In a world of news stories about crippled credit markets, at least one group of Americans still faces the problem of aggressive loan marketing. Senior citizens are on pace to set a new record in 2009 for reverse mortgages, complicated financial products that enables seniors to extract equity in their homes. A new report from the National Consumer Law Center makes parallels between today's reverse mortgage market and the subprime market of a few years ago (yes, the market that exploded the world economy). Tara Twomey, a repeat Credit Slips guestblogger describes in the report how incentives for broker compensation, a rapidly growing securitization market, and weak or non-existent regulation all expose seniors to risky transactions.
The key recommendation is the imposition of a suitability standard on lenders. That is, lenders and brokers would have to make a good faith determination of whether a loan was appropriate given a senior's situation. The NCLC made this same recommendation for subprime loans in 2006, and it was ignored. Given the relatively modest size of the market ($17 billion), the vulnerability of the senior population, including the fact that these are once-in-a-lifetime/no-learning-curve transactions, and the collossal fallout from identical conditions in the subprime market, the reverse mortgage market seems like an ideal chance to give the suitability standard a real-life test drive. If America had a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, it might take-up that opportunity. In the meantime,it's consumer regulation as usual, with some occasional words of warning from regulators with limited authority and pending Congressional legislation that takes aim at only the most egregious abuses.