PA Official Pushes for Mortgage Reform; Cites ‘Abusive’ Lending

Acting Pennsylvania state Banking Secretary Victoria A. Reider on Friday urged swift action by state legislators to stop what she called “abusive lending practices” and blamed for many foreclosures. “The Banking Department has made great strides over the past few years but Pennsylvania’s foreclosure rate remains above the national average,” Reider said during a Pennsyvania House Commerce Committee hearing. “More needs to be done. I look forward to working closely with the legislature to protect our homeowners from abusive lending practices.” The committee is planning two more hearings, in the Poconos and Philadelphia, on abusive lending and mortgage foreclosures. Legislation was introduced in the House (HB 1079-1084) and Senate (SB 483- 488) earlier this year to stop abusive lending practices. The six bills are the result of a 2005 Department of Banking report on foreclosures, which cited “abusive lending practices” as a significant contributing factor to Pennsylvania’s above-average foreclosure rate.

The bills would amend state laws to require individual licenses for mortgage professionals. Currently, the department has the authority to license mortgage companies but not the employees who work there. “In Pennsylvania, the people who cut your hair are licensed,” Reider said. “The people who sell insurance and stocks are licensed; but the people who guide, for most of us, the largest financial transaction of our lives are not licensed. “This legislation would create a new licensing category for individual mortgage loan originators — those who work directly with home buyers. Pennsylvania needs to join the 30 other states that already have individual oversight in place.” The bills would also seek to protect more borrowers under the state interest law, allow the Banking Department to notify the public sooner about fines and other actions against companies, enhance the collection of foreclosure data at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and improve oversight of real estate appraisers by the state’s Appraiser Board. In addition to supporting legislative reform, the department plans to propose regulations that require crucial loan information to be disclosed to borrowers during origination and require mortgage companies to evaluate a borrower’s ability to repay the loan given all of its terms, not just the low “introductory” payment. Late last year, the department issued a statement of policy to mortgage companies to clarify what constitutes improper conduct under existing laws. The department has also implemented a number of internal changes, including adding staff to focus on mortgage companies and handle consumer complaints, creating an investigative unit and implementing more extensive background checks on license applicants.

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