A&B ABstract: On June 15, Alston & Bird partners Nanci Weissgold and Brian Johnson hosted Dr. Mark A. Calabria, Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Kathy Kraninger, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to discuss federal regulatory responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and how they affect consumer lending and mortgage servicing.
The discussion was the inaugural event in Alston & Bird’s Financial Services Regulatory Speaker Series.
Directors Kraninger and Calabria first addressed their respective agencies’ efforts (individually and jointly) to respond to the effects of the pandemic.
Focusing on efforts relating to the GSEs, Dr. Calabria discussed the foreclosure moratorium (which he stated will soon be extended past June 30), and the focus on borrowers who are truly suffering a hardship. He further indicated that approximately a quarter of borrowers in forbearance are continuing to make payments, which lead to the agency’s announcement in May that such borrowers will be treated as current for purposes of eligibility for refinancings or new purchases.
Director Kraninger expressed pride in the CFPB’s broad-based response to the crisis, and specifically mentioned efforts to educate consumers on their rights and expectations for relief, adjusting supervisory and enforcement processes to be more responsive to current needs and circumstances, and engaging all of the CFPB’s stakeholders in regulatory work (including the production of guidance relating to mortgages and consumer loans).
Asked for his assessment of the overall health of the residential mortgage market, Dr. Calabria compared current circumstances favorably to the 2008 financial crisis. He specifically referenced the low number of GSE loans for which borrowers are underwater, indicating that borrowers with equity are less likely to walk away. However, he anticipated that it will not be until the fourth quarter of the year that the true “wild card” – the number of loans in forbearance that will go into delinquency and foreclosure – will be known.
Director Kraninger stressed the importance of federal regulators acting in concert, and continuing conversations with the states to send a “clear signal across the regulatory landscape” of expectations for regulated institutions to accommodate their customers. She stressed that the CFPB is using the examination process to conduct priority assessments as an opportunity to engage institutions, understanding how forbearance programs work and how they are engaging consumers. Regulated institutions, she said, should expect the process to be iterative, rather than only a matter of identifying violations.
CARES Act and the Mortgage Servicing Rules
With respect to the interplay of the CARES Act and the Mortgage Servicing Rules, Director Kraninger addressed specific concerns regarding payment deferral. Specifically, as to whether servicers are required to collect a complete loss mitigation application before approving a borrower for a payment deferral, she indicated that the CFPB is actively working with the FHFA on how best to provide options to consumers, and that the agencies expect to provide clarification on how the Mortgage Servicing Rules apply to CARES Act deferrals in the near term. In the longer term, Director Kraninger suggested that the CFPB is considering new provisions of the Rules applicable to national disasters (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic, or severe weather).
Closing the discussion, Directors Calabria and Kraninger discussed overall perceptions of their agencies’ responses to the pandemic. Director Kraninger reiterated that the CFPB is committed to making clear its expectations for regulated entities. By comparison to the financial crisis, the CFPB is focused on getting ahead of issues (e.g., with the credit reporting industry).
Dr. Calabria said that the greatest misunderstanding about the CARES Act relates to the scope of and eligibility for forbearance. Borrowers are eligible for “up to” a year of forbearance – a ceiling, not a floor. Additionally, to obtain an initial forbearance and the optional extension, a borrower must have suffered (and continue to suffer) economic hardship relating to the pandemic. Thus, he indicated, initial estimates about the number of loans that would be in forbearance were too high. Further, the number of borrowers with significant equity in their homes makes it more likely for the impact of the pandemic to be a liquidity event, not a solvency event.
Alston & Bird thanks Directors Calabria and Kraninger for sharing their insights with the hundreds of listeners in attendance. Stay tuned for more events in the series.