Getting a Handle on Loan Fees

Financial institutions—from community banks and credit unions to home-financing giant Fannie Mae—have had to restate their financial results, in part because of faulty accounting for loan origination fees.

BY VICTOR VALDIVIA
August 1, 2007

  

 
 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Due to increased regulatory scrutiny and improved controls following Sarbanes-Oxley, financial companies are paying closer attention to the recognition of fees from loan origination.

Recognition of fees from loan origination is subject to FASB Statement no. 91, which requires that these fees be netted with origination costs and the resulting net fee be deferred and amortized over the life of the loan, generally using the effective-interest method.

The straightforward and mechanical application of the effective-yield method works well for ordinary loans but may not comply with Statement no. 91 in the case of adjustable-rate and hybrid loans. Therefore, firms that originated a substantial number of such loans during the recent real estate boom should review their accounting of fee recognition.

Potential pitfalls for companies in complying with Statement no. 91 include relying on vendor software without thorough testing, grouping loans without meeting grouping requirements, relying on manual spreadsheet computations without proper controls, having weak controls and not retaining sufficient loan-level data.

Victor Valdivia, CPA, Ph.D., is CEO of Hudson River Analytics Inc. and assistant professor of accounting at Towson University in Towson, Md. His e-mail address is v.valdivia@gmail.com .

uring the housing boom of 2001–2005, lenders earned substantial fees from loan origination. Such fees are accounted for according to FASB Statement no. 91, Accounting for Nonrefundable Fees and Costs Associated With Originating or Acquiring Loans and Initial Direct Costs of Leases. It directs that these fees are not reflected in earnings as soon as the lender receives them. Instead, origination fees are netted with origination costs, and in most cases the resulting net fee is amortized over the life of the loan. This amortization is usually done under the effective-interest method (see Exhibit 2).

Although straightforward in principle, application of Statement no. 91 can be difficult and error-prone. Common errors include the inappropriate use of the straight-line method instead of the effective-interest method and errors in amortization computations related to the use of prepayment estimates or nonstandard loan types, such as adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). This article focuses on common problems financial institutions face when implementing Statement no. 91 accounting procedures and systems.

WHY ARE LENDING INSTITUTIONS HAVING PROBLEMS WITH FASB 91?
Although Statement no. 91 was issued in 1986, a number of restatements have been related to it in the last few years, including high-profile ones at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Reasons for the misstatements have included:

Increased scrutiny of accounting matters by regulators, partly in response to investor losses since 2000.

Improved controls following Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, which identified deficiencies related to Statement no. 91.

Increased number of ARMs and hybrid loans during the real estate boom—problematic because accounting systems originally designed to handle Statement no. 91 for standard loans are inadequate to handle nontraditional loan products.

Comparing a FASB 91 system calculation’s results against those in an Excel spreadsheet for a sample of loans (see formulas in exhibits 2 and 3 ) is useful when evaluating a system before it is purchased, as well as at the time of an audit.

SIGNS OFT ROUBLE: TOP 10 FASB 91 RED FLAGS
Knowing these common Statement no. 91 problem areas should help CPAs identify issues and take appropriate actions:

1. Underestimating the complexities of Statement no. 91 implementations.
When management underestimates the statement’s real-life complexities (see, for example, the case of a hybrid loan in Exhibit 3), it underallocates resources. The result is understaffed accounting departments and inadequate systems. In fact, an investigation of Fannie Mae by the firms Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and the Huron Consulting Group found that, before its restatement, the “resources devoted to accounting, financial reporting, and audit functions were not sufficient to address the needs of an institution as large and complex as Fannie Mae,” and that the “accounting systems were grossly inadequate.”

2. Relying on a vendor’s software to carry out the correct fee accounting computations without thoroughly evaluating the software’s functionality.
Management, not the vendor, is responsible for the correct accounting treatment. Therefore, management should verify carefully its vendor’s software not only for the correct implementation of the effective-yield method, but also for compliance with Statement no. 91. This is particularly important for lenders who originate a high proportion of ARMs or hybrid loans. An approach that is particularly useful to verify vendor software is shown in Exhibit 1. In practice, it is difficult to ascertain the exact computations carried out by vendor software. Running multiple test cases through Microsoft Excel and comparing the results to those from the vendor software decrease the likelihood that amortization computations are carried out incorrectly by the vendor’s system. See exhibits 2 and 3 for a description of the functions and formulas that can be used with Excel to make those comparisons and highlight instances where Statement no. 91 results can differ from the effective-interest and straight-line amortization methods.

  Effective-Yield Method on a Standard Fixed-Rate Loan

The loan is a 10-year, $100,000 loan at 5% fixed, with a fee of $3,000 and costs of $2,000.


Effective-Yield
Straight-Line
A
B
C
D
C*
D*
Year
Scheduled Cash
(Outflow)/Inflow
Stated
Interest
Interest
Income
Amortization
Interest
Income
Amortization
0
(99,000)
1
12,950
5,000
5,155
155
5,100
100
2
12,950
4,602
4,749
147
4,702
100
3
12,950
4,185
4,322
137
4,285
100
4
12,950
3,747
3,873
126
3,847
100
10
12,950
617
641
24
717
100
1,000
1,000

The formulas used to calculate the amounts in the table are:

A = PMT(Note rate, remaining amortization term, remaining principal)
B = Note rate times beginning-of-year principal
C = Original IRR times beginning-of-year basis (*)
D = Interest income minus stated interest = C – B
C* = Stated interest + amortization = B + D*
D* = Original net fee ÷ original amortization term

(*) The original IRR is the internal rate of return corresponding to the cash flows in column A.

3. Using the straight-line amortization method without verifying properly that the results are consistent with Statement no. 91.
For example, Heritage Bankshares, a bank in Virginia, reported in its 2004 form 10-KSB that “in misapplying FAS 91, prior to the restatement, the company amortized deferred net fees/costs using only the straight-line method instead of utilizing the level-yield method where appropriate.”

4. Relying on several manual computations in the implementation of Statement no. 91.
For example, spreadsheets with no controls, auditability functionality or ability to track management override are commonly used in amortization computations. Such manual steps should be replaced with auditable and automated systems.

FASB Statement no. 91 Requires Investors to Amortize Also
This article focuses on the point of view of loan originators who defer and amortize origination fees. However, FASB Statement no. 91 also applies to investors in loans or debt securities purchased at a premium or discount. For example, if a company purchases a bond at a premium (or discount), the premium (or discount) is amortized over the life of the bond on the company’s financial statements.

The application of Statement no. 91 can be very complicated for bonds with complex cash flows, such as mortgage-backed securities with underlying ARM or hybrid loans, tranches in collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), interest-only (IO) strips or principal-only (PO) strips, because past and expected future cash flows of these securities must be considered to compute amortization of the premium or discount.

5. Having accounting tasks distributed throughout an institution without sufficient coordination.
This is a common practice and poses problems when the institution has weak controls and cannot enforce its accounting policies. For example, it may be the responsibility of the operations department to assign the proper accounting classification of fees. However, without tight controls and close coordination with the accounting department, fees may be categorized improperly by the operations department and receive incorrect accounting treatment.

6. Grouping loans by adding their net fees and amortizing the aggregate net fee, instead of performing the amortization on the net fee of each loan separately.
This grouped approach has two main problems. First, according to Statement no. 91, paragraph 19, loans can be grouped only if the institution holds a large number of loans having similar characteristics (loan type, loan size, interest rate, maturity, location of collateral, date of origination, expected prepayment rates, etc.). This is problematic because the accounting treatment of loans that cannot be placed in a group may differ from grouped loans. Second, it is challenging to audit the grouped approach properly because grouping methodologies are usually very complex.

  Amortization Calculation According to FASB 91:
A Hybrid Loan
Exhibit 2 shows effective-yield accounting on a standard fixed-rate loan, but for hybrid loans straightforward effective-yield calculations differ from those under FASB Statement no. 91, as shown in Exhibit 3.

Example. A 10-year loan for $100,000 has a fixed rate of 5% for the first two years and a variable rate of prime plus 1% for the remaining eight years. At origination, prime is 6.5%. The lender charges fees of $3,000 and incurs $2,000 of related costs. According to Statement no. 91, the net fee of $1,000 is deferred and amortized. The initial loan basis (or carrying amount) is $99,000. For simplicity, assume that this loan requires annual payments and there are no prepayments.

See the loan’s cash flows and stated interest in columns A and B in Exhibit 3 . If the effective-yield method is applied mechanically, the interest income and amortization amounts in columns C and D are obtained. For comparison, the values obtained under the straight-line method are shown in columns C* and D*. Note that in year 1, under the effective-yield method, the lender earns an amount in excess of the net fees, since amortization of $1,705 exceeds net fees of $1,000. Statement no. 91, paragraph 18a, corrects this by limiting amortization; see the results under Statement no. 91 in columns C' and D'. Also note that, in this example, the net fee is recognized entirely at the end of the first year rather than over the life of the loan, as is generally the case under the effective-­interest method. Cases such as this one, in which the mechanical application of the effective-interest method results in the recognition of a higher amount than the actual fee, occur when the interest in the initial years is substantially lower than in later years. Finally, note the substantial differences among the three approaches. Thus, applying the effective-yield method mechanically is not always in compliance with FASB Statement no. 91. In particular, lenders who originate a significant number of ARMs or hybrid loans should take a close look at how they compute amortization and recognize fees from the origination of such loans.

7. Using prepayment estimates.
Several difficulties arise in implementing amortization calculations with prepayment estimates. First, these estimates are allowed only for groups of loans (Statement no. 91, paragraph 19). Second, the amortization calculations are more involved, since an adjustment is necessary every period to correct for errors in prior periods’ prepayment estimates. Using prepayments has additional implementation challenges since the accounting system must be connected to a prepayment model, and there are many roadblocks in implementing this connectivity correctly. For example, the data interface between the prepayment model and the amortization system must be programmed correctly. In addition, care must be exercised so the beginning-of-period prepayment estimates (together with beginning-of-period management assumptions for obtaining such estimates) are used when computing the amortization expense for a period.

8. Inappropriate categorization of fees.
Different fees warrant different accounting treatment under Statement no. 91. In practice, institutions often lack tight procedures for ensuring that fees are properly categorized. Furthermore, it is often necessary to track the amortization of different fee types separately. For example, SVB Financial Group, the holding company for Silicon Valley Bank, reported in its 2005 form 10-K that, prior to its restatement, it misapplied Statement no. 91 because it had “misclassified fees on certain letters of credit.”

  FASB 91 Accounting for a Hybrid Loan
Effective-Yield
Straight-Line
FASB 91
A
B
C
D
C*
D*
C'
D'
Year
Scheduled Cash
(Outflow)/Inflow
Stated
Interest
Interest
Income
Amortization
Interest
Income
Amortization
Interest
Amortization
0
(99,000)
1
12,950
5,000
6,705
1,705
5,100
100
6,000
1,000
2
12,950
4,602
6,282
1,680
4,702
100
4,602
3
12,950
6,278
5,831
(447)
6,378
100
6,278
4
12,950
5,677
5,258
(419)
5,777
100
5,677
10
12,950
997
906
(91)
1,097
100
997
1,000
1,000
1,000

The formulas used to calculate the amounts in the table are:

A = PMT(Note rate, remaining amortization term, remaining principal)
B = Note rate times beginning-of-year principal
C = Original IRR times beginning-of-year basis (*)
D = Interest income minus stated interest = C – B
C* = Stated interest + amortization = B + D*
D* = Original net fee ÷ original amortization term
C' = Stated interest + amortization = B + D'
D' = MIN(Interest income under effective-yield method – stated interest, original net fee)
= MIN(C – B, original net fee), and zero after net fee is amortized completely

(*) The original IRR is the internal rate of return corresponding to the cash flows in column A.

9. Lack of loan-level data, and lack of data in general.
Statement no. 91 calculations require many loan-level inputs, including historical cash flows and expected future cash flows for every reporting period. Institutions, particularly those that implement grouped amortization methods, often fail to store relevant loan-level data; this lack of data makes it difficult for the institution to adopt loan-level Statement no. 91 computations.

10. Incorrect timing in the recognition of fees.
Institutions are under pressure to recognize fees early, rather than defer them, to boost current earnings. For example, Heritage Bankshares reported in its 2004 form 10-KSB that prior to its restatement it “did not consistently defer fees, resulting in an overstatement of fee income.” Institutions are also under pressure to report low earnings volatility and may be tempted to alter the timing of fee recognition to smooth reported earnings. In fact, the in-depth investigation of Fannie Mae mentioned above also revealed that management misapplied Statement no. 91 “because compliance with FAS 91 would have resulted in greater earnings volatility than management had wanted.” The incentives for early fee recognition to increase current earnings or to alter the timing of fee recognition to reduce earnings volatility are higher in institutions where management’s compensation depends on reported results and controls are inadequate. This could be prevented by improving internal controls and eliminating the direct dependence of compensation on reported accounting results.

The first step in avoiding any misapplication is to recognize applying FASB Statement no. 91 correctly is not always straightforward. A review of current implementations may well be warranted, particularly if prepayment estimates are used and loans are grouped, or if the institution has originated a substantial proportion of nontraditional types of loans such as ARMs, hybrid loans or loans with an interest-only period. At a minimum, such a review should test that fees are indeed deferred and that the straight-line method is used only in cases allowed by Statement no. 91. Particular attention should be devoted to testing amortization calculations for new loan types and testing controls to ensure that all departments throughout the institution follow accounting policies .

 
 
RESOURCES

Web site
FASB Statement no. 91, www.fasb.org/pdf/fas91.pdf.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: EARLY CAREER

Making manager: The key to accelerating your career

Being promoted to manager is a key development in a young public accountant’s career. Here’s what CPAs need to learn to land that promotion.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: MIDDLE CAREER

Motivation and preparation can pave the path to CFO

CPAs in business and industry face intense competition to land a coveted CFO job. Learn how to best prepare yourself for the role.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: LATE CAREER

Second act: Consulting

CPAs are using experience to carve out late-career niches. Learn how to successfully make a late-career transition to consulting, from CPAs who have done it.