Intermediate Information: February 2008 Archives

Somebody who's only looked at the specifications for the FHA purchase program will ask me if I'm on drugs. The answer is yes, I have taken my allergy medication today, but there really are ways to purchase a property through the FHA with no down payment, as I have recently discovered.

This is not the same thing as 100% financing. The FHA doesn't do that. The FHA really wants borrowers to have some of their own money invested into the property. In fact, they have supposedly made it very plain they don't like down payment assistance programs and using them can involve additional scrutiny - but the FHA will accept them if they're done right, meaning that some people are able to buy who would not otherwise be able to.

Here's what the legislation says: The FHA will allow the seller to assist the buyer with up to 6% for closing costs only. No seller carrybacks, and no cash back from seller to buyer (which is fraud, anyway). The owner cannot give the seller the down payment.

But the FHA allows up to a 6% gift for the down payment, and this can come from either immediate family members or from non-profit organizations. If your family members, usually parents, can come up with a gift - not loan - to enable the purchase of a property, that is acceptable to the FHA. Non-profit organizations may also do so. Indeed, there are non-profits that make it their primary activity to do so.

Here's the way it works. The owner (seller) of a piece of property agrees to furnish an amount of money equal to the necessary down payment assistance plus a certain small fee, but does not actually send any money until the transaction closes, at which point escrow is given instructions to . The down payment assistance non-profit then advances the money into escrow, with appropriate contingencies. When the transaction funds, escrow sends the money back to the non-profit for use with the next assistance client down the line.

This is just far enough from direct cash back that the FHA will sign off on it, and most lenders doing business with them will as well. Everything has to be disclosed to everyone - if you're ever involved in a transaction where somebody wants to keep some aspect a secret from some other participant, run away before it happens, or disclose it to them yourself. But there is a difference - a registered non-profit third party, and they are advancing actual cash even though they haven't received any yet. Furthermore, the buyer is not getting cash - what they are getting is money to make a down payment with. This changes the transaction enough that the principles that say cash back is fraud no longer apply, because it isn't cash back from the seller to the buyer.

These grants are in no way, shape or form free money. They come with extensive strings attached. They are an effective way to leverage the current market to make purchasing now, while the market is in the favor of buyers, possible, even for someone who may not have a down payment. Nor do they require repayment.

Why would an owner agree to do this? Two reasons: Price and saleability. First of all, owners who are willing and able to do this have the capability of selling to buyers that other owners do not. This makes the property unique in a way, and provides negotiating leverage because most owners are not willing and able to do this. Instead of eighty properties, a given prospective buyer may only have a choice of three properties. Now their property only has to compete against two others, and those others might not be suitable. The result is quite possibly that a given buyer does business with you or with nobody at all. Now they don't really have the opportunity of walking away from your property. You think maybe a competent listing agent could get significantly more money out of the buyer in such circumstances?

Furthermore, the price the owners might be willing to accept obviously gets raised. If they might accept $400,000 without one of these programs involved, but they have to furnish 3% for closing costs plus 3% for a down payment and $500 for a fee to the non-profit, they need $426,100 just to get the same gross revenue. When you consider that they're paying commissions based upon the higher number. At 6% total agency commissions, that adds over $1500 to what the owners are paying in commission, plus about $60 for owner's title insurance, $30 in lender's title insurance, and roughly $30 extra for each side for escrow, in this case. Your point of equivalence between this prospective buyer is about $427,700, as opposed to a generic buyer at $400,000, but it's very possible to get more than a breakeven amount - not to mention selling the property, where you wouldn't have otherwise.

I have to mention appraisal issues.. It doesn't help if the appraisal is below the purchase price, particularly for high value financing. However, this is one area where the factors working to push everybody towards the FHA loan also work in your favor, because due to the decline in prices that has the lenders in full on PANIC! mode, appraisals are generally fairly easy to justify above the purchase price. I've had to ask them if they could hold the value down a couple of times of late. I don't remember the last time an appraisal didn't come back with plenty of value on a purchase.

Another note is that it doesn't necessarily have to be an FHA loan to work with one of these programs, but the fact that the FHA is willing to work with these programs takes away a lot of lender anxiety, because the FHA guarantee is the only thing that has lenders willing to go 97% loan to value ratio at all in most of the country. Once the FHA signs off on the whole transaction, that guarantee eases lender fear, because otherwise the lenders are stopping at 95% or less. So it's going to be a rare lender that agrees to all of this without the FHA being involved.

Finally, it should be obvious that buyers would be better off to come up with a down payment themselves, rather than pay the higher price, especially as we're specifically considering a loan for 97% of value. The higher property taxes, the higher purchase price, and definitely the higher loan amount are all going to be something you have to deal with for basically the rest of your life. The seller gets their money, where it all comes out in the wash, and goes their merry way. The buyer is paying a higher price, more taxes, increased cost of money, has to deal with a higher loan to value ratio if they need to refinance, and will net less money if and when they go to sell. In the example given, I'd much rather come up with $12,000 cash for a down payment than have to deal with a purchase price $15,000 higher (remember it was 3% closing costs plus 3% to the down payment program, so half of $30,000), pay an extra $200 per year in property taxes, an extra $900 per year interest, and end up with $15,000 less money in my pocket if and when I sold. Wouldn't you? But none of this takes place in a vacuum, and if you wait until you can save that $12,000, the conditions at purchase are very likely to be even worse - because right now the market is in the tank, and buyers have more power and properties are likely to be more affordable than they ever will be again. If you can save $500 per month, by the time you are ready to buy it will be two years in the future, and I'm expecting the prices of properties selling for $400,000 now to be significantly higher than $415,000.

Caveat Emptor

This is a temporary program, launched by President Bush and Congress a few months ago. Its goal is to prevent as many homeowners as is reasonable from losing their homes through foreclosure. It won't help you if you bought a property that was far beyond your real means, but it is likely to help a lot if didn't stretch very much.

In order to qualify for FHA secure, you need to have a non FHA ARM that has "reset," which is lender talk for "passed the end of the fixed period, if there was one." FHA Secure probably isn't going to help you anyway if you already have a fixed rate mortgage. The limit on the loan is the current conforming limit, which is $417,000 nationwide (except Alaska and Hawaii) as I type this. We're expecting information in the next few weeks that details how big the loans the FHA will actually insure in a given area are likely to be due to Congress mandating raising their loan limit. Them being a government agency, they have to do what Congress says, but it does take time to implement these things.

FHA Secure mortgages are not like those "free magazine - take one!" offers. You do have to qualify for the mortgage under the normal FHA rules. This means full documentation of income on a fully amortizing loan with a debt to income ratio of 41% in the textbook case. They also have Loan to Value limits of 97.15%

The ONLY "normal" mortgage qualification that the FHA Secure is willing to overlook is whether you were current on your loan after it hit the adjustable period. You must have been current on your existing mortgage for six months before it hit the adjustable period, but if you made late payments or no payments after the loan hit the adjustable period, FHA is willing to waive the usual requirements to have your loan current. They're even willing to consider your loan if you are currently in default.

Another way that FHA Secure mortgages are different from most FHA mortgages is that there is no CLTV limit, and the FHA will allow secondary financing for FHA Secure loans. The primary form this takes is second mortgages carried by previous lenders for amounts over the FHA limits, either in terms of Loan to Value or absolute dollar value. Be aware that in some states, this is going to change your loan from a non-recourse loan into a full recourse loan.The protections given by non-recourse loans are generally over-rated, but it's something you should be aware of. Since the FHA normally funds up to 97% Loan to Value ratio, and conventional lenders and second mortgage holders don't want to go that high right now, they are not going to agree to fund the difference unless they understand the choice they have is between funding the difference and going straight into foreclosure. For example, let's say you've got a $500,000 loan on a property that you purchased for $500,000 with 100% financing on an interest only 2/28. You still owe $500,000, but the property may only be worth $440,000, and the FHA will only fund to $417,000 until the new limits are implemented. This leaves $83,000 (at a minimum) that the new loan is short. If the prior lender can be convinced that it's a choice between write a loan contract for that $83,000 and go straight to foreclosure, where they'll lose a lot more than $83,000, they may agree to carry that second mortgage. Of course, they also may not. It's their money and their choice, and there's no way to compel them if they won't listen to logic.

FHA Secure is otherwise similar to "regular" FHA loans, and it's not free. There's a funding fee of 1.5% charged up front, and an annualized half a percent charged on a monthly basis. The FHA's "Naughty List" also applies.

FHA Secure is not any kind of a cure-all. You do have to qualify for it as regards both Debt to Income Ratio and Loan to Value Ratio. If you stretched way too far beyond your real means - as evidenced by income documentable by tax returns and W-2 forms - this program is not going to help you. If you were late on your mortgage even before it hit reset, this program is not going to help you. If you're a member of that group that's always with us, people who have lost their jobs, careers, or otherwise seen a decline in income, it may not help you even if you originally qualified full documentation. It's also not going to help you if your loan was for $900,000, which is way over any FHA limit currently being contemplated. But if you're a middle class borrower who only stretched a little, figured you'd be okay with a hybrid ARM because of it, and now you're not, this may be the program that saves you.

Caveat Emptor

FHA Loans: Poised for a Comeback


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

Rates move up and down constantly. This is one of the strongest reasons both Intelligent consumers and intelligent loan officers love zero cost loans. Every time rates drop, I call or send an e-mail to those clients who signed up for low cost loans since the last time rates dropped this low, and voila, I'm saving them money for basically nothing.

A streamline refinance is a refinance where there is no cash out by Fannie and Freddie's definition. The rate must be lower, the payment must be lower, and the equity situation must qualify for at least the same program the borrowers had last time. If you roll the expenses into the balance cannot be higher than what was approved last time. Most streamline refinances are with the same lender, but there are a very few lenders who will or have in the past allowed streamline refinancing of another lender's loan.

Here's how and why it works. There is always a tradeoff between rate and cost. Rates have actually come back up considerably since a month ago, but that's good fodder for an example. I'm going to assume a $400,000 current loan. Closing costs on that loan are $2815 including appraisal, escrow, and title insurance. Usually, appraisals are not required for streamline refinances, but right now, lenders are in panic mode, so they are. Those who have the gold make the rules for lending it out. The A paper rates for the day I'm writing this (no longer available by the time you're reading this) are a thirty year fixed rate loan at 5.875% for two points, 6.25 for one point (actually about 3 tenths), or 6.375 for zero points. Here's a table listing new rate, new balance, monthly interest cost, and how long it takes to recover the cost for the loan via lowered cost of interest in months as opposed to the 6.75% loan that I can do for no cost to the borrower at all.

New Balance

Now once you've paid those costs, they're sunk into the loan. Furthermore, your rate is locked into concrete. Just because better rates come along does not mean the lender is automatically going to lower your rate, any more than they can raise it if rates go up. That Note is a binding contract on both sides. So if you want to refinance before you've broken even, any money you haven't recovered yet is just gone. The alternative is not to refinance at all, and keep your old loan, horrible though it may be by the standards of a later time. And if you do want to refinance again, it doesn't matter what your current rate is - you're going through the entire qualification process anew, and you have to pay closing costs again as well as, if you want them, discount points to buy the rate down.

Let's say it's a year from today, and rates drop to where they were a month ago. 5.25 for two points, 5.5 for one, 5.75 for zero points, and 6 percent even for zero cost. Let me stress for the hard of understanding who may be reading this that this is a purely hypothetical supposition. Depending upon the loan you chose today, here's your situation in twelve months:


At our hypothetical rates one year from now, the person who chose 5.875% today cannot be helped without spending some money. In fact, I can move anyone who chose a loan costing one point or less down to a rate almost as good as what you spent $11,000 to get for absolutely zero cost. So their balances stay exactly the same, and here's the new situation

Orig Rate
New Rate

Notice that the person who chose that zero cost loan in the first place has a monthly cost of interest that's $8 to $17 lower than anyone else - and he owes thousands of dollars less on his loan! The people who spent money buying the rate down will literally never catch up to him! Even though the interest for the guy who keeps the initial 5.875% interest rate is a little lower, with thousands of dollars difference on the balance, you're still talking fifteen years or so for him to break even with the people who initially spent less to buy the rate down, straight line computation, never mind time value of money!

This isn't magic, and it isn't totally hypothetical. This is almost predictable. A few years ago the median age of mortgages was down to sixteen months. I can't seem to find it in the current Statistical Abstract, but I've heard it's all the way up to 28 months - still less time than it takes to break even for the costs of the expensive loan above, and pretty much the same as the break even for the loans where you spent some money to get the loan. Why in the name of whatever divinity you worship would you want to spend money that most people are never going to get back?

Now, considering this information, there's another loan that actually makes even more sense for most folks - a hybrid ARM. This is a thirty year loan with an interest rate that is initially fixed by the loan contract for a certain number of years, after which it will become an adjustable rate mortgage. For about 15 years, I've been doing 5/1 ARMs for myself. Even when the rates on thirty year fixed rate loans were ten percent, I've always been able to get a 5/1 ARM around six percent or less. For the last couple of years, the rates on 5/1 ARMs have been essentially the same as for thirty year fixed rate loans - meaning there's no real reason not to buy thirty years of insurance that your rate won't change. Why not, when it's been cheaper than 5 years worth of the same insurance? But ARMs are now diverging significantly below the rate/cost tradeoff of thirty year fixed rate loans, so now we're getting back to the normal situation, where people willing to relax just a little bit on a mental requirement for a thirty year fixed rate loan can reap substantial rewards. A month ago, a 5/1 ARM at zero cost was at 5.75%. Now it's around 6.125. So for the same zero cost of a 6.75% thirty year fixed rate loan, you can get a five years of fixed rate at 6.125%. On a $400,000 loan, this saves you $2500 per year - more than a full month of interest on the thirty year fixed rate loan. Furthermore, we've already covered the fact that the vast majority of people aren't going to keep their loan long enough for a 5/1 ARM to turn adjustable anyway. If you're among those 95% of all real estate borrowers who aren't going to keep the loan five years, there isn't any practical difference between a thirty year fixed rate loan and a 5/1 ARM except that you pay five eighths of a percent less interest - slightly over $200 per month saved in this instance. You can pay the same as a thirty year fixed rate loan and apply the interest savings to principal - which means you'll owe $14,000 less at the end of five years, assuming you keep it that long, and that rates don't drop so you can refinance at a lower rate, again for free. Another alternative is that you can invest the difference, in which case you'll have over $15,000 extra in an investment account, assuming an average 10% return per year. Who cares if you then need to spend $3000 of it refinancing if the rates never get this low in that period? Okay, I care, but since I'm still $11,000 or so ahead after I spend it, if I need to spend it, that is one heck of a good investment!

Some people prefer other ARMs. I see people encouraging the 10/1 and 7/1 for people who think the 5/1 isn't long enough. And if you're one of those folks who is going to lie awake every night for five years because you don't have a thirty year fixed rate loan, the difference between a 5/1 ARM and a thirty year fixed rate loan makes a difference of about $6 interest per night. Split two ways, for you and your significant other, that's $3 each for a good night's sleep. A good night's sleep is worth $3 to me, it's worth $3 for my wife, and I presume your sleep worth $3 per night to you, also. There's nothing explicitly wrong with choosing a 7/1 or a 10/1 as opposed to a 5/1, either. It's mostly a mental comfort issue. Most folks don't keep their loans 5 years anyway, so if I'm one of that huge majority of homeowners, why would I want to buy seven or ten years worth of insurance that my rate won't change? The only answer that makes any sense other than mental comfort is if the rate/cost tradeoff for those loans is cheaper, and that is only rarely the case. At today's rates, you're giving away three eighths of a percent for the same zero cost loan on a 10/1 basis - 60% of your savings, although the 7/1 is almost exactly the same cost as the 5/1, so that's a good choice. Most folks won't use the two extra years, but if it's essentially free, why not take it in case you do? For the 3/1 ARM, on the other hand, it's actually slightly more expensive at the zero cost level we're considering today, and even if it was cheaper, you're getting down closer to average holding period, so perhaps a third of the people who got it might want to hold it longer than the fixed period. Furthermore, I don't think I've ever seen a zero cost 3/1 more than an eighth of a percent lower rate than a 5/1 at the same cost. Let's say you could get one at 6% today for that loan, instead of 6.25. You save $41 extra per month - $241 over the thirty year fixed - but you've only got a maximum of 36 months of savings. $241 times 36 is only $8676, as opposed to $200 times 60 months, which is $12,000, not to mention more ability for compounding to have an effect in the case of the 5/1 ARM, and that the idea is refinancing to a favorable rate before the end of the fixed period. For all of these reasons, I can't really see choosing a 3/1 for any set of circumstances I can remember seeing any time in the last fifteen years or so.

To summarize, rate/cost tradeoffs between loans go up and down constantly - the rates for A paper change every business day, at a minimum. Nobody can predict exactly when they will rise or drop again, but that they will vary over a given range is pretty much axiomatic. Furthermore, there is always a tradeoff between rate and cost for any given loan type at any time, and if you choose a loan with low rates but comparatively high costs, it will be years before you have recovered your initial investment via cost of interest. Since by that point it is very probable that rates will have fallen below today's rates, and you will have wanted to refinance, this is only rarely a good investment. A better way to cut your cost of interest is to choose a hybrid ARM with a fixed period likely to cover the period of time you will keep a given loan in effect.

Caveat Emptor

Legally, immediately.

With that said, there are economic reasons why it may not be a good idea for you to refinance.

If you have a prepayment penalty, you're going to have to save a lot of money to make it worth paying that penalty. Suppose you have a rate of 7 percent, and an penalty of eighty percent of six months interest, that's a prepayment penalty of 2.8 percent of the loan amount. So, in order to make it worth refinancing in that instance, you have to save at least 2.8 percent of your loan amount in addition to the costs of getting the loan done, all before the prepayment penalty would have expired anyway. So if it's a three year prepayment penalty, you have to cut almost a full percent off your rate just to balance out the prepayment penalty. The higher the rate you've got now, the bigger the penalty and the more you've got to save in order to make it worthwhile. On the other side of the argument, the longer the prepayment penalty is for, the easier it is to save enough to justify paying it. If you've got a five year prepayment penalty, you're likely to get transferred or need to sell or somehow end up paying it anyway.

Second, your home has not appreciated yet, especially not in the current market. You bought for $X, and your home is still worth $X, and you haven't paid the loan down much yet, so your equity situation is essentially unchanged. In fact, since relatively few loans are zero cost, you're either going to have to put money to the deal or accept a higher rate than you might otherwise get. Don't get me wrong; Zero Cost Refinancing is a really good idea if you refinance often. But when you go from a loan that takes money to buy the rate down to a loan where the lender is paying for all of the costs of getting it done, you're not going to get as good of a rate unless the rates are falling. As of right now, they have been going through a broad and more or less steady increase for the last two years. If you or someone else paid two points to get the rate on your current loan, you are not getting those two points back if you refinance. They are sunk costs, gone forever when you let the lender off the hook. If rates had been going down for the same amount of time, it might be a good idea to refinance, but that is not the case right now.

If you got your current loan based upon a property value of $400,000 and total loans of $380,000, that's a 95 percent Loan to Value Ratio. So your property is still worth $400,000, you've only paid the loan down $400. That's still a ninety five percent Loan to Value Ratio; more actually, as doing most loans is not free. So unless your credit score has gone way up, you can now prove you make money where you couldn't before, or you have a large chunk of cash you intend to put to the loan, chances are not good that refinancing is going to help you. If your credit score has gone from 520 to 640, on the other hand, or you now have two years of tax returns that prove your income, or you did win $100,000 in Vegas and you want to pay your loan down, then it can become worthwhile to refinance, even in a market like this one where the rates are generally rising. Unfortunately for loan officers like me, that does not describe the situation most people find themselves in.

One more thing that can influence whether it's a good idea to refinance is your rental and mortgage payment history. If when you got your current loan, you had multiple sixty day lates on your credit within the past two years, and now they are all more than two years in the past, that can make a really positive difference in the rate you qualify for. On the other hand, if you had an immaculate history before and now you've had a bunch of payments late thirty days or more, then it's probably not going to be beneficial to refinance.

Cash out refinancing is one thing many people ask about surprisingly soon after they close on their home. Now if you have a down payment, it's better to put aside some of the down payment for use in renovations rather than to initially put it towards a purchase and then refinance it out, as it saves you the costs of doing a new loan. If the equity is there and if you have the discipline to take the money and actually do something financially beneficial with it, it can be a very good idea. If you're just taking the money to pay off debts so you can cut your payments and run up more debts, it's probably not a good idea, even if your equity situation supports getting the cash out. It often can and does in a rising market. In the current market where values are retreating, not so much. If you bought any time in the last two years, it is unlikely that you have significantly more equity now than when you bought, making the whole situation unlikely to be of benefit.

A lot of situations have something or other that makes them an exception to the general rules of thumb. The only way to know for certain if the general rules apply to your situation is have a good conversation with a loan provider or two.

Caveat Emptor

what happens if partner refuses to pay his half of the mortgage?

The lender will hold you each responsible for payment in full. That's the long and the short of it. You both agreed to the loan contract, and if it's not paid in full there will be all of the consequences: Hits to your credit, notice of default, foreclosure.

This is basically blackmail on the part of your partner, and a disturbing number of partnerships have this phenomenon. The only way I know of to recover the money is through the courts, which takes forever and costs more money. Even when you have a judgment, it can be difficult to actually get the money if they have taken certain steps to place it beyond your reach. Talk to an attorney right now, keep good records, and send everything Certified Mail.

Unfortunately, there are no method except time that I am aware of to repair the damage to your credit once it has been done. You just have to wait it out. For that reason, it is usually cost effective to loan your partner the money, even at zero percent interest.

What if you don't have the money for both halves of the payment? Well, that's a real question, and the answer is found in the article What Happens When You Can't Make Your Real Estate Loan Payment. This is not a good situation to be in. Talk to that attorney about liquidating your investment. It takes time and a lot of money if your partner doesn't want to.

What can you do to prevent this from happening? Pick a good partner that won't pull this nonsense. Spend the money to protect yourself up front with a partnership agreement. But the fact is that if your partner wants to be a problem personality, you really can't stop them in the short term. Not that it makes any difference to your pocketbook, but sometimes it's not intentional. People do fall on bad times for reasons not under their control.

Corporations are another step people take to protect themselves from this sort of thing, but that brings in all sorts of further problems. How the corporation qualifies for a loan is often a significant problem, and many times practically speaking, is insurmountable.

Borrowing money in partnership with someone else is something to be done with a lot of forethought and preparation, otherwise there's nothing you can do when bad things happen.

Caveat Emptor

Option ARMs and Cash Flow

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One of the standard arguments I hear about negative amortization and Option ARM loans is that they "give the client the option to make a smaller payment if they need to." This so-called "Pick A Pay" benefit is a real benefit, but it's an expensive benefit, one that the client will pay for many times over. They are better off just managing their money well to begin with.

Let's go into some details. Let's consider someone with a $400,000 loan on a $500,000 property, and dead average credit score, and to keep the playing field level, the same 3 year "hard" prepayment penalty. On this morning's rate sheets (outdated by the time you're reading this), I have a 30 year fixed rate loan at 6.00 percent, less than one point total net cost to the consumer. The equivalent Option ARM/"Pick A Pay"/negative amortization loan is actually a little above 7.5 percent real rate, although it carries a nominal rate of 1%. Furthermore, removing the prepayment penalty would make a difference of about an eighth of a percent to the rate on the thirty year fixed, while I have yet to see a Negative Amortization loan that even had the option of buying it off completely, and this loan carries higher closing costs to boot.

Now, let's crank some numbers. That thirty year fixed rate loan has a payment of $2398.21. Nothing ever changes unless you change it by selling or refinancing. The first month, $2000.00 even is interest and $398.21 is principal. You pay for a year, $23,866.38 in interest and $4912.05 in principal is gone, and you've made payments totaling $28,778.43. You are also free to pay down up to twenty percent of the loan's principal in any year without triggering the prepayment penalty.

Plugging in 7.5% for the real rate to keep the math a little easier, the Negative Amortization Loan has four payment "options" of $1286.56, $2500.00, $2796.86 or $3708.05. These options represent "nominal" payment, "interest only" payment, "30 year amortization" payment, and "15 year amortization" payment. Actually, the last three options will vary every month, and trend upwards under these market circumstances, but let's hold them constant just to make my point. As a matter of fact, if you don't make a habit of paying at least the thirty year amortization payment, the options will drift up over time. The chances of this happening in the real world are minuscule, as I make clear in my first article on this subject, Option ARM and Pick a Pay - Negative Amortization Loans, but let's play the game, just to see how it turns out if you give the advocates everything they ask for and more.

Crank the numbers through for twelve months, and you've paid $29,874.96 in interest, $3687.34 in principal, and made $33,562.30 in total payments. This is the "going along, making the loan payments" that the advocates are talking about. Here's a table, comparing this to the 30 year fixed rate loan:

total paid
30 Fixed
Option ARM

When you put it in those terms, I don't think there's any question which loan a rational person would rather have. But that's not the situation the advocates would have us believe is beneficial, at least not with this particular argument. Let us presume that two months out of that year - and to keep the math as simple and as favorable as possible, let's make them the last two months - that you decide you have the need to make minimum payments, and let's see what happens. you've paid $29884.40 in interest, lost all but $657.30 in principal payments, and made $30,541.70 in total payments. Now, if you're making the minimum payment more than one month out of six, most folks should agree it's not an "occasional" thing, it's more of a "regular occurrence" thing, which situation I have already done the math to refute any claims of advantage. Here is a table comparing that to the thirty year fixed rate loan:

total paid
30 Fixed
Option ARM

Look very carefully at that "total paid" row. The thirty year fixed has saved you $1763.27 in total payments. Now, this begs the question of what you're paying it out of, but if you haven't got the income to make the payments from somewhere, you shouldn't have the loan. It's not good for you. So we're assuming that money is coming from somewhere, and as I have illustrated, if you'll just not spend it as it comes in and set a little bit aside in case something happens to your cash flow, that 30 year fixed rate loan leaves you with $1763.27 of your hard-earned money in your pocket. Not to mention just an all around better situation, as evidenced by the rest of the second table.

Now, given the fact that these loans have basically nothing to recommend them to clients, why do alleged professionals keep pushing them off on the public? Well, two reasons, both of them having to do with money. $$$. Coin of the realm. Specifically, commission checks.

First off, it should come as no surprise to anyone that lenders are willing to pay very high yield spreads for negative amortization/Option ARM/"Pick a Pay" loans. The yield spreads start at about 3 and a quarter percent of loan amount, and go up to 4 percent, with most clustering in the higher part of the range. By comparison, that thirty year fixed rate loan pays 1 percent. On a $400,000 loan, like the one in the example, that's the difference between a $4000 check and a $15,000 check. Doesn't that make you feel good that they left you twisting slowly in the wind so that they could make $11,000 extra? Didn't think so.

The second reason that people do this to you is that it makes it look like you can afford a larger, more expensive property than you really can. Most people tell professionals how much property they can afford in terms of monthly payment. Well, shopping for a property or a loan by monthly payment is a disastrous thing to do, as the first part of this article, among many others, illustrates. But let's say you tell the Realtor that you can afford $2500 per month. Now most people are thinking of mortgage payments in the same terms as rent payments, when most people can afford a higher mortgage payment than rent, but let's use these numbers. Let's just use that numbers, and have insurance and property taxes call it a wash. For $2500 per month payments, you can make real payments on a $410,000 property, or you can make minimum payments on a $775,000 property. At 3% buyer's agent commission, assuming they are only representing you and didn't list the property, and assuming they do the loan as well, they can get checks totaling about $16,400 for the buyer's agent commission and loan in the first situation, or $52,300 in the second. Not to mention I don't have to tell the client to limit themselves to what their pocketbook can afford in the second situation. Even here in San Diego, that $775,000 property is a beautiful five or six bedroom 2800 square foot home with all of those nice little extras like travertine floors, three car garage, marble counter-tops, etcetera, in a highly sought after area of town with great schools, whereas the $410,000 property has linoleum floors, no garage, Marlite counter-tops, and is in a neighborhood with marginal appeal and probably not so wonderful schools. Which do you think sounds like a more attractive property and an easier sale, for what the typical buyer thinks of as the same payment? Which property do you think the typical buyer is going to select, particularly if they have never had all of this explained to them?

Finally, for pure loan officers, it's a way of appearing to compete on price without really competing on price. The average person is told about this great 1% payment of $2500 when the real payment for a thirty year fixed rate loan (allowing for the fact that this has become a jumbo loan) is $4771.80, and they just aren't looking at little things like two extra points of origination or higher closing costs, as it just doesn't make that much difference to the payment. They can also slide in a higher margin over index that gets them an even higher yield spread, and it doesn't influence that minimum payment at all, which is the only thing this client has their eyes on. So what if the final payment comes in at $2600 (making the loan officer roughly $35,000 or more)? So what if their loan balance is increasing by $2000 per month? Most people just do not and will not do the work that enables them to spot this trap.

Caveat Emptor

Issues with Relocation Loans

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Sooner or later, a pretty fair proportion of the population are going to get an offer for a much better job, but the catch is that job is located in another city on the opposite end of the country. What are the major issues relating to the mortgage?

Well, first off, the relocating spouse may not have the job until they actually report for their first day at work. Many times people are told "Go there and you'll have a job," and when they get there, they don't. So no matter how much time you have in that line of work, until you actually have the job things are iffy and you can expect loan underwriters to reflect that. The job offer letter may or may not get the job done - it usually doesn't. Usually they want at least an employment contract, sometimes (particularly A paper) the first pay stub as well. It can be rough, and a waste of money to rent, but over the lifetime of a loan with a higher interest rate, it may pay off to actually wait until you've got that first pay stub.

Now just because the one spouse has a job offer doesn't mean the other spouse will get a job in their field. Sometimes they work in a field where there is no problem finding work, like health care. Sometimes they work in a field where moving means they don't have a career, and they're going to have to start all over in some other field. If you worked in a distillery and you're moving to Salt Lake City, you're probably going to need a career change. If that job is similar enough to the one you left behind, that's cool. But if you used to be a bookkeeper and now you're a retail clerk, they you do not have two years in the same line of work. Chances are your family is not going to be able to use your income to help qualify for the loan. They are not going to be able to use it at all until you have a job that has income. Since this can take a while, you really might be better advised to rent for a month or two (or even six, if that's the shortest lease you can find). If, of course, one spouse isn't working and doesn't plan to, this isn't really an issue.

Next, there are the issues with the property in the old city. Many times, especially in a buyer's market like now, the property has not yet sold, becoming a drag upon your ability to qualify for a new loan. If you can rent it, that's certainly one solution, but most lenders will only allow 3/4 of the monthly rent to be used to qualify you for a new loan, but will charge all of the expenses against this. Considering that around here it's tough to get a positive cash flow for a rental property in actual terms, you can imagine how tough it is when your monthly income from the property is chopped by 1/4, and how much more you will need to be making, in order to justify the loan.

Another thing is that most folks expect to be able to use the entire amount of the new salary to qualify, and that's not the way it works. If you made $6000 per month for the past two years, one month at $9000 isn't going to move that monthly average income up very much. The computation is done on a weighted average basis - you've got 23 months at $6000 per month, or $138,000, and 1 month at $9000, which when added makes for a grand total of $147,000, or about $6125 per month. Often newly relocated folks have to settle for sub-prime loans when they are normally A paper so that they can use bank statements or something else to qualify. And of course there is always stated income, but there are rules for that, especially A paper.

Caveat Emptor

"I am married but want to refinance my house only in my name. What do I have to do?"
This is actually pretty easy, and there are at least two ways to potentially accomplish this, depending upon lender policy and the law in your area.

Most lenders policies require the property to be titled in a compatible manner to the loan. Some few do allow the spouse to be on title and not a party to the loan, in which case they will be required to sign the Trust Deed, although not the Note. Most lenders, however, will require that if you are the only one on the loan, the property be titled in your name exclusively. So your spouse will be required to sign a quitclaim to "Jenny Jones, a married woman as her sole and separate property" (Or "John Jones, a married man as his sole and separate property). If you don't like the title being this way, that's fine and don't sweat it. You can quitclaim it back to "John and Jenny Jones, husband and wife as joint tenants with rights of survivorship" as soon as the loan records. What matters is that the people agreeing to the loan, as of the moment the Trust Deed comes into effect, is reflected in the official title of the property.

For those intelligent individuals whose property is in living trusts, this is also a common feature of getting a loan on the property. The lender will usually require it be quit-claimed from "John and Jenny Jones, trustees of the Jones Family Living Trust" to either the sole individual who qualified for the loan, as in the previous paragraph, or to "John and Jenny Jones, husband and wife as joint tenants with rights of survivorship."

All of that is the easy part. Now comes the hard part. If one spouse wants to be the only one on the loan, then they must qualify on their own. Only their income may be used. However, since most debts in a marriage are in the names of both partners, typically they are going to going to be charged for most debts on their qualification sheets. This really is no big deal if that particular spouse is earning all of the money anyway, but in most cases these days, both spouses are working, and they want to buy the biggest home they can, so it can be difficult to qualify them for that home based upon the income of only one spouse. Here's a typical scenario: He makes $5600 per month, she makes $5000. They have two $400 per month car payments and $120 per month in credit card minimum payments. But he has rotten credit, so they are hoping to secure a loan on better terms. By A paper full documentation guidelines, she only qualifies for a PITI payment of $1330 ($5000 times 45%, minus $920), which might get a one bedroom condo in a not so hot area of town. So then they have to go stated income in order to qualify for the loan on the home they really want. As a couple they qualify for payments of $3850 ($10,600 times 45%, minus $920), which will get a decent single family residence in an okay area of town. You, the readers, can guess which of the two properties the average couple in this situation is going to shop for. Unfortunately, many times her profession is not one where the lender will believes she makes twice what she really does without verification. This is a real issue, especially if they went and got a prequalification from someone who figured both of their incomes in the equation, so here they are with a purchase agreement and they can't qualify like they thought they could. This is one reason I've learned never to trust someone else's prequalification of a buyer, because in this situation, the only way to make it happen is to put John, with his rotten credit, on the loan. Because he makes more money than Jenny, he will be the primary borrower, and so the loan will be based upon John's bad credit history, not Jenny's above average FICO. There are ways to potentially get around this, but sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, at least in the sense of getting John and Jenny a better rate on their loan, or of qualifying them to get a loan at all. Better to get John's credit score up where he will qualify for a good loan beforehand, of course, but usually these folks want a loan now so they can get this home they've already signed a purchase contract on. The ability to improve credit scores in a short period of time is limited, and it's even more limited if John and Jenny are short on cash, which is usually the case.

These can all be issues with the spouse who makes less money, also. Reverse the incomes, so that John, with his bad credit, makes $5000 per month and Jenny, with her good credit, makes $5600. So at least Jenny is primary on the loan, now, but most people are not in professions where the lender will believe they make almost twice what they really do, so stated income A paper doesn't fly, and John and Jenny have to go sub-prime because if you put him on the loan, both spouses must qualify A paper and John doesn't. Sub-prime means higher rates and a pre-payment penalty, unless you buy off the prepayment penalty with an even higher rate.

Now, in point of fact many borrowers these days are ones that have settled upon a property before they even considered a loan, and are determined to get that property no matter what they have to do. Alternatively, they may have talked to someone about loans who gave them a budget which was in fact accurate, but they liked this property so much that they are utterly ignoring that budget. Such people are going to end up with bad loans. They want more house than they can really afford, and they want it now. I can get the loan for them, any competent loan officer can get it for them, but there will be consequences down the road, because there are still those pesky payments they have to make (or negative amortization that builds up. Or both). A loan you cannot afford is a course for disaster, and the longer you're on it, the worse the disaster gets.

But so long as a couple is qualifying for a loan where they really can make the payments, it's all okay. The one thing that bites a fair number of people is divorce, where one ex-spouse figures that because he (or she) qualified all by themselves so they should be able to make the payments all by themselves. But the loan officer used stated income without telling them, and once that other income is gone, it turns out that they can't make the payments. Not only can they not make the payments, they cannot qualify to refinance now. Typically, most people live in denial about this for way too long, ruining their credit to where they can no longer qualify for the loan on the lesser property they would have been able to get if they had done the smart thing in the first place.

So one spouse qualifying for a loan on their own has some real issues to be aware of, and that will turn and bite you if you're not careful enough.

Caveat Emptor.


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