Tag Archives: FDIC

SLABS: How to make money off someone else’s private student loan

SLABS

SLABs, and no we aren’t talking about the stuff of which patios are made, or the tiles that can be laid on kitchen floors. Nor, are we talking about some Silicon Valley laboratory firm.  Let’s focus on Student Loan Asset Based securities.  Yep, “securitized” assets – like mortgages, auto loans, credit card receivables, etc.  We do remember the mortgage thing? Right?

SLABs were hot in 2013. [WSJ]  In fact, see if you can make sense of the following description:

“Student loans are souring at a growing rate—and investors can’t seem to get enough. SLM Corp., the largest U.S. student lender, last week sold $1.1 billion of securities backed by private student loans. Demand for the riskiest bunch—those that will lose money first if the loans go bad—was 15 times greater than the supply, people familiar with the deal said.” [WSJ]

Why would investors be banging on the doors for those loans which are the most likely to go into default?  I think we’ve seen this movie before, and the ending (2007 – 2008) wasn’t pleasant for anyone.

The Basic Materials

Once upon a time Sallie Mae or SLM, was a government sponsored lending firm specializing in student or educational loans.  That was the case until 2004 when Sallie Mae went private and it’s now a publicly traded private sector corporation. SLM securitizes private education loan by selling them to the SMB Private Education Loan Trusts. The Loan Trusts (2014 and 2015) show “issuance details” online (here’s 2014-A)  There was $382 million in the August 7, 2014 records; divided into five categories with varying rates of return. Scrolling down we find the ‘master servicer’ as Sallie Mae Bank, the sub-servicer as Navient Solutions, Inc., the indentured trustee being Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, and the underwriters Credit Suisse and the Royal Bank of Scotland. [SLM]   Navient Solutions, Inc. is simply the name adopted in 2014 for Sallie Mae’s loan management, servicing, and asset recovery operation. [Bloomberg]  An ‘indentured trustee’ is:

“A financial institution with trust powers, such as a commercial bank or trust company, that is given fiduciary powers by a bond issuer to enforce the terms of a bond indenture. An indenture is a contract between a bond issuer and a bond holder. A trustee sees that bond interest payments are made as scheduled, and protects the interests of the bondholders if the issuer defaults.” [Investopedia]

The underwriters, in this instance Credit Suisse and RBS, are the firms which act as sales personnel for the bonds bases on securitized private student loans.  So, we have SLM issuing the bonds, Deutsche Bank National Trust acting as the agency responsible for bond registration, transfer, and payment of bonds, while Credit Suisse and RBS are the ones selling the bonds.   Sounds impressive, however those private loans comprise only about 8% of the total student loan market – the remaining 92% are Federal Stafford and PLUS program loans.  But – the numbers are still sufficiently high to interest SLM, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and RBS, because there’s about $92 billion involved in the private student loan market. [PSL]

Slabs without much mortar

Recall for the moment what got Wall Street in major trouble during the Housing Bubble.  Investment firms issued bonds, and then played with derivatives based on those mortgage based bonds, without being all that sure the loans were going to be paid off.  Thus, it was extremely difficult, and in some instances impossible, to calculate what the bonds were actually worth. Enter the credit rating agencies who (for a nice fee) stamped AAA+++ on what should have been recognized as piles of garbage; the investors couldn’t get enough of these, so even more garbage piled up as the investment houses bet on whether or not the assets were worth anything.  Enough garbage was included in the piles of paper that the whole pillar of paper crashed.

What’s saving us from the prospect of another bubble of epic proportions is that the market in private student loans is very small – that $92 million is a drop in a very large bucket of corporate and commercial debt. [Atlantic]  Another bit of good news is that because of the Dodd-Frank Act there is more transparency required in dealings in asset based securities.  [SEC]  [WSJ] The bad news is that Republicans in Congress have been wailing for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act as “burdensome regulation” of the banking industry.  Or, “make the SEC back off and let us get back to trading asset based securities like we used to in the Good Old Days.”

Who’s holding up the scaffolding?

Another bit of bad news is that while lenders are looking for new customers (students willing to take on private loans) we’re not tracking some important information about those loans.  For example, the default rate for Harvard is less than 2%, while the default rate for the Arizona Automotive Institute is nearly 42%.  [Bloomberg] Interestingly enough, there’s a long list of for-profit educational institutions with default rates higher than 28%. What we don’t need to see are more for-profit training schools encouraging more private student loan debt, debt which someone somewhere hopes will be hedged with private loans more likely to be paid off – because at bottom the funds to pay investors have to come from students paying off the loans.

Don’t panic yet, yes – there’s a hungry market for student loan asset based securities (perhaps in part because some old Federally backed loans were in the pipeline originally) and the market is relatively small albeit subject to some of the valuation mistakes of the Old Investment Houses – the ones who went bust in 2007-2008.   There’s another reason for hope: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the agency the Republicans can’t seem to wait to dismantle. [DB 7/30/14]

One of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act was the creation of an ombudsman for student loans which is part of the CFPB.  In the 2014 annual report (pdf)  it’s of interest to note that the biggest problem area was NOT repaying student loans but in getting financial institutions to cooperate with repayment programs and dealing with servicers and lenders (57%). If this sounds like a reprise from the Mortgage Meltdown Days it might be because some of the same actors are involved, at least in terms of complaint volume: JPMorganChase up 56% from 2013; Sallie Mae Navient up 48%; Wells Fargo up 8%.  The annual report indicates problems in the following areas: (1) There is no clear path to avoid default. (2) Proactive outreach from borrowers was too often unsuccessful. (3) When repayment options are made available they are too often too little too late. (4) In some cases repayment options were allowed only after the loan went into default. (5) Short term forbearance options were often associated with processing delays, unclear requirements, and unaffordable fees. (6) Many lenders force a choice between staying in school and repaying the loans.   There is a reason for the Ombudsman’s concern. The Sallie Mae Settlement.

The FDIC announced a settlement with Sallie Mae on May 13, 2014 in which Sallie Mae was charged with (1) inadequately disclosing its payment allocation methodologies to borrowers while allocating borrower payments across multiple loans in a manner that maximizes late fees; (2) misrepresenting and inadequately disclosing in its billing statements how borrowers could avoid late fees; (3) unfairly conditioning receipt of benefits under the SCRA upon requirements not found in the act; (4) improperly advising servicemembers that they must be deployed to receive benefits under the SCRA; and (5) failing to provide complete SCRA relief to servicemembers after having been put on notice of the borrowers’ active duty status.

The Structure

As long as the private student loan market remains a small part of the total structure we can breathe a bit easier about its effect on capital markets. Secondly, the private student loan market has relatively low yields and thus doesn’t get included in most structured derivatives.  Third, the old ‘recourse loans’ (for those with really low credit scores) are a thing of the past, most private loans now take higher scores into consideration. [QuoraWhat will continue to keep investors whole?

  • Continued monitoring of the private student loan market by the CFPB so that loans taken out will continue to be loans paid off, even if this means some reduction in the revenue streams for the bankers.
  • Continued oversight by the SEC and FDIC under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act so that we don’t return to the Wall Street Casino of old should there be changes in the private student loan market.
  • Improvement in the servicing of private student loans such that there are clear pathways to avoid default; effective and efficient communication between borrower and lender regarding repayment options; and, that this communication happens in a timely manner.
  • Requiring lenders to make all the term of the private student loan clear at the outset including forbearance conditions, and any and all fees associated with deference, late payments or defaults.

The Foundation

From a Wall Street perspective private student loan asset based securities are a niche market, with some revenue potential – enough to keep the big banks interested – however, not with enough total clout to cause major financial displacement should the Quake happen.  And yes, there are some institutions making nice fees for making student loans, selling student loans, securitizing student loans, servicing student loans, and collecting payments on student loans.  Capitalism works, the trick is to keep free market capitalism from becoming casino capitalism and/or financialism.

A more existential question is how to maintain a system in which students are burdened with so much debt (Federal program/Private loan program) that they are deferring consumer purchases which would contribute to the growth of the overall economy.  Deferred student loans can impact mortgage qualifications. [credit.com]  We know this because the  rate of homeownership among those with student debt is 36% below that of unencumbered home buyers, and we’re losing about $6 billion annually in new car buying capacity.  [Forbes]  And, this is not an inconsequential problem:

“Student loan debt is the only form of consumer debt that has grown since the peak of consumer debt in 2008. Balances of student loans have eclipsed both auto loans and credit cards, making student loan debt the largest form of consumer debt outside of mortgages.” [NYFed]

Given some of the trends reported by the NY Federal Reserve’s study of educational loans, how do we make sense of an economic system in which wages and salaries are stagnant while it is taking those from lower and middle income backgrounds longer to repay student loans?  How do we sustain an economy when 29% of borrowers are paying off their loans, while 34% are making regular payments but the balance is increasing, and 20% have reported credit related problems, with another 6% delinquent and 11% in default?

These are not simply economic issues, they are also political as well. Is there the political will to make post secondary education more affordable for more people?  Are we headed toward the privatization of our public institutions of higher education and post secondary training, and is this trend combined with the rising level of student indebtedness creating cracks in our economic foundations?

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Filed under consumers, Economy, education, financial regulation, privatization

S. 3468: It’s Baaack…and shouldn’t be

Heads Up!  They’re back, againS. 3468 is yet another attempt by the financialists and related banking lobbyists to hamstring efforts to regulate the financial services sector.   It’s not like these interests have ever given up their campaign to revert to Business As Usual  such that the Wall Street Wizards can become yet another font of ill advised, incomprehensible, albeit highly profitable synthetic or otherwise manufactured financial products — You know, things like those adorable synthetic CDO’s which flooded the financial market with valueless toxic paper.

Here’s the CRS summary of the bill submitted by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) on behalf of the banking sector:

Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act of 2012 – Authorizes the President to require an independent regulatory agency to: (1) comply, to the extent permitted by law, with regulatory analysis requirements applicable to other federal agencies; (2) provide the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs with an assessment of the costs and benefits of a proposed or final significant rule (i.e., a rule that is likely to have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more and is likely to adversely affect sectors of the economy in a material way) and an assessment of costs and benefits of alternatives to the rule; and (3) submit to the Administrator for review any proposed or final significant rule.

Prohibits judicial review of the compliance or noncompliance of an independent regulatory agency with the requirements of this Act.

Translation: If any of the financial regulatory agencies, like the SEC, the OCC, the FDIC, or the CFTC wants to approve regulations which might have a “significant effect” on some bank’s bottom line, then the agency would have to present a “cost – benefit analysis,” and submit the rule for administrative (read executive branch) review.

There are some very cogent reason to be extremely skeptical about this bill.

#1.  It dramatically changes the relationship between the administration (executive branch) and the independent financial regulators.   The SEC, et. al. are supposed to be independent of the executive branch, which is why their leadership is subject to confirmation.  To require that the agencies present their proposed rules for executive approval inserts presidential politics directly into the rule making process.

Those who find the diminution of regulatory oversight disturbing will not be pleased with this proposal. Nor will those who decry the transference of yet more power to the executive branch.   There’s nothing here for either end of the political and ideological spectrum.

#2.  It invites endless litigation.  S. 3468 could be alternately named the Wall Street Attorneys’ Full Employment Act.  For those of us who believe that the interminable foot-dragging on CFTC regulations of the derivatives market has gone on long enough, this is entirely too much, [CFTC law] the Portman bill merely serves to add yet another bureaucratic roadblock before regulations can be finalized.  [Lieberman/Collins pdf]

#3. It prevents agencies from acting in a timely manner.  Again, inserting a secondary layer of “review” invites both executive interference and financial sector slow walking before any effective oversight of financial institutions can be effected.

#4. It is redundant.  All the agencies involved, with the single exception of the Federal Reserve, are already required to do formal cost-benefit analyses of proposals.  In case no one had noticed during the attempts to get the provisions of the Dodd Frank Act implemented that the banks have been availing themselves of these requirements to slow down the whole process — they have.  All this bill accomplishes is to slow the process down from a crawl to a drag.   Here’s why:

“The thirteen new analytic requirements this legislation could impose are only the beginning of the delays and burdens it would create. The mandated OIRA review of significant rules would take up to six months. In addition, the review process could force agencies to go back to the drawing board or do a re-proposal of the rule, which could add years to the regulatory process. While agencies could overrule an OIRA determination that a rule or a cost-benefit analysis was inadequate, such a step would render the regulation highly susceptible to court challenge. It would make industry attempts to overturn new rules in court almost inevitable. The increased risk of court reversal will discourage independent financial agencies from finalizing any regulation that receives a negative OIRA review.” [AFR pdf] (emphasis added)

In short, what we have here is a bill that simply refuses to die… and one which is unnecessary, unwarranted, and merely serves to benefit the financialists who don’t want oversight of their speculation in the Wall Street Casino.

Perhaps we might initiate newly elected Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s in-box with a few e-mails indicating that this is not a bill which deserves the support of 99.9% of the American public?

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Filed under conservatism, Economy, financial regulation, income inequality, income tax, tax revenue, Taxation

An Amen Chorus: Nevada Doesn’t Need H.R. 6139

Nor does any other state!  H.R. 6139 is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives which would give predatory lenders all the latitude they need to put consumers on a debt treadmill at infinite cost to the consumer and almost limitless benefit to the lenders.  How this directly affects very real Nevadans is the topic of a MUST READ article by J. Patrick Coolican in the Las Vegas Sun.

After cringing at the descriptions in the article about what predatory lenders do to desperate customers, more gasps might be in order as we look deeper into what the bill would actually DO.

The Congressional Research Service summarizes part one of the bill:

“Requires a qualified nondepository creditor seeking a federal charter to submit an application which includes in part: (1) a business plan for at least a three-year period with its primary business activities serving underserved consumers and small businesses; (2) a market demand forecast, the intended customer base, competition, economic conditions, financial projections, and business risks; (3) a marketing plan that describes the types of financial products or services such creditor intends to offer; and (4) adequate capital structure.” (emphasis added)

Those two words, “federal charter,”  are the crucial part of the matter.  H.R. 6139 would allow predatory lenders to fall under the jurisdiction of the Comptroller of the Currency — the agency that supervises federally chartered banks.

What’s missing? State consumer protection laws — which the newly minted “federally chartered” lenders could circumvent by shuttling under the OCC jurisdiction.   Nevada has placed restrictions on predatory lending under the provisions of NRS 604A since 2007.  Section  NRS 604A.420 should be of additional interest: It prevents predatory lending to members of our Armed Forces, which would include Creech AFB in Indian Springs, NV; Nellis AFB in Clark County, and the Fallon Naval Air Station.   The state provisions define “high interest lending,” and prohibit making loans which amount to more than 25% of the individual’s gross monthly income.

By allowing the predatory lenders to slither under the OCC umbrella the bill would also protect them from oversight by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In its “Snapshot Report,” October 10, 2012 (pdf) the CFPB summarized the complaints it has received in regard to banking practices:

“Approximately 10,300 (86 percent) of bank account and service complaints have been sent by Consumer Response to companies for review and response. The remaining bank account and service complaints have been referred to other regulatory agencies (11 percent), found to be incomplete (3 percent), or are pending with the consumer or the CFPB (5 percent). Companies have already responded to approximately 9,800 complaints or 95 percent of the complaints sent to them for response. The median amount of monetary relief reported was approximately $105 for the approximately 2,500 bank account and service complaints where companies reported relief. Consumers have disputed approximately 1,900 company responses (20 percent) to bank account and service complaints.”

Thus we have a relatively new agency which has already received and processed some 10,300 consumer complaints, 1,900 of which are still unresolved.  This doesn’t sound like all the lending industry members are yet practicing “safe lending.”

The second major section of the bill is summarized by the CRS as follows:

“Directs the Comptroller to: (1) ensure that Credit Corporations focus their business operations primarily on providing underserved consumers a variety of affordable and commercially viable financial products or services, including some that facilitate personal savings and enhance the credit record of such consumers; (2) facilitate business partnerships among Credit Corporations, insured depository institutions, other nondepository creditors, third-party service providers and vendors, and nonprofit organizations in order to ensure greater credit access for underserved consumers and small businesses; and (3) examine and supervise the Credit Corporations.” (emphasis added)

Who are those “underserved consumers?” Many of them, as reported by Mr. Coolican, are in Nevada:

“Nevada leads the nation in the percentage of residents who are “underbanked” — meaning they have some sort of bank account but also resort to high-interest loans from nontraditional lenders to make ends meet. In theory, a borrower uses these services to tide him or her over until the next paycheck because he or she doesn’t have access to a bank loan or credit card. One-third of Las Vegas Valley residents use these services.” (emphasis added)

Riding the tide until the next paycheck could be a problem for those who would be at risk of being “sold” a pay day loan greater than 25% of their gross monthly income should that protection by the State of Nevada no longer be available to them.  Nor could these “underbanked” individuals and families count on the State to protect them from pay day lenders who want to issue multiple loans.

And Nevadans aren’t alone, although 7.5% of Nevada households are unbanked, and another 31.2% are underbanked.  This, as Coolican notes, puts  us in the Dubious Category of Number One in the Nation in underbanked persons.  [FDIC pdf]  8.2 percent of US households are unbanked. This represents 1 in 12 households in the nation, or nearly 10 million in total.  20.1 percent of US households are underbanked. This represents one in five households, or 24 million households with 51 million adults. [FDIC pdf]  Which brings us to the part of the bill which is supposed to make us feel better.

“Requires Credit Corporations to make available to each consumer to whom a financial product or service is being offered: (1) information on how a consumer may obtain financial counseling services, the benefits of following a regular personal savings program, and how consumers can improve their credit ratings; (2) disclose clearly and conspicuously in the loan agreement the true cost of the loan, including all interest, fees, and loan related charges; and (3) offer an underserved consumer who is unable to repay an extension of credit with a loan repayment term of less than 120 days, an extended repayment plan, at no cost to the consumer, at least once in a 12-month period.”  [CRS]

Not. So. Fast.  The Center for Responsible Lending research found that —

“Although marketed and advertised as a quick solution to an occasional financial shortfall, the actual experience of payday loan borrowers reveals there is nothing quick about the loan except its small principal. According to new CRL research that tracked about 11,000 payday borrowers over two years, many borrowers remained indebted for the 24 months that followed their initial loan.”

The lending isn’t quick, it isn’t inexpensive (with rates up to about 400%), and it is borderline pathological.   Credit counseling is fine — depending upon who does the counseling.  Even adequate credit counseling should put off the borrower from even considering a pay day loan.  Disclosing the true cost of the loan is fine — but it may very well NOT prevent the individual from taking on more debt in subsequent transactions.  Further, an extended re-payment plan for one loan does nothing to ease the pain of the subsequent ones.

There is one more thing we should notice about H.R 6139 — the enthusiasm for placing the predatory lenders under the jurisdiction of the OCC (which doesn’t want it).

Why?  Because the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is tasked with handling consumer complaints about predatory lending practices, and has a special section dealing with the issues affecting military families and their  lending or home ownership issues.   AND because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation created the Division  of Depositor and Consumer Protection in August 2010.

“The establishment of a new division dedicated to depositor and consumer protection will provide increased visibility to the FDIC’s compliance examination and enforcement program. That program ensures that banks comply with a myriad of consumer protection and fair lending statutes and regulations. While Congress established the new bureau to promulgate consumer protection rules, the FDIC maintains the responsibility to enforce those rules for banks with $10 billion or less in assets and to perform its traditional depositor protection function.” (emphasis added)

And, there we have it. The FDIC has a new initiative to regulate the activities of lending institutions under its jurisdiction to curtail predatory lending practices, and the CFPB is tasked with restraining predatory lending practices, so … the only regulatory agency remaining would be the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency which oversees nationally chartered banking institutions.

The bill now sits in the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit to which it was referred on October 1, 2012.  It should stay there.  Forever. And ever. Amen.

 

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Nevada economy, Nevada politics