31 May “Liar Loans”: Who’s the Real Liar?
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Are Borrowers Free to Lie?, talks about a recent Bankruptcy Court decision in the Northern District of California. In re Hill dealt with an attempt by National City Bank to hold the Hills’ mortgage loan non-dischargeable, meaning that, despite the loss of their home due to foreclosure and their subsequent bankruptcy, they would have to pay it back. How did the Hills get in this situation? They did what many borrowers were urged to do over the past several years: take out a “stated income” loan.
Stated Income loans, also called “liar loans” or NINJA (No Income, No Job, No Assets) loans, were mortgage loans in which no proof of income, employment or assets was required. Rather, the borrower simply “states” on the loan application what his or her income is, and the bank does no checking. No pay stubs, no tax returns, nothing. Ask for a mortgage, in virtually any amount, and get it without any investigation of ability to pay, examination, or common sense. Common sense would have disclosed that something was very wrong in the Hills’ case.
The Hills were 54 years old, and worked as delivery drivers and employee for an auto-parts distributor. They signed a loan application falsely stating they earned about a combined $191,000 a year. They claimed that their independent broker and the bank put the income figures into the applications without their knowledge and that they didn’t read them before signing.
Based on the obviously false figures in the application, following the foreclosure on their home and the Hills filing for bankruptcy, National City Bank, the lender on the loan, asked the Bankruptcy Court to find that their debt to the bank should not be discharged because they lied on their mortgage application. While agreeing that the income statement was false, the Bankruptcy Court disagreed that the Hills should lose their discharge.
The Court stated:
While the Court finds and concludes that the debtors made a material false representation concerning their financial condition to the Bank in October 2006, with knowledge of its falsity and the intent to deceive the Bank, the Court finds and concludes that the Bank’s nondischargeability claim under Â§ 523(a)(2)(B) must fail. The Bank failed to prove that it reasonably relied on the Debtors’ false representation concerning their income, as set forth in the October Loan Application. As a result, the Bank’s claim has been discharged. Judgment will be ordered accordingly.
In other words, because National City knew or should have known that the Hills misrepresented their income and didn’t check it out, it didn’t meet one of the criteria for nondischargeability: it didn’t rely on the Hills’ false statements in making the loan. The Hills’ loan was found to be dischargeable.
The Hill decision is an important one. It makes clear that banks cannot place sole responsibility for their poor lending practices and decisions on the shoulders of the borrowers. Mr. and Mrs. Hill aren’t without fault, but the fault was on both sides. The Hills lost their home of 20 years and had to file for bankruptcy. The bank lost its money.
Sounds to me as if the Court restored a bit of balance to the equation.
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