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Inside Washington (07/08/2008)

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* WASHINGTON (7/9/08)--The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)’s risk-based pricing structure goes into effect next week. Under the structure, borrowers without traditional data will pay lower insurance fees than those with credit scores lower than 560. However, they will pay more than borrowers with scores of 600 or higher (American Banker July 8). The FHA has underwritten about 5% of its mortgages with nontraditional data, said Lemar Wooley, FHA spokesman. The agency said in April that nontraditional credit data should still be verified by credit bureaus ... * WASHINGTON (7/9/08)--It’s important that borrowers aren’t being foreclosed on more quickly or denied access to modification programs because of their race, Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan said in a speech at a compliance conference Monday. “In today’s difficult economy, with so many mortgages having problems, banks also need to be sure that similarly situated borrowers who default or become delinquent are treated similarly, with no variations based on prohibited factors like race or gender,” he said. He encouraged banks to keep up with compliance, and noted that fair lending will be a priority compliance issue in the next year ... * WASHINGTON (7/9/08)--The Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) has released its Mortgage Metrics Report , which covers activity by OTS-regulated mortgage servicers to help borrowers avoid foreclosure for the quarter ending March 31. The report provides a baseline of data to track loan modifications and repayment plans. It also assesses the effectiveness of foreclosure prevention initiatives ... * WASHINGTON (7/9/08)--Federal banking and thrift agencies issued a statement Tuesday outlining the qualifications for organizations implementing Basel II, the new capital adequacy framework for financial institutions. The process has three stages: adoption of an implementation plan; completion of a satisfactory parallel run; and advancement through three transitional periods ...

Bernanke looks at future protections

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WASHINGTON (7/9/08)—The financial turmoil since last August underscores the need to find ways to make the financial system more resilient and stable, said Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke in a speech Tuesday. Bernanke noted that financial crises occur periodically, have done so for hundreds of years, and that it is “unrealistic to hope” they can be entirely limited. However, recent experience has served to underscore the serious economic costs of financial instability, he said, adding the Fed will continue to work toward improving its ability to “play its necessary role” of supporting economic growth and making credit available to all qualified borrowers. He said that in an effort to prevent a repeat of the current problems in the mortgage market, the Fed will issue new rules next week aimed at protecting future homebuyers from the questionable lending practices that have caused the upheaval. (see related story, “Fed vote on HOEPA slated for July 14”) Bernanke also indicated that the Fed may allow more time for Wall Street firms to make use of the Fed’s emergency loan program. In March, the Fed allowed investment houses temporary access to the Fed’s overnight loan system—a cash source previously available only to commercial banks. The temporary access is supposed to expire mid-September. Into the future, Bernanke said, the Fed will work collaboratively with regulators both here and abroad as well as with financial the firms themselves, to redouble efforts to strengthen the capital positions, liquidity reserves, and risk-management practices of the institutions that are supervised by the Fed. “Shareholders, managers, and investors are likewise taking steps to protect their interests in a period of continued market strains,” he said. Use the resource link below to read Bernanke’s full comments.

Fed vote on mortgage rules slated for July 14

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WASHINGTON (7/9/08)—The Federal Reserve Board plans to vote July 14 on its proposed changes under the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (HOEPA) to address unfair or deceptive mortgage lending practices that would apply to subprime loans offered by all mortgage lenders. The Fed developed its plan, unveiled last December, in response to criticism on Capitol Hill that poor underwriting practices helped fuel the country’s housing and mortgage crises. Under the proposal, lenders would have to ensure borrowers have the ability to repay a loan, verify the borrower’s income, impose no prepayment penalties within 60 days of a mortgage reset, and provide escrow accounts for taxes and insurance for the first 12 months of a loan. The plan also bolsters disclosure practices. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) generally supports the Fed’s use of its authority under HOEPA and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) to issue its proposed rules intended to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive home mortgage lending and advertising practices. However, in a letter commenting on the specifics of the plan, CUNA has warned the Fed that modifications are necessary to ensure the rule does not cover more loans than the Fed may intend. “For the protections that apply to ‘high-cost’ loans, we were concerned that the threshold would be too low and would cover not only all subprime loans, but some prime loans as well, which we believe is not what the Fed intended,” according to Jeffrey Bloch, CUNA senior assistant general counsel. The Fed HOEPA proposal is one of many in the pipeline that will amend Regulation Z. For instance, the Fed issued a comprehensive proposal last year to address rules that apply to credit cards and other types of "open-end" loans. It issued additional proposals recently to coincide with the latest plans to address unfair and deceptive practices for credit cards and overdraft protection plans. These may be finalized by the end of the year. The Fed is also expected to issue another comprehensive proposal, probably within the next year, that will amend the Regulation Z rules for mortgage loans and other types of "closed-end" credit, such as auto loans, in which repayment periods are fixed. Separately, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is floating plan to change its rules that implement the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) to adjust mortgage loan disclosures. HUD intends to finalize those rules by the end of the year. CUNA Comment Letter