Equifax and Your Mortgage

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HouseLoan.com quoted me in How Will The Equifax Data Breach Affect Your Ability To Get A Mortgage? It opens,

Like throwing a stone into a pond, the Equifax data breach has long-lasting repercussions. Already, because of what’s being considered one of the largest data breaches in recent history, 143 million consumers may be affected. Data compromised in the breach has the potential to impact any form of credit taken out in the U.S. — including mortgages, credit cards, and car loans.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE EQUIFAX DATA BREACH?

The credit-reporting agency Equifax recently revealed that a data breach lasting from mid-May through July 2017 gave hackers access to their consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and, for some, driver’s license numbers. The Federal Trade Commission confirms that credit card numbers were stolen from an estimated 209,000 people and documents with personally identifying information for roughly 182,000 others. Hackers also accessed personal data for customers in the UK and Canada. Equifax says their agency didn’t discover the breach until July 29, 2017, after most of the damage was done.

Anyone who may be affected by the breach is encouraged to act fast, Lisa Lindsay, executive director of the collaborative group Private Risk Management Association (PRMA), which aims to raise awareness and educate agents and brokers, says. “Consumers will need to evaluate what they want to do next with regards to protection and what risk management options they want to take. Such as purchasing cyber and fraud insurance. Those impacted by the breach could be at risk for additional attacks.”

HOW WILL THE DATA BREACH AFFECT GETTING A MORTGAGE?

Buying a house may be the biggest financial decision you make. The last thing that you need is a credit setback — or disaster. Megan Zavieh, a Georgia attorney-at-law, explains that the full ramifications of the data breach have yet to be known because we don’t know who accessed private data or what they may ultimately do with it. But, she says, it could impact homebuyers significantly.

“If someone uses personal data to open new credit lines or take other typical identity theft actions, homebuyers could be in for a terrible surprise when they complete their home loan applications. Often, credit report correction following identity theft is a long process. And it could well prevent loans from closing if borrowers had identities stolen after the Equifax breach,” Zavieh says.

ADDING TO THE POST-EQUIFAX FRENZY, MANY PEOPLE ARE SEEKING TO FREEZE THEIR CREDIT IN THE WAKE OF THE BREACH.

David Reiss, Professor of Law and Academic Program Director of CUBE, The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, says, “Those who are looking to refinance their mortgage or purchase a new home should be aware of how a credit freeze affects them. When they are ready to take the plunge and apply, they will need to contact the credit rating agencies where they had placed a freeze and lift the freeze temporarily.” Just as importantly, Reiss reminds buyers to put the freeze back in place after completing the mortgage process.

During the time when you’re buying a home and the freeze is lifted, you can place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit. Reiss explains that this should limit lenders from granting credit under your name without first verifying that you are the one who applied for the loan.

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

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Realtor.com quoted me in Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference? It opens,

When buying a home, cash is king, but most folks don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying in the bank. Of course, that’s why obtaining a mortgage is such a crucial part of the process. And securing mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are important steps, assuring lenders that you’ll be able to afford payments.
However, pre-qualification and pre-approval are vastly different. How different? Some mortgage professionals believe one is virtually useless.

“I tell most people they can take that pre-qualification letter and throw it in the trash,” says Patty Arvielo, a mortgage banker and president and founder of New American Funding, in Tustin, CA. “It doesn’t mean much.”

What is mortgage pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification means that a lender has evaluated your creditworthiness and has decided that you probably will be eligible for a loan up to a certain amount.

But here’s the rub: Most often, the pre-qualification letter is an approximation—not a promise—based solely on the information you give the lender and its evaluation of your financial prospects.

“The analysis is based on the information that you have provided,” says David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School and a real estate law expert. “It may not take into account your current credit report, and it does not look past the statements you have made about your income, assets, and liabilities.”

A pre-qualification is merely a financial snapshot that gives you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for.

“It can be helpful if you are completely unaware what your current financial position will support regarding a mortgage amount,” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman, and Shipp, in Washington, DC. “It certainly helps if you are just beginning the process of looking to buy a house.”

Mortgage Broker v. Loan Officer

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MagnifyMoney.com quoted me in Mortgage Broker vs. Loan Officer: The Best Way to Shop for a Mortgage (must scroll down). It opens,

When you need to take out a loan to buy a home, you generally have two options. You can work with a lender’s loan officer or hire a mortgage broker. Loan officers and mortgage brokers are not the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

Loan officers work for a bank or a lender and will only be able to show you mortgage options from that financial institution. In contrast, mortgage brokers are individuals or firms that are licensed by a state to act as middlemen between you and multiple banks or mortgage lenders. Because brokers aren’t beholden to a particular lender, they can shop around and try to find you a loan with terms that best fit your circumstances.

Why should you consider working with a mortgage broker?

One of the biggest benefits to working with a mortgage broker is that they take over the job of shopping for a loan. You might be able to do this on your own, and in some cases, you could find a better loan than the broker, but it can be a time-consuming and complicated process.

A broker can help collect and organize the documents you need to apply for a mortgage, such as your proof of employment and income, tax returns, a list of your assets and debts, and credit reports and scores. The broker can then use the information to look for loans, compare rates and terms, and apply for mortgages on your behalf.

Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser and author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage,” says one of the big benefits is that brokers are generally “on your side,” while a loan officer represents the lender’s interest. Brokers are also incentivized to find you a loan that meets your needs and see the deal through closing because they don’t get paid until you close on the home.

Additionally, brokers might have access to lenders that don’t work directly with consumers, meaning you wouldn’t be able to get a loan from the lender even if you tried. And in some cases, brokers can leverage their relationship with a lender to get it to waive fees you’d otherwise have to pay.

Are there risks involved with using a mortgage broker?

While working with a broker could be a good idea, there are potential drawbacks to consider. “Not all brokers are created equal,” says Fleming. “Many have only a few sources for loans, and may not be able to find the best pricing.” There are also some mortgage lenders that don’t work with brokers and will only offer loans directly to consumers (through one of the lender’s loan officers).

Using a mortgage broker can also be expensive. Although you may find the services are worth paying for, consider the costs of using a broker:

Mortgage broker fees

Mortgage brokers are often paid in one of two ways. You may be able to choose how you’d like to pay the broker, or opt for both payment methods.

Some mortgage brokers will charge you a commission based on the loan you take out, often about 1% of the loan. For example, that’s a $3,000 fee on a $300,000 mortgage loan. You’ll pay this fee as part of your closing costs when you close on the home.

Other brokers may offer you a fee-free mortgage. However, what likely happens in this case is that the mortgage broker arranges a loan with a higher interest rate, leaving room for the lender to give the broker a cut. This route could cost you more over the lifetime of the loan but might be the better option if you want to minimize costs now.

Where to find a good mortgage broker

“Word of mouth is very useful when it comes to finding a good [mortgage broker],” according to Professor David Reiss, a real estate law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y. You could ask friends or family members who’ve recently bought a home if they used a mortgage broker, as well as your real estate agent if he or she can recommend a broker.

However, don’t settle for the first recommendation you receive. The Federal Trade Commission recommends interviewing several brokers and trying to find one who’ll be a good fit for your home search.

Ask about their experience with buyers like you in the area, the fees they charge, and how many lenders they work with. “You want to know whether the mortgage broker can find competitive mortgage products, is well organized so that loans close in a timely manner, and whether it keeps away from bait-and-switch tactics that can be so difficult to deal with when buying a home,” says Reiss.

Credit Card Debt and Your Mortgage

 

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Realtor.com quoted me in Fannie Mae Taking a Closer Look at Applicants’ Credit Card Payments. It opens,

If you feel like you’ve been managing your debt just fine, making the minimum payment on your credit cards on time every month, you might want to change your ways before applying for a home loan.

Fannie Mae, which offers government-backed loans to more than a quarter of mortgage applicants nationwide, has just revised its risk assessment software to factor in more details about how borrowers pay off their debts.

Historically, the credit report generated by Fannie Mae—and scrutinized by lenders—mainly showed how much of your available credit you’d used and whether you’d made your monthly payments on time. But the newest version of Fannie’s Desktop Underwriter software (used by about 2,000 lenders and more than 10,000 mortgage brokers) kicks things up a notch. Now, it also details just how much you coughed up each month over the past two years—whether you’re parting with only the minimum, laying out the full monty, or hovering somewhere in between.

Fannie officials say these new details, known as “trended credit data,” can help lenders better assess how well people manage their debts—and, consequently, how well they’ll manage their mortgage payments.

“Generally, the new underwriting model gives weight to how borrowers pay off their credit debt,” explains David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “While it is not clear how finely tuned the new system is, there is clearly a move toward a more granular approach to debt repayment.”

How this news affects your prospects of a home loan

So far, FICO and other credit score measures aren’t factoring in this extra info, so your score won’t get dinged. But your application could be affected in another way.

“If you compare two people with exactly the same credit profiles except that one pays more than the minimum amount due or the entire balance, that person would be considered to be a lower credit risk by Fannie Mae,” says Reiss. “As a result, that person would be more likely to be approved for a mortgage.”

But you might not have to pay much more than the minimum to boost your chances of getting that loan.“At this time it’s unclear what impact to mortgage scoring and automated underwriting the payment history will have, but we believe anyone that is paying 30% or more of their balance monthly will see improvement,” says San Diego loan officer Michael Rosenbaum at CrossCountry Mortgage.

Of course, people who pay off the whole balance every month will be favored even more, and with good reason.

“Research has indicated that borrowers who paid off their credit card debt every month are 60% less likely to become delinquent than borrowers who make only the monthly minimum payment,” Rosenbaum adds.

And while this might sound ominous, it could actually be helpful if you had some credit blemishes in your past.

“Fannie has also indicated that paying more than the minimum due will particularly help borrowers with delinquencies on their credit report, because it will allow borrowers to ‘demonstrate that a late payment was not deeply reflective of their general debt repayment ability and behavior,’” Reiss notes.

Jumbo Mortgage Deals Ahead

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The Wall Street Journal quoted me in Attention, Jumbo-Mortgage Shoppers: Deals Ahead (behind paywall). It opens,

With more lenders offering jumbo loans, borrowers have more bargaining power to negotiate the best terms.

During the first quarter of this year, 20.3% of all first mortgages originated were jumbo loans, according to Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance. That’s up from 18.9% last year and 5.5% in 2009, just after the financial crisis.

“At the end of the day, it’s all just supply and demand for capital,” says Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree, an online financing marketplace. “Over 60% of people still don’t think they can shop for loans—even rich people. But everything is negotiable.”

Since only a small percentage of jumbo loans are sold to investors, the “vast majority are winding up on bank balance sheets,” according to Michael Fratantoni, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association. But because these loans are held in a lender’s portfolio and aren’t subject to the guidelines of investors purchasing them—as opposed to conforming loans, which must comply with hard-and-fast parameters established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—terms and underwriting standards vary widely.

“Borrowers may find more flexibility with lenders that keep mortgages on their own books,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in real estate. “These lenders can usually take a more individualized approach to underwriting than a lender that sells its mortgages off to be securitized with a whole bunch of other mortgages.”

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Here are a few things to consider when negotiating a jumbo loan:

Prepare before applying. “Jumbo lenders are focusing on borrowers with good credit and resources,” said Brooklyn Law School’s Mr. Reiss. Before applying, borrowers should clean up their credit report and keep debt in check. Lenders look at total debt-to-income ratio and overall credit to determine how strong a buyer is; the stronger the buyer, the more the negotiating power.

Create a relationship. “If you’re a substantial borrower with a substantial relationship with a bank—one of our wealth clients—the guidelines might get a bit more flexible,” saysPeter Boomer, executive vice president of PNC Mortgage, a division of PNC Bank NA.

Don’t hesitate to negotiate. “They are the customer, and the lender is not doing them a favor,” says Mr. Lebda, of LendingTree. “People are ecstatic when they get approved for a mortgage, but they actually need to think about it the other way—that the lender should be ecstatic for giving them a loan.”