FHA Drops Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium To 0.01% For Qualified Borrowers

FHA MIP scheduleThe FHA is making more changes to its flagship FHA Streamline Refinance program.

Beginning mid-June 2012, certain current, FHA-backed homeowners will be able to refinance their existing FHA mortgage into a new one, without having to pay the government-backed group’s new, costly mortgage insurance premium schedule.

Earlier this week, the FHA rolled out its new MIP schedule.

Beginning April 9, 2012, new FHA mortgages are subject to a 1.75% upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and an annual mortgage insurance premium of up to 1.25% for loan sizes up to, and including, $625,500; or 1.60% for loan sizes exceeding $625,500.

Upfront MIP is typically added to the loan size as a lump sum. Annual MIP is paid via 12 monthly installments. Both add to the long-term costs of homeownership.

However, the FHA’s new MIP schedules will not apply to all FHA-backed homeowners equally. Homeowners whose FHA mortgages were endorsed prior to June 1, 2009 will benefit from a different, less costly MIP schedule.

For these homeowners in search of a streamline, the MIP schedule is as follows :

  • Upfront MIP : 0.01% of the loan size
  • Annual MIP : 0.55% of the loan size, with no adjuster for loan sizes over $625,500

The new schedule is detailed in FHA Mortgagee Letter 12-04 and it lowers the cost of FHA Streamline Refinancing for long-time, FHA-backed households nationwide to almost nothing.

As a real-life example, an FHA-backed homeowner whose $100,000 mortgage dates to 2008 could refinance via the FHA Streamline Refinance program and pay just $10 in upfront MIP, with a corresponding annual MIP payment of just $550, or $45.83 monthly. 

By comparison, every other FHA-backed homeowner with a $100,000 mortgage pays $1,750 in UFMIP and as much as $1,600 in annual MIP.

The new streamline refinance MIP schedule is in effect for FHA mortgage applications with case numbers assigned on, or after, June 11, 2012. It is not available for loan applications made prior to that date.

There are lots of dates and deadlines in the FHA’s new streamline program. If you’re too early — or too late —  you could miss your optimal refinance window. Talk with your loan officer, therefore, and put a plan in place. You’ll be glad to be prepared.  

FHA To Raise Mortgage Insurance Premiums April 1, 2012

FHA MIP Changes April 1 2012Beginning April 1, 2012, the FHA is once again raising mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) on its newly-insured borrowers throughout and the country.

It’s the FHA’s fourth such increase in the last two years.

Beginning April 1, 2012, upfront mortgage insurance premiums will be higher by 75 basis points, or 0.75%; and annual mortgage insurance premiums will be higher by 10 basis points per year, or 0.10%.

For borrowers with a loan size of $200,000, the new MIP will add $1,500 in one-time loan costs, plus an on-going, annual $200 increase in total mortgage insurance premiums paid.

All new FHA loans are subject to the increase — purchases and refinances.

The FHA is increasing its mortgage insurance premiums because, as an entity, the FHA is insuring a much larger percentage of the U.S. mortgage market than ever before. 

In 2006, the FHA insured 2 percent of all purchase-money mortgages. In 2011, that figure jumped to 18 percent. Unfortunately, as the FHA has insured more loans, it’s number of loans in default have climbed, too, forcing the FHA to boost its reserves.

Beginning April 1, 2012, the new FHA annual mortgage insurance premium schedule is as follows :

  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value > 90% : 0.60% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 90% : 0.35% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value > 95% : 1.25% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 95% : 1.20% MIP per year

In order to calculate what your FHA annual mortgage insurance premium would be on a monthly basis, multiply your beginning loan size by your insurance premium in the chart above, then divide by 12.

In addition, for loans over $625,500, beginning June 1, 2012, there is an additional 25 basis point increase to annual MIP.

To avoid paying the new FHA mortgage insurance premiums, start your FHA mortgage application today. Existing FHA-insured homeowners will not be affected by the change.

Mortgage insurance premiums will not rise for loans already made.

Revamped HARP : Unlimited Loan-to-Value And Same Great Rates

Making Home Affordabie

The government’s new, revamped HARP program is 6 weeks from release. Homeowners nationwide are gearing up to refinance.

HARP is an acronym. It stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program. HARP is the government’s loan product for “underwater homeowners”. HARP makes current mortgage rates available to households which would otherwise be unable to refinance because the home lacks equity.

This is a big deal — especially today. Mortgage rates are at an all-time low and millions of U.S. homeowners have been unable to take advantage. HARP aims to change that.

HARP originally launched in 2009. Its first iteration failed to reach a meaningful percentage of U.S. homeowners, however, because costs were high and loans were high-risk. With its re-release, the government has removed the hurdles to HARP, putting refinancing within reach for millions of U.S. households.

To qualify for HARP, homeowners must first meet 3 qualifying criteria.

First, their current mortgage must be backed Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. FHA- and VA-backed loans are HARP-ineligible, as are jumbo loans and loans backed by portfolio lenders.

  • To check if your loan if Fannie Mae-backed, click here.
  • To check if your loan if Freddie Mac-backed, click here.

Second, the existing mortgage must have been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior on, or before, May 31, 2009. If you bought your home or refinanced it after that date, you are HARP-ineligible.

There are no exceptions to this rule.

And, third, the existing mortgage must be accompanied by a strong repayment history. Mortgage payment must have been paid on-time for the last 6 months, at least, and there may not be more than one 30-day late payment in the last 12 months.

If these 3 qualifiers are met, HARP applicants should find the approval process straight-forward : 

  • Fixed rate mortgages allow unlimited loan-to-value
  • The standard 7-year “waiting period” after a foreclosure is waived in full
  • Except in rare cases, home appraisals aren’t required 

Furthermore, HARP mortgage rates are expected to be on par with non-HARP rates, meaning that HARP homeowners will get the same rates and pay the same fees as everyone else. There’s no “penalty” for using HARP.

The revamped HARP is expected to be generally available beginning Monday, March 19, 2012.

To get a head-start on HARP, check with your loan officer for the complete list of HARP eligibility requirements.

Banks Start To Loosen Up In Underwriting

FOMC senior loan officer survey 2011 Q4

After a half-decade of tightening mortgage guidelines, banks are starting to “loosen up”.

The Federal Reserve conducts a quarterly survey of its member banks and, last quarter, not a single responding bank reported having tightened its mortgage guidelines for prime borrowers.

A “prime borrower” is defined as one with a well-documented credit history, high credit scores, and a low debt-to-income ratio.

53 banks responded to the Fed’s survey and none said that mortgage guidelines “tightened considerably” or “tightened somewhat” between September and December 2011; 50 said that guidelines remained “basicaly unchanged”; 3 said that guidelines “eased somewhat”.

Mortgage applicants sometimes remark that the mortgage approval process can be challenging. Last quarter’s Fed survey hints that looser standards are coming. 

Not since before the recession have banks lowered mortgage approval standards like this and it bodes well for this year’s  housing market. Real estate agents report that 1 in 3 home sale contracts fail with “declined mortgage applications” as a leading cause.

Looser mortgage lending standards should mean more home loan approvals for buyers, and fewer contract cancellations. This can spur the housing market forward.

Make note, though. “Looser standards” should not be confused with “irresponsible standards”. It remains more difficult to meet bank standards as compared to 5 years. Today’s underwriters are more conservative with respect to household income, overall assets and credit scores. 

Even as compared to one year ago:

  • Minimum credit score requirements are higher
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger
  • Maximum allowable debt-to-income ratios are lower

For buyers and refinancing households gaining approval, though, the reward is the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates continue to fall, helping home affordability reach new highs.

If you’re in the market to buy a new home or refinance one, your timing is excellent.

Maximum FHA Loan Limits Restored To $729,750

FHA Loan Limits RestoredAfter a brief return to lower, pre-2009 levels, FHA loan limits have been restored. As signed into law last Friday, maximum FHA loan limits are — once again — as high as $729,750.

The move creates additional mortgage financing possibilities in more than 650 U.S. counties, and promises to increase the FHA’s mortgage market share, which has grown from 6% in 2007 to roughly 30% today.

The change in FHA loan limits also marks the first time that FHA loan limits exceed those of conventional mortgage-backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Conventional loans remain capped at a maximum of $625,500.

For home buyers nationwide, FHA-insured mortgage offer several advantages over comparable conventional loans, the most commonly cited of which is that FHA-insured loans require a down payment of just 3.5 percent.

FHA-insured mortgages carry other advantages, too, however.

First, FHA home loans are not subject to loan-level pricing adjustments (LLPA). This means that, all things equal, buyers and would-be refinancers with credit scores below 740; or, who live in multi-unit homes; or, who have high loan-to-values are not subject to additional loan fees as a conventional mortgage applicant might.

Second, after 6 months of on-time payments, FHA-backed homeowners are eligible for the FHA Streamline Refinance. The FHA Streamline Refinance is among the simplest loan products for which to qualify with no appraisal required. Even if you’re “underwater” on your mortgage, you can still be streamline-eligible.

And, lastly, at least in today’s market, FHA mortgage rates are below those of the conventional market.

The downside of FHA financing, however, is that all FHA mortgages require mortgage insurance and FHA mortgage rates are often higher versus a comparable conventional loan. This means that, although its mortgage rate may be lower, the payment for an FHA home loan may be higher as compared to a Fannie Mae mortgage with similar credit traits.

FHA loans aren’t always optimal, but with higher FHA loan limits, expect the FHA’s market share to increase.

Check your local FHA loan limit at the HUD website.

Government Releases Additional HARP Guidance For Underwater Homeowners

Making Home Affordabie

Tuesday, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unveiled lender instructions for the government’s revamped HARP program, kick-starting a potential refinance frenzy nationwide.

HARP stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program. The updated program is meant to give “underwater homeowners” an opportunity to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates.

In the two-plus years since its launch, HARP’s first iteration helped fewer than 900,000 homeowners. HARP II, by contrast, is expected to reach millions.

Lenders begin taking HARP II loan applications December 1, 2011.

To apply for HARP, applicants must first meet 4 basic criteria :

  1. The existing mortgage must be guaranteed by Fannie Mae or by Freddie Mac
  2. The existing mortgage must have been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009
  3. The mortgage payment history must be perfect going back 6 months
  4. The mortgage payment history may not include more than one 30-day late payment going back 12 months 

If the above criteria are met, HARP applicants will like what they see.

For HARP applicants, loan-level pricing adjustments are waived in full for loans with terms of 20 years or fewer; and maxed at 0.75 for loans with terms in excess of 20 years.

This will result in dramatically lower mortgages rates for HARP applicants — especially those with credit scores below 740. Some applicants will find HARP mortgage rates lower than for a “traditional” conventional mortgage.

In addition, HARP applicants are exempted from the standard waiting period following a bankruptcy or foreclosure, which is 4 years and 7 years, respectively.

These two items are inclusionary and should help HARP reach a broader U.S. audience.

HARP contains exclusionary policies, too.

  1. The “unlimited LTV” feature only applies to fixed rate loans or 30 years or fewer. ARMs are capped at 105% loan-to-value.
  2. Applicants must be “requalified” if the proposed mortgage payment exceeds the current payment by 20%.
  3. Applicants must benefit from either a lower payment, or a “more stable” product to qualify

And, of course, HARP can only be used once. 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will adopt slight variations of the same HARP guidelines so make sure to check with your loan officer for the complete list of HARP eligibility requirements.

Banks Resume Tightening Mortgage Guidelines

Mortgage guidelines get tougher

As part of its quarterly survey to member banks nationwide, the Federal Reserve asked senior loan officers whether last quarter’s “prime” residential mortgage guidelines have tightened, loosened, or remained as-is.

A “prime” borrower is defined as one with a well-documented, high-performance credit history; with low debt-to-income ratios; and who chooses to finance a home via a traditional fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage product.

After a 2-year easing cycle, the nation’s biggest bank banks report that they’ve reversed course, and are raising the bar on mortgage approvals.

For the period July-September 2010, 88% of responding loan officers admitted to tightening their prime guidelines, or leaving them “basically unchanged”.

If you’ve applied for a home loan of late, you’ve experienced this first-hand.

High delinquency rates and defaults since 2007 have caused the banks to rethink what they will lend, and to whom. As a result, today’s mortgage lenders scrutinize assets, incomes, and credit scores to make sure that nothing “slips by”.

For today’s home buyers and would-be refinancers, the mortgage approval process can be challenging as compared to how it looked just 18 months ago.

  • Minimum credit scores requirements are higher today
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger today
  • Debt-to-Income ratio requirements are more strict today

In other words, although mortgage rates are the lowest that they’ve been in history, fewer applicants can qualify. And, with more the housing market still in recovery, it’s likely that guidelines will tighten again in 2012.

Therefore, if you’re among the many people wondering if it’s the right time to buy a home or refinance, consider that, although mortgage rates may fall, approval standards may not.

The best rate in the world won’t matter if you’re not eligible to lock it.

The Government’s Revamped HARP Program For Underwater Homeowners

Making Home AffordabieThe Federal Home Finance Agency announced big changes to its Home Affordable Refinance Program Monday. More commonly called HARP, the Home Affordable Refinance Program is meant to give “underwater homeowners” opportunity to refinance.

With average, 30-year fixed rate mortgages still hovering near 4.000 percent, there are more than a million homeowners nationwide who stand to benefit from the program overhaul.

To qualify for the re-released HARP program, you must meet 4 basic criteria :

  1. Your existing home loan must be guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  2. Your home must be a 1- to 4-unit property
  3. You must have a perfect mortgage payment history going back 6 months
  4. You may not have had more than one 30-day late payment on your mortgage going back 12 months 

Most notable about the new HARP refinance program, though, is that the government is waiving loan-to-value requirements on a HARP loans. Homeowners’ participation in the program  are no longer restricted by their home’s appraised value. In fact, the new HARP doesn’t even require an appraisal, in most instances.

With the new HARP program, underwater mortgages can be refinanced without LTV limit or penalty.

According to the government’s press release, pricing considerations for the new HARP program will be released on or before November 15, 2011; and lenders are expected to be offering the program as of December 1, 2011.

If you think you may be eligible, first confirm that either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac is backing your loan. Both groups provide a simple, online lookup.

If your loan cannot be located on either of these two sites, your current mortgage is not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and is not HARP-eligible.

The FHFA’s official press release contains an FAQ section. In it, you’ll find minimum qualification standards, as well as information related to condominiums and to mortgage insurance.

The HARP program is meant to help a wide group of homeowners, but each applicant’s situation is unique. For specific HARP questions, be sure to talk with a loan officer. 

Conforming Loan Limits Drop In High-Cost Areas

Conforming Loan Limits lowered in 2011

For homeowners in high-cost areas nationwide, conforming and FHA loan limits have dropped by as much as 14 percent.

Effective October 1, 2011, the temporary mortgage loan limits that allowed for non-jumbo loan sizes of up to $729,750 are no longer.

$729,750 is above the “normal” loan limit of $417,000.

The elevated limits were put in place in 2008 as the economy and financial sector entered its crisis. At the time, there was little private money to serve buyers and would-be refinancers whose loan sizes exceeded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s maximum $417,000 loan limits.

For most people whose loan sizes exceeded that threshold, mortgage financing was unavailable. There were no lenders to back the loan size.

This was of particular importance in places such as New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. where home prices routinely top $1 million. For people in these areas, unless they had a downpayment that could lower their respective loan sizes to $417,000 or lower, mortgages were mostly unavailable.

Congress recognized this and, as a result, gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac temportary authorization to purchase and securitize home loans of up to $729,750 in value, depending on where the subject property was located.

The program helped housing, leading Congress to pass more permanent, location-specific loan limits. Later that same year, Congress passed the Housing and Recovery Act of 2009 which, in part, made high-cost loan limit pricing permanent, albeit at $625,500.

The $729,750 temporary limits expired Friday, September 30, 2011. Today, the maximum allowable conforming loan size is $625,500.

If you live in a high-cost area, therefore, take note. Mortgage rates may be low, but the amount of loan for which you qualify may be less than you expect, and you may find yourself ineligible.

The complete list of high-cost areas is available online.

After A Pause, Mortgage Guidelines Resume Tightening

Mortgage guidelines tighteningMortgage guidelines appear to be tightening with the nation’s largest banks.

In its quarterly survey to senior loan officers nationwide, the Federal Reserve uncovered that a small, but growing, portion of its member banks is making mortgage approvals more scarce for “prime” borrowers.

A prime borrower is described as one with a well-documented payment history, high credit scores, and a low monthly debt-to-income ratio.

Of the 53 responding “big banks”, 3 reported that mortgage guidelines “tightened somewhat” last quarter. This is a tick higher as compared to prior quarters in which only 2 banks did.

46 banks reported guidelines unchanged from Q1 2011.

When mortgage guidelines tighten, it adds new hurdles for would-be home buyers. Tighter lending standards means fewer approvals, and that can retard home sales across a region.

Just don’t confuse “tighter standards” with “oppressive standards”.

While it is more difficult to get approved for a purchase home loan in 2011 as compared to 2006, the same basic rules apply:

  • Show that you have a history of paying your bills on time
  • Show that your income is sufficient to cover your obligations
  • Show that you can make a downpayment

And the good news is that, once approved, you’ll benefit from some of lowest mortgage rates in history.

Last week, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was below 4.250% for buyers willing to pay points, and the average 5-year ARM was below 3.000%. The 15-year fixed rate loan was similarly low.

For as long as delinquency rates remain high, expect mortgage guidelines to continue to tighten through the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Therefore, if you’re a “fringe” borrower looking at a purchase in the fall or winter season, consider moving up your time frame. Changing guidelines may render you ineligible for a mortgage.