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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Fifth Circuit Holds Variable Rate Home Equity Loan Did Not Violate Texas Constitution

State Issues

On July 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a decision by a Texas district court finding that the terms of an adjustable rate home equity loan did not violate the Texas Constitution. Cerda v. 2004-EQR1 L.L.C., No. 09-50619, 2010 WL 2853651 (5th Cir. July 22, 2010). In response to a foreclosure proceeding, the plaintiff borrowers in Cerda alleged that the terms of a 2002 home equity loan refinance violated the Texas Constitution because (i) it was issued in violation of a mandated waiting period of 12 days between submission of an "application" and closing, (ii) it called for monthly payments that were not "substantially equal," and (iii) it required the payment of fees in excess of a 3% cap. The district court rejected these arguments and, following a bench trial, granted judgment to the defendants. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in all respects. First, the court held that an oral application, which the borrowers indisputably made over the telephone more than 12 days before the loan closed, was sufficient to commence the required waiting period. Second, with respect to the Texas Constitution’s requirement that scheduled payments on home equity loans be "substantially equal" in amount, the Fifth Circuit recognized that the provision was "in some tension with" a separate provision explicitly permitting "variable rate[s] of interest." The Fifth Circuit reconciled the provisions by holding that, in combination, the provisions merely required that home equity loans fully amortize - i.e., that installments extinguish principal and interest over the life of the loan - and, in addition, that there be no final, "balloon" payment. Because the plaintiffs’ loan comported with these requirements, the Fifth Circuit held that the "substantially equal" provision had not been violated. Third, the Fifth Circuit held that the loan did not exceed a 3% cap on fees, reasoning that the yield spread premium on the loan was not a "fee" because it was paid by the lender - not the borrower - to the broker, and that discount points are properly considered to be interest rather than a fee subject to the cap. As the Fifth Circuit noted, its rulings were based on the Texas Constitution as of 2002. Since that time, certain provisions at issue in this case have been amended.