June 12, 2024

FHA Mortgages and Student Loans Are a Risky Combination

First time home buyers have traditionally faced a variety of obstacles including the high cost of housing, stagnant wages, and the difficulty involved in saving for a down payment.


If that wasn’t bad enough, recent changes by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) now raise another potential barrier to home ownership due to the manner in which student loan debt must be evaluated.


For a variety of reasons many potential home buyers with a large load of student debt are able to obtain payment deferments of various durations.   Since there was no formal payment due under the payment deferments, some of which can last for years, the FHA had for the most part simply ignored the looming certainty of future monthly payments.  By not factoring in an estimated loan payment for deferred student loans, borrowers were able to lower their debt ratios for purposes of loan eligibility.

With the new FHA requirement to account for future payments on deferred student loans, many applicants may wind up with a back end debt ratio in excess of the 43 per cent currently allowed under FHA regulations.  Potential home buyers who were close to the maximum for monthly debt payments may now find themselves ineligible for any type of mortgage loan.

Are the new FHA regulations fair to first time home buyers?

One could make the argument that the new rules make sense since at some point the borrower is going to be required to start making payments on the student loan debt and if the payment is large enough it could cause enough financial stress to put the borrower at risk of defaulting on the mortgage.   According to a HUD spokesman,  “Will that borrower actually be able to afford their loan and the student loan payment? It’s a legitimate issue to consider.  Deferred student debt is debt all the same and really must be considered when determining a borrower’s ability to sustain both student debt payments and a mortgage long term.  Our primary interest is to make certain that a first-time home buyer is put on a path of sustainable home ownership rather than being placed into a financial situation they can no longer tolerate once their student debt deferment expires.”

It’s difficult to dispute the logic of HUD’s position but it seems to fail to take into account the prospect of a borrower’s future income increasing enough to compensate for the additional student debt payment.

The problem with considering future income, however, is that incomes have been increasing at a very slow pace in the post financial crisis period.  The prospects of higher incomes for the average worker remains speculative while the certainty of having to make payments on a student loan at some point are not.  Nonetheless, the increase in the amount of student loans being handed out have been increasing at a staggering rate as students furiously borrow on the dubious prospect of obtaining a job after college that pays enough to buy a house and car, raise a family, and payoff student loans.

Those expecting an increase in the rate of home ownership are likely to be disappointed as more and more young people remain at home with their parents unable to take on the financial responsibilities of home ownership.

The excessively easy lending of a decade ago temporarily raised the rate of home ownership as totally unqualified borrowers bought houses on the theory that home values could only continue to skyrocket.  The subsequent default of these weak and unqualified borrowers resulted in millions of foreclosures which burst the housing and mortgage lending bubble which resulted in the rate of home ownership falling right back to the long term historical average of about 65 per cent.

FHA Takes A Closer Look At Home Values On Refinances

HUD announced in Mortgagee Letter 2008-40 that effective January 1, 2009 that FHA will require a second appraisal for all cash-out refinances where the loan to value, exclusive of UFMIP,  exceeds 85% of the appraised value.  The new rule applies regardless of the loan amount or the location of the property.

The actual letter ruling reads as follows:

· Second Appraisal Requirements/Loan-to-Value Limits for Cash-Out Refinances: The instructions in ML 2008-09 regarding when a second appraisal is needed, and the requirements for that second appraisal, as well as the 85 percent limitation on cash-out refinances when the loan balance will exceed $417,000, remain in effect.

In addition, FHA will now require a second appraisal for all cash-out refinances where the LTV, exclusive of the UFMIP, will exceed 85 percent of the appraiser’s estimate of value. This second appraisal requirement applies regardless of the loan amount or the location of the property, i.e., whether the property is in a “declining area” or is not. This second appraisal requirement for cash-out refinances is effective for all case number assignments on or after January 1, 2009 and is to adhere to the instructions set forth in ML 2008-09. Please also note that cash-out refinances with LTVs exceeding 85 percent will be over-selected for post-endorsement technical reviews (PETR) to assure the quality of the underwriting.

Additional underwriting and eligibility criteria

· The subject property must have been owned by the borrower as his or her principal residence for at least 12 months preceding the date of the loan application.

· If said property is encumbered by a mortgage, the borrower must have made all of his/her mortgage payments within the month due for the previous 12 months, i.e., no payment may have been more than 30 days late and is current for the month due.

· The property that is security for the refinanced mortgage must be a 1- or 2-unit dwelling.

· Subordinate financing may remain in place, but subordinate to the FHA insured first mortgage, regardless of the total indebtedness or combined loan-to-value ratio, provided the homeowner qualifies for making scheduled payments on all liens.

· Any co-borrower or co-signer being added to the note must be an occupant of the property. Non-occupant owners may not be added in order to meet FHA’s credit underwriting guidelines for the mortgage.

The FHA has been gradually tightening various underwriting guidelines for some time now, probably due to a default rate of over 12%.

The  new regulation requiring 2 appraisals on cash out refinances will probably reduce the number of refinances done on higher LTV properties.  The customer typically pays for the appraisal when doing a refinance and the FHA appraisal usually costs $350.  A potential borrower will now have to come up with $700 just to find out if they have enough equity in the property.

Actually the rules could have been constructed to further restrict cash out lending.  Many lenders who have doubts about the value of an appraised property routinely require a second appraisal to be conducted by an appraiser of their choice.  Often times, the second appraisal will come in lower under this method.

The FHA has seen a large increase in loan applications in 2008 due to underwriting restrictions imposed by other lenders.  It will be interesting to see if these new guidelines reduce the number of FHA refinances in 2009.

World’s worst borrowers given astonishing concessions

Bank of America agreed with the state attorneys general to offer astonishing concessions to 390,000 subprime and pay option arm borrowers that will cost upwards of $9 billion, as reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

Summary terms of the settlement with borrowers for loans made by Countrywide Financial include the following:

Mandatory loan modifications are required due to “unfair and deceptive” practices.

Supposedly this action will keep borrowers in their homes, support local communities and the general economy.  Some background here: loan modifications, still off the mainstream press, have over the past year grown into a sizable cottage industry, manned mostly by ex loan officers and former lenders, who for a fee, will negotiate with the borrowers bank to try and obtain a reduction in either or both the interest rate and the principal balance.

Many lenders are now and have been proactively contacting borrowers and offering them a loan modification where it was obvious that the borrower was in over his head.  The biggest impetus to loan mods was by Indy Mac after being taken over by the FDIC where 38,000 borrowers were sent letters offering to reduce their payments by either rate and/or principal reductions.

Loan mod results to date have been uneven, and each lender has been individually offering concessions where they see it to be in their best interest.  To date, most of the loan mods have been an interest rate reduction since the mortgage investors are hoping that eventually property values recover and their write downs will be limited.  In cases where only an interest rate reduction was offered, initial stats suggest that only 20% of borrowers are still current six months later  thus necessitating either a foreclosure, recovery, or another loan mod.

I recently spoke to a woman in Massachusetts who had a subprime mortgage with Chase at 12%; after months of phone calls and sending paperwork to Chase, she was given a fixed rate of 1% for 5 years, with the rate to rise in steps to 6.25% at the end of 10 years.   The lender did not, however, adjust the loan principal and she has negative equity of around $80,000.  Whether or not this loan mod works out for both parties is subject to debate.

In an excellent post by Mr Mortgage, a very compelling argument is made that negative equity is one of the prime motivators for payment default by the borrower, regardless of the rate.  Apparently the attorney generals read Mr Mortgage, since the loan mod mandate settlement requires that changes be made to the borrowers loan so the that loan payment is “affordable and sustainable”; thereby necessitating in most cases both a rate and principal reduction.

A Credit Suisse study of subprime loan mods, however,  indicated that over 20% of subprime mortgages in which a principal reduction was granted were 60 days delinquent on their mortgages within eight months of the loan mod, so the success rate is not much different were only a rate reduction was granted.  Keep in mind that all the statistics on loan mods are preliminary and based on small sample numbers over short periods of time since there have not been a great number of loan mods done to date.

Borrowers’ monthly PITI (principal, interest, insurance and property taxes) should not exceed a 34% front end debt ratio.

This means the PITI should not exceed 34% of the borrowers’ monthly gross income.  See my post on Mortgages still being approved for unqualified borrowers) and Unsound lending policy.

For borrowers who took out pay option ARMs, Bofa will reduce the loan amount so that borrowers have as much equity, if not more, than when they took out the loan.

Borrowers will not be charged for the loan mod and any prepayment penalties will be waived.

The mandate that no fee be imposed on the borrower for modifying the loan will make it very questionable from an ethics and business standpoint for the nascent loan mod industry to try and attempt to charge a Countrywide mortgagor a fee to modify their loan, since Bofa will be contacting all the Countrywide customers with no cost offers to modify their loans.

In those cases where the loan is serviced by Countrywide but owned by an investor, Bofa will work with the loan servicer to get the necessary approval for a loan mod.

BofA will send offers of a loan mod to qualified borrowers by December 1 and stay any foreclosure action until a borrower’s eligibility has been determined.

Bofa will provide $150 million to refund some closing cost on the original loan if the borrower is in foreclosure and also provide $70 million of “key money”, cash payouts to help with moving costs.

It is only logical to conclude that since one of the largest banks in the country has agreed to this type of settlement that virtually every other lender and loan servicer will also be required to participate, either by invitation or legislative decree.  Indeed, banking regulators are now calling on every subprime loan servicer “in the strongest possible terms” to adopt a similar loan mod program as possible.

In the rush to “do something”  to address the foreclosure problem, it appears that there is a collective rush to judgment that loan mods are the best manner in which to address the problem.   Superficially, it appears to be a compelling solution to the problem; make the payments low enough so that the homeowners can easily make their mortgage payments.  Every easy solution, however, seems to create unanticipated adverse consequences.

Specifically, the following issues may cause adverse consequences that outweigh the presumed advantages:

1. Moral hazard may be a significant factor.  I talk to many people who would like to refinance but cannot due to insufficient or negative equity in their homes.  Most of these people have good credit and sufficient income to pay their mortgage but many of them (especially with negative equity) bring up the question of whether or not they should stop paying their mortgage and mail the keys back to the bank and to what extent this would impact their credit.

As publicity about the loan mods programs grow, the flood gates could open here especially since there are around 12 million households that now owe more than their house is worth according to Moody’s Economy.com.  Modifying a loan may sound like an easy solution, but the reduction of a loan amount equates to a loss for someone else – a bank, pension fund, insurance company etc.   A reduction of only $25,000 on 12 million homes means another bailout of $300 billion – someone gets burned by this loss and our government does not have an unlimited ability to borrow money.

2. The social backlash and resentment from the 40 million households who have a mortgage but still have equity, as well as from the 24 million households that have no mortgage is going to be tremendous; the consequences will not be positive.

3. Every borrower who has a subprime or pay option arm loan was not a victim; I am sure some did not understand the terms of their loans and there were abuses, not to mention that many of these borrowers should never have been granted a mortgage approval in the first place.  However, most people of reasonable intelligence normally ask about the terms and details of their mortgage and are given numerous disclosures during the loan process and at the closing table.

Why should someone else pay for another’s carelessness with their financial affairs and failure to properly evaluate their actions?   There is plenty of blame to go around here, both on the borrowers part and certainly on the part of the lenders who knowingly made loans that they knew could not be repaid.

4. For a nation that has a tremendous debt burden on every level, loan mods could encourage debt repudiation on a massive level which will cause a further destruction of asset values on a scale too large to contain, which is what is already happening.   Every loan represents an asset to someone else; debt destruction and asset price destruction reinforce each other; the evaporation of wealth (assets) on a massive scale will not help anyone.

5. Many of the buyers of properties in the past 4 years purchased with 100% financing.  To the extent that they now have negative equity, what have they really lost?  They received a free call option on future price appreciation of the property that they bought. Now that the property didn’t go up in value, they are entitled to walk away from their loan obligation or simply default and then be given huge concessions?   I have seen many people that purchased a home with 100% financing come back a year or two later and then take out as much cash as possible with a new first or  second mortgage. My math puts these people way ahead of the game.

6. I have also seen many people do 100% cash out refinances in the past four years, often times using the money for trips,  new cars, consumer goods etc.  Many of these refinances occurred at the peak of the market meaning that they effectively sold their properties at peak prices.  For those now walking away or getting their loan balance reduced, it is their gain and the banks’ loss.

7. To modify the loan so that the borrower has a 34% front end debt ratio is extremely generous.  Most of the new first time homebuyers and mortgage refinances that I see approved have debt ratios above 34%, but the borrowers work hard, struggle and pay.  How is this equitable to them??

8. To reduce the principal on a pay option arm borrower back to his original principal or lower is equally inequitable to those borrowers who borrowed in a more conservative manner with a 30 year fixed rate loan.  Many of the pay option arms had initial payment rates based on a rate of  1% or 2% for a period of years; the real rate fully indexed was typically 6 or 7%,  but the borrower was allowed to pay a very low payment based on 1% and the balance of the interest that was due was added to his loan balance.  The pay option arm borrowers reap a windfall here since they effectively were given a 1% rate compared to the conservative borrower who took out a 30 year fixed rate and paid the full payment on a 6% mortgage.  Obviously, the pay option arm customer had a lot more cash left in his pocket at the end of each month; by my math they came out way ahead.

9. Many of the loan mods proposed will probably not work out since a significant number of the subprime and pay option arm loans were done with inflated stated income (liar loans).  Many of these types of loans would have to have a massive reduction in the loan balance for the borrower to have a comfortable payment since his income was never even close to what was needed to service the loan from day one.  The result would be a ridiculous situation whereby we are rewarding those who falsified their income to qualify for a loan.  How inequitable would this be for the financially responsible borrower who bought a home for $250,000 with a $50,000 down payment next door to the guy who also buys a $250,000 home, “states” his income to receive a 100% loan and now receives a loan reduction down to $150,000??

10. The impact of loan mods on future mortgage lending in this country will be incredible negative.  The government can subsidize rates and we can all pay for this, but investors who previously bought the loans or mortgage backed securities (which support the mortgage market) will either have no interest in this type of investment going forward or require a properly risk adjusted rate which is obviously going to be very high.  No one is going to lend out money when they face a substantial risk of large losses by having their original loan amount and interest rate reduced by a loan mod every time there is a price pullback in housing.  Mortgages have become and will remain an asset class of “extremely dubious value” (see 7. above).

11. Not Everyone Should Own a Home, Wall Street Journal, Janet Albrechtsen. In an excellent article that explains why Australian banks are not bankrupt entities as in America, the author points out the weaknesses in our banking system and the lack of responsible behavior by borrowers and lenders which helped propel us into the banking, housing and credit crisis.

Instead of prolonging our property market declines with constant costly bailouts, it may be wiser to follow the RTC example in the 90’s when the market was cleared by selling foreclosed properties for whatever bid was offered.  Anything will sell quickly at the right price.