Tanta at Calculated Risk, in one of her usual colorful explanations, tells us the real pitfall of stated income loans, and it’s not one you might expect.
She works through an example of an entrepreneur who doesn’t report all his income (as an aside, she’s not keen to reward that behavior and works through the implications for the bank if issues a stated income loan with the guy claiming just enough income so that his debt-to-income ratio falls within accepted norms, versus a “full doc” which shows his true (according to the IRS) DTI of 68%.
The fully documented loan not only requires more internal sign-offs and regulatory reporting, but it is also a red flag to bank examiners and investors, almost certain to require further explanation.
So this makes the no doc look like a win-win, right? It saves the bank all kinds of hassle and expense, and is easier for the borrower too.
The problem that everyone has been ignoring is that the borrower had better be damned certain he can make good on the loan, because he is assuming liability that the bank ought to be bearing. If the loan goes bad, the borrower can be prosecuted for fraud. As Tanta informs us:
have said before that stated income is a way of letting borrowers be underwriters, instead of making lenders be underwriters. When I say make lenders be lenders, I don’t mean let’s not regulate them. I have no problem with regulatory examinations; far from it. I am someone whose signature (usually, in fact, as that second sign-off) has appeared on exactly these kinds of loans, and whose butt has been on the line for them. We all face having loans we approved go bad; the world works that way. What the stated income lenders are doing is getting themselves off the hook by encouraging borrowers to make misrepresentations. That is, they’re taking risky loans, but instead of doing so with eyes open and docs on the table, they’re putting their customers at risk of prosecution while producing aggregate data that appears to show that there is minimal risk in what they’re doing. This practice is not only unsafe and unsound, it’s contemptible.
We use the term “bagholder” all the time, and it seems to me we’ve forgotten where that metaphor comes from. It didn’t used to be considered acceptable to find some naive rube you could manipulate into holding the bag when the cops showed up, while the seasoned robbers scarpered. I’m really amazed by all these self-employed folks who keep popping up in our comments to defend stated income lending. It is a way for you to get a loan on terms that mean you potentially face prosecution if something goes wrong. Your enthusiasm for taking this risk is making a lot of marginal lenders happy, because you’re helping them hide the true risk in their loan portfolios from auditors, examiners, and counterparties. You aren’t getting those stated income loans because lenders like to do business with entrepreneurs, “the backbone of America.” You’re not getting an “exception” from a lender who puts it in writing and takes the responsibility for its own decision. You’re getting stated income loans because you’re willing to be the bagholder.
And no, this doesn’t particularly do much for my assessment of your business acumen. Frankly, I’d rather see your tax returns and your P&L and hear your story about how investments in the business you have made, with the intent to grow it wisely, have limited your income or made it highly variable, than to see you volunteer to risk prosecution for fraud because, you know, you really need to buy a house. Do you do business with people like that all the time? Are you typically attracted to deals that are claimed to be perfectly legitimate, except that it’s important not to fully disclose certain facts to certain parties? Does that maybe explain some of your accounts receivable problems and your pathetic cash flow? It certainly seems to be explaining some lenders’ cash-flow problems at the moment.
This isn’t just an issue for regulated depositories. All those claims by securities issuers and raters about how we had no idea that gambling was going on in this joint are directly comparable. The tough news for the self-employed “respectable” borrower is that I don’t care if you’re individually willing to play bagholder: you can’t afford to underwrite that collective risk. We have a major credit crisis that’s proving that.