Rising Mortgage Rates

graphic by Chris Butterworth

NBC News quoted me in Mortgage Rates Just Hit 5 Percent: What Does That Mean for Homebuyers and Owners? It opens,

Mortgage rates crossed the 5 percent line on Wednesday for the first time since 2011, marking a new era for a generation of Americans raised on super-low borrowing rates and highlighting the downside of a burgeoning national economy.

Strengthening economic growth, near-record low unemployment, inflation rates and policy moves by the Federal Reserve have all contributed to move the needle beyond the psychological 5 percent barrier.”It has only been in this decade that they have fallen below 5 percent, rates not seen since the 1960s,” said David Reiss, an expert in real estate law and professor at the Brooklyn Law School.

From 1971 through early October 2008, the average rate for a 30-year mortgage was 8.1 percent. The day before Halloween 1981, the number spiked at 18.44 percent, according to data from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage rebundler.

Psychology aside, there’s a real money impact as well. Every increase of 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage point, means another $6 per month per $100,000 of mortgage, said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com.

Over the last year, the mortgage on a typically priced home of $295,000 has increased by $115 to $120 a month.

Growing monthly payments are just one of the factors contributing to tougher times for many buyers. House prices also have been on the increase, and potential homeowners must contend with the loss of the so-called SALT deductions in last year’s tax cut legislation, which complicate things in high-tax states.

Rising Rates and The Mortgage Market

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook for March focuses on how rising interest rates have been impacting the mortgage market. The chartbook makes a series of excellent points about current trends, although homeowners and homebuyers should keep in mind that rates remain near historic lows:

As mortgage rates have increased, there has been no shortage of articles explaining the effect of rising rates on the mortgage market. Mortgage rates began their present sustained increase immediately after the last presidential election in November 2016, 20 months ago. Enough data points have become available during thisperiod that we can now measure the effects of rising rates. Below we outline a few.

Refinances: The most immediate impact of rising rates is on refinance volumes, which fall as rates rise. For mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the refinance share of total originations declined from 63 percent in Nov 2016 to 46 percent today (page 11). For FHA, VA and USDA-insured mortgages, the refinance share dropped from 44 percent to 35 percent. In terms of volume, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed refinance volume totaled $390 billion in 2017, down from $550 billion in 2016. For Ginnie Mae, refi volume dropped from $197 billion in 2016 to $136 billion in 2017. Looking ahead, most estimates for 2018 point to a continued reduction in the refi share and origination volumes (page 15).

Originator profitability: Of course, less demand for mortgages isn’t good for originator profitability because lenders need to compete harder to attract borrowers. They do this often by reducing profit margins as rates rise (conversely, when rates are falling and everyone is rushing to refinance, lenders tend to respond by increasing their profit margins). Indeed, since Nov 2016, originator profitability has declined from $2.6 per $100 of loans originated to $1.93 today (page 16). Post crisis originator profitability reached as high as $5 per $100 loan in late 2012, when rates were at their lowest point.

Cash-out share: Another consequence of falling refinance volumes is the rising share of cash-out refinances. The share of cash-out refinances varies partly because borrowers’ motivations change with interest rates. When rates are low, the primary goal of refinancing is to reduce the monthly payment. Cash-out share tends to be low during such periods. But when rates are high, borrowers have no incentive to refinance for rate reasons. Those who still refinance tend to be driven more by their desire to cash-out (although this doesn’t mean that the volume is also high). As such, cash-out share of refinances increased to 63 percent in Q4 2017 according to Freddie Mac Quarterly Refinance Statistics. The last time cash-out share was this high was in 2008.

Industry consolidation: A longer-term impact of rising rates is industry consolidation: not every lender can afford to cut profitability. Larger, diversified originators are more able to accept lower margins because they can make up for it through other lines of business or simply accept lower profitability for some time. Smaller lenders may not have such flexibility and may find it necessary to merge with another entity. Industry consolidation due to higher rates is not easy to quantify as firms can merge or get acquired for various reasons. At the same time, one can’t ignore New Residential Investment’s recent acquisition of Shellpoint Partners and Ocwen’s purchase of PHH. (5)

The Miraculous Continuous Workout Mortgage

Professor Robert Shiller

Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller et al. have posted Continuous Workout Mortgages: Efficient Pricing and Systemic Implications to SSRN. The paper opens,

The ad hoc measures taken to resolve the subprime crisis involved expending financial resources to bail out banks without addressing the wave of foreclosures. These short-term amendments negate parts of mortgage contracts and question the disciplining mechanism of finance. Moreover, the increase in volatility of house prices in recent years exacerbated the crisis. In contrast to ad hoc approaches, we propose a mortgage contract, the Continuous Workout Mortgage (CWM), which is robust to downturns. We demonstrate how CWMs can be offered to homeowners as an ex ante solution to non-anticipated real estate price declines.

The Continuous Workout Mortgage (CWM, Shiller (2008b)) is a two-in-one product: a fixed rate home loan coupled with negative equity insurance. More importantly its payments are linked to home prices and adjusted downward when necessary to prevent negative equity. CWMs eliminate the expensive workout of defaulting on a plain vanilla mortgage. This subsequently reduces the risk exposure of financial institutions and thus the government to bailouts. CWMs share the price risk of a home with the lender and thus provide automatic adjustments for changes in home prices. This feature eliminates the rational incentive to exercise the costly option to default which is embedded in the loan contract. Despite sharing the underlying risk, the lender continues to receive an uninterrupted stream of monthly payments. Moreover, this can occur without multiple and costly negotiations. (1, references omitted)

If it is not obvious, this is a radical idea.  It was not even contemplated before the financial crisis. That being said, it is pretty brilliant financial innovation, one that should not just be discussed by academics. The paper provides a lot more detail about the proposal for those who are interested. And if you want to avoid taxpayer bailouts of the housing market in the future, you should be interested.

Storm-Induced Delinquencies

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has released its November 2017 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. The Introduction looks out how this summer’s big storms have pushed up delinquency rates:

The Mortgage Bankers Association recently released the results of its National Delinquency Survey (NDS) for Q3 2017. The non-seasonally adjusted NDS data for Q3 2017 showed a significant increase in delinquency rates across all past due categories (30-59 days, 60-89 days and 90 days and over). The increase was largest–and most noteworthy–for the 30-59 day category, spiking by 57 basis points from 2.27 percent in Q2 2017 to 2.84 percent in Q3. The D60 rate increased by a much smaller 12 basis points, from 0.74 to 0.86 percent, while the D90 rate increased the least, by 9 basis points, from 1.20 to 1.29 percent. The rise in delinquencies was broad based, affecting FHA, VA and Conventional channels with FHA D30 seeing the largest increase (4.57 to 5.92 percent).
While early payment delinquency rates were expected to increase in the wake of the storms Harvey, Irma and Maria for the affected states, the magnitude of increase in the D30 rate is quite remarkable. The reported Q3 2017 D30 rate is the highest in nearly four years. The 57 basis points increase in a single quarter was also the largest in recent history. The last time D30 rate increased by more than 50 bps in one quarter was in Q4 2000, when it rose by 61 bps. In comparison, both D60 and D90 rates, while slightly higher in Q3, are well within their recent range.
MBA’s state level NDS data confirms that storms were a major driver behind the increase. For Florida, the non-seasonally adjusted D30 rate more than doubled from 2.12 to 4.64 percent, the highest ever D30 rate recorded. The D30 rate for Puerto Rico also nearly doubled from 4.98 to 9.12 percent, while Texas D30 rate increased from 5.05 to 7.38 percent. The increase in FL and PR was larger than in TX because of the statewide impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In contrast Harvey’s impact was limited to Houston and surrounding areas. The increase in the D90 rate is not storm-related as not enough time has elapsed since the storms made landfall (Harvey made landfall in Houston on August 25, Irma made landfall in Florida on September 9, and Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20).
Besides storms, there are other factors that are driving the D30 rate higher. As the figure shows, there is a very strong seasonal pattern associated with 30 day delinquencies. The D30 rate typically witnesses an uptick in the second half of each calendar year after declining in the first half because of tax refunds. Another reason for the Q3 increase is that the last day of September was a Saturday, which means that payments received on this day were not processed until Monday Oct 2nd and were identified as past due (mortgage payments are due on the 1st of the month; D30 rate is based on mortgages unpaid as of 30th of the month).
There is one more thing worth pointing out. Many borrowers affected by recent storms have received forbearance plans that allow them to defer mortgage payments for a few months. Under the NDS methodology, these borrowers are considered delinquent. Many will likely resume making monthly payments once they regain their financial footing or after forbearance ends. Others unable to afford payments could get a loan modification. Therefore, although it will take several quarters before the eventual impact of storms on delinquency rates becomes clear, many borrowers who are currently 30-days delinquent might not enter D60 or D90 status.
While the Chartbook does not look at the longer term impact of climate change on mortgage markets, it is clear that policy makers need to account for it in terms of mortgage servicing, flood insurance, land use and building code regulation.

Easy Money From Fannie Mae

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted me in Fannie Mae Making It Easier to Spend Half Your Income on Debt. It reads in part,

Fannie Mae is making it easier for some borrowers to spend up to half of their monthly pretax income on mortgage and other debt payments. But just because they can doesn’t mean they should.

“Generally, it’s a pretty poor idea,” said Holly Gillian Kindel, an adviser with Mosaic Financial Partners. “It flies in the face of common financial wisdom and best practices.”

Fannie is a government agency that can buy or insure mortgages that meet its underwriting criteria. Effective July 29, its automated underwriting software will approve loans with debt-to-income ratios as high as 50 percent without “additional compensating factors.” The current limit is 45 percent.

Fannie has been approving borrowers with ratios between 45 and 50 percent if they had compensating factors, such as a down payment of least 20 percent and at least 12 months worth of “reserves” in bank and investment accounts. Its updated software will not require those compensating factors.

Fannie made the decision after analyzing many years of payment history on loans between 45 and 50 percent. It said the change will increase the percentage of loans it approves, but it would not say by how much.

That doesn’t mean every Fannie-backed loan can go up 50 percent. Borrowers still must have the right combination of loan-to-value ratio, credit history, reserves and other factors. In a statement, Fannie said the change is “consistent with our commitment to sustainable homeownership and with the safe and sound operation of our business.”

Before the mortgage meltdown, Fannie was approving loans with even higher debt ratios. But 50 percent of pretax income is still a lot to spend on housing and other debt.

The U.S. Census Bureau says households that spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing are “cost-burdened” and those that spend 50 percent or more are “severely cost burdened.”

The Dodd-Frank Act, designed to prevent another financial crisis, authorized the creation of a “qualified mortgage.” These mortgages can’t have certain risky features, such as interest-only payments, terms longer than 30 years or debt-to-income ratios higher than 43 percent. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said a 43 percent limit would “protect consumers” and “generally safeguard affordability.”

However, loans that are eligible for purchase by Fannie Mae and other government agencies are deemed qualified mortgages, even if they allow ratios higher than 43 percent. Freddie Mac, Fannie’s smaller sibling, has been backing loans with ratios up to 50 percent without compensating factors since 2011. The Federal Housing Administration approves loans with ratios up to 57 percent, said Ed Pinto of the American Enterprise Institute Center on Housing Risk.

Since 2014, lenders that make qualified mortgages can’t be sued if they go bad, so most lenders have essentially stopped making non-qualified mortgages.

Lenders are reluctant to make jumbo loans with ratios higher than 43 percent because they would not get the legal protection afforded qualified mortgages. Jumbos are loans that are too big to be purchased by Fannie and Freddie. Their limit in most parts of the Bay Area is $636,150 for one-unit homes.

Fannie’s move comes at a time when consumer debt is soaring. Credit card debt surpassed $1 trillion in December for the first time since the recession and now stands behind auto loans ($1.1 trillion) and student loans ($1.4 trillion), according to the Federal Reserve.

That’s making it harder for people to get or refinance a mortgage. In April, Fannie announced three small steps it was taking to make it easier for people with education loans to get a mortgage.

Some consumer groups are happy to see Fannie raising its debt limit to 50 percent. “I think there are enough other standards built into the Fannie Mae underwriting system where this is not going to lead to predatory loans,” said Geoff Walsh, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, said, “There are households that can afford these loans, including moderate-income households.” When they are carefully underwritten and fully documented “they can perform at that level.” He pointed out that a lot of tenants are managing to pay at least 50 percent of income on rent.

A new study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University noted that 10 percent of homeowners and 25.5 percent of renters are spending at least 50 percent of their income on housing.

When Fannie calculates debt-to-income ratios, it starts with the monthly payment on the new loan (including principal, interest, property tax, homeowners association dues, homeowners insurance and private mortgage insurance). Then it adds the monthly payment on credit cards (minimum payment due), auto, student and other loans and alimony.

It divides this total debt by total monthly income. It will consider a wide range of income that is stable and verifiable including wages, bonuses, commissions, pensions, investments, alimony, disability, unemployment and public assistance.

Fannie figures a creditworthy borrower with $10,000 in monthly income could spend up to $5,000 on mortgage and debt payments. Not everyone agrees.

“If you have a debt ratio that high, the last thing you should be doing is buying a house. You are stretching yourself way too thin,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst with Bankrate.com.

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“If this is data-driven as Fannie says, I guess it’s OK,” said David Reiss, who teaches real estate finance at Brooklyn Law School. “People can make decisions themselves. We have these rules for the median person. A lot of immigrant families have no problem spending 60 or 70 percent (of income) on housing. They have cousins living there, they rent out a room.”

Reiss added that homeownership rates are low and expanding them “seems reasonable.” But making credit looser “will probably drive up housing prices.”

The article condensed my comments, but they do reflect the fact that the credit box is too tight and that there is room to loosen it up a bit. The Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules promote the 43% debt-to-income ratio because they provide good guidance for “traditional” nuclear American families.  But there are American households where multigenerational living is the norm, as is the case with many families of recent immigrants. These households may have income streams which are not reflected in the mortgage application.

Fannie Mae Student Loan Mortgage Swap

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.

Understanding The Ability To Repay Rule

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

The Spring 2017 edition of the Consumer Financial Bureau’s Supervisory Highlights contains “Observations and approach to compliance with the Ability to Repay (ATR) rule requirements. The ability to repay rule is intended to keep lenders from making and borrowers from taking on unsustainable mortgages, mortgages with payments that borrowers cannot reliably make.  By way of background,

Prior to the mortgage crisis, some creditors offered consumers mortgages without considering the consumer’s ability to repay the loan, at times engaging in the loose underwriting practice of failing to verify the consumer’s debts or income. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) amended the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) to provide that no creditor may make a residential mortgage loan unless the creditor makes a reasonable and good faith determination based on verified and documented information that, at the time the loan is consummated, the consumer has a reasonable ability to repay the loan according to its terms, as well as all applicable taxes, insurance (including mortgage guarantee insurance), and assessments. The Dodd-Frank Act also amended TILA by creating a presumption of compliance with these ability-to-repay (ATR) requirements for creditors originating a specific category of loans called “qualified mortgage” (QM) loans. (3-4, footnotes omitted)

Fundamentally, the Bureau seeks to determine “whether a creditor’s ATR determination is reasonable and in good faith by reviewing relevant lending policies and procedures and a sample of loan files and assessing the facts and circumstances of each extension of credit in the sample.” (4)

The ability to repay analysis does not focus solely on income, it also looks at assets that are available to repay the mortgage:

a creditor may base its determination of ability to repay on current or reasonably expected income from employment or other sources, assets other than the dwelling (and any attached real property) that secures the covered transaction, or both. The income and/or assets relied upon must be verified. In situations where a creditor makes an ATR determination that relies on assets and not income, CFPB examiners would evaluate whether the creditor reasonably and in good faith determined that the consumer’s verified assets suffice to establish the consumer’s ability to repay the loan according to its terms, in light of the creditor’s consideration of other required ATR factors, including: the consumer’s mortgage payment(s) on the covered transaction, monthly payments on any simultaneous loan that the creditor knows or has reason to know will be made, monthly mortgage-related obligations, other monthly debt obligations, alimony and child support, monthly DTI ratio or residual income, and credit history. In considering these factors, a creditor relying on assets and not income could, for example, assume income is zero and properly determine that no income is necessary to make a reasonable determination of the consumer’s ability to repay the loan in light of the consumer’s verified assets. (6-7)

That being said, the Bureau reiterates that “a down payment cannot be treated as an asset for purposes of considering the consumer’s income or assets under the ATR rule.” (7)

The ability to repay rule protects lenders and borrowers from themselves. While some argue that this is paternalistic, we do not need to go much farther back than the early 2000s to find an era where so-called “equity-based” lending pushed many people on fixed incomes into default and foreclosure.