What, exactly, qualifies a person as "rich"?  It depends who you are - here in the States the wealth of the top 1% is about 225 times greater than that of the typical family, compared to 125 times in 1962, and the cumulative wealth of the Forbes 400 was $1.54 trillion, equal to worth of the bottom half of American families.  Household net worth has been falling, and a recent Gallup poll states that the median income to be considered "rich" is $150,000 a year, up from the $120,000 that qualified a person as rich in 2003.  Amongst different demographics, however, what makes one "rich" is relative.  About 15% of respondents said it would take $1 million a year or more to fall into that category, but three in 10 say that they'd qualify as prosperous even pulling in less than six figures.  About half of Americans believe that affluence equates to at least $1 million in net worth.  Men, as well as people younger than 50, said they need more than $150,000/year before calling themselves rich; for women and older people, $100,000.  For college graduates, households with children under age 18 and residents in cities and suburbs, it's $200,000 a year to categorize themselves as well off-double the amount stated by non-graduates, those without young children and people living in small towns or rural areas.

Speaking of income, I have been retained by a very well-capitalized mortgage bank that is searching for a Southwest Regional Manager for their Wholesale/Correspondent Lending Division and high-performing Account Executives in key markets.  This national lender has a portfolio lending appetite with company-wide production in excess of $5 billion through its wholesale, correspondent, retail, and direct lending channels. The ideal Regional Manager is a strong leader with a proven industry track record who can assemble and motivate a strong sales team. Preferably located in SoCal, the territory includes CA, NV, AZ and UT. Please send resumes to me at rchrisman@robchrisman.com and I will confidentially forward them.

I cannot divulge the name of the company above, but I can tell you that it is not Bank of America, which, by the way, is no longer the nation's biggest mortgage servicer in the U.S., according to the latest report from IMF. It is no surprise that Wells Fargo is now the biggest mortgage servicer in the country with $1.82 trillion in business, or nearly 18% of the total market, compared with Bank of America's $1.77 trillion or a shade over 17%. (Recently BofA had lost its title as biggest bank in the U.S. when its reported assets fell to $2.22 trillion, below JPMorgan Chase's $2.29 trillion, and Brian Moynihan has stated that the company would rather be the best than the biggest.)

The Midwest (named long ago by folks in the east, as opposed to people in the west calling it the Mideast) is especially interested in the Federal Agriculture Department's proposal eliminating the required new credit report and appraisal in an effort to further streamline the refinancing process for rural housing loans.  Rural housing loans offer comprehensive prepay protection and trade quite well, though they comprise a small part of the market. Not only are originators interested in the pricing, but investors want to know how the Agriculture Department's proposal would affect prepayment speeds. For Guaranteed Loans, there is already a streamlined refinance program in place that doesn't require an appraisal if the maximum loan amount doesn't exceed the principal balance of the existing loan and guarantee fee.  For the most part, in fact, borrowers are able to get around much of the documentation mentioned in the proposal, and for this reason analysts believe that speeds of Guaranteed Rural Housing loans won't be hugely impacted.

Mortgage brokers, servicers, and banks are not the only ones being sued. In Missouri, a loan processor (DocX) is the target.

Four items in yesterday's commentary garnered some reader comments: the update on HUD's discrimination news, the servicer settlement, Google and its withdrawal from the mortgage space, and FHA Streamline loans.

On Streamlines: "This is great news but it still does not change the fact that streamlines have literally 4x the default rate of other FHA programs. It doesn't make them desired loans now. If the FHA really wanted more homeowner's with FHA loans to take advantage of the FHA streamline refi they would grandfather in the FHA insurance, which I believe is the main reason homeowner's don't take advantage of a very good program.  In today's world, even if the interest rate is 2% lower than the current note rate, the increase in FHA MI over the last 2 years off sets the interest rate savings - it makes no sense."

On HUD and the Fair Housing Act: "The recent announcement does not amend ECOA - the previously protected classes are already covered by ECOA.  And the Fair Housing Act has also always covered the handicapped and familial status.  Effective March 5, what is new is that HUD now prohibits discrimination against the LGBT community (, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) and they have more clearly defined the meaning of the word "family" to include single people as well as any combination of people who call themselves a family or choose to live together as such.  And this prohibition applies to lenders providing the standard suite of FHA loan products as well as their public housing and rental programs.  I did not see any language that stated clearly that these new protected classes are now under the Fair Housing Act umbrella. The new regulations, published as final in the Federal Register in late January, will go into effect 30 days after the rule was published."

On the robo-signing servicer settlement news: "With regards to the proposed settlement with the banks by the states, it appears that this is nothing more than extortion.  Giving $2,000 to every borrower that didn't make their payments seems absurd to me.  Sure there were some problems but NOT EVERY foreclosure was the fault of the banks.  Taking this to the extreme, why doesn't this administration just seize the major banks and redistribute the money (after a service charge of course).  As an aside, why can't I sue, and receive free money, because it is not fair that I make my mortgage payments on time.  I should get some too! (sniffle)"

And on Google's withdrawal: "From what I heard Google was very successful in the mortgage space. But it is rumored that Lending Tree was losing so much market share to them on these search engines that the head of LT's marketing sent out notice that they were not properly licensed. In addition, it was not Google's model to go further than were they were with information data."

And, "Rob, I had a quick thought on the Google Mortgage Advisor, and other mortgage search engines... a lot of them pull up random companies that customers don't feel comfortable doing business with, they are leery of the bait-and-switch from the lack of rates and specific fees based on their situation. Take this as a biased opinion, since my company provides this service, but have you seen www.mortgagemarvel.com? Borrowers enter in their specific loan scenario, get local results, can see specific information on the FI's rates and estimated fees... and then have a direct link back to the company's web site to apply (having all of the information they already provided auto populate the application). The prospective borrower can even filter the results by rate, APR, fees, payment and lender location." So wrote Joe Wilson with Mortgagebot at joe.wilson@mortgagebot.com.

How low are rates? They're so low that broker-dealers are quoting Fannie & Freddie 3% MBS's, which would typically contain 3.25-3.625% 30-yr loans. And they are above 102! Add some theoretical servicing released premium value, and you're at or above 103! As I've said, no one is complaining about rates, although yesterday they slid higher perhaps for no other reason than "they wanted to" (always a good line on the trading desk). Thomson Reuters noted that, "Monday's flight to quality bid was more than wiped out Tuesday as the Treasury began its quarterly refunding with $32 billion in 3-year notes with another $40 billion in longer term supply on deck over the next two days" and by the end of the day the 10-yr t-note was worse by .625 (1.97%) but MBS prices were only worse by about .125.

Besides the $24 billion 10-yr auction at noon CST, the only U.S. news out today was the MBA's weekly application survey for last week. Apps were up 7.5%, with purchases flat but refi's up over 9% - still accounting for over 80% of all applications. In the early going the 10-yr is up to 1.97% and MBS prices are better.

For all of you with any money left, be aware of the next expected mergers so that you can get in on the ground floor and make some "big bucks." Watch for these consolidations in 2012:
1. Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W. R. Grace Co. will merge and become: Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace.
2. Polygram Records, Warner Bros., and Zesta Crackers join forces and become: Poly, Warner Cracker.
3. 3M will merge with Goodyear and become: MMMGood.
4. Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Dofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become: ZipAudiDoDa.
5. FedEx is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become: FedUP.
6. Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become: Fairwell Honeychild.
7. Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to become: PouponPants.

If you're interested, visit my twice-a-month blog at the STRATMOR Group web site located at www.stratmorgroup.com . The current blog discusses residential lending and mortgage programs around the world, part 2. If you have both the time and inclination, make a comment on what I have written, or on other comments so that folks can learn what's going on out there from the other readers.