FHA Loans: Poised for a Comeback

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I want to state that I am in no way shape or form an FHA loan guru. I haven't done an FHA loan in years. But with the new developments in the market rapidly transforming FHA loans into being the most likely savior of the market, I invested in a class to learn some more about them. Between my general knowledge of loans and this information from someone who is an FHA guru, I think I can make some sense on the subject. Besides, one of the best ways to understand something better is trying to explain it to someone else.

FHA will guarantee loans up to 97% of the purchase value, not 100%. This means that you do need a minimum of 3% down from some source. The FHA will allow seller paid closing costs only of up of 6%, and the really cute thing is that they will also allow the down payment component to be a gift from family members or non-profits (provided they are not otherwise involved in the transaction), which opens up some interesting possibilities I'll write more about in another article. FHA loans can also be interfaced with some types of locally based first time buyer programs, although whether there is money in the budget at the time you apply for those programs is subject to funding, which usually goes quickly.

The first thing you need to understand about FHA loans is that they are intended to enable people to transition from renting to ownership of a primary residence. They are not intended to help anyone grow a real estate empire. For this reason, they will not work with investment property except in the case of non-profits. Second homes are only allowed where you already own a home elsewhere and can show an employment related need. Vacation homes are not allowed.

Refinancing is possible for existing FHA loans, up to a maximum of 85% 95% (see Mortgagee Letter 2005-43) loan to value ratio, provided it was purchased via FHA owner occupied loan. The only exception allowing FHA refinance of non FHA loans is the FHA Secure plan, which I'll write about in another article. There is no prepayment penalty on FHA loans, and they can be refinanced into conventional loans anytime you can qualify for conventional financing. Most folks do refinance FHA loans into a conventional conforming loans as soon as they can, because FHA rates aren't as good as conforming and conforming loans don't carry financing insurance. It's something to be decided on a case by case basis, on the basis of what is best for a given homeowner.

I did say conforming loans. FHA has loan limits which has mostly precluded them being a big player in most areas for the past several years. With the decrease in housing prices that has hit many areas and new legislation raising the conforming and FHA loan limits (which we're still waiting for hard numbers on), they are likely to be what saves the market as traditional lenders are seemingly more fearful of high loan to value ratio loans every day. Truthfully, I anticipate FHA loans as being what saves the bacon of traditional lenders and provides the upwards impetus to the market that will cause traditional lenders' fears to ease and relax their restrictions.

With loan limits preventing them from lending upon most single family residences these past few years, you'd think FHA would be friendlier to condominiums. Unfortunately, government bureaucracy being what it is, condos have to be approved by the FHA before they will fund loans upon them. Since relatively few developers care to do that, that means that most developments don't have blanket approval from the FHA.

Just because the FHA hasn't issued blanket approval to a condominium development doesn't mean that you can't get spot approval, however. The requirements, in addition to the usual ones, are no ongoing class action suits open or pending, and 60% or more owner occupancy for the complex. This last tends to be the most difficult requirement, as it's a little unusual that a particular complex has 60% owner occupancy.

Like all government programs, FHA loans require full documentation of sufficient income to afford the loan. No stated income or lesser loans will be funded. This is another reason they've been unpopular in recent years, as mortgage products for those with eyes bigger than their wallets proliferated, and agents and loan officers became accustomed to qualifying people for properties and loans far beyond their means. Now that that's all over and we're back to solid fundamentals as far as loan qualification, you can decide to stay within the budget for a loan you can prove you can afford, you can put a significantly larger down payment on the property to qualify for conventional financing, or you can do without buying any property at all. But FHA does not do stated income loans.

Matter of fact, the FHA doesn't do "interest only" financing, either. All FHA loans are fully amortized. However, the FHA does accept some hybrid ARMs as well as fixed rate financing. But no interest only, no stated income, no negative amortization. You must qualify for an FHA loan based upon the fully amortized payment and full documentation of income only, which eliminates most of the ways that people were being qualified for loans beyond their means in recent years, and is one more reason why the FHA has not been a major provider of loans in recent years.

Allowable debt to income ratios are 29% 31% front end and 41% 43% back end, according to the written guidelines. However, the 29% front end can be gotten around and the 41% can be subject to increase in the case of strong credit , high reserves, or a stable job. For instance, owner of a stable business of long standing. Nobody fires owners. Large amounts of money in retirement accounts is one that the instructor specifically mentioned as being a possible reason to get the debt to income ratio increased. The range of 45-49% is supposed to be reasonably possible to get the FHA to approve. Beyond that, exceptions are fewer and significantly harder to get.

There is no requirement for reserves with an FHA loan at all. With that said, however, having reserves can be a major point in your favor, particularly above 41% back end ratio. People with hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement accounts that they could fall back upon if they had to is something the FHA will consider while traditional lenders would not. They'll even allow non-monetary reserves, the example given being a collector of old motorcycles which could be sold. Jewelry, automobiles, and other non-liquid assets may be considered. Of course, it's a very good idea to source and season every dollar you're using to justify the transaction, but the FHA has even been known to accept "mattress money" for down payments (not generally reserves), which is unheard of in other loans.

Here's the really cool part about an FHA loan: It's not FICO driven. You don't even have to have a credit score in order to be approved. With that said, however, I'm told that below a 600 credit score things do get tougher to get approved, and below the equivalent of about a 575 it's not likely to be approved. You can also use alternative credit , of which utility bills are probably the best example. Especially in some cultures, credit can be a thing that people aren't accustomed to having or using, so these capabilities are very helpful. You don't even have to be a citizen, but you do have to have the right to work in the United States.

Prior bankruptcy is allowable. Chapter 7 with two years of seasoning and re-established credit, chapter 13 with one year payment history and court approval.

Even prior foreclosure is not an automatic disqualification from an FHA loan. They will, however, require documentation of extenuating circumstances such as major illness. Job transfer is explicitly disallowed as an acceptable extenuating circumstance, so people who walk away from properties thinking they're going to get an FHA loan are going to be disappointed. What the FHA really seems to be looking for is debilitating illness, either one which you personally went through, or one where you had to care for an immediate family member.

For how easy they are to work with for individuals, however, loan providers find themselves with many additional requirements, which is yet another reason FHA loans have been less popular of late. In addition to everything else, in order to originate FHA loans, originators have got to go though an annual audit with an accountant who's specially certified FHA auditor. This audit costs a minimum of about $5000 just for the auditor, never mind the cost of the originator's own time or that of anyone else they may have to pay. The FHA does not permit an agent to hang their license with one broker for real estate and another for loans, either. If your broker does both, however, it may be permitted. The extensive paperwork means fewer providers - especially discount providers - are interested due to the increased costs, which drives things exactly opposite to what you'd expect the government to want - it drives prices of FHA loans up, by restricting the supply of those willing to do them. It is hoped by many that FHA modernization will change some aspects of this, but that has been stalled in Congress for over a year. It's pointless to speculate as to what will and will not be included in FHA modernization until Congress sends an actual bill to the president.

One thing not likely to change is the FHA's blacklist. It's not called that, but that's what it is. Once a real estate agent or loan provider is on their list, they are on it for life, and the FHA scrutinizes all transactions for anybody affiliated with it being on their "no way" list. If someone should default on an FHA loan, the insurer is going to look for a reason not to pay the guarantee, which insures that every FHA foreclosure gets scrutinized for fraud and a number of other offenses. If the agent or loan officer was involved in such an offense, onto The List they go, and they are forever barred from transactions involving an FHA loan. For this reason, it's probably a good idea for consumers to ask about this in their first meeting with a prospective loan officer or real estate agent - on the phone would be better. Just say that you're going to be needing an FHA loan, so if they're on the FHA's "naughty" list, they might as well tell you now, because they're going to be wasting their time. If they try and talk you out of an FHA loan, well, that should tell you everything you need to know. FHA loans are superior to anything that isn't conforming A paper, and if you haven't got the qualifications for that, FHA beats A minus, beats Alt A, and beats subprime like a drum (OK, so the VA is a better deal than FHA as well).

The FHA does not normally permit secondary financing, either in the form of second trust deeds or seller carrybacks. The one exception to this is in the FHA Secure program, which will have to be another article.

One final thing: FHA loans aren't free. There is an upfront cost of 1.5 points to fund the loan. This is over and above all other loan related fees. This pays for an insurance policy that insures the lender against loss, much like private mortgage insurance on conventional loans. In addition, there's an annualized cost of half a percent on top of principal, interest, taxes, insurance, etcetera - and this is included in debt to income ratio calculations. This will continue until the loan to value ratio is 78% or less, and if the loan period is over 15 years, cannot be removed for five years. If the loan period is 15 years or less and the loan to value ratio is initially less than 90%, there will be no continuing (i.e. the annual component) mortgage insurance charged, but the only way to elude the 1.5 point initial charge is by having a loan to value ratio of 80% or less. Since in any of these cases, it's overwhelmingly likely there will be better choices available to the consumer, essentially all FHA loans are going to have this financing insurance. The continuing cost is one of the main reasons people refinance to non-FHA mortgages, incidentally.

With lenders becoming increasingly fearful about the state of the market (far too late to avoid damage), FHA loans are an excellent way to qualify someone for financing that's at least close to 100%, and legal avenues do exist that can enable FHA financing to be essentially 100% financing. Given the state of the housing market, particularly the starter market, and the recently passed legislation which will enable FHA limits to be raised, the FHA loan is likely to be a very powerful force for market stabilization, leading to market recovery. It's a good alternative for consumers who cannot currently qualify for conventional loan financing.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 25, 2008 7:00 AM.

Do Furnishings Convey With The Property? was the previous entry in this blog.

The FHA Secure Program - Saving Some Homeowners From Foreclosure is the next entry in this blog.

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