Mortgage Approvals : Documents You’ll Need For Your Lender

Bank guidelines loosenAccording to the Federal Reserve’s quarterly Senior Loan Officer Survey, it’s getting easier to get approved for a home loan.

Between July – September 2012, fewer than 6% of banks tightened mortgage guidelines — the fourth straight quarter that’s happened– and roughly 10% of banks actually loosened them.

For today’s buyers and refinancing homeowners in , softening guidelines hint at a quicker, simpler mortgage approval process; one which gives more U.S. homeowners better access to today’s ultra-low mortgage rates. 

However, although banks are easing guidelines, it doesn’t mean that we’re returned to the days of no-verification home loans. Today’s mortgage applicants should still expect to provide lenders with documentation to support a proper loan approval.

Some of the more commonly requested documents include :

  • Tax returns, W-2s, and pay stubs : In order to prove income, lenders will want to see up to two years of income documentation. Self-employed applicants may be asked for additional business information. Borrowers earning income via Social Security, Disability Income, Pension or other means should expect to provide documentation.
  • Bank and asset statements : To verify “reserves”, banks will often require up to 60 days of printed bank statements, or the most recently quarterly reports. Be prepared to explain deposits which are not payroll-related — banks adhere to federal anti-money laundering laws.
  • Personal identification documents : To verify your identity, banks often require photocopies of both sides of your drivers license and/or U.S. passport, and may also ask for copies of your social security card.

In addition, if your credit report lists collection items, judgments, or federal tax liens, be prepared to discuss these items with your lender. Sometimes, a derogatory credit event can be eliminated or ignored during underwriting. Other times, it cannot.

The more information that you share with your lender, the smoother your mortgage approval process can be.

As the housing market improves and lender confidence increases, mortgage guidelines are expected to loosen more. 2013 may open lending to even more mortgage applicants.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : October 29, 2012

The jobs report puts the economy is focusMortgage markets ended the week slightly better last week. Wall Street took its cues from U.S. economic data, from developments in Europe, and from the Federal Reserve, moving mortgage rates lower nationwide.

Pricing for both conforming and FHA mortgage rates improved between Monday and Friday, with the majority of gains occurring late in the week.

The timing of the gains explains why Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate report showed the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate rising this week when, in fact, it did not. Because Freddie Mac conducts its mortgage rate survey at the start of the week, its survey respondents had no time to acknowledge late-week improvements.

Freddie Mac said the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate rose to 3.41% for home buyers and refinancing households willing to pay 0.7 discount points at closing plus a full set of closing costs. 

Mortgage applicants choosing zero-point mortgages should expect a higher rate.

The biggest event of last week was the Federal Open Market Committee’s seventh scheduled meeting of the year. The FOMC’s post-meeting press release described the U.S. economy as growing, and inflation as stable. The Fed re-iterated its pledge to QE3, a stimulus program geared at keeping mortgage rates suppressed. The group also said it would hold the Fed Funds Rate low until at least mid-2015.

Lastly, the Fed showed optimism about the broader U.S. housing market — and for good reason. Since October 2011, housing has trended higher and last week saw the release of the September New Homes Sales report and the September Pending Home Sales Index. Both showed strength.

This week, the market’s biggest story is Friday’s release of the October Non-Farm Payrolls report. Jobs are a keystone in the U.S. economic recovery so the monthly jobs report holds sway over mortgage rates. If the number of jobs created exceeds Wall Street expectations, mortgage rates will rise and purchasing power will shrink.

The U.S. economy has added jobs in each of the previous 24 months. 

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 17, 2012

Fed Funds Rate 2006-2012Mortgage markets improved last week as the Federal Reserve introduced new economic stimulus. The move trumped bond-harming action from the Eurozone, and a series better-than-expected U.S. economic data.

The 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate dropped last week for most loan types, including for conforming, FHA and VA loans. 15-year fixed rate mortgage rates improved, as well.

Mortgage rates are back near their lowest levels of all-time.

Last week’s main event was the Federal Open Market Committee’s sixth scheduled meeting of 2012. Wall Street expected the Fed to launch a third round of quantitative easing (QE3) after its meeting and the nation’s central banker did not disappoint.

It launched QE3 and did so with such scale that even Wall Street was shocked.

The Federal Reserve announced a plan to purchase $40 billion monthly of mortgage-backed bonds indefinitely, a move aimed at lowering U.S. mortgage rates in order to stimulate the housing market which can create more jobs in construction and other related industries.

The Fed will continue to buy mortgage bonds until it deems such purchases no longer necessary. The Fed also announced a commitment to holding the Fed Funds Rate in its current target range of 0.000-0.250% until mid-2015, at least.

Mortgage rates responded favorably to the stimulus, falling to their lowest levels of the week. It masked a rise in rates from earlier in the week tied to the German court’s clearing of the European Stability Mechanism — the Eurozone “bailout fund”.

The action clears the way for debt-burdened nations including Spain and Greece to get the support necessary to remain solvent.

Mortgage rates were also pressured higher by a strong consumer confidence report. When consumers are more confident in the economy, they may be more likely to spend and consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

This week, mortgage rates face competing pressures. The Fed’s bond-buy has started and that will lead rates lower, but with Housing Starts and Existing Home Sales data set for release, data could pull rates up.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 4, 2012

Jobs Report In FocusMortgage markets improved last week for the second consecutive week.

With no news coming from Europe, Wall Street was focused U.S. economic data and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s planned public speech from the Fed’s annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Rate shoppers and home buyers caught a break.

The housing market was shown to be improving last week, as was the average household income nationwide — two events which would have typically moved  mortgage rates higher. But, because the Fed Chairman used his speech to signal that new economic stimulus may be imminent, mortgage rates dropped.

The Fed is expected to launch a bond-buying program that would create new demand for mortgage-backed bonds. Mortgage-backed bonds are the basis for most U.S. mortgage rates and the new-found demand would result in lower rates nationwide. 

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell to 3.59% last week for borrowers willing to pay 0.6 discount points plus a full set of closing costs, where 0.6 discount points is a one-time closing cost equal to 0.6 percent of your loan size.

Conventional mortgage rates open this week at a 4-week best. Threats to low rates remain, however.

A European Central Bank meeting is scheduled for Thursday and the release of the August Non-Farm Payrolls report is due Friday. Both events could have negative repercussions on mortgage rates. 

For example, the ECB is expected to announce new aid measures for some its struggling member nations, including Greece, Spain and Italy. If the aid package “ends” the sovereign debt issues which have plagued the European Union since 2010, equity markets would rally on the news at the expense of bond markets. This would drive U.S. mortgage rates higher as investors dump their bond holdings.

Similarly, if the August jobs report is deemed “strong”, it would lower the likelihood of new Fed-led stimulus. This, too, would lead mortgage rates higher — perhaps by a lot.

Economists expect to see that 130,000 net new jobs created last month. The jobs report will be released Friday at 8:30 AM ET.

Mortgage Standards Stop Tightening; Lending Soon To Loosen?

Fed Senior Loan Officer SurveyAs another signal of an improving U.S. economy, the nation’s biggest banks have started to loosen mortgage lending guidelines.

As reported by the Federal Reserve, last quarter, no “big banks” reported stricter mortgage standards as compared to the quarter prior and “modest fractions” of banks reported easier mortgage standards. 

The data comes from the Fed’s quarterly Senior Loan Officer Survey, a questionnaire sent to 64 domestic banks and 23 U.S. branches of foreign banks. The survey is meant to gauge, among other things, direct demand for consumer loans and banks’ willingness to meet this demand.

Not surprisingly, as mortgage rates fell to all-time lows last quarter, nearly all responding banks reported an increase in demand for prime residential mortgages where “prime residential mortgage” is defined as a mortgage for an applicant whose credit scores are high; whose payment history is unblemished; and, whose debt-to-income ratios are low.

Consumers were eager to buy homes and/or refinance them last quarter and 6% of the nation’s big banks said their credit standards “eased somewhat” during that time frame. The remaining 94% of big banks said standards were left unchanged.

The ease of getting approved for a home loan, however, is relative.

As compared to 5 years ago, home buyers and rate shoppers face a distinctly more challenging mortgage environment. Not only are today’s minimum FICO score requirements higher by up to 100 points, depending on the loan product, applicants face new income scrutiny and must also demonstrate a more clear capacity to make repayments.

Tougher lending standards are among the reasons why the national home ownership rate is at its lowest point since 1997. It is harder to get mortgage-approved today as compared to late-last decade.

For those who apply and succeed, the reward is access to the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates continue to push home affordability to all-time highs.

If you’ve been shopping for a home, or planning to refinance, with mortgage rates low, it’s a good time to commit. 

Mortgage Guidelines Resume Tightening Nationwide

Senior Loan Officer SurveyDespite an improving U.S. economy, the nation’s banks remain cautious about what they will lend, and to whom.

Last quarter, by a margin of 3-to-2, more banks tightened residential mortgage lending standards for “prime borrowers” than did loosen them.

A “prime borrower” is defined as one with a well-documented credit history, high credit scores, and a low debt-to-income ratio. The insight comes from the Federal Reserve’s quarterly survey of its member banks.

Last quarter, of the 54 responding banks :

  • 0 banks tightened mortgage guidelines considerably
  • 3 banks tightened mortgage guidelines somewhat
  • 49 banks left guidelines basically unchanged
  • 2 banks eased mortgage guidelines somewhat
  • 0 banks eased mortgage guidelines considerably

By contrast, in the quarter prior, not a single surveyed bank reported tighter residential mortgage guidelines. The period from January-March was a step backwards, therefore, for the fledgling U.S. housing market.

Overall, getting approved for a mortgage is tougher than it used to be. Banks enforce higher minimum credit score standards; ask for larger downpayment/equity positions; and require higher monthly income relative to monthly debt obligations.

It’s one reason why the homeownership rate is at its lowest point since 1997.

Another reason why homeownership rates may be down is that prospective home buyers believe the hurdles of today’s mortgage approval process may be impassably high. That’s untrue.

There are many U.S. homeowners and renters that were approved for a home loan last quarter — prime borrowers or otherwise. Some had excellent credit, some had modest credit. Some had high income, some had moderate income. Many, however, took advantage of low-downpayment mortgage options such as the FHA’s 3.5% downpayment program, and the VA’s 100% mortgage program for military veterans.

Despite a general tightening in mortgage standards, loans are still available and banks remain eager to lend.

It is harder to get approved today as compared to 5 years ago, but for those that try and succeed, the reward is access to the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates continue to push home affordability to all-time highs.

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

The Fed Starts A 2-Day Meeting Today. Make A Strategy.

Fed Funds Rate vs Mortgage Rates 1990-2012

The Federal Open Market Committee begins a 2-day meeting today in the nation’s capitol. It’s the group’s third of 8 scheduled meetings this year. Mortgage rates are expected to change upon the Fed’s adjournment.

Led by Chairman Ben Bernanke, the FOMC is a 12-person, Federal Reserve sub-committee. The FOMC is the group within the Fed which votes on U.S. monetary policy. “Making monetary policy” can mean a lot of things, and the action for which the FOMC is most well-known is its setting of the Fed Funds Funds.

The Fed Funds Rate is the overnight interest rate at which banks borrow money from each other. It’s one of many interest rates set by the Fed.

However, one series of interest rates not set by the Fed is mortgage rates. Instead, mortgage rates are based on the prices of mortgage-backed bonds and bonds are bought and sold on Wall Street.

There is little historical correlation between the Fed Funds Rate and the common, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate.

As the chart at top shows, since 1990, the Fed Funds Rate and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate have followed different paths. Sometimes, they’ve moved in the same direction. Sometimes, they’ve moved in opposite directions. 

They’ve been separated by as much as 5.29 percent at times, and have been as near to each other as 0.52 percent.

Today, that spread is roughly 3.65 percent. It’s expected to change beginning 12:30 PM ET Wednesday. That’s when the FOMC will adjourn from its meeting and release its public statement to the markets.

The FOMC is expected to announce no change in the Fed Funds Rate, holding the benchmark rate within in its current target range of 0.000-0.250%. However, how mortgage rates respond will depend on the verbiage of the FOMC statement. 

In general, if the Fed acknowledges that the U.S. economy as in expansion; growing from job growth and consumer spending, mortgage rates are expected to rise. If the Fed shows concern about domestic and global economic growth, mortgage rates are expected to fall. 

Any time that mortgage markets are expected to move, a safe play is to stop shopping your rate and start locking it. Today may be one of those times.

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.

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.

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.