The risky mortgage is making a comeback.
More than a decade after home loans triggered the worst financial crisis in a generation, the strict lending requirements put in place during its aftermath are starting to erode. Home buyers with low credit scores or high debt levels as well as those lacking traditional employment are finding it easier to get credit.
The loans have been rebranded. Largely gone are the monikers subprime and Alt-A, a type of mortgage that earned the nickname “liar loan” because so many borrowers faked their income and assets. Now they are called non-qualified, or non-QM, because they don’t comply with postcrisis standards set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for preventing borrowers from getting loans they can’t afford.
Borrowers took out $45 billion of these unconventional loans in 2018, the most in a decade, and origination is on track to rise again in 2019, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry research group. Such mortgages aren’t guaranteed by government agencies and typically charge higher interest rates than conventional loans.
Proponents of unconventional loans argue that mortgages became too hard to get in the aftermath of the crisis and that their proliferation will open the housing market to sound borrowers who had been shut out of it. But some worry that the competition for customers could drive lenders to loosen standards too much.
“There are some weakening standards and weakening practices,” said Eric Kaplan, director of the housing finance program at the Milken Institute. “It doesn’t rise to the same level yet, to my knowledge, of some of the things taking place just prior to the crisis. But we have to be vigilant.”
Right now, unconventional loans are largely being extended by nonbank mortgage lenders. But big banks have found another way in: JPMorgan Chase & Co., Credit Suisse Group AGand Citigroup Inc. have in recent months been arranging mortga