New mortgage-lending rules unveiled

Mortgage photo illustration

Mortgage photo illustration (Credit: Photos.com)

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Federal regulators for the first time are laying out rules aimed at ensuring that mortgage borrowers can afford to repay the loans they take out.

The rules unveiled Thursday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau impose a range of obligations and restrictions on lenders, including bans on the risky "interest-only" and "no documentation" loans that helped inflate the housing bubble.

Lenders will be required to verify and inspect borrowers' financial records. The rules discourage them from saddling borrowers with total debt payments totaling more than 43 percent of the person's annual income. That total includes existing debts like credit cards and student loans.

CFPB director Richard Cordray, in remarks prepared for an event Thursday, called the rules "the true essence of 'responsible lending.' " The rules, which take effect next year, aim to "make sure that people who work hard to buy their own home can be assured of not only greater consumer protections but also reasonable access to credit," he said.

Cordray noted that in years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, consumers could easily obtain mortgages that they could not afford to repay. In contrast, in subsequent years banks tightened lending, sharply reducing the number or people that could qualify for a home loan.

The new rules seek out a middle ground by protecting consumers from bad loans while giving banks the legal assurances they need to increase lending, he said.

The mortgage-lending overhaul is a priority for the agency, which was created under the 2010 financial law known as the Dodd-Frank Act. The agency is charged with reducing the risk of a credit bubble by helping to ensure that borrowers are better informed and loans are more likely to be repaid.

The agency is charged with writing and enforcing rules that flesh out the law passed by Congress.

The rules limit features like teaser rates that adjust upward and large "balloon payments" that must be made at the end of the loan period.

The bureau proposed to exempt from the rules some loans made by community banks, credit unions and nonprofit lenders that work with low- and moderate-income consumers.

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