Beginner's Information: May 2007 Archives

I have questions to ask you about the loan for house. I have been work with one broker since DELETED and I just tell her on the phone that I chose her and that she can start to do the escrow but I didn't sign any application and papers for her. Two weeks later, the appraisal had been done. Can I stop to work with her because she promised me to look for lower rate later, but she didn't do anything about it. If I stop to work with her, do I have to pay any fees for the appraisal and bank approval for the loan and how much it may costs? (she had only done the bank approval and ordered the appraisal). Thank you very much for helping me.

This is pretty open and shut. Usually it's less clear. You haven't signed anything committing you to the loan. She probably has civil recourse on the appraisal - if she wants to spend thousands in lawyer fees to recover a few hundred. Since that's silly, I don't think it's likely she'll pursue it. Her case hinges on her having ordered it because of your verbal representation you wanted the loan. One more thing in your favor is that the date on the California MLDS needs to be within three days of the date she ran your credit report, not to mention the Truth In Lending Advisory and everything else. Not likely, if you haven't signed anything.

Most loan providers, ethical or otherwise, won't start work without a loan application package. Ethical ones because they've got legal obligations to meet, less ethical ones because there will be an origination agreement in there obligating you to pay their expenses if you don't go through with it.

If you have signed such an agreement, there's probably something in there obligating the loser to pay the prevailing party's legal fees. Since you're likely to lose if they push their case, this shifts the presumption as to what you want to do, which is pay the appraiser. You can fight it in court if you want to, but you're likely to end up paying for both sides legal expenses in addition to the appraisal bill. Since the chances of you winning in court are pretty miniscule, you would be well advised to just pay the appraiser.

I've said it before, but it's likely that lenders who promise to pay for an appraisal are going to more than recover those costs elsewhere in the loan. Suppose you've got a $300,000 loan. If all you see is the fact that you're not writing a check for $400, that loan provider can, by being willing to loan you the $400, trivially make two extra points on the loan, or $6000. Just because you're not writing that check directly doesn't mean you're not paying every penny of it via higher rates, or higher origination. Furthermore, they're not likely to pay for the appraisal without an origination agreement that obligates you to make good their expenses.

The true low cost mortgage providers won't pay for the appraisal. If you've got a low cost provider, they're either going to have to absorb the costs of the appraisals that don't pan out, or they're going to have to charge their clients whose loans fund for the ones who don't. In either case, this means a higher loan margin. Usually, there's a good margin there on top of the appraisal. I can point to providers who use the fact that they pay for the appraisal as a wedge to extract thousands of dollars in junk fees as well. Most of the people for whom that is a selling point only understand money when they write a check or fork over cash. They don't understand about how money they roll into their loan balance is every bit as real.

If you do decide you don't want a loan, the appraisal is the vast majority of the money you should be out, because that and the credit report (somewhere between $13 and about $30) are the only third party expenses. This doesn't mean that the less ethical won't try and soak you for other fees, because they will, and junk on top of those fees. Depending upon the origination agreement you sign, you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars - more than a low cost provider would make if they actually fund the loan.

I need to say this again, also: Just because you paid for the appraisal, and are therefore entitled to a copy, does not mean you are entitled to take it to another loan provider. The appraisal must be in the name of the correct loan provider, and if the prior loan provider does not release it, the appraiser will not re-type it. The games that are played by loan providers who refuse to release appraisals are legion. Most will want money to release it, money such that you may be better off getting another appraisal. Even the most ethical will not likely release the appraisal just because you find a better deal - or think that you have. They've spent anywhere from hours to days of time - time they have to pay for, even if they can't show a receipt - on your loan. Expecting a loan provider to release the appraisal without money is like expecting your mechanic to release your car without being paid. Therefore, you want to be the one that controls the appraisal, if you possibly can. Some appraisers don't like this, because it's in their interests for you to pay for more appraisals, but the law in most states isn't nearly so hard nosed as most appraisers would like you to believe.

One final thing: As of the date of this writing, rates have risen quite a bit in the last few weeks. I have a purchase client whose transaction hit a snag in a defect that has to be corrected before any loan can be funded, and it's much more cost effective for them to pay for rate lock extensions than it is to float the rate. A tenth of a point per five calendar days is a lot less than the almost half of a percent re-submitting the loan to a new lender would make in the rate. Any reasonable loan that's been locked for a couple weeks is likely to be better than anything available today. I can look for a lower rate all I want. It's not likely to be found, unless their current provider is pretty high margin.

Caveat Emptor

The answer is yes.

Consider the situation from the seller's point of view, and the answer becomes obvious. Here is someone who is proposing to not put any of their own money into the deal. What's their motivation to consummate the deal? Not much, when you come right down to it.

Mind you, no listing agent in their right mind is ever going to counsel their clients to accept a "zero deposit" offer. It costs money to give this person the only shot at a property for thirty days (or however long the agreed escrow period). At an absolute minimum, that seller is risking the money to pay their mortgage, taxes, and insurance for thirty days. On a $400,000 property, that's well over $3000. This is money that is gone and they are not going to get back, all based upon the buyer's representation that they want the property. If the buyer isn't putting any cash at risk, there's no disincentive for them in trying to try for a property there's no way they'll qualify for. Meanwhile, the seller is out money on a daily basis from the time they agree to lock the property up in escrow.

Some of you are no doubt asking about pre-qualification or even pre-approval. The problem is that whatever the loan officer said, there's no real way to back it up. It is dancing right on the borderline of illegality to ask that prospective buyers be pre-qualified or pre-approved with a given lender or loan officer - a strong case can be made that just the simple request is a RESPA violation. I have said repeatedly that the only pre-qualification or pre-approval that I trust is one that I did - but I can't require prospective buyers to do that, and any decent agent is going to learn to ignore the request.

The only thing that means anything to that seller in the way of a guarantee for buyer performance is cash - a cash deposit from the buyer that is at risk if they can not or do not consummate the deal in a timely fashion. This is even more the case than usual if the buyer isn't putting any of their own hard earned money into the deal itself. If a buyer is willing to put 5%, 10% or more into the deal, they ought to understand the effort that that money represents, whether it's through saving it or just through having it not earn 10 percent per year of thereabouts in the stock market. If you're putting up cash you've spent years saving, you understand what that money represents. If you haven't made the sacrifices to save such a down payment and you want to just waltz into a property without putting down a deposit, well, odds are that you've got a rude awakening coming. Because I'm estimating at least thirty percent of all purchase escrows end up falling apart. So if I'm acting on behalf of a seller, one of the first questions I'm going to ask is "What evidence is there that this person can consummate the sale in a timely fashion, and what are they putting up that they're willing to lose if they change their mind or can't qualify?"

Pretty much every agent who's ever had a listing has had offers come in that were rejected on the basis of "not enough deposit," or that were acceptable in every particular but that. The intelligent thing is counter for a higher deposit or fewer contingencies on it.

Some folks are going to ask about substituting a higher purchase price. The issue that you're going to run straight into is the appraisal. In most cases, offers that include 100% financing are a little inflated anyway. When you add still more money to that, a sufficiently high appraisal becomes difficult. Even if the appraisal comes in high enough, though, we come full circle to the obvious question, "What good is that higher purchase price if you never get it?" If the buyer can't qualify or changes their mind, you don't get that price, and since there is not much penalty for such an outcome, there is no reason for them not to tie the property up in escrow, where nobody else can buy it, either.

Caveat Emptor (and Vendor)

I got a search hit for that and, amazingly enough after 150+ articles, I've never dealt with this subject head on. So here goes.

One point, either discount or origination, is one percent of the final loan amount. After all of the loan amounts and fees and what have you are added, for a loan with one point, multiply the amount by 100 and divide by 99, and that will be your final loan amount. For a loan with two points, multiply by 100 and divide by 98. The general formula is multiply by 100 and divide by (100-n) where n is the total number of points.

Points come in two basic sorts, discount and origination. Origination is a fee your loan provider charges for getting the loan done. Some brokers quote in dollars, most quote in points because it sounds cheaper than an explicit dollar cost. Most brokers out there charge one point of origination. To contrast this, direct lenders do not have to disclose how much they are going to make on the secondary loan market. And many direct lenders still charge origination. Judging the loan by how much the provider makes (or tells you they make) is a good way to end up with a bad loan. My point is that it's the rate, type of loan, and net cost to you that are important, not how much the guy is getting paid for doing your loan. Remember two things here, and they will save you. First, loans are always done by a tradeoff between rate and cost. For the same type of loan, the more points you pay the lower your rate will be, and vice versa. Second, remember to ask about "What would it be without a prepayment penalty?" It's a good way to catch people who are trying to slide one over on you, and the lenders pay a lot more for loans with a penalty, and the lenders make a lot more on them when they sell them to Wall Street, so they often do them on what looks like a much thinner margin until you ask the question "What would it be without the prepayment penalty?" Remember it.

Discount points are an explicit charge in order to offer you a lower rate than you would otherwise have gotten. To use an example I ran across today, six point five percent with one point, seven percent without. On a four hundred thousand dollar loan, that's essentially four thousand dollars, either out of your pocket where you're not earning money on it, or added to your mortgage balance where you are making payments and paying interest.

Is it a good idea to pay discount points, or is it a better idea to pay the higher rate? That depends upon the loan type and how long you keep it. Let's say the loan is $396,000 without the point, $400,000 with, just to keep the math easy. Your monthly interest charge on the first loan is $2310, on the second it's $2166. On the other hand, you pay $361 principal on loan 2, only $324 on loan 1. Here's the bottom line, though: You've got to get that $4000 back before you sell or refinance. Just a straight line computation, that second loan saves you $181 the first month. $4000/$181 per month is about 22 months to break even (and it's a little faster than that, because loan 2 pays off more principal per month). On the other hand, even after you've theoretically "broken even" there is a period where if you sell or refinance, you will inexorably lose money because you're paying interest on a balance that's higher than it would have been.

But now let's run the actual numbers. If the above loan is a thirty year fixed and you keep it four years, you're well ahead. You've saved yourself $6944 in interest and your balance is only $2159 higher. $6944 - $2159 = $4785. Even if your next loan is at ten percent, you're only losing $215.90 per year. Especially when you consider that at a cost of money now versus later, you'll never make it up, because you can invest that $4785 you saved and it'll pay more interest than that.

On the other hand, let's say the rate was only fixed for two years. After that, it is a universal feature of hybrid ARMs that they all adjust to the same rate. You are theoretically ahead by $363, but because of your higher balance, even if the loan adjusts to five percent, you're losing $154 per year due to your higher balance, and there is nothing you can do about it. Play now, pay later.

There is no cut and dried answer about whether it's to your benefit to pay points. I tend not to do it, myself, because rates do vary a lot with time, and money sticks around in your balance. If I've got a zero or low cost loan and the rates drop half a percent, it's worthwhile to refinance for free. If I have a loan I paid a point for, I'm going to have to pay that same point again to see a benefit on refinancing, and as we've already discussed, if you don't keep the loan long enough, you've wasted your money. The median time between refinances is right about two years right now. I see no reason to pretend I'm any different from everyone else, but some folks do have a history of keeping loans a long time. You need to make your own choice to fit your own situation.

Caveat Emptor.

The question every good loan officer hates the most is "What is your lowest rate?"

First off, everybody doesn't get the same choices. As I've said before, somebody who can prove they make enough money, has a history of paying their debt, and offers the lender a situation where there's 30 percent equity (or more) gets a different set of choices than somebody who can't prove they make enough money, has a questionable history of paying debt, and wants to borrow 100 percent of the property value (or more).

Second, different loans get different rate-cost tradeoffs. The loan that most people seem to consider the most attractive loan, the thirty year fixed rate loan, is always the most expensive loan out there. It always has the highest set of cost/rate tradeoffs. Why? Because on top of the cost of the money, you are essentially purchasing an insurance policy that says your rate will not change for thirty years. Even when long and short term rates are inverted, as we may see soon, there is a premium charged for the thirty year fixed rate loan. It makes a certain amount of sense; insurance policies are never free, and the thirty year fixed rate loan is the most desired loan out there. Simple economics: Higher demand equals higher price. Goods perceived as more valuable carry a higher price tag. So if you're looking for a thirty year fixed rate loan, and all you say is "What is your lowest rate?" you are likely to get quoted a rate from a Negative Amortization loan, the least desirable loan out there, because it carries the lowest nominal rates. If this is your only datapoint from the varius loan providers you talk with, you are likely to do business with the one who quotes you the negative amortization loan, not the thirty year fixed rate loan. Matter of fact, the loan provider who tells you about the loan that you really wanted is least likely to get your business in this scenario, because you're focusing in on the red cape of rate and payment when you should be paying attention to other things.

Third, and most importantly, for every situation and every loan type, there is more than one rate available. Why is this, you ask? It seems obvious to you: Why not just choose the lowest rate, which has the lowest payment? It takes a little examination to see why.

The difference between the rates is in cost of the loan. There will be a rate called par. This is the rate at which the lender will give you the money straight across. They don't charge you any money (discount points) to get a lower rate. They don't pay any of the costs of the loan. Getting a loan done really does take a minimum of about $3400 in costs (actually, the quote is for California, which believe it or not is one of the cheaper states to get everything done in - every other state I've done business in costs more). Whether points and closing costs are paid out of your pocket or added to your mortgage balance, you are still paying them (When shopping for a mortgage, the phrase "nothing out of your pocket" from a prospective loan provider should immediately put you on guard).

For rates below par, you must pay discount points. This is an upfront incentive to a lender to give you a rate lower than they otherwise would. Every situation is different and should be analysed with numbers specific to that situation, but as a rule of thumb: Unless you're getting a thirty year fixed rate loan and you have a history of keeping loans at least ten years before sale or refinance, you should avoid paying points if you can. The lower payments you get, quite simply, are usually not worth the cost of adding points to your mortgage balance. People who don't qualify for A paper may not have this option, but more people qualify A paper than think they do.

For rates above par, the lender will actually pay part or all of your closing costs. It's rare that they will actually put money in your pocket, but it can happen. Note that this is different from a stealth "cash out" loan that adds the cash you get to your mortgage balance, charges you closing costs, and often puts a couple points on the whole amount of your new mortgage, and so where you've been told you're getting $2000 in your pocket, there may be $20,000 or more added to your mortgage balance. This is where the lender is actually paying part or all of the costs of the loan, so it is neither coming out of your pocket nor being added to your loan balance. This is called a "rebate". A rebate can be thought of as the opposite or negative of discount points, and discount points can be thought of as a negative rebate. There are never both discount points and a rebate on the same loan, although there can be origination points on loans where there is a rebate. I think that this is a material misrepresentation, but it is legal.

Now here is the critical fact that most consumers never figure out for themselves, and certainly never realize the implications of: The vast majority of people don't keep their mortgage loans very long. The median age for a mortgage is roughly two years; fewer than 5 percent of all loans are five years or older. If you're the exception, bully for you. Otherwise, take heed and remember this fact: Whatever costs you pay for a mortgage are sunk at the beginning. This money either comes out of your pocket, or goes onto your mortgage balance. If it goes onto your mortgage balance, it sticks around a very long time and you pay interest on it. When you sell or refinance, (or when your rate starts adjusting), the benefits stop. They are over. Done with. If you haven't recovered the costs you paid to get a lower rate by that point in time, you have made a losing investment. Period. End of story. No chance for recovery. Matter of fact, even if you are technically ahead at that point in time, you can go negative later.

Let us consider a $270,000 loan. Very small for California, but large in most other areas of the country. As I said earlier, real closing costs of doing this loan are somewhere in the neighborhood of $3400. Here are some real options that were available from one lender when I originally wrote this article:

You could do a thirty year fixed rate loan at par of 5.75 percent. Or you can get a one point rebate at 6.25, or you can pay one point and get 5.25 percent.

Assume you roll any costs into your mortgage like most folks do. Your starting loan balance will be $276,162 if you choose the 5.25% rate. If you choose the par rate of 5.75%, it will be $273,400. If you choose the one point rebate rate of 6.25%, your balance will be $270,666. These are real examples off the first rate sheet I happened to look at.

Let's compute the linear break evens: The 6.25% rate cost you $666 to get. You pay $1409.72 in interest the first month. The 5.75% rate cost you $3400, and you pay $1310.04 in interest. The 5.25% loan cost you $6162, and you pay $1208.21 interest the first month. Difference in cost divided by difference in interest.

6.25% versus 5.75% loan: $2734/$99.68 = 27.42 months.

5.75 versus 5.25 loan: $2762/101.83 = 27.12 months

5.25 loan versus 6.25: $5496/201.51 =27.27 months.

Actually, the break even is likely to come a month or two earlier. But let's compute what happens if you refinance into a 5% fixed rate loan for zero real cost right at breakeven time, 27 months.

The 6.25% loan leaves a balance of $263,241. The new monthly interest charge will be $1096.84.

The 5.75% loan leaves a balance of $265,193. The new monthly interest charge will be $1104.97. The extra money on your balance costs you $8.13 per month, almost $100 per year. Plus you still owe almost $2000 more.

The 5.25% loan leaves a balance of $267,104. The new monthly interest charges will be $1112.94. The extra

money on your balance costs you $16.10 per month, $193 per year, from here on out. Plus you still owe almost $4000 more.

These are actually favorable assumptions compared to the real world in that they treat the 5.25% loan option much more kindly than it deserves compared to the 6.25% loan.

Most people have done this multiple times. $10 or $15 per month doesn't sound like a lot, but do it a couple times and you have $100 per month, and owing tens thousands of dollars more than if you'd gotten a cheaper loan that carried a slightly higher payment in the first place. I believe in offering choices, but I also know which I recommend and choose for myself.

One point that needs to be made again is sometimes costs get built into the back end of a loan, via a pre-payment penalty. Most loan officers will not volunteer whether there is a pre-payment penalty, and many will lie even if you ask, just to get you to sign up, knowing that once you sign up you will likely consider yourself committed. This may not be legal, but it happens, and is another reason to apply for at least two loans, so that you've got a backup option just in case the first loan goes sour or the lender told fibs. Reading the Note carefully at signing of final documents is the only way to be sure that there is no prepayment penalty.

Caveat Emptor

My article on Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans is one of my most popular. It gets all kinds of search engine hits, both here and at my other site. If I don't get at least 20 hits a day on it, it must be a sign that the public has caught on to this loan's horrific gotcha! On the other hand, given the number that are still written, I can get very depressed at how small a percentage of the population does simple research.

I intentionally left a lot of what goes on with these things out of that post, simply because I want to keep these posts readable and comprehensible within the space of no more than half an hour. But I keep getting hits asking questions I didn't deal with, so here goes:

A Negative Amortization loan is defined as any loan where the minimum required payment is less than the interest charges. Regular loans pay off part of the balance every month, whereas negative amortization loans typically have an increasing balance because the difference between the interest charges and what you pay is added to your balance owed.

Because the name "Negative Amortization" causes some difficulty in marketing, they are sold by all kinds of friendly sounding names. "Option ARM" (if you look at my article on loan types here, these are the about the only "true" ARMs with a significant portion of the residential loan market). "Pick A Pay." "Option Payment." "Cash Flow ARM." I've seen all kinds of combinations of these, as well.

Negative Amortization loan rates are typically quoted based upon a "nominal" ("in name only") interest rate. This rate is not the rate of interest that the people who have them are really being charged. It's a thing for purposes of computing the minimum payment. In other words, the minimum payment is computed by using this rate instead of the actual rate that you are being charged. They are being marketed more heavily right now than at any time in the previous twenty-odd years. If you are quoted a rate of 1%, 1.25%, 1.95%, 2.95%, or anything else under about 5% right now, they are talking about a negative amortization loan. If you look at the Truth-In-Lending form, it will list an APR somewhere in the sixes, usually several entire percentage points above the nominal rate. Another way to tell is the presence of several "Options" for payment. If they talk about three of four payment options, guess what? They're talking about a Negative Amortization loan. Note that this is a different situation from "A paper" loans that have no prepayment penalty, in that you are explicitly given these payment options, and may not have any others. "A paper" loans, the minimum payment at least covers the interest (if it's an interest only loan) or actually pays the loan down, and anything extra you pay is applied to principal to pay the loan down faster. I pay extra every month but that's my decision, my choice of amount, not theirs. A negative amortization loan gives you a limited number of choices. Furthermore, there are more of the so-called "one extra dollar" prepayment penalties on negative amortization loans than any other loan type.

Negative Amortization is generally a bad thing because with over 95 percent of those who have them, over 95 percent of the time they are making the minimum payment. That's why they got them, because they couldn't afford the real payment. So their balance increases. They owe more money every month, and due to compound interest, every month the difference between what they owe and what they pay gets wider. This can only end one of three ways. They sell the house. They refinance the house. They get to "recast" point on the loan. None of these is good.

If you sell, the loans come out of proceeds, and the bank gets more money than you originally borrowed, usually plus a prepayment penalty. I keep using a $270,000 loan amount as an example, so let's look at what happens. The minimum payment will be $868.42. But your real rate is not fixed, and even if you've got a good margin and your rate doesn't rise in upcoming months (It will rise), your real rate is something like 6.2%. That very first month, your interest charge is $1395.00. You have $526.58 added to your loan balance. Take this out one year. Your principal has become $276,501.57, an increase of $6501.57. Now the minimum payment increases by 7.5% (another characteristic of this loan) to $933.56. Take it out another 12 months, now at 6.25% (and I'm being really stingy with rate hikes, given how much I think the underlying rates will go up) and you now have a balance of $283,561.76. Now you sell, and as opposed to selling it two years ago, you have $13561 less from the sale than you otherwise would have had. Plus a prepayment penalty of $9484.00, a total of $23,045 the loan has cost you not counting whatever your initial fees were. This is money you are not going to have to buy your next property with. Not to mention that if the rise in value doesn't cover it, you may find yourself short - getting nothing, and maybe even getting a 1099 form for the IRS that says you owe them taxes.

Let's say you don't sell, but refinance, and unlike roughly 70% of everyone with one of these loans, you actually make it to the end of the prepayment penalty period, three years. Your payment has been $998.70 for these 12 months, but your balance has still increased to $291,815.16. Let's say rates have magically dropped back to where they are now. You get a 30 year fixed rate loan at par at 5.875%. Your payment will be $1746.90, as opposed to $1597.15 if you just did that in the first place. But wait, it get's better!

In the fourth year, your payment goes to $1063.84. But nine months in, you hit the recast point! Your balance has grown to $297,000 - 10% over what it was to bein with. It's a thirty year loan, and now it starts amortizing at the real rate for the last 315 months, or until you manage to dispose of it, whichever comes first. Assuming your rate is still "only" 6.5%, your payment jumps to $1967.60 in the forty-sixth month, and this payment is no more fixed than your rate is, which is to say, not at all.

Let's say you have one of the loans with a higher recast - 20 percent instead of 10. Your balance goes to $299,010.60. Then the final year of artificially lowered payment, $1128.98 per month is applied to your loan, but it's accruing $1619.64 in interest and rising. Your loan balance is $305,077 at the end of your minimum payment period. Now your payment (assuming your real rate is still 6.5%, which I think unlikely) goes to $2059.90. If you're able to get a thirty year fixed rate loan at today's rates, your payment is $1825.35. If you couldn't afford $1600 per month in the first place, what make you think you'll be able to afford any of these alternatives? The needless increase in payment amounts to sucking $1.34 per hour out of your pocket, or if you want to think of it another way, you'd have to make $3.00 per hour - $500 plus per month - more to qualify at the end of the period with all that added to your loan, as opposed to right now. And that's assuming the rates are as low in five years, which I do not believe will be the case.

Additionally, I attended a credit provider's seminar a while back, and as I said then, credit rating agencies are currently considering making the fact that you have a negative amortization loan to be a heavy negative on your credit report, all by itself. From the writing above, it should not be hard to see why. Someone who has a negative amortization loan is not making a "break-even" payment. Their balance is increasing. This indicates a cash-flow problem, and cannot go on indefinitely. When the lowered payments expire, they find themselves in a nasty situation, worse than it would be if they had just gotten a different loan in the first place. So if the fact that you have a negative amortization loan knocks you down sixty, eighty, or a hundred points, there is a good likelihood that you will not qualify for any loan nearly so good as you would otherwise have gotten. The last news I had was that they were looking at the modeling data for exactly how strongly it influences your chance of a 90 day late. I don't work for Fair-Isaacson, but my guess, based upon working with people who have negative amortization loans, is that it's going to be towards the higher end of the range I cited.

In short, because most people concern themselves with quoted payment, not interest rate and type of loan, these things are most often sold via marketing gimmicks and hiding their true nature. Those selling them do not concern themselves with what will happen to you after they've gotten their commission check. They are designed (and appropriate for) a couple of specific niches that most people do not fall into. Last set of figures I saw was that they are the primary loan on about 40 percent of all purchases here locally - and owner occupied purchase is not one of the niches they are designed for. An appropriate proportion of the populace to have these might be four tenths of one percent, a figure a hundred times smaller. Shop by interest rate and type of loan, and these look a lot less attractive. As I said, the real rate on these right now (if you've got a good margin) is about 6.2 percent. At par, loans are available that are really fixed for five years at about 5.5 percent, or thirty years at about 5.875 percent, no hidden tricks, no surprises, no gotcha!s. These are not only lower rate, but also better loans.

Caveat Emptor

Many folks have no idea how qualified they are as borrowers.

There are two ratios that, together with credit score, tell how qualified you are for a loan.

The more important of these two ratios is Debt-to-Income ratio, usually abbreviated DTI. The article on that ratio is here. The less important, but still critical, ratio is Loan to Value, abbreviated LTV. This is the ratio of the loan divided by the value of the property. For properties with multiple loans, we still have LTV, usually in the context of the loan we are dealing with right now, but there is also comprehensive loan to value, or CLTV, the ratio of the total of all loans against the property divided by the value of the property.

Note that for instances where you may be borrowing more than eighty percent of the value of the home, splitting your loan into two pieces, a first and a second, is usually going to save you money. (See here for an example)

The maximum loan to value ratio you're going to qualify for is largely dependent upon your credit score. The higher your credit score, the lower your minimum equity requirement, which translates to lower down payment in the case of a mortgage.

Credit score, in mortgage terms, is the middle of your credit scores from the 3 major bureaus. If you have an 800, a 480, and a 500, the middle score, and thence your credit score, is 500. If the third score is 780 instead of 500, your score is 780. If you only have two scores, the lenders will use the lower of the two. If you have only one score, most lenders will not accept the loan. Now, I've never seen scores that divergent, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Usually, the three scores are within twenty to thirty points, and a 100 point divergence is fairly unusual. Despite what you may have heard or seen in advertising, according to Fair Issacson the national median credit score is 720. See here for details.

In order to do business with a regulated lender, you need a minimum credit score of 500. There are tricks to the trade, but if you don't have at least one credit score of 500 or higher, you're going to a hard money lender or family member.

Now, exactly what the limits are for a given credit score is variable, both with time and lender, even when you get into A paper. Subprime lenders will go higher than A paper, but the rates will also be higher. Nonetheless, there are some broad guidelines. At 500, only subprime lenders will do business with you, and they will generally only go up to about 75 percent of the value of the home. A few will go to 80 percent, but this is not a good situation to be in.

Currently, at about 580 credit score, you can still find subprime lenders willing to lend you 100 percent of the value of the home, providing you can do a full documentation loan. At 580 is also where Alt-A and A minus lenders start being willing to do business with you, although they won't go 100 percent until higher credit scores.

At 620, the A paper lenders start being willing, in theory, to consider your full documentation conforming loan. They won't do cash out refinances or "jumbo" loans until a minimum of 640, but they will do both purchase money and rate term at 620 or higher. They may not go 100 percent of value until 680, but they will go about eighty or maybe higher.

At 640 is where subprime lenders will start considering 100 percent loans for self-employed stated income borrowers. Not too long ago, I could find these down to 600, but the lenders have been raising these requirements of late. For w2 stated income (essentially, people who get a salary and don't want to document income) the minimum for 100 percent is about 660 now. Mind you, if you can document enough income, it is in your interest to do so.

660 is where A paper will start considering conforming stated income loans. They may not go above 75 percent of value, but they won't just reject you out of hand. At 680, they will consider jumbo stated income.

Now, it is to be noted that just because you can get a loan for only so much equity, it does not follow that you should. Whereas the way the leverage equation works does tend to favor the smaller down payment, at least when prices are increasing, it can also sink your cash flow. So if the property is a stretch for you financially, it can be a smarter move to look at less expensive properties to purchase. I have seen many people recently who stretched to buy "too much house" only to lose everything because they bought right at market peak with a loan they could not keep up. Many of these not only lost every penny they invested, but also owe thousands of dollars in taxes due to debt forgiveness when the lender wrote off their loan.

There are other factors that are "deal-breakers", but so long as your debt to income ratio is within guidelines and your loan to value is within these parameters, you stand an excellent chance of getting a loan. All too often, questionable loan officers will feed supremely qualified people a line about how they shouldn't shop around because they're a tough loan and "you don't want to drive your credit score down." First off, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers successfully lobbied congress to do consumers a major favor on that score a few years back. All mortgage inquiries within a fourteen day period count as the same one inquiry. Second, the vast majority of the time it's just a line of bull to keep people from finding out how overpriced they are or to keep you from consulting people who may be able to do it on a better basis. I've talked to people with 750 plus credit scores, twenty years in their line of work, and a twenty percent down payment who had been told that, when the truth is that a monkey could probably get them a loan! By shopping around, you will save money and get more information about the current status of the market.

Caveat Emptor.

I got a question about what the number one obstacle is to most people qualifying for the loan on the property they want.

The answer is "existing debt." Credit cards, student loans, car payments, etcetera. It seems like more people than not have a reasonable idea of the property people making what they are making might be able to afford. Whereas I do get people who want a four bedroom house despite only making enough to be able to afford a two bedroom condo, it seems that more folks than you'd think really do have an idea what people making what they do should be able to afford. They can be lured down the primrose path of negative amortization, but even most folks who fall for it, know on some level that it's not real. They may not realize exactly how nasty it is, but they know it's not the whole truth.

The real hurdle faced by most buyers is that they owe too much money to too many other people for too many other reasons. Every dollar you have in monthly obligations is another dollar you can't afford on your house payment.

Let's say that Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer make $120,000 per year between them - $60,000 each. They are making $10,000 per month. By the calculations for A paper fixed rate loans, they can afford total monthly payments of $4500 per month. This is a forty five percent debt to income ratio. If housing is their only debt, they easily qualify for a $500,000 property with zero down payment. As of the time I'm writing this, $2367 first at 5.875% with one point, thirty year fixed rate first mortgage, $752 second at 8.25% 30 year due in 15, $521 per month prorated property taxes, and $120 per month for a good policy for home owner's insurance. Total: $3760. They're $740 under their limit. They would actually qualify for a significantly larger loan if they had no other debt.

However, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer still have student loans, because everyone knows you don't pay your student loans off. Right? But because Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer owe $50,000 between them, and they're paying $180 each, for a total of $360 per month, that's $360 in housing costs they can't afford.

Now Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer both have $30,000 automobiles they're making payments on. On five year loans, Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer are paying $600 each. He has four years to go, she has two. That's still $1200 more in housing costs they can't afford.

Ms. Homebuyer charged their vacation trip to the Bahamas that cost $10,000 to their credit card, and Mr. Homebuyer put the furniture he bought Ms. Homebuyer on an installment plan. The credit card is $500 per month, the furniture is $400. Net result: $900 more that they can't afford for housing payments, because they have to pay it out for existing consumer debt.

By the time Mr. and Ms. Homebuyer have paid all of the monthly payments they already owe, the lender calculates that they can only afford $2040 per month in housing payments. Now, instead of easily affording a $500,000 house, they don't even qualify for a $300,000 condo. $240,000 first at 5.875 is $1420, $466 for the second at 8.625% (below a price break), $313 property taxes and $240 in association dues. Total: $2439! They're $400 per month short!

For people who have a down payment, often the only way they are going to qualify is by spending it on their pre-existing debt. If they don't have a down payment to pay existing debts off, they are not going to qualify "full documentation," which is a fancy way of saying that the income they can prove isn't enough to qualify them for that loan. Furthermore, the manner in which you pay that debt off can be restricted. Sub-prime lenders don't really care as long you can show where you got the money and the debt gets verifiably paid off. "A paper," however, has to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, which are less forgiving. A paper guidelines are that you cannot pay off revolving debt to qualify, and even installment debt is at the discretion of the underwriter. In short, once your credit has been run, what you can pay off to qualify "A paper" is limited. A lot of folks end up stuck with sub-prime loans because of this. Higher rates, shorter term fixed period, pre-payment penalty. Some folks just flat out will not qualify unless they go "stated income," and state more income than they make.

Indeed, this is probably the most common reason why people do stated income loans. However, stated income loans mean that your rate is higher, and you might not be able to use all of the money you were intending to as a down payment, because you've got to have reserves for a stated income loan. Finally, and most importantly, stated income loans are dangerous. The debt to income ratio is not just there for the lender's protection - it is also there for your protection. Stating more income so that you can get around the limits on the debt to income ratio is intentionally disabling an important safety measure, meant to keep borrowers from getting in over their heads with loans and payments they cannot really afford. You make $X, which equates to being able to afford total monthly payments of forty five percent of $X. You state that you make an additional $Y per month so that you qualify for higher payments, and you are intentionally defeating that safety precaution. You are going to have to make those payments. The people who loaned you the money want their payments every month! Where is the money going to come from? I would be very certain I could really afford the payments before I agreed to a stated income loan!

So you should be able to see some of the issues that existing debt can cause. Existing debt quite often means that you do not qualify for a property you would easily be able to afford - if only you didn't have those pesky consumer loan payments every month. It can force you to undertake a less desirable loan type, it can force you to accept a pre-payment penalty, and it can prevent you from being able to qualify for the property you want. Alternatively, it can force you to choose between not buying at all, and intentionally defeating one of the most important safeguards consumers have, the debt to income ratio.

Caveat Emptor

Recently, a couple of mortgage places have been advertising "30 year fixed rate loan at 5.65%" like that's the lowest rate out there and it's some kind of great loan. It's not. I have 5.375% available to me. If you read my site, you may be wondering why I'm not pushing 5.375 for all I'm worth. The reason I'm not is that it's a rotten loan. It costs 3.7 total points retail in addition to closing costs. If you came to me with a $300,000 loan balance and demanded that loan, just to pay closing costs and points would bring you up to a balance of about $315,200. It costs $15,200 to do that loan. As opposed to the 6.25% loan I can do without points (based upon the same assumptions) which ends up with a balance of $303,500. It takes 69 months - almost 6 years - before the total of what you paid plus what you owe on the high cost but low rate 5.375% loan is as low as what it is for the higher rate but lower cost 6.25% loan, and you still haven't broken even then, because you still owe a higher balance. That higher balance is going to cost you either more money on your next loan, or mean you don't earn as much on the proceeds of selling when you invest them. According to my loan comparison spreadsheet, you have to keep your new loan 93 months - almost 8 years - just to break even on the additional costs of the loan with the lower rate. Most people will never keep one loan that long in their life.

I called one of the companies advertising that 5.65% to find out about the terms of that 5.65% loan. They admitted to it costing 3 points discount and it having a pre-payment penalty, which my loan doesn't have. They didn't want to admit how much origination they were going to charge, but they're bumping up against California's Predatory Lending Law's ceiling on total costs of a loan, because a $300,000 loan with 3 points of discount has already cost over 4.25% of the base loan amount (they're allowed no more than 6% maximum), assuming that their closing costs are no more than mine. I can look at it and tell you it isn't as good as that 5.375% loan that I'm not pushing because the costs are so high that it isn't as good as a 6.25% loan for most folks.

The most common mortgage advertisements are negative amortization loan payments. These are ubiquitous. I just went looking and the first one I found (I actually had to look at two web pages, too, not just one) said "$430,000 loan for $1399 per month." It says nothing about the rate, which was about 8.25% as opposed to the low 6s of a good 30 year fixed rate loan with reasonable costs. It says nothing about the fact that if you make that payment, next month you will owe over $1550 more than you owe today. That's not what most people think of as a real payment, and every time I look at one, I'm thinking, "I really hope they're practicing bait and switch on that," because it's better for their client's financial future.

Stop yourself and ask a minute: Is the sort of loan provider who uses either of these advertisements the sort of loan provider who is likely to have good loans? To compare the real costs and virtues of one loan with another? To help you similarly weigh the costs? Do either of the loan advertisements I've talked about seem like beneficial loans that you should want, or should you be running away as fast as you can? Even if they are practicing bait and switch, that practice is bad enough when you're not talking about half a million dollars, as you are with a mortgage.

Mortgage advertisements aren't honest about rate, mortgage advertisements aren't honest about cost, and mortgage advertisements definitely aren't honest about what that company intends to actually deliver. In short, the vast majority of all mortgage advertisements aren't advertising anything that an informed consumer would even be interested in. All that most mortgage advertisements are doing is trying to get you to call with a "bigger, better deal" pitch. Why? Because a loan is a loan is a loan. There is no Ford versus Chevy versus Honda versus Toyota, and few people feel any particular need to trade their loans in every three years just because they're tired of driving that loan. There is only the type of loan, the rate, and what the costs are in order to get it. If the rate isn't better, and the costs aren't paid by the interest savings, there just any point to actually getting a new loan, is there? And if you don't get a new loan, lenders and their loan officers don't get paid. But if they make it look like they're offering something better (even if they are not) you might get them paid.

Low rate, by itself, means nothing, as I have demonstrated. Rate and cost are ALWAYS a tradeoff. Every lender in every loan market has a range of available trade-offs for every loan type they offer. You're not going to get the lowest rate for anything like the lowest cost. For the vast majority of people out there, they will never recover the additional costs of high cost loans before they need to sell or decide to refinance. This is real money! If you had invested thousands of dollars with an investment firm, and upon every occasion you did so, you had failed to get back as much money as you gave them, pretty soon you would stop investing with that firm, right? Nobody brags that their investment got them a negative 20 percent return over a five year period. Why in the nine billion names of god would you want to invest in such a loan?

Nonetheless, the financial rapists continue the same old advertisements. They continue these fairy tales, and increase their next ad buy, because these advertisements work. The suckers will call in droves - or sign up on the internet, which is even worse than the same thing. If you merely call, only one company gets your phone number. If you sign up on the internet, you're going to be inundated by dozens, if not hundreds of companies, calling, mailing, and e-mailing, then selling your information when you tell them not to bother you any more. All of this makes advertising these abominations quite lucrative.

Nonetheless, now that you've read this article, you know better. You're going to understand some of what isn't being said in the advertisement, and if you do decide to respond, you're going to go in with your eyes open rather than naively believing something that might as well begin, "Once Upon A Time..." If there's one thing I can guarantee about the loan business, it's that those who go into a situation believing such stories do not end up living "Happily Ever After."

Caveat Emptor

One Loan Versus Two Loans


One of the questions we ask all the time is whether to do your financing as one loan or two loans. Until comparatively recently, one loan was the default option, but people have been learning that splitting their home financing up into two loans can save them significant amounts of money.

There is significant resistance to the idea of having two mortgages on the part of some people. I have never had a conversation where somebody came out and said why they didn't want to split their mortgage into two pieces, but I can offer some hypotheses. Two loans is two sets of paperwork, two checks to write, twice as much paperwork to fill out and twice as many things to keep track of. If I can't show them concrete benefit, they don't want to do it.

In the cases where equity is or is going to be less than 20% of the value of the house, this is not difficult. Sometimes if the client is in a subprime situation anyway, a loan between eighty and ninety percent can sometimes be marginal, but loan amounts at or above ninety percent of the value of the home is pretty much universally better as two loans.

To illustrate why, let us consider a $300,000 home with a $300,000 loan. Let us posit that your credit score is dead average (about 720), and we desire a Full documentation 30 year fixed rate loan for the primary loan, and a thirty day lock, and that this is purchase money.

I'm pulling down a price sheet on a random "A paper" lender from my deleted files a few days old, and pricing accordingly. Since A paper price sheets change every day, this is intentionally stuff I can't (exactly) do right now, used as an example lest somebody in the Department of Real Estate otherwise construe this as a solicitation. Furthermore, I'm pricing at "par", no discount or rebate.

If we do it at par, this would have been 6.375%. To this would be added a charge for PMI of about 2.25% on the entire value of the loan, making your effective rate 8.625%. Furthermore, the PMI component is not deductible. Your payment is $1871.61 plus $562.50 PMI for a total of $2434.11, or which only $1593.75 is potentially tax deductible. If you want to make it deductible by adding it into the rate, the payment goes to $2333.36 with potential tax deductions of $2156.25, so that's a benefit right off, but you then have to actually refinance in order to get rid of PMI as opposed to having it removed automatically if and when your home value appreciates sufficiently. Nonetheless, most people do refinance so I'll assume this is what you do.

Now let's price it out as two loans. Par is 5.875 percent for the 80 percent loan. Doing the second as a 30/15 gives a rate of 8.75. This means it's thirty year amortization, but the balance is due in fifteen years as a balloon - so you either have to pay it off by then or refinance by then. Nobody does 30 year flat fixed rates on 100 percent seconds at any kind of decent rate. Better to do is as a 30/15 second. Doing it as a variable rate home equity line of credit gives a rate of 8.75 also.

The payment is $1419.69 on the first, fixed for thirty years, and $472.02 on the second. Total payment $1891.71, potential tax deduction $1175.00 plus $437.50 for a total of $1612.50.

Comparing the one loan versus two loans directly, and assuming you're in the 28 percent marginal tax bracket with standard deduction of $9600 and assuming your other deductions of $5000 and you did get to deduct 100% of mortgage interest, for one loan you get a tax savings of $5975, plus principle paid down of $2211 - but your total payments are $28,000.32 over the year. Net total cost to you is $19814. For splitting it into two pieces, you get tax savings of $4130, remaining principal paid down of $3448 total, and total payments is only $22,700. So your net total cost is $15,123 - a savings of $4691, plus you owe $1237 less next year, on which you will pay $74 less interest.

So you see, there are concrete advantages to having your loan split into two pieces.

Loan officers, however, typically get paid either zero or a flat fee for the second mortgage, whereas they get a percentage for the first mortgage, so they may be motivated to sell you on doing one loan to increase their compensation. As you can see, this is not usually in your best interest. Matter of fact, if your loan is above the conforming loan limit (currently $417,000 for a single family residence) it can be beneficial to you so split it into a conforming loan and a second for that reason alone. If you shop around, you increase the chances of finding a loan officer who will do the loan from the point of view of what works best for you, rather than what best lines their own pockets.

Caveat Emptor

Many people have no clue how qualified they are as buyers, or borrowers.

There are two ratios that, together with the credit score, determine how qualified someone is for a loan.

The first, and by far the more important, is debt to income ratio, usually abbreviated DTI. This is a measurement of how easy it will be for you to repay the loan given your current income level.

The debt to income ratio is measured by dividing total monthly mandatory outlays to service debt into your gross monthly income. Yes, due to the fact that the tax code gives you a deduction for mortgage interest, you qualify based upon your gross income. This ratio is broken into two discrete measurements, called front end ratio and back end ratio, for underwriting standards. The front end ratio is the payments upon the proposed loan only (i.e. principal and interest), whereas the back end ratio adds in all debt service: credit cards, installment loans, finance obligations, student loans, alimony and child support, and property taxes and homeowner's insurance on the home as well. The front end ratio is almost ignored; I cannot remember an instance of when front-end was a deal-breaker. The thing that will break most loans is the back end ratio, to the point where some lenders don't really care about the front end ratio anymore.

Now, as to what gets counted, the answer is simple. The minimum monthly payment on any given debt is what gets counted. It doesn't matter if you're paying $500 per month, if the minimum payment is $60, that's what will be counted.

"Can I pay off debt in order to qualify?" is a question I see quite a lot and the answer depends upon your lender and the market you're in. For top of the market A paper lenders, who have to underwrite to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards, the answer is largely no. If you pay off a credit card where the balance is $x, there's nothing to prevent you going out and charging it up again. Even if you close is out completely, the thinking (borne out in practice, I might add) is that you can get another one for the same amount trivially. "Won't they just trust me to be intelligent and responsible?" some people will ask. The answer is no. Actually, it's bleep no. A paper is not about trust. A paper is about you demonstrating that you're a great credit risk. Even installment debt is at the discretion of the lender's guidelines. If they believe that what you really did was borrow money from a friend or family member who expects to be repaid, expect it to be disallowed. Therefore, the time to pay off or pay down your debts is before your credit is run and before you apply for a loan.

For subprime loans, the standards are looser because the lender controls the money. As long as they can see where the money is coming from, they will usually allow the payoff in order to qualify.

Now many folks think that stated income loans don't have a DTI requirement. They do. As a matter of fact, stated income is even less forgiving than full documentation loans in this regard. As I keep telling folks, for full documentation, I don't have to prove every penny you make, I only have to prove enough to justify the loan. If what I proved before falls short, but if the client has more income, I can always prove more. For stated income, we still have to come up with a believable income for your occupation, and then the debt to income ratio is figured off of that. Even if the lender is agreeing not to verify income, they're still going to be skeptical if you change your story. "You told me you make $6000 per month three days ago. Now you're telling me you make $7000 per month. Which is it? Please show me your documentation!" In short, this loan has now essentially changed to a full documentation loan at stated income rates. Nor are they going to believe a fast food counter employee makes $80,000 per year. They have resources that tell them how much people of a given occupation make in the area, and if you're outside the range it will be disallowed. So you need to be very careful to make certain the loan officer knows about all the monthly payments on debt you're required to make. Sometimes it doesn't show up on the credit report and the lender finds out anyway. This has nothing to do with utilities (unless you're in the process of paying one of them back). That's just living expenses, and you could, in theory, cancel cable TV if you needed to. Once you owe the money, you are obligated to pay it back.

As for what is allowable: A paper maximum back end debt to income ratios vary from thirty-eight to forty-five percent of gross monthly income. I'm a big fan of hybrid adjustables, but they are, perversely, harder to qualify for under A paper rules than the standard 30 year fixed rate loan despite the lower payments. This is because there will be an adjustment to your payment at a known point in time, and you're likely to need more money when it does. Note that for high credit scores, Fasnnie Mae and Freddie Mac have automated underwriting programs with a considerable amount of slack cut in.

Some things count for more income than you actually receive. Social security is the classic example of this. The idea is that it's not subject to loss. Once you're getting it, you will be getting it forever, unlike a regular paycheck where you can lose the job and many people do.

Subprime lenders will usually, depending upon the company and their guidelines, go higher than A paper. It's a riskier loan, and you can expect to pay for that risk via a higher interest rate, but even with the higher rate, most people qualify for bigger loans subprime than they will A paper. Some subprime lenders will go as high as sixty percent of gross income on a full documentation loan.

Whatever the debt to income ratio guideline is, it's usually a razor sharp dividing line. On one side you qualify, on the other, you probably don't. If the guideline is DTI of 45 or less, and you are at 44.9, you're in, at least as far as the debt to income ratio goes. On the high side, waivers do exist but they are something to be leery of. Whereas many waivers are approved deviations from guidelines that may be mostly a technicality, debt-to-income ratio cuts to the heart of whether you can afford the loan, and if you're not within this guideline, it may be best to let the loan go. You've got to eat, you probably want to pay your utility bills, and you only make so much. Debt to Income ratio is there for your protection as much as the bank's.

Caveat Emptor.

The companion article on Loan to Value Ratio is here.

my question today is about what happens to the prepayment penalty if the loan is sold to someone else? A friend of mine told me that he called and was told there was no prepayment penalty with the new lender but I'm skeptical. Why would the terms of the loan change just because someone else is servicing it?

They wouldn't, unless the state your friend lives in has an unusual law.

Your friend hasn't paid off the loan. Therefore, there will be no pre-payment penalty assessed simply because the original lender sold off the rights to receive the payments.

On the other hand, just because the right to receive payments has been sold does not invalidate or alter the terms of the contract, among which is the pre-payment penalty clause. If your friend does something which would have caused the penalty to be assessed with the original lender, it will still be due to the replacement lender.

The fact that a loan has been sold does not cause the penalty to be assessed. Otherwise, people would be assessed a penalty for something under control of the bank, not themselves. On the other hand, it doesn't let you off the hook of penalty clause you agree to, either.

Caveat Emptor

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