U.S. mortgage lending up 38 percent, racial disparities persist


U.S. mortgage lending increased by 38 percent last year, boosted by significant refinancing activity, with white and Asian borrowers continuing to enjoy greater access to credit for purchases than blacks or Hispanics, regulators said on Wednesday.

Banks are required to disclose detailed lending data under the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act by March 1 of each year, and regulators regularly provide an overview.

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The data highlights how much historically low interest rates have helped spur the recent U.S. housing market's rebound since its 2006 collapse. However, borrowing costs have started to tick up, raising fears that the market's momentum could soon stall.

"The total number of originated loans of all types and purposes reported increased by about 2.7 million, or 38 percent, from 2011, in part because of a 54 percent increase in the number of refinancings," the report from the regulators said.

Home purchase lending also increased during the same period, but by a more modest 13 percent.

The information collected by regulators is aimed at helping them determine how consumers are faring in credit markets, and whether any discriminatory lending patterns are emerging.

Data on home purchases showed that blacks and Hispanic whites had "experienced higher denial rates than non-Hispanic white applicants," the report said. The denial rate for Asian applicants was "virtually the same as the corresponding denial rate for non-Hispanic white applicants."

The same general pattern had been seen in prior years.

However, regulators cautioned that the data did not necessarily "determine whether a lender is complying with fair lending laws."

Higher denial rates could reflect variances in economic circumstances and credit-worthiness, and further investigation would be needed to determine if mortgage applicants were treated fairly, the regulators said.

The 2012 data consists of loan information reported by 7,400 lenders, including all of the nation's largest mortgage originators.

The data was released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, the Federal Reserve, the National Credit Union Administration, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

(Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)