Banks Continue to Scaremonger Over Nonexistent Down Payment Requirements


Are banks refusing to make loans unless buyers put up a big down payment? Apparently so. Will this hurt the recovering housing market? Maybe. Is this all due to restrictive Dodd-Frank rules that ought to be discarded? Nope. Read on for the real story.

It turns out that Dodd-Frank allows banks to make any kind of loans they want. What it does say, though, is that if a loan fails to conform to its rules—one of which is a 20 percent down payment—then the issuing bank can’t just bundle up the entire loan and immediately sell it off. It has to keep a 5 percent stake. Felix Salmon comments:

The question about high down payment mortgages is a relatively arcane backwater of financial underwriting, and we can leave it to the statisticians and bond investors to decide just how much, if at all, such down payments reduce defaults. Instead, we should be concentrating on the banks here, the institutions which seem to be entirely unwilling to underwrite any mortgage at all, unless and until they’re allowed to flip the entire thing, 100%, to bond investors, for a quick, risk-free profit.

This violates common sense. If the bank is underwriting the loan, the bank should retain at least a tiny amount of the risk in that loan. Indeed, if I were a bond investor, I would as a matter of course require extra yield on any loans which were sold by a bank without any skin in the game at all. After all, there’s not much point in being assiduous about your underwriting if you’re just going to sell the entire loan anyway.

Right. The whole point here is not to prevent banks from making whatever kind of loans they want. The point is to force them to have some skin in the game. If they want to lower their underwriting standards, that’s fine. But if they do, they have to keep some of the risk for themselves. This acts as an incentive to be careful about who they make loans to, instead of returning to the Wild West of the aughts, when underwriting standards went completely to hell and fraudulent loans were made by the millions. That happened because the loan issuers didn’t care: they were just going to bundle up the loans and sell them off anyway. Now they can’t. As Felix says, if banks don’t like this, we really ought to be asking, “Why not?”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.