Regulators Toughen Negative Amortization Loans?

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Ken Harney has a column I found in the local rag yesterday. It seems that there is (finally!) concern amongst the regulators for this risky loan which begs for trouble for consumer, lender, and the system as a whole when there are too many of them out there.



First off, Mr. Harney is wrong, or his editor really screwed up what he did write (The Washington Post? <sarcasm>Say it isn't so!</sarcasm>). Read the contract. The attraction of negative amortization loans has nothing to do with the actual rate. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It has everything to do with lower permitted payments. There is not one day, not one hour, not one second where the actual rate being charged is reduced even by a miniscule amount. But for a certain amount of time, the minimum payment is calculated as if the rate is lower than it actually is. This is why they are easy sells - because the average real estate consumer "buys" a loan based upon the payment. So when someone tells the average consumer that they can get a "$170,000 mortgage for $850 per month!", it sounds attractive and the majority of people won't investigate any further. A large portion will actively avoid anybody who tries to tell them what's really going on, as if the loan will somehow magically be alright if they manage not to hear about all the bad stuff.



Furthermore, the real rate on these loans is variable from day one. There literally is not one month where you can truly predict what the next month's payment will be. I have, and always have had, lower interest rate loans that are hybrid ARMS with truly fixed interest rate for five years or more, have lower costs to obtain them, and no hidden gotchas. Heck, from my first day in the business I've always had loans that fit all of the forgoing criteria and require interest payments only. If you cannot make a payment of at least the full amount of the monthly interest, it is quite likely you shouldn't make the purchase.



These loans do have a niche. But I can't think of a case where they should ever be the purchase money loan for a property. Even on refinances, they should be no more than one percent of total refinances - not the forty percent share of San Diego's purchase money market the last figures I saw had them having. Investment property, the rules should be somewhat looser, but still nowhere near 40 percent of the market is appropriate. If this were the securities or accounting industries, the regulators would be throwing people into jail over this, and shutting down offending companies completely and permanently. There's a world of hurt coming down the pike, and the prevalence of these pieces of garbage is going to greatly exacerbate the problems, particularly in high cost markets. Let's say, hypothetically, someone put 5% into a $500,000 home here in San Diego at the beginning of the year, at a nominal rate of 1%. They had one $400,000 mortgage and one $75,000 mortgage. Assuming the nominal rate on the first is 1% and that the second is "interest only" as is common, they would now owe $10,000 more on a home that is worth about $30,000 less. After three years, they owe a total of $505,000 even if the rates don't rise any more, which I can promise you they will. If values hold steady right now, their home is worth maybe $470,000, of which they would get about $440,000 if they sold without paying any closing costs for the buyer, which isn't happening right now. So under perfect theoretical conditions, they've gone from having $25,000 in the bank to having to come up with $65,000 just to get out from under. Since they likely can't, their credit is going to be ruined for ten years at least, plus they're going to get a love note from the IRS saying they owe taxes on $65,000 more income (which incidentally slides most folks into higher marginal brackets).



You can survive being "upside down", owing more on your mortgage than your house is worth, for a long time if you have the right loan. These are not the right loan for market conditions I see happening in the next few years. They are always risky, and mortgage lenders and brokers who do them do not have, in the aggregate, an even vaguely acceptable track record of disclosing their risks. Not that it's any great shakes of a prediction, but I predict that lawyers will be prosecuting a lot of these as civil cases in the next few years, and winning large judgments that are not going to be covered by insurance because it's neither an error nor an omission, but an intentional misrepresentation.



Under the right conditions, these can be useful loans. But the right conditions are rare, and when you have them, the lenders are not likely to approve the loan because the prospective borrower is not a good credit risk. In short, if you're approved for one of these, you almost certainly had better much options available to you. If negative amortization loans are actually appropriate for you, I'll bet a nickel your loan won't be approved. This is the kind of marketing strategy which has gotten many industries in serious trouble, and the lenders who are involved in this are likely to be hurting anyway when the house of cards they've been supporting comes tumbling down. Expect corporate bankruptcies, also.



Caveat Emptor.



P.S. If you haven't read anything on these previously, you might want to check out Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans as well as Negative Amortization Loans - More Unfortunate Details one.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 10, 2007 7:00 AM.

Wanting a More Expensive Property Than You Can Really Afford was the previous entry in this blog.

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