FHA Annual Check-up

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released its Annual Report to Congress Regarding the Financial Status of the FHA Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. The MMIF fund is the FHA’s main vehicle for insuring mortgages. As we saw last week, FHA reverse mortgage (formally known as “Home Equity Conversion Mortgage” or “HECM”) portfolio is not doing so well. FHA standard (sometimes referred to as “forward”) mortgages are doing better, although their performance is also slipping.

The MMIF declined from its 2.35 percent FY 2016 Capital Ratio to 2.09 percent. This still exceeds its statutorily-required level of 2.00 percent.  The Economic Net Worth of the MMIF was $25.6 billion while the MMIF Insurance-in-Force was approximately $1.23 trillion at the end of FY 2017. The decline was driven by the negative Economic Net Worth of the reverse mortgage portfolio, as the capital ratio for the forward mortgage portfolio on its own was 3.33%.

The report contains a multitude of useful tables and charts about the FHA’s mortgage portfolio. The FHA has an 18 percent share of the mortgage market, which is pretty high. (Table A-2) Indeed, it is in the same range of its market share during the financial crisis years (2008-2010). The FHA remains a strong force in the first-time homebuyer market, with an 82.2 percent share. (Table B-2)

The FHA’s objectives for FY 2018 are worth reviewing:

Play a Significant Role in Disaster Recovery. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria, and wildfires in California, in FY 2017 and the first part of FY 2018, FHA has played a significant role in relief and recovery efforts in affected areas, while taking immediate actions to protect its Single Family assets and financial exposure. (78)

Make Necessary Changes to the Home Equity Conversion Program (HECM). During FY 2017, FHA revised the HECM initial and annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIPs), and Principal Limit Factors (PLFs). These revisions were necessary to enable FHA to continue to endorse HECM loans in FY 2018, protect the program for seniors, and balance serving FHA’s mission with taxpayer protection. (79)

No less important than these objectives is the FHA’s second-to-last one, Technology Modernization:

FHA is working to update its systems over the coming years to allow the Agency to work more effectively with lenders participating in the program, while operating FHA with greater efficiency and control. The technology systems that support FHA’s Single Family business have an average age of more than 18 years, with the Computerized Homes Underwriting Management System (CHUMS) exceeding 40 years. Similarly, the systems supporting the servicing, default, claims and REO areas have an average age of 14 years. FHA’s systems have been maintained, modified and enhanced over the years, but it has become fundamentally difficult and exceedingly expensive to maintain systems beyond their usable life. FHA’s outdated systems make it more difficult to work with lenders and to collect and manage important data. FHA remains a largely paper-processing entity while the rest of the industry has increasingly migrated to digital processes. FHA needs systems that can capture and effectively process the extensive volumes of data now in use, with enhanced storage and processing capabilities to handle the migration from paper forms to digital ones. Additionally, FHA requires the ability to analyze and manage insured loans comprehensively over the many phases of the mortgage life cycle. (80)

When you stop and think about how bad the state of the FHA’s technology is, you think that maybe this should be their top priority.

Risky Reverse Mortgages

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report, Snapshot of Reverse Mortgage Complaints:  December 2011-December 2014. By way of background,

Reverse mortgages differ from other types of home loans in a few important ways. First, unlike traditional “forward” mortgages, reverse mortgages do not require borrower(s) to make monthly mortgage payments (though they must continue paying property taxes and homeowners’ insurance). Prospective reverse mortgage borrowers are required to undergo mandatory housing counseling before they sign for the loan. The loan proceeds are generally provided to the borrowers as lump-sum payouts, annuity-like monthly payments, or as lines of credit. The interest and fees on the mortgage are added to the loan balance each month. The total loan balance becomes due upon the death of the borrower(s), the sale of the home, or if the borrower(s) permanently move from the home. In addition, a payment deferral period may be available to some non-borrowing spouses following the borrowing spouse’s death. (3, footnotes omitted)

The CFPB concludes that

borrowers and their non-borrowing spouses who obtained reverse mortgages prior to August 4, 2014 may likely encounter difficulties in upcoming years similar to those described in this Snapshot, i.e., non-borrowing spouses seeking to retain ownership of their homes after the borrowing spouse dies. As a result, many of these consumers may need notification of and assistance in averting impending possible displacement should the non-borrowing spouse outlive his or her borrowing spouse.

For millions of older Americans, especially those without sufficient retirement reserves, tapping into accrued home equity could help them achieve economic security in later life. As the likelihood increases that older Americans will use their home equity to supplement their retirement income, it is essential that the terms, conditions and servicing of reverse mortgages be fair and transparent so that consumers can make informed decisions regarding their options. (16)
Reverse mortgages have a number of characteristics that would make them ripe for abuse: borrowers are elderly; borrowers have a hard time refinancing them; borrowers can negatively affect their spouses by entering into to them. Seems like a no brainer for the CFPB to pay close attention to this useful but risky product.