FHA 'Tweaks' Should Not Have Major Impact on Mortgages
WASHINGTON -- You may have seen headlines last week about the Federal Housing Administration needing a taxpayer "bailout" by the Treasury and wondered: Uh oh. Is the FHA heading down the fiscal drain like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have required billions in federal assistance just to stay in business?
The good news answer for FHA's traditional borrowers -- who are primarily moderate-income, first-time purchasers, and people with limited cash for down payments and less-than-perfect credit histories -- is no.
There is a strong possibility that FHA will not require any money transfer from the Treasury, which in any event would not occur until next September. Meanwhile FHA is making tweaks to its program rules that could affect some loan applicants in the months ahead, and which are designed to improve revenue flows to the agency and cut back on losses.
Among the most immediate changes, new borrowers early next year are likely to be charged slightly higher annual mortgage insurance premiums -- 1.35 percent of the loan balance rather than 1.25 percent at present. On loans above $625,500 in high-cost areas such as California and metropolitan Washington, D.C., the annual premium will go from 1.5 percent to 1.6 percent. This will not be a major problem for most people, but it could cause some buyers to check out FHA's competitors -- private mortgage insurers whose monthly premiums on loans for applicants with high credit scores may be more attractive than FHA's.
To increase revenue streams long term, FHA is also abandoning its practice of allowing borrowers to cancel their annual mortgage insurance premium payments when their loan balance drops to 78 percent of the property value. In effect, this will mean that borrowers obtaining 30-year FHA loans could be paying premiums for decades.
Is this a big deal? Clem Ziroli Jr., president of First Mortgage Corp. in Ontario, Calif., thinks it could encourage some higher credit quality borrowers to "refi out" of their FHA loans and seek better deals in the conventional marketplace. But Paul E. Skeens, president of Colonial Mortgage Group in Waldorf, Md., sees it differently: With fixed 30-year mortgage rates in the mid- to upper-3 percent range and virtually certain to increase -- maybe significantly if the economy improves in the coming years -- "everybody is going to want to keep these loans forever," he predicts. …