One common assumption about the subprime mortgage crisis is that it revolves around borrowers with sketchy credit who couldn't have bought a home without paying punitively high interest rates. But it turns out that plenty of people with seemingly good credit are also caught in the subprime trap.
An analysis for The Wall Street Journal of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans made since 2000 shows that as the number of subprime loans mushroomed, an increasing proportion of them went to people with credit scores high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms.
In 2005, the peak year of the subprime boom, the study says that borrowers with such credit scores got more than half -- 55% -- of all subprime mortgages that were ultimately packaged into securities for sale to investors, as most subprime loans are. The study by First American LoanPerformance, a San Francisco research firm, says the proportion rose even higher by the end of 2006, to 61%. The figure was just 41% in 2000, according to the study. Even a significant number of borrowers with top-notch credit signed up for expensive subprime loans, the firm's analysis found.
The analysis also raises pointed questions about the practices of major mortgage lenders. Many borrowers whose credit scores might have qualified them for more conventional loans say they were pushed into risky subprime loans. They say lenders or brokers aggressively marketed the loans, offering easier and faster approvals -- and playing down or hiding the onerous price paid over the long haul in higher interest rates or stricter repayment terms.
The subprime sales pitch sometimes was fueled with faxes and emails from lenders to brokers touting easier qualification for borrowers and attractive payouts for mortgage brokers who brought in business. One of the biggest weapons: a compensation structure that rewarded brokers for persuading borrowers to take a loan with an interest rate higher than the borrower might have qualified for.
How much could consumer protection regulation have averted this?