The Impact of Predatory Lending Laws: Policy Implications and Insights

Publication Date

January 2008


Over half the states and several localities have enacted statutes and ordinances to regulate abuses in the residential mortgage market. The effect of these statutes is a matter of debate. This paper seeks to improve the understanding of this increasingly important issue and pays particular attention to the role that legal enforcement mechanisms play in this context.

We created a legal index of laws governing mortgage lending terms and practices, giving each state an overall score for the strength of its laws. In addition, we disaggregated the index to create sub-indices along three dimensions: (1) the scope of loans covered by the laws; (2) the prohibited loan terms and practices; and (3) the strength of the legal enforcement mechanisms. We use these indices to determine the effect of anti-predatory lending laws-- using both total index scores and the scores using the sub-indices-- on loan applications, originations and rejections.

To control for variations within state borders, we employ a geographic sampling approach that focuses on lending activity along state borders, including only loans that were originated in a county that is geographically along a state border and if at least one of the two abutting states has an anti-predatory lending law.

We find that the extent of coverage, restrictions, and enforcement embodied in a state's legal framework is associated with significant changes in the probability that a subprime application is rejected and a subprime loan is originated. Coverage is associated with lower subprime rejection probabilities. Restrictions tend to increase the likelihood of rejection and hence retard originations in the subprime market. Finally, the key result in the analysis of enforcement is that stronger enforcement mechanisms reduce subprime rejection probabilities.

We conclude the paper by discussing the possible implications of these findings, including how anti-predatory lending laws may have shaped borrower and lender behavior and how our results can help inform shape future lending regulations. This paper makes a timely contribution given the current crisis in subprime lending and the call for increased scrutiny of lenders and the loans they originate.