Banking regulators complete subprime lending guidelines

WASHINGTON — Banking regulators on Friday completed guidelines that call on lenders to strictly evaluate borrowers' ability to repay home loans.

The guidance issued by the Federal Reserve and the other four federal agencies that regulate banks, thrifts and credit unions, comes in response to an increasingly troubled housing market and pressure from Congress. Home prices have been falling and mortgage defaults have been rising, especially among so-called subprime mortgages given to buyers with shaky credit.

The standards, which are voluntary and only apply to federally regulated lenders, calls for verification of borrowers' incomes in most cases. Consumers should have clear disclosures of their mortgage terms and should have at least 60 days to refinance a loan that is about to jump up to a higher rate without penalty.

In a prepared statement, Federal Reserve Governor Randall S. Kroszner said "it's only good business sense for the lenders and it is the right thing to do for the borrowers' sake."

The chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association said the guidelines come with a downside — they will reduce the availability of credit for borrowers — and he urged Congress not to pass legislation that would put similar standards for borrowers into law.

Lawmakers, some of whom accuse the Fed of being lax in its oversight of the mortgage market for many years, have been urging the central bank to strengthen the guidelines.

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