Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FSA to ban fast-track and self-certified mortgages

Mortgage borrowers will find it takes longer to process their application and the self-employed could struggle to get a loan if proposals announced today by the Financial Services Authority are implemented.
The regulator has published a consultation paper which proposes requiring verification of borrower's income in every case to prevent over-inflation of income and mortgage fraud.
If implemented, this will prevent the "fast tracking" of mortgage applications – the granting of loans without requiring proof of income – a wide-spread practice among mortgage lenders.
David Hollingworth of mortgage broker London & Country says it could mean that rather than a mortgage being granted instantly – as often happens now providing the lender can find enough information about the borrower's credit history electronically – it could take up to three weeks for the borrower to find out if he or she qualifies for a desired loan.
The proposed move also means that those who have recently become self-employed have no hope of applying for a "self-certified mortgage".
These loans were initially designed to enable self-employed borrowers who had less that three years' of accounts to borrow loans without providing bank statements or tax returns to support their claimed level of earnings.
But over the past few years, as people have begun to struggle with the amounts of borrowing they have taken on, it has become apparent that the loans have been used by many borrowers who wanted to take out bigger loans than a lender would normally allow them.
The FSA has also acted against several mortgage brokers who have fraudulently increased the amount of money applied for in mortgage applications.
The consultation proposes imposing affordability tests for all mortgages, making lenders ultimately responsible for assessing a consumer's ability to pay, and preventing the use of interest-only loans to enable borrowers to cope with a mortgage they could not otherwise afford.
Although the self-certification mortgage has disappeared from the market during the credit crunch, the proposals will prevent lenders from reintroducing itonce confidence returns.
Hollingworth says the proposals are sensible: "The proposals are quite measured, but they will set a framework so when the market goes into recovery, we have something that contains the lenders a little bit. The lay man will hopefully regard this as common sense."
However the Building Societies Association said there was a risk the proposals could create "mortgage prisoners". Paul Broadhead, head of mortgage policy at the BSA, said: "To ensure borrowers are not adversely affected, it will be important that when the rules are implemented they provide clarity for lenders and are enforced consistently across the market.
"Interest-only mortgages are not inherently bad or high risk. However, it is important that borrowers with interest-only mortgages understand the importance of having a plan in place to repay their mortgage at the end of its term. The FSA needs to proceed with caution so as not to restrict the use of interest-only as a way of helping borrowers overcome repayment difficulties."
The proposals were drawn up following detailed analysis of past lending decisions, looking at the causes of arrears and repossession since 2005.
The FSA found that:
• 46% of households either had no money left, or had a shortfall after mortgage payments and living costs were deducted from their income;
• Almost half of new mortgages between 2007 and the first quarter of 2010 were provided without a customer having to verify their income;
• The share of interest-only mortgages has been increasing. At the peak of the market, over 30% of all mortgages were interest-only;
• Many consumers with no repayment vehicle count on future house price rises or uncertain life events to repay their mortgage and some have no plan at all;
• Borrowers with a credit-impaired history are particularly vulnerable.
Lesley Titcomb, FSA director responsible for the mortgage market, said: "There is a clear link between financial overstretch and mortgage arrears and repossessions, and we are determined to protect vulnerable consumers by making sure that everyone who takes on a mortgage can afford to pay it back.
"While it is clear the mortgage market has worked well for many, we need to build a strong new framework to protect mortgage customers and to ensure that the problems we have seen in the past do not happen again, particularly as the mortgage market recovers."
The FSA also wants to provide extra protection for vulnerable customers with a credit-impaired history.
Today's report includes the key findings from the FSA's review into arrears charges, which indicated significant variation in the level of arrears fees across the market.
The mortgage rules require arrears charges to be based on a reasonable estimate of the cost of the additional administration caused by the customer's arrears.
The FSA has stepped back from an idea initially raised in the mortgage market review discussion paper last year to set a maximum loan-to-value ratio on mortgages. Such a move would have signed the death knell for mortgages worth 100% of the property's price.

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