Georgia Amends its Residential Mortgage and Installment Loan Laws

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On May 2, 2022, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed HB 891 and SB 470 into law.  HB 891, effective July 1, 2022, updates various laws enforced by the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (the “Department”) including, among other things, by amending (1) certain exemptions from licensure under the Georgia Residential Mortgage Act (“GRMA”), and (2) the Georgia Installment Loan Act (“GILA”) to impose a new licensing obligation to service installment loans subject to the GILA.   Similarly, SB 470, which took effect immediately, amends the GRMA’s provisions regarding felony restrictions for employees of mortgage licensees.

Changes to Licensing of Mortgage Lenders and Brokers

HB 891 made several changes to Title 7 of the Georgia Code, including several amendments to the GRMA, but perhaps one of the most notable changes with respect to mortgage lending involves the creation of a new exemption from licensure under the GRMA for persons holding loans for securitization into a secondary market.  Specifically, as of July 1, 2022, any person who purchases or holds closed mortgage loans for the sole purpose of securitization into a secondary market, is expressly exempt from licensing, provided that such person holds the individual loans for less than seven days. Note that the statute further defines “person” as any individual, sole proprietorship, corporation, LLC, partnership, trust, or any other group, however organized. As written, the new exemption language suggests that persons holding loans as part of the securitization process for longer than 7 days could not rely on the exemption. Note that the GRMA’s existing definition of a “mortgage lender” includes a “person who directly or indirectly…holds, or purchases mortgage loans” and the GRMA contains an existing exemption for any person who purchases mortgage loans from a mortgage broker or mortgage lender solely as an investment and who is not in the business of brokering, making, purchasing, or servicing mortgage loans.

HB 891 also amended an existing exemption from licensure applicable to certain natural persons under an exclusive written independent contract agreement with a mortgage broker who is, or is affiliated with, an insurance company or broker dealer. Under the exemption, as amended, a natural person otherwise required to be licensed is exempt from licensure as a mortgage lender or broker, when under an exclusive written independent contractor agreement with a licensed mortgage broker, so long as the mortgage broker satisfies certain expanded criteria, including, among others  (1) maintaining an active mortgage broker license, (2) maintaining full and direct financial responsibility for the mortgage activities of the natural person, (3) maintaining full and direct responsibility for the natural persons education, handling of consumer complaints, and supervision of the natural person’s mortgage activities, (4) having listed securities for trade and meeting certain market capitalization requirements, (5) being licensed as an insurance company or registered as a broker-dealer, and (6) being licensed as a mortgage lender or broker in ten or more states. The exemption previously applied to certain natural persons employed by the subsidiary of certain financial holding companies. Notably, to maintain the exemption, the natural person must, among other things (1) be licensed as a mortgage loan originator in Georgia and work exclusively for the licensee, the parent company if the licensee is a wholly owned subsidiary, or an affiliate of the licensee if both the affiliate and licensee are wholly owned subsidiaries of the same parent company, and (2) be licensed as an insurance agent or registered as a broker-dealer agent on behalf of the licensee, the parent company if the licensee is a wholly owned subsidiary, or an affiliate of the licensee if both the affiliate and licensee are wholly owned subsidiaries of the same parent company.

HB 891’s amendments to the GRMA’s licensing provisions follow SB 470, which provided welcome changes to the GRMA’s felony restrictions. As amended, Georgia law now provides that the Department may not issue or may revoke a license or registration if it finds that the mortgage loan originator, broker, or lender, or any person who is a director, officer, partner, covered employee or ultimate equitable owner of 10% or more of the mortgage broker or lender or any individual who directs the affairs or establishes policy for the mortgage broker or lender applicant, registrant, or licensee, has been convicted of a felony in any jurisdiction or of a crime which, if committed in Georgia, would constitute a felony under Georgia law.  Previously, Georgia law arguably prohibited a licensee from retaining any individual convicted of a felony that could be deemed an employee or agent of the licensee. As amended, the employee restriction is relaxed to apply only to a “covered employee,” a newly defined term that means an employee of a mortgage lender or broker “involved in residential mortgage loan related activities for property located in Georgia and includes, but is not limited to, a mortgage loan originator, processor, or underwriter, or other employee who has access to residential mortgage loan origination, processing, or underwriting information.” Notably, the restriction no longer applies to an “agent” of a licensee.

Changes to Installment Loan Licensing

HB 891 also amended the GILA to require licensure for persons engaged in servicing of installment loans.  Before the amendments, the GILA only imposed a licensing obligation on persons who advertise, solicit, offer, or make installment loans to individuals in amounts of $3,000 or less.  As amended, any person that services installment loans made by others, excluding loans made by affiliated entities, is also required to obtain a license. HB 891’s amendments also added a number of new exemptions from licensure, including for (1) retail installment transactions engaged in by retail installment sellers and retail sellers, as those terms are defined, and (2) transactions in which a lender offers a consumer a line of credit of more than $3,000 but the consumer utilizes $3,000 or less of the line, so long as there are no restrictions that would limit the consumer’s ability to utilize more than $3,000 of the line at any one time. Additionally, the GILA’s provisions relating to tax on interest has been repealed and reenacted and now requires that installment lenders remit to the Department a fee of 0.125 percent of the gross loan amount on each loan made on or after July 1, 2022, and such fee becomes due on the making of any loan subject to the GILA. This revised fee replaces the prior fee of three (3) percent of the total amount of interest on any loan collected. The statute clarifies that the per loan fee must be paid by the licensee and cannot be passed through to the borrower as an additional itemized fee or charge. The method by which a licensee pays the fee is subject to further clarification via Department regulations.

Takeaway

Mortgage lenders and brokers should review the GRMA, as amended, to determine whether, and if so how, the amendments impact their licensing obligations or their policies with respect to employee background checks in Georgia. Additionally, entities servicing installment loans subject to the GILA, which are originated by non-affiliates, must now obtain a license. Licensees should also take note of the new per loan fee requirements in lieu of prior tax payment regulations.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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