Hillary Clinton Says Bad Lenders Should Be Punished

Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for penalties on unscrupulous mortgage brokers who engage in predatory lending and a $1 billion federal fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

She also wants an increase in affordable housing options.

"Everybody wants these (lending) organizations to be successful, but not at the cost of taking advantage of the consumer," Clinton told The Associated Press in advance of a speech planned Tuesday. "And the unfortunate fact is, many people have gotten into the mortgage market who are being exploited and abused by boiler-room mortgage-lending operations that are just like selling phony penny stocks or the old traveling salesmen with the snake oil."

Clinton has been critical of subprime mortgages, loans given to people with blemished credit histories or low incomes. Weak home prices and rising interest rates have made it increasingly difficult for borrowers to keep up with their payments; delinquencies and foreclosures are sharply rising.

On Monday, the nation's 10th largest mortgage lender, American Home Mortgage Investment Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection. Two other mortgage lenders said they were not accepting new applications. Falling home prices and a spike in payment defaults have scared investors away from mortgage debt, including bonds and other securities backed by home loans.

"Always, in a market the consumer or the borrower has to be responsible," Clinton said. "But on the other side, we don't want to have such an imbalance where the lender and the broker can take advantage of the consumer.

"I'm trying to just get this back into a more even keel so that ... brokers know this isn't the Wild West and they've got to abide by some rules and provide fair and accurate information about what the real costs are."

Clinton said the markets are valuable, but should be balanced with fairness.

"The history of America is making sure that our markets work as well as they should by avoiding either anticompetitive efforts or having the market be stacked against the consumer," she said. "That's why we have consumer protection agencies. That's why we have banks and credit card companies and other financial institutions that have to abide by rules and regulations."

Clinton also will propose a $1 billion federal fund for local and state programs that help at-risk homeowners avoid foreclosures. She said those programs could help the "unsuspecting families" linked to unfair mortgages.

And she also planned to demand lenders remove early payment penalties attached to some mortgages.

"It's part of the American ethos that if you can pay off your debts, you should be encouraged to do it," she said.