Letter: Response to Moody’s RFC

Luisa De Gaetano Polverosi
Associate Managing Director
Moody’s Investor Service
7 World Trade Center
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Ms. De Gaetano Polverosi:

U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) welcomes the opportunity to provide comments on the “Proposed Update to Moody’s Approach to Rating US Prime RMBS”. Our members are supportive of the proposed update to Moody’s methodology, and view this update as a necessary step toward examining and updating various models, and also as a step toward prudently revitalizing the private securitization market for Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS). We applaud the recognition that the value of private mortgage insurance (MI) extends beyond the government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) segment of the housing finance system and we believe that RMBS investors can greatly benefit from the loss severity reduction resulting from MI.

Of particular interest to our members is the proposed update to the evaluation of private MI. Lenders originating mortgages with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios above 80% typically obtain MI to maintain maximum flexibility for secondary market execution. Currently, however, the lack of credit for MI in the rating determination provides little incentive for these mortgages to be included in RMBS structures and transactions. The proposed changes to the methodology address this issue and lenders will no longer be disincentivized to direct mortgages with LTVs above 80% to the RMBS market, thus increasing access to liquidity in support of homeownership and offering investors more choices with regard to taking credit risk in this vital segment of the mortgage market.

Our members appreciate that the proposed update to Moody’s methodology has been the result of an investment of considerable time and effort in data analysis, as well as careful attention to the development of the mortgage lending landscape. While the proposal as published is an improvement, in the spirit of mutually beneficial ongoing dialogue, we would like to offer some commentary on the proposed methodology. Generally speaking, we feel that additional transparency, particularly more details around the benefits of MI, the proposed changes to rejection rates, and Moody’s methodology of determining maximum insurance payout and allocation based on the insurer’s rating, would be highly beneficial to market participants and enable more detailed analysis of the proposal, in addition to some minor recommended adjustments.

Rejection Rate Assumptions

Looking at the proposed rejection rates, a more detailed representation of the slope and/or shape of the line between the Baseline Assumption and Aaa Assumption would be useful, as well as more details surrounding the Aaa Assumption’s rejection rate range of 5-15% in the absence of a GSE backstop. In additional, the variability of the Aaa Assumption should include disclosures of all the factors that can drive a final determination.

We would also encourage the rejection rate assumptions to reflect MIs’ updated Master Policies which increased clarity on terms and streamlined the payment of claims to ensure that MI coverage results in timely, consistent, and accurate policy and claim administration. The proposed update’s rejection rate assumptions should account for the imbedded Rescission Relief (contractual circumstances under which an MI waives it rights to rescind coverage on a mortgage) applicable to the loans in a specific transaction. Mortgages that are already subject to Rescission Relief should have lower assumed rejection rates, and the various milestones regarding Rescission Relief should also be considered in the overall lifetime projections. Our member companies are more than willing to provide detailed information on Rescission Relief to Moody’s to assist with the refinement of implementation of the rejection rate assumptions.

Further, the proposed update to the rating methodology should reflect overall improvements in mortgage originators’ underwriting standards, as well as the MI industry’s new capital framework that is driven by the GSEs’ Private Mortgage Insurer Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs). All MI companies comply with PMIERs’ stringent capital and operational requirements and the industry has nearly doubled its pre-crisis capital, an indication of the industry’s strength and that MI on loans included in securitizations should improve credit enhancement levels in rated RMBS transactions.

The rejection rate haircut should also reflect the Representations & Warranties of a particular transaction and encourage stronger language by providing a benefit to RMBS issuers that provide investors with an extra layer of protection. There have been significant improvements to lenders’ underwriting practices, including the use of independent validation sources, over the last several years that would serve to reduce the overall rejection rates and improve credit enhancement levels, and should therefore be considered for loans that will be repurchased due to loan manufacturing defects or where the trust will be made whole due to servicing defects. Lastly, with regards to the differential treatment of the GSE backstop, USMI encourages Moody’s to consider broadening that category to create a level playing field by including additional types of credit enhancement backstops from a variety of counterparties that would supplement private MI’s credit risk protection.

Maximum Insurance Payout and Allocation

The proposed update includes analysis of expected losses but currently lacks visibility into the benefit of MI as it relates to the Moody’s Individual Loan Analysis credit enhancement (MILAN CE) framework. We would like to request that Moody’s disclose detailed methodology regarding treatment of MI in the MILAN framework. In practice, it is critical that a RMBS issuer be able to quantify the benefit of MI with a certain insurer rating in each of the rating scenarios. Therefore, we believe the RMBS market will greatly benefit from Moody’s publishing the Idealized Expected Loss Table which demonstrates the conversion from non-rejected insured losses to idealized losses in correspondence to the insurance rating of MI in each loss scenario. Without seeing the Idealized Expected Loss Table, it is difficult to comment on this specific component of the proposed methodology update, but there are a couple of general comments related to this element of the rating methodology we would like to offer.

The first is that since the rating of private MIs depends on many factors beyond their capital adequacy, it is possible that purely using an overall company rating may be overly conservative. For examples, ratings of private MIs may not fully reflect the benefit of credit risk transfer programs the MI industry executes with global capital markets and reinsurers, which have transformed the MI business model from “buy-and-hold” to “buy-manage-distribute” and significantly strengthen MIs’ capital positions and claims paying ability during stress periods. While the insurer rating may be reflective as an overall measure of counterparty risk, the incorporation of non-claims payment factors means that items not related to the ability to pay all claims are taken into consideration. It would be very helpful to have access to MI rating sensitivity analysis, as well as loss scenarios that inform the proposed methodology updates.

The second comment is that we would like to understand how the maximum insurance payout (MIP) plateaus and how the state-based insurance regulatory framework has been reflected. Of the private MI companies that ceased writing new business during the financial crisis approximately a decade ago, their cash payouts currently range from approximately 75% to 100%, with the remainder being deferred payment obligations (DPO) – facts that support very high MIP assumptions.


Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the “Proposed Update to Moody’s Approach to Rating US Prime RMBS.” Our members appreciate the data-driven analysis and proposed update, and look forward to continuing a mutually beneficial dialogue, including on the topic of recognition of the value of private MI. This important shift can help promote new interest in private label RMBS, as lenders will have increased secondary market execution flexibility when it comes to their insured mortgage production. By providing an avenue for mortgages with private MI to contribute to the supply of collateral for RMBS, we will see improved liquidity for lenders and an expansion of mortgage credit investment opportunities for private capital investors.

Questions or requests for additional information may be directed to Lindsey Johnson, President of USMI, at ljohnson@usmi.org or 202-280-1820.


Lindsey D. Johnson
U.S. Mortgage Insurers


Blog: MI Industry’s Observations & Recommendations for Replacing CFPB’s QM Patch

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) just released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the “Qualified Mortgage Definition under the Truth in Lending Act.” The CFPB is considering whether to revise the Qualified Mortgage (QM) definition in light of the pending expiration of the provision commonly referred to as the GSE Patch (or Temporary GSE QM loan category) in January 2021. The same statutory product restrictions exist for loans under the Patch as for other QM loans, however these loans are not subject to the 43 percent debt-to-income (DTI) limit—a significant exception that has supported a substantial portion of the overall housing market. Considering a robust market has developed under the GSE Patch, any changes could substantially impact consumers’ access to mortgage finance as well as determine the level of risk within the mortgage finance system, which has implications for homeowners, financial institutions, and taxpayers.

As takers of first-loss mortgage credit risk with more than six decades of expertise and experience underwriting and actively managing that risk, USMI members understand the need to balance prudent underwriting with the need to ensure there is a clear and transparent standard that maintains access to affordable and sustainable mortgage finance credit for home-ready borrowers. As different stakeholders contemplate what to do next with the Patch, USMI offers a few observations and recommendations for replacing the QM Patch.


DTI is not the best or most predictive factor in assessing consumers’ ability-to-repay. Pre-financial crisis, one of the most egregious lending practices was making loans to individuals without a reasonable consideration of their financial ability-to-repay (ATR) the loan. As policymakers and regulators aimed to ensure consumers had at least some reasonable ATR their mortgages going forward, the 43 percent DTI cap was established as part of the CFPB’s QM rule. While DTI is not necessarily the most predictive measure, historical data (especially for 2004-2007 cohorts of loans) demonstrates that higher DTIs are correlated to higher defaults (and predictive of a consumer’s ATR).[i] Yet, DTI is only one measure.

USMI and others have identified more predictive borrower characteristics, most notably that reserves in a bank account are more indicative of an individual’s ATR than many other factors. According to a recent report by JPMorgan Chase Institute,[ii] when a borrower has three months of reserves (funds to cover mortgage payments) in the bank, these borrowers were five times less likely to default on their mortgage as those who had insufficient cash in the bank to cover one mortgage payment. According to the JPMorgan Chase Institute report, homeowners who had less than one month’s mortgage payment in savings made up 20 percent of the people in their survey but made up 54 percent of the people in the survey who defaulted on their loans.

While DTI is one factor for assessing ATR, by simply limiting the market to a hard 43 percent limit, many home-ready borrowers will be cut out of the market. In fact, roughly 30 percent of the GSEs’ market today is above the 43 percent DTI limit. CoreLogic estimates that the total loan origination volume for 2018 for loans that were above the 43 percent limit was roughly $260 billion out of a $1.6 trillion market in 2018[iii] (though this number could be higher because some banks have chosen to hold loans in their portfolio that are above the 43 percent DTI limit).

The need for transparency and input on compensating factors. Since the implementation of the QM Rule and the GSE Patch, the market has seen that many good quality loans have been above the 43 percent DTI limit. For loans with higher DTI under the Patch, the market has adapted and relied on compensating factors to adjust for and mitigate the additional risk. These compensating factors are done as part of the GSEs’ automated underwriting systems (AUSs). The current AUSs and the compensating factors used within them are not transparent to stakeholders or the public. However, as mortgage insurers and others analyze GSE loans with higher DTIs, we can begin to back-in to what the compensating factors are and when they come into play for higher DTI GSE loans.


ATR and product restrictions should remain as part of any updates to the QM rule. USMI believes the requirements for assessing a borrower’s ATR that require the lender to underwrite the consumer using credit, income and asset documentation should remain as critical components to any enhancements to the rule. It is also essential that the QM statutory product restrictions remain intact to maintain discipline in the lending community as well as to protect consumers.

A single, transparent underwriting standard for defining QM criteria should be established. USMI recommends a list of transparent mitigating underwriting criteria (compensating factors) for loans with DTIs between 45 and 50 percent for defining QM (in addition to the existing statutorily defined product features and ATR underwriting criteria) be established. While USMI has developed a list of proposed criteria (see below), the list of criteria could ultimately be set by a non-profit membership organization or standard-setting body.

A transparent and easy-to-understand and use set of underwriting criteria can be programmed to allow for manual underwriting or automatic underwriting engines. Further, any private market participant could publish or code these criteria in their investor requirements. For the GSEs, it would remain in the purview of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director to determine whether the GSEs could guarantee high DTI loans. If not, the loans would simply receive an “Approve/Ineligible” or “Accept/Ineligible” AUS decision. This approach would level the playing field between market participants, allow for continued innovation around documentation, verification, and other underwriting standards, and force the GSEs’ AUSs to become more transparent.

Proposed Set of Compensating Factors

Importantly, USMI believes that there should be one industry standard with complete transparency into the credit decisioning factors used for underwriting mortgage credit risk and that input from industry should be allowed on updates to the underwriting criteria. Further, any changes related to maximum DTIs should be consistent across different lending channels (e.g., FHA and GSEs) to ensure there is not market arbitrage to achieve QM status.

Appendix Q needs to be addressed. All proposals to assess and define an ATR will have challenges or shortcomings. For any proposal that includes DTI, there is still the challenge of addressing the acknowledged limitations of Appendix Q, including to allow lenders to document and verify borrower income and assets utilizing new innovations in the industry. A possible permanent fix to address Appendix Q could be to allow for the GSEs’ guides to be maintained by a regulatory body outside of the GSEs and updated as necessary. Legislation is needed if Appendix Q is to allow for the use of guides or handbooks of the GSEs or other agencies.

APOR could remain the determinant for the Safe Harbor protection but should not be the replacement for DTI requirement and Underwriting Criteria. Further, to provide a more level playing field between the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the conventional market, the annual percentage rate (APR) cap of Average Prime Offer Rate (APOR) + 150 bps needs to be increased to account for GSE LLPAs and private mortgage insurance. Setting the cap for QM Safe Harbor protection at 200 bps over APOR + 200 bps will limit the shift of riskier, high-LTV business to FHA, preserve greater private capital participation in the pricing of risk, and promote better taxpayer protection.

[i] https://www.fhfa.gov/PolicyProgramsResearch/Research/Pages/wp1902.aspx

[ii] JPMorgan Chase Institute: Trading Equity for Liquidity: Bank Data on the Relationship Between Liquidity and Mortgage Default. June 2019.

[iii] https://www.corelogic.com/blog/2019/07/expiration-of-the-cfpbs-qualified-mortgage-gse-patch-part-1.aspx

Blog: Buy a Home Without Breaking the Bank

Buying a home is one of life’s biggest financial milestones, but people often think it’s out of reach because of the costs involved, including the myth that you have to put 20% down. The fact is, you don’t necessarily need to deplete all of your savings to qualify for a mortgage and you can purchase a home sooner than many people believe.

You aren’t alone in thinking you can’t afford a home right now. According to a recent report, 49% of non-homeowners stated that not having enough money for a down payment and closing costs was a major obstacle to purchasing a home. But when you look at the data, many aspiring homebuyers can afford to buy a home with less than 20%. In fact, another recent survey found that among first-time homebuyers who obtained a mortgage, approximately 80% had down payments of less than 20%.

There are several low down payment mortgage options available to you, such as conventional loans with private mortgage insurance (MI) or government-backed loans like those insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

For example, a qualified borrower can get a conventional loan with private MI for as little as 3% down. If he or she waited to save for a 20% down payment, it could take up to 20 years to save that amount, plus closing costs, for a $262,250 house — the national median sales price in 2018 according to the National Association of REALTORS®.  That wait time is trimmed down to seven years when buying a home with a 5% down, where the loan is sustainably backed by private MI.  Purchasing a home with less down using private MI can also help ensure you continue to have prudent savings, and can free up funds that you can use for other important home purchases – such as renovations, appliances, and furniture.

There are other mortgage options available to you as well, such as government-backed FHA loans that allow you to put down as little as 3.5%. However, unlike private MI, which can be canceled once you reach 20% equity in your home, the mortgage insurance premiums attached to FHA loans typically can’t be canceled and remain throughout the life of the loan.

It’s important to know what home loan option is best for you, and you should speak with a mortgage lender to help inform your decision. The bottom line, however, is that there are affordable low down payment home loan options out there, which could mean the difference between getting into your home sooner, allowing you to build wealth through home equity, or waiting for years while renting. By taking advantage of home loans backed by private MI, you can spend less time worrying about a down payment and more time enjoying your new home.

Getting into your new home with private MI and keeping more of your hard-earned money in the bank can be a very smart way to invest in your future. Check out www.LowDownPaymentFacts.com to learn more.