Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

May 26, 2017

Fannie Mae Student Loan Mortgage Swap

By David Reiss

HIghYa quoted me in Fannie Mae Student Loan Mortgage Swap: Should You Do It? It reads, in part,

This past week federal mortgage giant Fannie Mae announced it had created a new avenue for its borrowers to pay off student loans: the student loan mortgage swap.

The swap works like this, according to documentation published by Fannie Mae:

  • Fannie Mae mortgage borrowers get the benefit
  • They do a “cash-out” refinance
  • The money from that refinance is used to pay off your loan(s) in full

The concept of this is pretty elegant in our opinion. People who are saddled with student loans – the average grad has about $36,000 in debt at graduation – don’t usually stumble upon a huge chunk of money to pay off those loans.

If you’re lucky enough to own a home that’s gone up in value enough to create a sizeable difference between what your home is worth and what you owe, then Fannie Mae allows you to borrow against that amount (equity) by taking it out as cash you can use on a student loan.

The idea is that your mortgage rate will probably be lower than your student loan rate, which means instead of paying back your student loans at 6.5%, let’s say, you can now pay it back at your mortgage refi rate of, in most cases, less than 4.5%.

Basically, you’re swapping your student loan payments for mortgage payments, which is how this little financial maneuver gets its name.

The news first came out on April 25 in the form of a press release which said the mortgage swap was designed to offer the borrower “flexibility to pay off high-interest rate student loans” and get a lower mortgage rate.

The change was among two others that will, in theory, work in favor of potential or current homeowners who have student loan debt.

“These new policies provide three flexible payment solutions to future and current homeowners and, in turn, allow lenders to serve more borrowers,” Fannie Mae Vice President of Customer Solutions Jonathan Lawless said in the release.

What You Need to Know About Fannie Mae’s Student Loan Swap

Remember how we said that the money you get from your mortgage refinance can be used for a student loan or multiple student loans?

That happens because this refinance is what’s known as a cash-out refinance.

What is a Cash-Out Refinance?

A cash-out refinance is part of the general class of refinancing.

When you refinance your home, you’re basically selling the rest of what you owe to a lender who’s willing to let you pay them back at a lower interest rate than what you currently have.

The upside is that you have lower monthly payments because your interest rates are lower, but the downside is that your payments are lower because they’re most likely spread out over 30 years, or, at least, longer than what you had left on your original mortgage.

So, you’ll be paying less but you’ll be paying longer.

A cash-out refinance adds a twist to all this. You see, when you do a traditional refinance, you’re borrowing the amount you owe. However, in a cash-out refinance, you actually borrow more than you owe and the lender gives you the difference in cash.

Let’s say you owe $100,000 on your house at 7% with 20 years left. You want to take advantage of a cash-out refi, so you end up refinancing for $120,000 at 4.6% for 30 years.

Assuming all fees are paid for, you get $20,000 in cash. The lender gives you that cash because it’s yours – it comes from the equity in your home.

How the Fannie Mae Student Loan Swap Works

Fannie Mae’s new program takes the cash-out refinance a little further and says that you can only use your cash-out amount for student loans.

However, it’s not that easy. There are certain requirements you have to meet in order to be eligible for the program. Here’s a list of what you need to know:

  • The borrower has to have paid off at least one of their student loans
  • You’re only allowed to pay off your student loans, not loans other people are paying
  • The money must cover the entire loan(s), not just part of it/them
  • Your loan-to-value ratios must meet Fannie Mae’s eligibility matrix

We checked the Fannie Mae eligibility matrix and, at the time this article was published in April 2017, the maximum loan-to-value they’d allow on your principle residence was 80% for a fixed-rate mortgage and 75% on an adjustable rate mortgage.

In other words, they want to know that what you owe on the house is, at most, 80% of what it’s worth.

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Our Final Thoughts About Fannie Mae’s Student Loan Swap

The Fannie Mae student loan mortgage swap is certainly an innovative way to cut down on your student loan debt via equity in your home.

The pros of this kind of financial product are that, if cash-out refinance rates are lower than student loan rates, then you can stand to save money every month.

And because refis typically last 30 years, your monthly payments will most likely be lower than what they were when you were making payments on your mortgage and your student loan.

The main drawbacks of using a Fannie Mae cash-out refinance to pay off your loans is that you’ll put your home at a higher risk because house values could fall below the amount you borrowed on your refi.

Making a student loan mortgage swap also changes your debt from unsecured to secured. Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss reiterated this point in an email to us.

He said that borrowers need to “proceed carefully when they convert unsecured debt like a student loan into secured debt like a mortgage.”

The benefits are great, he said, but the dangers and risks are pretty acute.

“When debt is secured by a mortgage, it means that if a borrower defaults on the debt, the lender can foreclose on the borrower’s home,” David said. “Bottom line – proceed with caution!”

We think what Mark Kantrowitz and David Reiss have pointed out is extremely valuable. While a student loan mortgage swap may seem like a good way to pay off your debt, the fact that it swaps your unsecured debt for secured debt could mean trouble down the road.

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