Refinancing with Less Income

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Hello,

When my husband and I bought our home 2.5 years ago (two bedroom condo) we qualified for the loan ($250,000) based on both our incomes. Then I had a baby and stopped working. We've never missed a payment or even been late, and we're getting by just fine by being frugal. However, our loan is a 5/1 ARM, and I'm skeptical of our ability to pay the adjustable rates once our fixed years are over. Our original plan (when we got the loan) was to see about refinancing at the end of those five years. (Five years worked well for us because my husband was still in school and we knew we'd be here about that long, if not longer.) However, now that we no longer have my income, all the mortgage calculators online are telling us that we can afford a loan of just about half the value of our home. What do we do in a situation like this? Is it possible to do anything other than sell our home once our five years are up?

A few other (maybe) pertinent details: currently we're paying interest only on our first mortgage (4.75%) and a principal and interest payment on our second mortgage (8.75%) Our home has gone up in value since we bought it, and we've made some improvements as well. Likely selling price right now (based on comparable properties that just sold in our area) is $325,000 to $340,000.

What do you think?

The first thing I want to ask someone in this situation is "How long do you have until reset?" The second would be, "Are you going to be able to afford the payments when it hits reset?" These two answers I'm fairly certain of, looking at the information provided. The third would be "Do you intend to change something about the situation before that time?" and "What's your market trends?" would be the fourth. In San Diego, I know the answer to four, but three is a guess, and you're not in San Diego or close to it.

You have the loan. It is already funded. You have lived up to all the qualifications you agreed to in order to get it funded. You don't have to do anything other than make the payments in order to keep this loan. If this were a 30 year fixed fully amortizing loan that you were already making the payments on, there would be no reason for you to do anything, because I certainly can't beat that rate today. Nobody can. If you have already got the loan and you can afford it indefinitely, you don't have a problem.

Unfortunately, that's not the case here. You're fine for now, but not forever. You have a known time approaching at which point you will be unable to make your payments. To make matters worse, there's no way to get that good of a rate now and it's not likely that there will be before your initial fixed period expires. That's the worst news.

The mildly bad news is that you're not paying your balance down much. Assuming you're not paying anything extra, you're not going to pay that $200,000 interest only first down by anything, and you've only paid the $50,000 second down by about $1000 now, and you'll only pay it down to about $47,800 by the end of the fifth year.

The mildly good news is that you've got 2.5 years left to do something with. You could go back to work, and if you do so now, you'll have two years continuous same line of work before the 5 years are up. Assuming you make as much as you used to, you should be able to afford the property.

This 2 1/2 years is time on your side. I keep telling folks time makes a great ally or a horrible enemy, but it's never neutral. Right now, it's on your side - giving you time to do something to change the situation. Once the adjustment hits, or even gets close, time will become your enemy. Don't waste time, but right now it is on your side.

The really good news is that your market has gone up, and you have a good amount of equity. This is about as surprising as gravity, but it is still good news. You're under 80% loan to value ratio if the numbers you gave me are valid. I wouldn't touch your loan right now, if I were you, but if you were in a sub-prime situation to start with, chances are good that you'd be A paper by now. You've got a 5/1 A paper loan with plenty of the initial fixed period left - but there's a lot of folks out there with 2/28 C paper. Especially if your adjustment had already hit, moving from 8% adjustable to a 6.5% thirty year fixed A paper without points (as of when I'm writing this) makes a lot of sense. Even if you don't want to sell o refinance now, know that that kind of equity means you've got some breathing room if you've got to have it.

The bad news is that if you sell, you're going to sacrifice some of that equity. It costs money to sell property. Assuming yours sells for $325,000, you'd probably only net roughly $299,000, of which your loans would eat $249,000, leaving you with $50,000 in your pocket. Right now, a lot of places are in a world of hurt for trying to sell, so your could be out more than that and still have to take a lower price in order to get it sold. If your condo was in San Diego, for instance, you'd be doing extremely well to net $35,000 from an actual sale right now, even if your condo really was worth $340,000. The condo market is just saturated with conversions. I think this will change soon enough to surprise a lot of people, but I don't know for sure.

Let's assume that you don't intend to return to work. If your loan was adjusting any time in the next year, it would be time to sell. However, you've got some time. If your market doesn't look like it's in danger of collapse, I'd probably wait. I don't know about where you are, but here in San Diego, I'd bet the market is going to be better for sellers next year than it is now. Most likely, more than enough better to justify waiting. If your market is just peaking, however, you've got a real issue, and you might want to get out now before you've lost all of your lovely equity.

One final possibility is planning to wait and refinance, doing the loan "stated income", telling the lender that you make more money than you do. This is dangerous. Quite aside from the fact that you are intentionally defeating one of the most important safeguards for your protection as well as the bank's, this is not what stated income was intended for, and you need to be careful that you're actually going to be able to make the payments without going backwards (in other words, no negative amortization). Better would be a fully amortized loan, but since you're already in the property, interest only is acceptable. If the situation is at least stable, why incur the costs of selling while the property meets your needs? However, at this point we do not know what the rates will be two and a half years from now. I don't know what the maximum rate you could afford is. I think 5/1 loans are going to stay about where they are now, in the low 6s. Can you afford even an "interest only" payment on a 6% loan ($1250/month on $250,000), which is roughly 1/3 more than you're paying now? 6.5%? 7%

This isn't a situation that can be tackled using only numbers, but the situation is not likely to be sustainable as it sits. You do have some choices on the table. The three most obvious are that you can go back to work, your husband can start making more money, or you can start making plans to sell the property. Any of them beat the default option, which is "do nothing and let the situation ambush us when time is up." And if you decide it's likely you'll be able to afford to refinance, keep an eye on rates. I think 30 year fixed rate loans are going up to the low 7s, but that's just a projection of where I think the capital markets and our economy are going. I could be very wrong. There is a point at which you will be unable to afford your property. If rates hit that point, your choices become basically, "Start the sales process now or wait?"

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 5, 2007 10:01 AM.

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