Intermediate Information: March 2008 Archives

Recently, the forty year mortgage has started to make a comeback, and a few lenders have started introducing the fifty year mortgage. The reason, straight from the horse's mouth, the lender's representatives, is lowered payments. In an uncertain and unstable market, investors are getting nervous about 100% interest only financing, and so the lenders are tightening up on the standards of who is able to qualify for that, while looking for another way to compete on the basis of lower payments. One way that they do this is the Option ARM, or negative amortization loan. However, to anyone who does even a minimal amount of investigation those loans are like cutting your own throat. A lot of people will still sign up for them, but now that Business Week did a feature calling them "Nightmare mortgages" more and more people are picking up on the tremendous downsides to this loan, but if they still want too much house and they've got to be able to qualify for, and make, the payment, they need an alternative. That is the forty and now the fifty year loan.

Now nobody does forty year fixed rate mortgages, let alone fifty. They do two and three year fixed rate loans, called the 2/38 and 3/37, respectively. Some lenders will also do a loan that amortizes over forty years, but the remaining balance is due in thirty years. This so-called 40/30 balloon has a lot in common with a thirty year fixed rate loan - including the fact that almost nobody goes more than five years without refinancing, so that the thirty year balloon should be no big deal. All of the preceding forty year loans are sub-prime loans, by the way, with prepayment penalties and higher rates than A paper. A Paper lenders doing the forty year loan are few and far between. People get longer durations from sub-prime lenders; A paper competes for the best borrowers - the ones who can really afford their loans - on rate/cost trade-off and underwriting standards. For those lenders doing the fifty year loan, it is pretty much the same story. The fifty year amortization due in thirty, the 2/48 and the the 3/47.

Now because the lender is risking their money for a longer time, and with less amortization and therefore more risk, most of the lenders - particularly the ones looking to compete on rate that you would prefer to do business with - charge a slightly higher rate for forty year loans than thirty, and a little higher still for a fifty. The difference is not huge, but it is there. Where a 2/28 might be at 7%, the corresponding 2/38 might be at 7.125, and the 2/48 at 7.25 for the same cost. Sometimes they'll say that the difference is as small as a quarter point of cost for the forty year amortization as opposed to the thirty - but that's an eighth of a percent on the rate, at subprime's usual 1 point equals half a percent trade-off.

Now in my opinion, these longer amortization loans are mostly a marketing gimmick to lower the payment - slightly - for those who do not qualify for interest only under lender's guidelines. The forty year amortization started making a comeback early in 2005, most as the 2/38, and the fifty year about March of 2006.

My perception is that refusing interest only to these borrowers is a figleaf tossed to nervous mortgage investors. It's not like fifty year amortization is really going to make a difference, as opposed to interest only, if a 100% loan gets foreclosed any time in the first five years, or if property values decline further. Let's do some math.

Assume a $200,000 loan on a $250,000 purchase in California, just so I can do it in one loan without worrying about PMI.

Amortization Period
Interest Rate
Loan Payment
Other costs
Total monthly
Income to Qualify

Now unlike everyone else who has written on longer amortizing loans, I'm not going to obsess about "interest paid over the life of the loan." People are going to refinance in a few years anyway. That's just the way things are. But let's do look at the difference between interest paid in the first two years, the fixed period for most of these at the end of which people will refinance.

Amortization period
interest rate
1 month interest
24 mos interest
Remaining Balance
Comparative Deficit

Now the 40 year loan only saves $1668.96 in payments over the first two years, and the fifty $2131.92. So if we subtract these numbers off the deficit in the above table, we are left that the forty year loan costs us $1299.30 in net deficit as opposed to the thirty, and the fifty year loan costs us $2434.17 net of all savings. This on top of the fact that it really doesn't make that much difference in the income we need to qualify for the loan (which in my example is limited to cost of housing with no other payments). Just paying off a credit card that takes $100 payments per month will do more to help you qualify.

These numbers get worse, not better, in the bigger loans that the lenders are using them to justify. Let's assume a $400,000 loan on a $500,000 property instead:

Amortization period
interest rate
Loan Payment
Other costs
Total monthly
Income to Qualify

Amortization period
interest rate
1 month interest
24 mos interest
Remaining Balance
Comparative Deficit

Considering that over two years, the forty year payment saves $3339.92 in payments, it's still down by $2599.38 as opposed to the thirty year amortization, and the fifty is down by $4869.83 in just two years - never mind what happens if you have to do it again in two years, and once again, paying off a credit card probably will do more to help someone qualify full documentation.

Now I don't see anything particularly wrong with forty and fifty year mortgages, although a 30 year is better while making very little difference on the payments, I can see the benefits for those who lie in this income range. But pardon my lack of enthusiasm for something that makes very little difference to whether someone qualifies for the loan, while costing them far more than they save in terms of payments, even over the short term and disregarding the effects if the people do not refinance. Far better to just persuade someone not to buy quite so much house in the first place, even if it means you get less of a commission. But then if most real estate agents sold property on the basis of what people could afford rather than it's beautiful and they want it and therefore it's an easy sale and now let's figure out a way to get them the property even if they can't afford it, the southern California real estate market would not be in the state it is in.

Caveat Emptor

Effective April 1st and for the rest of 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be buying loans above the current limit of $417,000. The is a result of the economic stimulus package signed by President Bush on February 13th. They will begin purchasing Fixed Rate Mortgages on April 1, 2008, and hybrid ARMs on May 1, 2008. Due to the length of time it's taking to actually fund said loans, several major lenders are now offering the opportunity to register and lock the new loans. The new limits, which vary by Metropolitan Statistical Area, do not appear on either Fannie or Freddie's web page yet, but the FHA Mortgage Limits page seems to have correct data for every county I checked, which was about four counties.

Fannie and Freddie have recently announced their policy as to what they will and will not fund as far as these loans go. In fact, Fannie seems to be taking the lead, issuing the letter I've seen.

The standards are significantly more restrictive than Fannie and Freddie's standards for conforming loans. The first difference is no automated underwriting, at least not yet. You have to live and die by the specified underwriting standards, including debt to income ratio, which under automated underwriting I've seen much higher than guideline approved for people with stable income like government pensions, good assets and good credit. Here's the quote:

All loans must be manually underwritten. The jumbo-conforming loan limits, eligibility, and underwriting guidelines will be added to Desktop Underwriter® in a future release.

Keep in mind that that the Jumbo Conforming loan, as currently written, expires at the end of 2008. I suspect there'll be some sort of extension going in to 2009, but at this point there is no guarantee there will be anything. For those who are wondering, this doesn't mean the loan will vanish or anything. It just means that there won't be any new ones funded after that unless something happens to extend the program - which I do expect but cannot guarantee. It would be pretty pointless to have this be one of the keystones of the economic stimulus package if everybody concerned intended to let it collapse at the end of the year - and the Federal Reserve, at least, knows that.

The written standards themselves are more strict as far as loan to value ratio goes. Freddie (at least) is still perfectly willing to buy mortgages at 100% financing for purchase money conforming loans - it's just the actual lenders who are not willing to fund them in the first place. Credit scores down to 620 are at least theoretically possible for conforming loans, but "jumbo conforming" purchases are limited to 90% with a credit score of 700, 80% with a credit score of 660. Those are fixed rate. hybrid ARMs are limited to the 80%, and require a 660 credit score. For Fannie and Freddie's "Limited Cash Out" definition, which is essentially a rate term refinance, 75% is as high as they will go. Cash Out Refinances, Fannie and Freddie won't buy, even on a primary residence. On second homes and investment property, 60% is as high as they will go, even for purchase money or "limited cash out".

For Jumbo Conforming, all housing debts must be in "0x30" status for the past twelve months, which is mostly a little bit stricter than the conforming standard. This means that you can't have any rent or mortgage payments that were 30 days or more late - not just on this property, but on any property you owned or rented in the last twelve months.

Thus far, the only two loan products that I'm certain will be included are the fully amortized fifteen and thirty year fixed rate loans, and the fully amortized 5/1 ARM. The 5/1 Interest Only for ten years that they have also included is not a standard loan product. The 7/1 and 10/1 appear on some rate sheets, though, so I'm thinking that the specifications are minimums: In other words, it must be fixed rate for at least five years, it must begin amortizing within 10 years. Indeed, I've just had this mostly confirmed by a couple conversations with wholesalers. Also, interest only fixed rate mortgages are specifically disallowed, but The Word is that interest only periods of up to 10 years are acceptable for those as well, and that the prohibition applies only to fixed rate loans that don't begin amortizing for longer than ten years. For instance, a loan that was unamortized for its full term would be unacceptable to Fannie and Freddie, which is nothing new. Fannie and Freddie have always required that the client begin actually paying off the loan at some point be built into the loan structure.

Some folks are making a big deal out of "no consolidation of existing first and second liens," in the guidelines, but that just goes to show how little A paper they've done these last few years. That's a standard criterion for Fannie and Freddie's Limited Cash Out refinances. So anyone that has an existing Second Trust Deed is going to have to subordinate the existing loan. I don't know that refinancing each loan simultaneously would be rejected, but the Official Word I have is that Subordination Is Your Only Option. That would be a loan killer if the current second mortgage holder refused.

Residential mortgages are for 1 to 4 units, but for Jumbo Conforming loans, Fannie and Freddie won't buy anything financing more than one inhabitable unit. Condos, townhomes, and PUDs are all fine, but no two, three, or four unit properties under a single title or deed of trust. Interestingly, Co-ops are also disallowed by the guidelines for Jumbo Conforming loans.

Finally, rates are higher than regular conforming rates. For fixed rate mortgages, there's a minimum of a quarter of a percent hit on the rate, as opposed to regular conforming mortgages. That's a price hit direct from Fannie and Freddie. The actual differences on the price sheets I've gotten are much higher than that. The thirty year fixed rate loans seem to be about 1.25% higher for the same cost as conforming, the fifteen year fixed rate about 1.5%. That the differential is actually higher for the shorter term loan is astonishing to me, and I can't think of a reason why at the moment. For hybrid ARMs, the pricing adjustment from Fannie and Freddie is three quarters of a percent, and the actual difference seems to be about 1.75% higher for the same cost. However, for fixed rate loans, this is about 1 full percent lower than regular "non-conforming" rates, while the "non-conforming" rate pricing for hybrid ARMs seem pretty similar to jumbo conforming. For fixed rate mortgages, at least, this provides a constructive alternative for full documentation type loans above the regular conforming limit, which have suffered severely by association with stated income loans these past several months. They're no longer completely joined at the hip. Now, up to San Diego's limit of $697,500 anyway (limits in your area may vary), full documentation loans are going to get a better loan than "stated income" borrowers.

I've had my suspicions from day one of this whole thing that Fannie and Freddie don't really want to fund these loans, but they want to stay on Congress' good side in case they ever need something. There's no longer a legal commitment that the US government will backstop Fannie and Freddie as far as losses go, but there is a strong feeling that they will, and doing the bidding to Congress at least this much gives them the moral ability to go to Congress for relief if this all goes south on them. "We did this because you wanted us to!" may not obligate the taxpayers directly, but many corporations have received public assistance on far weaker claims - while if they refused, Congress could well decide not to bail out what are, in fact, privately held corporations that are run for profit. So Fannie and Freddie have made the fact that they're not happy with this quite clear to those with the skill to read between the lines - but they're going to go along as far as they are with what the government wants them to do, because you're never certain that you won't need help somewhere along the line.

Caveat Emptor

UPDATE 5/8/2008: Fannie and Freddie have changed things a bit, and now the temporary Jumbo Conforming Loan rates have dropped like a rock, to the point where there's only a quarter to a half point difference in cost between them and regular conforming at the same rate. Now that will make a difference for full doc borrowers. Stated Income is non-conforming, and those rates are still significantly higher. I've said all along that Jumbo borrowers were suffering by association with stated income, due to the fact that both traditionally used the same rate table for A paper borrowers. Now that Jumbo Conforming loans have broken that association, the rates (up to the new limit) have dropped. This is about as surprising as gravity.

how soon should I start shopping around to refinance my home? I have a 2yr interest only and it's up in (four months)

Okay, the 2/28 loans which you are describing all have prepayment penalties for at least two years. Figure it's going to cost you 6 months worth of interest, on top of the cost of the refinance, if you refinance before the penalty expires.

(OK, you could have specifically bought it off by accepting a higher rate, but that's unlikely to have been the case)

That said, about three weeks before the penalty expires you can start the refinance process. Be advised that until the day the penalty expires, the current lender will be quoting a higher payoff, but once it has actually expired, the payoff should be correct, at least in theory. You should not sign final loan documents until such time as your penalty will expire with or prior to your Right of Rescission expiring. No more than two to three days prior to expiration.

Indeed, sometimes lenders will want to keep charging penalties even after they're no longer due. I'm not certain if they just don't update the payoff correctly or what, but I've seen lenders try to charge penalties a month after they expired. Once they've got your money, they can make you pay a lawyer and go to court to get it back.

For this reason, I would avoid "cash out" refinances any time within three months after the penalty expires. Matter of fact, if you're refinancing during that period, not only don't refinance for cash out, but don't have an impound account for taxes and insurance, and don't plan to put any money at all into the loan balance if you can avoid it. Here's why: When escrow officer goes to request a payoff from the soon to be former lender, the payoff quote may include the penalty even if it's no longer due. if they money they have from the current lender covers the whole thing, they have two choices. Pay it and have a completed transaction (not to mention getting their company paid), or don't, and leave everybody hanging. If they pay it, this means that you, the consumer, only get a much smaller amount of money, but I'm disgusted at how often consumers are shorted by the loan process, and this is one more way it happens. You're expecting $20,000 cash, and that $20,000 was the entire reason you did the loan. Comes the proceeds check, and you've only got a check for $9000. You want the other $11,000, you're going to have to go through the whole process again. Not the kind of situation you want to be in. Not the kind of situation I want my clients to be in.

If, however, the escrow officer does not have enough money available to them to pay off the loan plus the penalty, they have no choice but to leave the transaction at that stage until the quote is correct. They won't let it sit - they'll find out what's going on and everybody involved will be doing what's necessary to resolve the conflict between the two issues. Not having any more money in the loan than necessary to pay off the old loan is a good way to insure that the escrow officer won't pay a penalty you don't owe.

Don't let the rush to pay off the old loan cause you to cut corners on either your shopping for a new loan or asking all the questions you should ask prospective loan providers. Rushing into a refinance because your loan is going to readjust is one of the best ways to waste large amounts of money that there is. To illustrate, let's look at a larger than average loan amount that sees a huge jump in the actual rate. $400,000 at 6%, and it goes to 9%. This makes a difference of $33.33 per day, or $1000 per entire month. That's the equivalent of a quarter point on the cost - basically nothing on the scale of differences between subprime loans, and not very much on the scale of differences between A paper loans. I'll usually beat the retail branch of the lender I place a loan with by at least twice that. If it makes a difference of 0.25%% on the rate, that's $1000 per year that you're going to be stuck with the new loan. If you're still a subprime borrower, multiply that by the length of your new prepayment penalty in years. Doesn't it sound worthwhile to take an extra day which your old lender bills you $33 extra for, to shop the loan around for real and ask the hard questions that enable you to save $2000 or more on the new loan. Even if you're putting the money into your balance, you're still paying the extra. Not only that, but you're paying interest on it as well. On the scale of costs for a new loan, paying the soon to be former lender for a few more days at the increased cost is likely to be a wonderful investment if it gives you the opportunity to find a better loan.

On a note of personal relevance, at the time this is written rates are higher than they were two years ago, and you're in an interest only loan now, while interest only loans are difficult to do right now. Your payment is probably going to end up higher, especially if you roll loans costs in. If the reason you were in an interest only loan was that your debt to income ratio couldn't qualify for the real payment on a sustainable loan, that refinance is probably not going to happen for you. With prices having decreased locally by 25 to 30 percent, your loan to value ratio may not support refinancing either. If a refinance is not going to happen, and you can't afford your current payment, it's time to sell now. The new FHA Secure program helps some people, but requires documenting enough income to afford all of your payments. You owe what you owe and the rates are the rates. If the numbers don't work, get it sold.

One more piece of advice: Start improving your credit score now. Four months is plenty of time to bring your credit score up fifty points or more. If you can get into "A paper" loan territory, where penalties are much less common, you'll be much happier with your new loan than you are with this one. If you're in subprime territory and able to improve your loan to an "A paper" loan, your rate may go down despite the fact that the rates are higher.

As I cover in Getting Out of Paying Pre-Payment Penalties, if you're willing to refinance with the current lender, either directly or through a loan broker, your lender may be willing to waive the penalty in favor of sticking you for a brand new prepayment penalty on a larger amount. This is usually making a bad situation worse. As I said, you're likely to get a higher rate, be limited to an amortized payment on the new loan, and the new loan amount is likely to be higher (people in the situation usually roll the costs in), and all without even the benefit or lowering the tradeoff between rate and cost like penalties usually do. This seems pretty much the definition of lose-lose-lose-lose to me. Longer prepayment penalty on a higher balance at a higher rate, without getting any benefits in exchange. This is kind of why the best way to deal with prepayment penalties is not to accept them in the first place.

Caveat Emptor

do mortgage companyies usually seek a deficiency judgment on home foreclosures
Depends upon whether it is a recourse loan or not. A recourse loan is one where the lender can come after you for any excess amount of money you owe. Whether a loan is recourse or non-recourse varies with the state you are in, whether it was a purchase money loan or a refinance, and always, what it says in the Note.

For a non-recourse loan, that's it. If something happens and the property does not fetch enough money at sale to pay the lender off, that lender is out of luck whether they want to be or not. These are often used in reverse 1031 exchanges, where the accommodator is going to hold title to the property for a while but is usually unwilling to shoulder the risk that the lender may be able to come after them for a deficiency. Due to the fact that the lender cannot come after the borrower for the difference, these are riskier loans and therefore carry a higher rate-cost trade-off than recourse loans. This is nothing more than any rational person would expect.

The law is different everywhere, but I don't think have never seen a cash out refinance that was not a recourse loan. In short, take the money now, but if you don't pay it back, they are going to come after you in court and with a multitude of tools to get that money back.

Now just because a loan is non-recourse does not mean that the lender will necessarily approve a short payoff. In fact, it is usually harder to get those approved because the lender knows that this is the only chance they have to get their money, whereas with a recourse loan they can attach other assets to pay for their loan.

Finally, it is to be noted that just because a lender does have recourse and can attach other assets does not mean that they will. If you're down to $0.47 to your name, they'd have to be pretty silly to waste a lawyer's time doing so. However, just because you don't have it now doesn't mean that you will never have it. Statute of limitations also varies, but if you receive a financial windfall within the first few years, don't be surprised if the lender who you thought forgave the difference is standing right there, demanding their metaphorical pound of flesh.

Caveat Emptor

I enjoy your blog very much and figured you would be a good person to ask this prepayment penalty question to.

Is there a prepayment penalty if you dont pay down the whole amount? For
instance, say I owe 620k and want to refinance this. Can I get a loan for
say 610k from another lender and leave 10k with the orignal lender?

Does that avoid the prepay penalty?


Have to admire the ingenuity, but it won't work. Here's why:

First off, the penalty is triggered by paying a certain amount extra. There are two main trigger points for a prepayment penalty, usually known as "first dollar" and "twenty percent." "First dollar" prepayment penalties are uncommon, but they do exist. What such a penalty means is that if you pay one extra dollar of principal during the time the penalty is in effect, you will get hit for the penalty - usually six months interest on the prepaid amount. Not so bad if you pay an extra dollar and get hit with a three cent penalty, but you have to pay a substantial amount to get any noticeable good out of it. You pay $1000 extra, and that's $30 they're going to hit you with on a 6% loan. Pay off a $100,000 at 6%, and they're going to have their hands out for $3000 extra.

The other trigger point, "twenty percent" lets you pay down the balance by up to twenty percent for any given year without triggering the penalty. Note that this includes not only any extra you pay, but normal amortization as well. If you have a $100,000 balance, and would normally pay $3000 down through regular amortizationduring the year, this leaves you with "only" $17,000 of extra that you can pay before the penalty starts hitting you. Most often for this type of trigger, the prepayment penalty will only be assessed on any amount over 20% of the balance, but I have seen these charge the full penalty once triggered. So paying off $20,001 of a $100,000 balance at 6% might, depending upon your loan contract, cause a $600.03 penalty to be assessed - but most often it will only be that three cents. In this case, paying off the loan in full would only cause the penalty to be assessed on $80,000 - $2400 instead of $3000. It's also something to be cognizant of that this 20% paydown applies to the balance as of the start of the loan year, which runs from contract anniversary to anniversary. Say you have such a penalty in effect for three years. The first year you only pay it down to $80,000, escaping the penalty. The second year, you can only pay it down to $64,000 - by 20% of the beginning amount for the year - before triggering the penalty. If you do so, in year three you can only pay it down as far as $51,200 without triggering that penalty. This type of trigger is used when the lender is mostly worried about a complete refinance or selling the property. (A "soft" prepay is one where the penalty is not due if you actually sell the property, but most loans with prepayment penalties have "hard" penalties that are assessed at a certain trigger level, no matter the reason.)

No matter whether your penalty trigger is "first dollar" or "twenty percent" though, you're not going to refinance without paying it off completely. Here's why: In order for the new loan to be first in line, the old loan has to be paid off completely. The rates and prices on home loans that we all see advertisements and such for are predicated upon them being first trust deeds. They can only do this by paying off the previous loan in full and having a Reconveyance of the Deed of Trust recorded. Not paying the old loan off means no Reconveyance, which in turn means no new loan because their Deed of Trust will not be first in line. You'd have to content yourself with the higher prices for a loan priced as a second trust deed.

There are only four ways to avoid a prepayment penalty that I'm aware of. 1) Don't accept one in the first place, 2) Don't sell or refinance until it expires if you do accept one, 3) Convince a court the lender has done you sufficient dirt for the court to order part of the contract voided (this takes a lot of dirt), or 4) Swap your old penalty period for a brand new one by refinancing with the same lender, if they will allow it (They don't have to).

Caveat Emptor


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