The ABC's of HMDA
by Stephanie Caputo, community development expert, Community Affairs Department, OCC
The purpose of HMDA data historically has been multifold: to determine whether financial institutions are meeting the housing credit needs of their communities; to identify possible discriminatory lending patterns and assist in the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; and to assist public policy-makers in targeting investments to attract and leverage much-needed private capital, especially in urban areas. Through the decades, various refinements to HMDA reporting requirements have contributed to the data’s usefulness in assessing how effectively institutions have addressed community housing needs in their service areas.
In 1989, Congress significantly expanded HMDA to include certain nondepository lenders, and to require reporting on applicant race, national origin, gender, and income. The regulatory community used these additional data to sharpen the focus of their fair lending examinations and compliance enforcement efforts. Additionally, regulators have used HMDA data to assist them in conducting Community Reinvestment Act evaluations.
The latest revisions to HMDA are intended to provide regulators and other stakeholders with more specific information with respect to mortgage markets, especially the booming subprime market, to ensure that lenders are continuing to respond to the need and demand for housing credit in their communities, as well as to assist in the enforcement of fair lending laws.
As of the fall of this year, tables available to the public will display, for each HMDA reporter, pricing information for higher-priced loans by (1) borrower characteristics, i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, and income level, and (2) racial/ethnic composition and income level of the census tract in which the property is located. (Click here for "HMDA Disclosure Requirements: What the Public has the Right to See - and When")
Key revisions to HMDA reporting include the following data elements:
The federal banking regulators, as well as industry trade groups and consultants, have been alerting bankers for the past couple of years about the revisions to HMDA reporting requirements, and the potential implications of those revisions for banks. Specifically, the OCC has been urging banks to validate their data systems, and to understand and be able to explain their data.
The Federal Reserve Board (FRB), on behalf of the interagency Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), stores the HMDA data, performs edit checks on specific reported data, and maintains the database for all the HMDA reporters. The FRB staff generates various data quality and validity reports, and contacts reporting institutions to resolve outstanding reporting issues. Certain data must be corrected; the most common example is incorrect census tract information. It is critical that lenders ensure that their data are accurate; otherwise, the FFIEC will produce flawed public disclosure statements, thereby hampering the ability of third parties to evaluate the performance of HMDA-covered lenders. (Click here for "Lenders Covered by HMDA Data Reporting Requirements")
Implications of the New HMDA Data for National Banks
Despite providing a useful body of information, HMDA data may be subject to misinterpretation. The recent interagency questions and answers on HMDA, dated March 31, 2005, point out that, while the enhanced pricing data will serve as an important screening tool for self-monitoring and enforcement efforts, HMDA data alone are insufficient to prove discriminatory practices by financial institutions.
The new HMDA data represent both a challenge and an opportunity to understand lending patterns and pricing decisions. At a minimum, banks certainly should have conducted a preliminary review and analysis of their HMDA data, in order to understand what the data show – and what they do not – and bankers should be prepared to explain and support fully their underwriting and pricing process.
When evaluating data from HMDA-covered institutions, it is important to be mindful of the underlying data not reported, such as borrower creditworthiness, loan-to-value ratios, debt-to-income ratios, borrower assets, and other relevant underwriting factors.
Nonetheless, the new data reporting requirements, which capture salient pricing information regarding higher-cost loans, lien status, manufactured housing, race and ethnicity, and preapprovals, will provide more fertile ground from which to increase the breadth and depth of the analysis. The OCC will use the latest HMDA data to deploy our compliance management and examination resources strategically and determine if there are fair lending concerns that should be investigated further. (Click here for “Pricing Disparities: Do They Necessarily Mean Trouble?”) To that end, the federal banking agencies acknowledge HMDA’s value as a regulatory resource, even though HMDA reporting per se is imperfect as a mechanism to compare pricing decisions, given the full array of underwriting considerations that are not part of the reported data.
On their face, HMDA data could well lead the public, especially the media and various interest groups, to conclude that there is disparate treatment based on race, ethnicity or gender, and that certain lenders are engaging in predatory or abusive loan practices. Even if HMDA data show nothing more than concentrations of higher-cost loans in minority neighborhoods, the burden will be on lenders to explain why disparities exist and what they mean.
While there are inherent limitations to the new HMDA data, it will unquestionably contribute to a greater overall understanding of the mortgage industry. The information reported will provide regulators, lenders, and other affected parties with more complete context for evaluating the prime and subprime markets. Additionally, the data will furnish the backdrop for additional compliance risk management activities on the part of banks, particularly with respect to fair lending and predatory lending.