Do Product Bans Help Consumers? Questioning the Economic Foundations of Dodd-Frank Mortgage Regulation
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
The system of residential mortgage contact regulation enacted by the 2010 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 has been justified as necessary to prevent lenders from exploiting consumer misperception and impatience through the sale of complex mortgage contracts with back-loaded or postponed charges, fees and penalties. Among other things, Dodd Frank creates a regulatory regime under which complex mortgages are penalized, amounting to de facto regulatory restrictions on such contracts. While behavioral law and economics scholars and regulatory practitioners have criticized complex mortgages as exploiting consumer misperception and impatience, such scholars and practitioners have neither advocated nor rigorously analyzed the costs of Dodd Frank style contract restrictions. Drawing on a large body of both theoretical and empirical work in neoclassical (rather than behavioral) financial economics, this article argues that while some consumers undoubtedly did fail to understand such complex mortgages, the terms of those mortgages had a solid economic rationale and made welfare-increasing mortgage credit available to consumers when it otherwise would not have been available. By severely discouraging complex mortgages from being written, Dodd Frank and regulations promulgated thereunder by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have priced out of the mortgage market entire groups of potential homeowners – including younger people, minorities and the self-employed. Welfare losses to such people from restricting contractual freedom are very real, and must be balanced against the benefits to those consumers who are arguably protected against ex ante undesirable mortgage contracts and to others in society arguably harmed when mortgages default. A policy of minimizing such harms by speeding and lowering the cost of recovery from mortgage contract failure is argued to be superior to policies, such as Dodd Frank’s mortgage contract restrictions, designed to prevent such failures by mandating or manipulating private contractual choice.