Wednesday, January 20, 2010

FHA Raises Insurance Premiums and Credit Standards

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced today that the government wants better credit quality from its low down payment buyers, as well as higher up-front premiums to be paid by all new borrowers who participate in it's Mortgage Insurance Program. In addition, the FHA commissioner David Stevens announced that "seller concessions" - the practice of sellers enticing buyers using the proceeds of realty sales to subsidize buyer's closing costs - would be halved from 6% of the purchase price to 3% after the comment period expires during the summer. The push by President Obama's appointees to modernize the FHA programs and guidelines is focused on averting the kind of loss making claims explosion experienced by the FHA insurance fund during the 1970s.

The credit change to restrict borrowers who have FICO scores of 580 from borrowing more than 90% of the purchase price of a home is not surprising. The minimum down payment on FHA loans currently stands at 3.5% of the value of the purchase. The FHA's rules and regulations were written prior to the wide adoption of the FICO score. The broad use of the FICO credit scoring system was adopted universally during the late 1980s but truly blossomed during the real estate boom, then bust of the 2000s, when lenders went so far as to issue loans solely based on collateral and FICO scores.

Raising the Upfront Financed Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP) from 1.75% to 2.25% increases the costs to borrow for all new FHA loans immediately. The UFMIP is paid by every borrower regardless of down payment, the fee is added to the balance of all FHA insured loans at closing. The borrower pays the fee over 30 years or when the FHA loan is paid off in full. Today's announcement specified that this UFMIP change was a prelude to making a risk-based Mortgage Insurance Program fee scale - which will require legislation to accomplish. The Secretary announced that he will seek a change that will redistribute the UFMIP fees to borrowers with higher risks due to lower equity contributions or lower credit scores.

The reduction in sales concessions from 6% to 3% to pay closing costs, aka the "seller kickback", is aimed at raising borrower's equity ratios in their homes. Government Sponsored Agency loan programs only allow sales concessions greater than 3% when borrowers have 20% down payments. Modern FHA lenders receive generous premiums for issuing insured loans, and the need for 6% of a sales price towards closing costs provided more opportunity to send money to intermediaries, than pay for actual borrowing costs.

The Obama Administration's push to modernize the FHA's programs while their market share explodes has been handled evenly during the last year. The changes are in line with the market's expectations for prudent lending. The FHA's new set of policies should ensure that risk premiums are paid sufficiently to cover losses, as well as to discourage risky real estate transactions at the fringes. High risk loans may account for a small percentage of the insured pool, but likely represent a large percentage of un-reimbursed losses to the government.

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