Banks Tighten Belts Further on Mortgages Amid Credit-Freeze

As the nation’s troubled economy incites fear and loathing among consumers and lenders alike, foreign and domestic banks further tightened access to mortgage credit over the past three months, the Federal Reserve reported Monday. The Fed’s senior loan-officer survey, sent out to 55 domestic banks and 21 foreign banks in early October, indicated that the large majority of domestic banks reported tightening their lending standards on prime, nontraditional and subprime residential mortgages over the past three months. About 70 percent of banks — down from 75 percent in the last survey — tightened lending standards on prime mortgages. Ninety percent of banks tightened requirements on nontraditional mortgages, and respondents at banks still originating subprime product said standards had tightened further across the board. In other words: mortgage rates are the least of this market’s concern. Tighter lending standards generally lead to reduced borrowing, which explains the report’s findings that 50 percent of domestic respondents — up from about 30 percent in the previous survey — experienced weaker demand for prime residential mortgages. Seventy percent indicated weaker demand for nontraditional mortgage loans, including Alt-A and jumbo loan products. An full 75 percent of loan officers also said that their banks had stiffened standards that made it more difficult for borrowers to qualify for revolving home equity lines of credit, while 25 percent of respondents said demand for those HELOCs had weakened — twice the drop in demand that was reported in July. The drop-off in mortgage lending, however, was just part of what is clearly becoming a broader pullback from lending activity by banks as the credit crunch moved into high gear last month. Notably, a significant number of banks reportedly raised minimum required down payments, as well as spreads of loan rates, on many consumer loans. And half of banks indicated they had become either somewhat or much less willing to make consumer installment loans over the past three months. Read the full Loan Officer survey >> Write to Kelly Curran at

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