases create opportunities for growth, but must be managed particularly in today's very unusual interest rate environment.

"Put more bluntly, we know interest rates will rise; it's just a matter of time when they will rise.

"And, when rates rise, will credit unions have the mechanisms in place to manage the possible outflow of these interest rate sensitive accounts, given the large portfolio of fixed rate real estate loans?'' she asked.

Hyland also noted that she had traveled extensively during her tenure on the board, which began in 2005, including visits to 39 states and all of the agency's regional offices. This has given her extensive opportunities to find out what are the concerns of industry officials and this has shaped her decision making as a board member, she added.

Woodall praises work of CUs encourages activism

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WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Because credit unions invest in their communities  they are key to the country's economic growth and credit union executives should remind lawmakers of their  hard work.

That was the message Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) conveyed in his speech at Tuesday morning's session of the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference.

Woodall also said politicians and credit unions have something in common.

"I'm in the customer service business, all day, every day, just like you,'' noted Woodall, a freshman who represents a district in the suburbs of Atlanta.

And he pointed out that "your members are the drivers of the good things that happen in this economy.''

He noted that surveys show that credit unions and rural electric cooperatives are among the institutions that enjoy the highest degree of respect among consumers, and urged credit unions to use their popularity to try to influence lawmakers.

Woodall, whose candidacy for the U.S. Congress was assisted by efforts of national and local credit union groups, said that the freshmen lawmakers are more concerned about doing the right thing than in getting re-elected.

"They don't care if they get re-elected and feel that they don't have to necessarily put together the best campaign or put out the best press release. But if they do the right thing today, tomorrow and Thursday, the election will turn out well,'' he said.

Inside Washington (03/20/2012)

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  • WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--Federal Housing Finance Agency General Counsel Alfred Pollard said in written testimony for a Brooklyn field hearing before the House Oversight Committee that state and local governments that have approved laws intended to protect consumers threatened by foreclosure are gumming up the foreclosure process, slowing it down to the detriment of all parties involved (America Banker March 20). Pollard said states and localities should pause in their passage of such rules that, he said, build roadblocks to a smooth foreclosure process and find a balance between protections for homeowners and a foreclosure process that works.  Among the localities with new rules he finds troublesome: Washington, D.C. with a mediation law that can extend the foreclosure timeframe by up to 132 days; Worcester, Mass., with an ordinance requiring a $5,000 bond at the time of foreclosure to ensure maintenance of the property involved; and, in Nevada, a law that makes owners of foreclosed properties pay legal fees of homeowners associations that want any unpaid dues …
  • WASHINGTON (3/21/12)--The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) Tuesday approved two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR).  One would make limited clarifications and definitional changes to the deposit insurance assessment system for FDIC-insured depository institutions with more than $10 billion of assets.  The proposed rule, according to the FDIC, would fine tune the large-bank assessment system by amending the definitions of leveraged loans and subprime loans used to identify concentrations in higher-risk assets.  The agency noted there were 107 institutions with more than $10 billion in assets, as of Dec. 31, 2011. The other FDIC action would implement a section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which allows the FDIC, as receiver for a failed systemically important financial institution to enforce and prevent termination of contracts of the institution's subsidiaries or affiliates …