Negative Amortization Loans - Don't Panic!

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No, this isn't the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy



But having written half a dozen articles roundly critical of the way in which these loans are generally sold, it's not unusual for me to get e-mail like this one:



Hi, Dan:



Okay, I'm absolutely PANICKED after reading your article on negative amortization loans as I have one! I thought it was an "option ARM" and that my entrusted Realtor's entrusted loan officer was wise beyond his years in his financial advice. He was semi-retired, wealthy, and said that this was the only loan he'd ever use for his own substantial real estate portfolio. I even reassured a good friend of mine who is economically savvy not to worry as it wasn't a negative amortization loan!



I purchased December of 2006. The home I was going to purchase was appraised at $780,000 eight months prior to my purchasing it for $570,000; I put $100,000 down, had a good credit score, but the stickler was my monthly income. I knew I would make a substantial bonus and raise June of 2007, so DELETED sold me on the Option ARM. The bonus was one third what I expected ($2700) and my raise was only 4% rather than 7%.



My question is this - what do I do now? Is the loan okay as long as I pay the principal and interest amount of payment? I've only been paying the minimum, but could swing it by squeezing. It's a high rate - 7.5%. And I would have a prepayment penalty if I refinanced. I'm a single mom, 46, with two kids and annual earnings of $64,000. I have $50k in savings.



Yes, I am that poor sap you speak of in your article, completely trusting, desperate for my dream house, blind sided and now stuck. Any advice would be helpful! Thanks so much...



First rule of getting out of holes: Stop digging! Pay at least the interest every month!



Now, let's look at your situation. You owe $470,000 on a $570,000 property. The real payment on that is $3286.30 per month, as opposed to a "nominal payment" of $1511.70 at 1%. Actually, by my calculations, you owe about $483,000 now and will over $527,000 by the time your pre-payment penalty expires, if you make just the minimum payment.



Now, let's consider what's actually available out there. Picking up one rate sheet at random, it shows a 30 year fixed rate loan at 6.375% costing half a point retail. Let's figure out if you're likely to qualify for that. $64,000 divided by 12 is $5333 per month. 45% of that is $2400. Both of those are potentially important figures. Let's assume your value is still $570k, so 80% of that is $456,000. Paying the penalty and costs of the loan via rolling it into your balance, I get that you'd be left with a balance of between about $507,000. The payment on the first mortgage would be $2845, which is more than you can apparently afford right there. On the other hand, many single parents have alimony and or child support that can be used if they so desire that they don't include in their income.



On the other hand, I'm not building fairy castles in the air. From the information presented, you can not afford the loan by standard measurements. The flip side of that is you don't have to qualify for the loan you already have, and you say that you actually can afford to keep making at least the interest only payments. As long as you do so, you're not digging yourself in any deeper. If you can actually afford to make at least the interest only payment, there is no reason to panic.



Furthermore, getting yourself that 6.375% fixed rate loan would cost you roughly $24,000 - $18000 plus in pre-payment penalties, about $6000 in loan costs. To save 1.125 percent, albeit fixing the loan. Your current cost of interest at the $483,000 balance is $36,225 per year. Cost of interest after refinancing: $32,321 per year. Interest savings $3904 per year. Your break even on this is about 6 years, 2 months - if you could qualify, which you don't appear to.



If you make the payments for the next 27 months until the penalty expires, that higher interest rate will have cost you roughly $8900, offset to a certain amount by lowered income taxes. But here's where everyone's getting ulcers right now: That 6.375 is a "right now today" good only until tomorrow morning at most. Not that I expect tomorrow's rates to be much different, but I won't know until I see them. The cold hard fact is that only some kind of deity might know at this point what the rates are going to be like in December 2009. I certainly don't, and neither does any other human agency with which I'm familiar. There's a lot of estimates out there, but nobody knows. Furthermore, with a negative amortization loan, you don't know what your rate will be a year from now, as most of these abominations adjust month to month. So no matter which way you choose, stay or refinance, there are pitfalls, and there's no way to tell the right decision except in retrospect - in December 2009.



In your situation, I'd probably sit tight. As bad as it is, the alternatives all look worse. I wouldn't refinance into a loan that took me six years to break even on the costs of, and I doubt whether anyone else should, either. Alternatively, keeping in mind the fourth solution to Getting Out of Paying Pre-Payment Penalties, some people might want to see if their current lender will refinance them into a thirty year fixed, although in your case that does not apparently help because you don't appear to qualify.



But your situation is not the same as the person who is only looking at a negative amortization loan. Like it or not, you've already done it. That narrows your choices to "What do I do from here?"



The first thing to set in motion is a consultation with your lawyer. I'm not a lawyer, but I've been reading about the courts ordering these abominations rescinded, brokers paying damages, etcetera. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but that means the sooner you start them grinding, the sooner they get there. It seems likely to me that there were some misrepresentations and gross negligence somewhere along the line there.



I think that the local market is likely to turn away from buyers and towards sellers very soon. So that colors my perceptions, and what may be appropriate for San Diego may not be appropriate elsewhere, but as long as you can make at least the interest only payment, and make it long enough such that your prepayment penalty expires, I think you're likely to see a profit on the sale of the property then, provided things go as I think they will. It might be rough in the mean time, and preliminary numbers indicate that you're not likely to be able to afford to keep the property then, but panicking rarely does any good. There's nothing you can do at this point that does not have significant and costly risks. But from what you've sketched out, holding on until the penalty expires seems to be the least risky, most attractive alternative to me.



Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 12, 2007 10:01 AM.

Debunking the Idea of "Lenders Are All The Same" was the previous entry in this blog.

Listing Agents and Pre-Approvals or Pre-Qualifications is the next entry in this blog.

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