Mortgage Rates & Refis

TheStreet.com quoted me in Mortgage Rates Expected to Rise and Push Down Refinancing Levels. It reads, in part,

Mortgage rates will continue their upward climb in 2017 as the economy demonstrates additional growth and inflation, but this will of course dampen the enthusiasm for homeowners who have sought to refinance their mortgages up until early this year.

The levels of refinancing will definitely “take a hit relative to 2016,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial content company.”

A survey conducted by RateWatch found that 56.57% of the 400 financial institutions polled said it is unlikely mortgage rates will fall and unlikely there will be an increase in refinancing in 2017. RateWatch, a Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based premier banking data and analytics service owned by TheStreet, Inc., surveyed the majority of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in the U.S. between December 16 and December 29, 2016 on how the Donald Trump presidency will affect the banking industry. The survey found that 35.71% said an increase in refinancing levels is very unlikely, while 6.29% said such an increase is somewhat likely, 1.14% said one would be likely and 0.29% said it would be very likely.

Mortgage rates, which are tied to the 10-year Treasury note, are predicted to fluctuate between 4% to 4.5% in 2017 “with a brief trip below 4% in the event of a market sell-off or economic stumble,” McBride said.

The 4% threshold is critical for homeowners, because when mortgage rates fall below this benchmark level, more consumers are in a position to refinance “profitably,” which is why 2016 experienced a “surge in activity,” McBride said.

When rates rise about the 4% level, the number of homeowners who opt to refinance declines dramatically and “refinancing levels will be notably lower in 2017,” he said.

The mortgages in the 3% range gave many homeowners the opportunity to refinance last year, some for the second time, as many consumers also chose to refinance their mortgages during the 2013 to 2015 period.

As the economy expands and workers are experiencing pay increases, the number of home sales should also rise in 2017.

“People who are working and receiving a pay increase will buy a house whether mortgage rates are 4% or 4.5%,” McBride said. “They may buy a different house, but they will still buy a house.”

Refinancing activity is likely to continue ramping up in January rather than later in the year as the “recent dip in rates allows procrastinators to act before rates continue their movement up,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. “As interest rates resume their ascent and get closer to 4.5% on the 30-year mortgage, the number of households who can benefit from refinancing will diminish. That’s why we expect lenders to shift their focus to the purchase market this year.”

Economic growth resulted in interest rates rising before the election and in its aftermath. The rates rose because of the expectation from the financial markets of expanding fiscal policies leading to additional growth and inflationary pressures, Smoke said.

Mortgage rates will continue to rise in 2017 as a result of more people being employed, and this economic backdrop will favor the buyer’s market instead of the refinancing market. Current data from the Mortgage Bankers Association already demonstrates that refinancing activity has declined compared to 2016 due to higher interest rates, Smoke said.

“Rates have eased a bit since the start of the year as evidence of a substantial shift in inflation remains limited and the financial markets oversold bonds in December,” he added.

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Borrowers should be concerned with increased interest rate volatility in 2017, said David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School. The Trump administration has been sending out mixed signals, which may lead bond investors and lenders to change their outlook more frequently than in the past.

“Borrowers should focus on locking in attractive interest rates quickly and working closely with their lender to ensure that the loan closes before the interest rate lock expires,” he said. “While there is no clear consensus on why rates went lower after the new year, Trump has not set forth a clear plan as to how he will achieve those goals and Congress has not signaled that it is fully on board with them. This leaves investors less confident that Trump will make good on those positions, particularly in the short-term.”

Gorsuch and the CFPB

photo provided byUnited States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Judge Gorsuch

Bankrate.com quoted me in Supreme Court Pick Could Spell Trouble for the CFPB. It opens,

President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court pick has been identified as the “most natural successor” to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he would replace.

Neil Gorsuch, 49, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is said to share many of Scalia’s beliefs and his judicial philosophy. That could tip the high court back toward the 5-4 conservative split it held during controversial cases prior to Scalia’s death, although Justice Anthony Kennedy will remain a liberal swing vote on certain social issues before the court.

Gorsuch’s big judicial decisions have favored religious freedom over government regulation and state’s rights over the power of the federal government.

But how might that impact consumers or their wallets directly?

“I think with a judge like Gorsuch, you can see there probably will be a tendency in that direction to dissuade innovation,” says David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School and the academic program director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

That could mean the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose unique management structure a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last fall called unconstitutional, could face an obstacle on the bench should the legal fight over its construction ever reach the Supreme Court.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority opinion for the D.C. circuit panel, said because this independent agency is headed by a director whom the president cannot fire at will – and not, say, a set of commissioners like other agencies within the government – it is a threat to individual liberty.

“In short, when measured in terms of unilateral power, the director of the CFPB is the single most powerful official in the entire U.S. government, other than the president,” Kavanaugh wrote. “In essence, the director is the president of consumer finance.”

How Gorsuch May Rule

Supporters of the bureau are trying to get a hearing before the full U.S. Court of Appeals, but the issue could well wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court – that is if Congress doesn’t take action first.

Legal scholars say should Gorsuch win Senate confirmation he is unlikely to look favorably on the bureau’s structure.

Indeed, Gorsuch is likely to “echo the views of Judge Kavanaugh,” Melissa Malpass, senior legal editor for consumer regulatory finance at Thompson Reuters Practical Law, said in an email.

“Judge Gorsuch, through recent decisions, has expressed his disfavor with permitting government agencies to not only determine what the law is, but also to interpret and re-interpret the law as they see fit, often based on the political climate,” Malpass says.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Kavanaugh ruling, it “may, in effect, destroy the CFPB as we know it, and that will have an effect on consumers,” Reiss says.

Not everyone, though, thinks restructuring the CFPB as a commission-led agency like the Federal Communications Commission, for example, would be bad for consumers.

Gorsuch’s Path to the High Court

Democrats, still stung over the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed Scalia, could try to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Under current Senate rules, at least eight Democrats will need to cross the aisle to prevent a filibuster of the appointment.

Gorsuch, who was confirmed for his current post in 2006 by Senate voice vote, has won widespread acclaim in Republican circles. He also received a vote of confidence from a former Obama administration official.

“I think the Democrats are going to ask questions to determine if the nominee is outside what they call the political mainstream,” Reiss says. “We know this battle will be a brutal one, almost definitely because of the treatment of Merrick Garland’s nomination under the Obama administration.”

Down in ARMs

group-of-hand

TheStreet.com quoted me in Top 5 Lowest 7-Year ARM Rates. It opens,

U.S. mortgage rates have continued to decline in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, low Treasury rates and stagnant economy, giving potential homeowners an opportunity to save money because of the dip.

The current market conditions give homeowners in the U.S. an opportunity to take advantage of the continuation of low mortgage rates since the Federal Reserve has not increased interest rates.

But, how do you snag the absolute lowest rates, especially if you don’t plan on staying in your first home for more than seven years and are learning toward 7/1 adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs)?

The 7-year ARMs are attractive to consumers, especially first-time homebuyers, because the interest rates are lower, helping you save more money each month compared to the traditional 30-year mortgage.

“You get what amounts to a fixed rate mortgage, but at a lower rate than the traditional 30-year fixed,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company.

While lower monthly payments are appealing, the interest rates reset after seven years, and it can be difficult to determine how much they will increase.

“If your timetable changes, then you may want to reconsider the loan you have,” he said. “You don’t want to be in the position of facing rising monthly payments that squeeze your budget or jeopardize your ability to afford your own home.”

Consumers on fixed incomes and saddled with student loans and credit card debt might opt for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, because it represents “permanent payment affordability,” McBride said. The principal and interest will never change, because it is a fixed rate and can be easier to budget.

“It may not always be the optimal choice, but it is the safest choice,” he said.

Adjustable rate mortgages can still be beneficial if homeowners take advantage of the savings each month and allocate it towards paying down debt or into an emergency fund.

“Even if you’re still holding the 7-year ARM at the end of seven years, that doesn’t automatically turn it into a bad decision,” McBride said. “You will have banked seven years of savings relative to the fixed rate mortgage that can help you absorb any payment increases until you refinance or sell the home.”

Many consumers gravitate toward the 30-year mortgage, because the payments are stable and have been very low, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. Others are seeking the 7-year ARM, because they are more likely to qualify for a mortgage.

Mortgage activity so far in 2016 reveals that only 3% of mortgages have had shorter rate terms, according to Realtor.com’s analysis of purchase mortgage activity. Hybrid term mortgages such as the 7/1 ARM typically increase in share when “mortgage rates rise because the shorter fixed term offers a lower rate, often between 40 and 100 basis points,” he said. “The lower rate translates into a lower payment for the duration of the initial term, which is seven years.”

Each lender utilizes a benchmark such as a the 10-year U.S. Treasury or LIBOR rate and a margin, which is “what is added to the benchmark to determine your new rate,” Smoke said. The loans also have a cap on how high any single rate change can be and also a ceiling on how high the rate can ever be, he said.

At the end of the seven years, homeowners can choose to refinance to a lower fixed rate, but need to budget for the closing costs.

A lower rate upfront can be favorable for younger homeowners, but examining the ceiling rate and how it will impact your monthly payments is crucial.

“A mortgage broker or lender can help you walk through scenarios to determine if your timeline could benefit,” Smoke said. “To help calm any nerves about just how high your payment could go, ask yourself if you are willing to exchange the initial seven year savings for how long you might keep that mortgage after the seven-year period is up.”

Paying the premium for the peace of mind that your payments will remain static means that if interest rates rise several percentages in the next few years, you won’t be faced with having to consider the lower rate options or lower priced homes and/or more money down, he said.

“That’s why hybrids will likely become more popular in the future compared to how little they are used today,” Smoke said.

Since people have a tendency to change homes every seven years on average, a 7/1 ARM could be a good option because the savings can be substantial, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y.

“Even if you are not planning to move now, the future may bring changes such as divorce, frail relatives, job loss or new job opportunities,” he said. “Some people like the certainty of the 30-year fixed rate mortgages, but it is worth calculating just how much that certainty will cost you.”

Low, Low, Low Mortgage Rates

photo by Martin Abegglen

TheStreet.com quoted me in Top 5 Lowest 15-Year Mortgage Rates. It opens,

U.S. mortgage rates have continued to decline in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, low Treasury rates and the stagnant economy, giving potential homeowners an opportunity to save money because of the dip.

The current market conditions give homeowners in the U.S. an opportunity to take advantage of the continuation of low mortgage rates since the Federal Reserve has not increased interest rates.

But, how do you snag the absolute lowest rates?

How to Get a Low Rate

Low mortgage rates can play a large factor in homeowners’ ability to save tens of thousands of dollars in interest. Even a 1% difference in the mortgage rate can save a homeowner $40,000 over 30 years for a mortgage valued at $200,000. Having a top notch credit score plays a critical factor in determining what interest rate lenders will offer consumers, but other issues such as the amount of your down payment also impact it.

A high credit score is the key to ensuring that borrowers receive a low mortgage rate. Here’s a quick rundown of what the numbers mean – a score of anything below 620 ranks as poor, 620 to 699 is fair, 700 to 749 is good and anything over 750 is excellent. Think carefully before canceling a credit card with a long, positive history, but decrease your debt. One of the biggest factors which impact your credit score is your credit utilization rate.

Many potential homeowners focus only on the interest rate or the monthly payment. The APR or annual percentage rate gives you a better idea of the true cost of borrowing money, which includes all the fees and points for the loan.

The origination fee or points is charged by a lender to process a loan. This fee shows up on your good faith estimate (GFE) as one item called the origination charge. However, the origination fee can be made up of a few different fees such as: processing fees, underwriting fees and an origination charge.

Homeowners who are able to afford a 20% down payment do not have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which costs another 0.5% to 1.0% and can tack on more money each month. Having at least 20% in equity shows lenders that there is a lower chance of the individual defaulting on the loan.

Choosing Between 15-year and 30-year Mortgages

Obtaining a 15-year fixed rate mortgage instead of a traditional 30-year mortgage means homeowners can save thousands of dollars in interest. One drawback of a 15-year mortgage is that consumers will be locked into higher monthly compared to a traditional 30-year mortgage or a 5-year or 7-year adjustable rate mortgage, “which could put the squeeze on homeowners when times are tight,” said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.

Many households would not benefit from a 15-year mortgage because it “does more to limit their financial flexibility than to enhance it,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company.

“Locking into higher monthly payments makes the household budget tighter and for what?,” he said “So you can pay down a low, fixed rate loan? On an after tax, after-inflation basis you’re essentially borrowing for free.”

McBride suggests that this strategy does not bode well for homeowners, especially if they are not paying down their higher interest rate debts and maximizing their tax-advantaged retirement savings options such as IRAs and 401(k)s.

“Even then, you might be better off investing your money elsewhere than tying up more of your wealth in the most illiquid asset you have – your home,” he said. “Just 28% of American households have a sufficient emergency savings cushion, so why the hurry to pay off a low, fixed rate, tax deductible debt. Money in the bank will pay the bills, home equity will not.”

The current economic situation has pushed down rates with 15-year mortgages becoming “relatively more attractive” than even 5-year adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) over the last year, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. Last week Freddie Mac announced the average 15-year mortgage rate was 2.74% and the average for the 5-year ARM was 2.75%.

“These rates are virtually the same,” he said. “A year ago, the 15-year was relatively more expensive than the 5-year by about 0.16%. If you can swing the higher principal payments for the 15-year mortgage you will be getting about as good an interest rate as you could hope for.”

Building Emergency Funds

Rainy Day Fund

MainStreet.com quoted me in Here’s How to Build a Sturdy Household ‘Cash Crisis’ Fund. It reads, in part,

Americans aren’t big on emergency savings funds: only four in ten U.S. adults have one, according to a 2015 study by Bankrate.

But if your Jeep Cherokee needs $1,000 worth of transmission work, or you need to cover a $6,500 health care plan deductible in a medical emergency, a household rainy day fund may be one of the best insurance policies you’ll ever own.

Before we get on the path to starting a savings fund quickly and effectively, understand first that an emergency fund and a rainy day fund are two different animals. A rainy day fund is smaller in size than an emergency fund: whereas $1,000 might form a good rainy fund, a decent-sized emergency fund should have between $3,000 and $10,000 in cash.

The key to building both, however, is similar – just get started.

“Jump start an emergency fund with a windfall like a tax refund, profit sharing check, stock sale, or an inheritance,” says Sharon Marchisello, author of the book Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy.

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Once you have accumulated a decent-sized emergency fund, don’t take the experience for granted.

Building the perfect emergency fund calls one part diligence, one part creativity, and one part patience. Put all three together and sleep easier at night as your safety net fund grows accordingly.

Rates up in ARMs

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Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building

TheStreet.com quoted me in Fed Hike Means Adjustable Rate Mortgages Will Rise and Increase Monthly Payments. It opens,

The first interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in nearly a decade means consumers can no longer take advantage of a zero interest rate environment. Particularly challenged will be homeowners who have adjustable rates and stand to face higher mortgage payments.

Record low mortgage rates are set to be thing of the past as the Fed raised rates by 0.25%, which appears to be a nominal amount initially. Of course, consumers need to consider the cumulative effect of the central bank’s decision to increase rates periodically over a span of two to three years. The consecutive rate hikes will affect homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages when they reset, which typically happens once a year.

“The initial interest rate move is very modest and consumers will see a corresponding increase in their credit card and home equity line of credit rates within one to two statement cycles,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, the North Palm Beach, Fla. based financial content company. “The significance is in the potential impact of whatever interest rate hikes are put into effect over the next 18 to 24 months.”

The Fed will continue to raise rates several times next year since yesterday’s move is not a “one and done” move, said Robert Johnson, president of The American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The Fed will likely follow with a series of three to four rate increases in 2016 if the economy continues to improve. The central bank could raise interest rates to a total of 1.0%, which will cause mortgage rates, auto loans and credit card rates to rise in tandem.

Adjustable rate mortgages, or ARMs, are popular among many younger homeowners, because they typically have lower interest rates than the more common 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Many ARMs are called a 5/1 or 7/1, which means that they are fixed at the introductory interest rate for five or seven years and then readjust every year after that, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y. The new rate is based on an index, such as the prime rate or the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), as well as a margin on top of that index. LIBOR is used by banks when they are lending money to each other.The prime rate is the interest rate set by individual banks and is usually pegged to the current rate of the federal funds rate, which the Fed increased to 0.25%.

The prime rate is typically used more for home equity lines of credit, said Reiss. LIBOR is typically used more for mortgages like ARMs. The LIBOR “seems to have had already incorporated the Fed’s rate increase as it has gone up 0.20% since early November,” Reiss said.

“The prime rate is influenced by the Fed’s actions,” Reiss said. “We already see that with Wednesday’s announcement that banks are increasing prime to match the Fed’s increase.”

The main disadvantage of an ARM is that the rate is only fixed for a period of five or seven years unlike a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, which means that monthly payments could rise quickly and affect homeowners on a tight budget.

Over the course of the next couple of years, the cumulative effect of a series of interest rate hikes could take an adjustable mortgage rate from 3% to 5%, a home equity line of credit rate from 4% to 6% and a credit card rate from 15% to 17%, said McBride.

“This is where the effect on household budgets becomes more pronounced,” he said.

Homeowners should start researching mortgage rates and refinance out of ARMs and lock into a fixed rate, said McBride. The 0.25% rate increase equals to a payment of $0.25 for every $100 of debt.

Since many factors impact the interest rates of mortgages, consumers need to examine the actual benchmark used by their lender since some existing interest rates already priced in some of the anticipated rise in the federal funds rate, said Reiss. While ARMs expose the borrower to rising interest rates, they typically come with some protection. Interest rates often cannot rise more than a certain amount from year to year, and there is also typically a cap in the increase of interest rates over the life of the loan.

An ARM might have a two point cap for one year increases if the introductory rate of 4% increased to 6% in the sixth year of a 5/1 ARM, he said. That ARM might have a six point cap over the life of the loan, which means a 4% introductory rate can go to no higher than 10% over the life of the loan.

 Based upon the current Fed increase of 0.25%, a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage would pay an additional $40 a month or $500 a year when the rate resets.

“While this is not chump change, it is also not immensely burdensome to many homeowners,” Reiss said. “The bottom line is that it is worth figuring out just how your ARM works so you can understand what your worst case scenario is and then plan for it.”

A Call to ARMs

MainStreet.com quoted me in A Call to ARMs As Homeowners Opt for Lower Interest Rates. It opens,

Some homeowners are choosing adjustable rate mortgages instead of the traditional 30-year mortgages to take advantage of lower interest rates for several years.

The biggest benefit of an ARM is that they have lower interest rates than the more common 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Many ARMs are called a 5/1 or 7/1, which means that they are fixed at the introductory interest rate for five or seven years and then readjust every year after that, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. The new rate is based on an index, perhaps LIBOR, as well as a margin on top of that index.

The main disadvantage is that the rate is not fixed for as long as the interest rate of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, but younger homeowners may not consider that a negative factor.

Younger Owners Should Consider ARMs

While many homeowners gravitate toward a 30-year mortgage, younger owners “should seriously consider getting an ARM if they think that they might move sooner rather than later,” he said. If you are single and buying a one-bedroom condo, it is likely you could enter into a long-term relationship and have kids.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 3.50% as of April 7 while a 5/1 ARM is 2.83% as of April 7, according to Bankrate’s national survey of large lenders.

While ARMs expose the borrower to rising interest rates, they typically come with some protection. Interest rates often cannot rise more than a certain amount from year to year, and there is also typically a cap in the increase of interest rates over the life of the loan, said Reiss. During the height of the housing boom, lenders were originating 1/1 ARMs that reset after the first year, but now they reset frequently after the fifth and seventh year.

An ARM might have a two-point cap for one-year increases; that means, an introductory rate of 4% could only increase to 6% tops in the sixth year of a 5/1 ARM, Reiss said. That ARM might have a six-point cap over the life of the loan, which means a 4% introductory rate can go to no higher than 10% over the life of the loan.