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.

The CFPB Makes Its Case

CFPB Director Cordray

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released its Semi-Annual Report. Given that the Bureau is under attack by Republicans in Congress and in the Trump Administration, one can read this as a defense (a strong defense, I might editorialize) for the work that the Bureau has done on behalf of consumers. The core of the Bureau’s argument is that it levels the playing field for consumers when they deal with financial services companies:

The Bureau has continued to expand its efforts to serve and protect consumers in the financial marketplace. The Bureau seeks to serve as a resource on the macro level, by writing clear rules of the road and enforcing consumer financial protection laws in ways that improve the consumer financial marketplace, and on the micro level, by helping individual consumers get responses to their complaints about issues with financial products and services. While the various divisions of the Bureau play different roles in carrying out the Bureau’s mission, they all work together to protect and educate consumers, help level the playing field for participants, and fulfill the Bureau’s statutory obligations and mission under the Dodd-Frank Act. In all of its work, the Bureau strives to act in ways that are fair, reasonable, and transparent.

*     *     *

When Federal consumer financial protection law is violated, the Bureau’s Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division are committed to holding the responsible parties accountable. In the six months covered by this report, our supervisory actions resulted in financial institutions providing approximately $6.2 million in redress to over 16,549 consumers. During that timeframe, we also have announced enforcement actions that resulted in orders for approximately $200 million in total relief for consumers who fell victim to various violations of consumer financial protection laws, along with over $43 million in civil money penalties. We brought numerous enforcement actions for various violations of the Dodd-Frank Act and other laws, including actions against Mastercard and UniRush for breakdowns that left tens of thousands of economically vulnerable RushCard users unable to access their own money to pay for basic necessities; two separate actions against CitiFinancial and CitiMortgage for keeping consumers in the dark about options to avoid foreclosure; and against three reverse mortgage companies for deceptive advertisements, including claiming that consumers who obtained reverse mortgages could not lose their homes. We also brought two separate actions against credit reporting agencies Equifax and TransUnion for deceiving consumers about the usefulness and actual cost of credit scores they sold to consumers, and for luring consumers into costly recurring payments for credit products; and an action against creditor reporting agency Experian for deceiving consumers about the usefulness of credit scores it sold to consumers. The Bureau also continued to develop and refine its nationwide supervisory program for depository and nondepository financial institutions, through which those institutions are examined for compliance with Federal consumer financial protection law. (10-11, footnotes omitted)

Anyone who was around during the late 1990s and early 2000s would know that consumers are much better off with the Bureau than without it. This report provides some of the reasons why that is the case.

Skinny Budget Sucker Punch

The Waco Tribune-Herald quote me in Cutting Habitat Could Hurt Local Economy. It reads,

Last summer, through a series of tragic events, one of our longtime church members faced the frightening possibility of homelessness. She had lived with her father for more than 50 years and, following his death, she learned of a crippling reverse mortgage on their home. She couldn’t pay off the mortgage and so she had to find a new place to live.

Our congregation sprang into action. More than 50 people contributed to the purchase of a mobile home, but it required extensive remodeling, so several church members worked over 300 hours to make it livable. One handyman devoted about three months to the project full-time.

On Sept. 21, we presented her with the keys to her new home during worship. It was one of the most uplifting moments I’ve had in 23 years of ministry. This congregation-wide labor of love brought us all closer to one another and closer to God. It was a demonstration of the love of Jesus Christ and it was transformative.

Home ownership changes lives and changes communities. I serve as a board member and volunteer for Waco Habitat for Humanity. Since 1986, Waco Habitat has built and sold 168 homes and completed another 414 home repairs and preservation projects. Over the past three decades, the economic impact of all these services exceeds $6.9 million in greater Waco. In a community that generally tracks about 15 percent higher than the state average for poverty rates and 20 percent lower than the state average for home ownership rates, this impact cannot be overstated. It’s transformative as well.

The “skinny budget” unveiled by the Trump administration on March 16 proposes reducing federal spending on housing programs and assistance by 13 percent. Among other cuts, it seeks to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant Program; Home Investment Partnerships Program; Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program; CDFI fund, which administers the New Market Tax Credit program at Treasury; and entire Corporation for National and Community Service, which implements the AmeriCorps program.

One reason I work with Habitat is because it offers a hand up, not a hand out. If these cuts are approved by Congress, they will devastate Habitat’s ability to offer that hand up. Other local housing agencies and organizations will see a similarly crippling effect.

Fortunately, this is just the first pass of the federal budget, and many members of Congress — including many Republicans — have already voiced opposition to it. For instance, Rep. Hal Rogers said: “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.”

David Reiss, director of academic programs at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, echoes this. “Terminating these programs out of the blue is like a sucker punch in the gut of countless communities across the country.”

Can Seniors Get Mortgages? Should They?

photo by Bill Branson

TheStreet.com quoted me in Can Seniors Get Home Mortgages? Should They? It reads, in part,

Senior citizens can and are getting approved for mortgages, and we are not talking reverse mortgages or home equity lines of credit, but – in many cases – 30-year fixed loans. Even when the borrower might be 85 and the actuarial probability of making it to the end of the loan term is nil.

The federal government is blunt: age cannot be used to discriminate against applicants for home loans. Capacity to repay is a factor – for seniors and every other borrower – but a lender cannot turn down an applicant just because he is 65…or 75…or 85. And loans are getting made.

Which raises the other question: is it wise for the borrower? Bankers can take care of themselves, but seniors need to ask: should I be borrowing a lot of money on a house at my age?

In Vancouver, Wash., Dick Kuiper – who said he is “approaching 70,” as is his wife – “just purchased a new home last year and got a 30 year mortgage at just under 3%, and we both believe this was a brilliant move.”

“We first made sure we made a large enough down payment so we would always have positive equity in the home,” Kuiper elaborates. “With that calculated, we looked at the alternatives, either pay in cash – which would naturally come out of our savings – or take out a mortgage. We looked at what we could get by putting the same amount of money into a retirement annuity with a downside guarantee. That annuity pays a minimum of 5% for life and currently is paying in the 8% to 9% range. Do the math. We’d be crazy to pay cash for the house.”

Kuiper’s right. For his wife and him, it made no sense to pay cash for a house – not when mortgage rates are breathtakingly low.

Case closed? Not at all.

Ash Toumayants, founder of financial advisors Strong Tower Associates in State College, Pa., said that in his experience few seniors ever want another mortgage in retirement after they settled up on their first one. “Most are excited when they pay it off and don’t want another one,” Toumayants says.

Another fact: to get a mortgage, a senior has to demonstrate to a lender a capacity to repay. Age cannot be used against a senior, but lack of cashflow can. And many seniors just have sizable trouble qualifying for a mortgage. “The trick is whether they have enough income to qualify or not,” said Casey Fleming, a mortgage expert in Northern California who said that he right now is working on a loan for an 85-year-old client.

Brian Koss, executive vice president of Mortgage Network, an independent mortgage lender in the eastern U.S., elaborated: “For seniors thinking about getting a mortgage, it’s all about income flow. If you have a consistent source of income, and a mortgage payment that fits that income, it makes sense. Something else to consider: if you have income, you have taxes and a need for a tax deduction. With a mortgage, you can write off the interest.”

*     *     *

But then there is an ugly issue to confront. Is the senior arriving at this purchase decision on his own steam? Brooklyn Law professor David Reiss explained why that needs to be asked. “Seniors should discuss big financial moves with someone whose judgment they trust (and who does not stand to benefit from the decision). Elder financial abuse is rampant.”

Reiss added: “What has changed in their financial profile that is leading them to do this? Is someone – a relative, a new friend – egging them on or leading them through the process?” Reiss is right in the caution, and that’s a concern that has to be satisfied.

Retiring with a Mortgage

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MassMutual quoted me in Is it OK to Retire with a Mortgage? It opens,

The conventional wisdom is that you should pay off your mortgage before you retire. Yet, about 4.4 million retired homeowners still had a mortgage in 2011, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). More than half of them spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing and related expenses, a percentage that may be uncomfortably high even for working homeowners.

Not having to put such a large percentage — or any percentage — of your retirement income toward a monthly mortgage payment in retirement will certainly make it easier to meet your other expenses. But is it really so bad to have a mortgage payment during retirement?

“The logic behind the rule of thumb is that your income will go down in retirement, so it would be helpful if your monthly expenses went down significantly as well,” said David Reiss, a law professor who specializes in real estate and consumer financial services at Brooklyn Law School in New York. But if your income from Social Security and a pension (if you have one), and to some extent your assets (the nest egg you plan to draw on for additional retirement income), will be sufficient to make your monthly mortgage payment and meet your other expenses in retirement, there is no real reason that you have to get rid of the mortgage, he said. The key is that keeping your mortgage during retirement should be part of a plan and not a response to a crisis.

More Homeowners are Retiring with a Mortgage

More homeowners retired with a mortgage in 2011 than a decade earlier, according to the CFPB’s analysis of U.S. census data.1 They’re less likely to have their homes paid off because they’re purchasing later in life, making smaller down payments and tapping equity for other purchases.1 In fact, 36.6 percent of homeowners ages 65 to 74 and 21.2 percent homeowners age 75 and older (some of whom may not be retired yet) had mortgages or home equity loans in 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. The median balance was $79,000 for the 65 to 74 age group, and $58,000 for the 75 and up age group.

The CFPB points out two problems with carrying a mortgage during retirement: less accumulated net wealth and the possibility of foreclosure if retirees can’t make their mortgage payments. Foreclosure is harder to recover from when you’re older because you may not be able to return to the workforce to compensate for the loss and because you’re more likely to have health problems or cognitive impairments, the CFPB said.1

Having less accumulated net wealth is a problem, especially if most of your wealth consists of your home equity, which is less liquid than stocks, bonds and cash. Foreclosure is a serious problem if it happens to you, but the odds are slim: even in the aftermath of the housing crisis, in 2011, foreclosure rates were only 2.55 percent for homeowners 65 to 74 and 3.19 percent for homeowners 75 and older.

Some retirement-age homeowners who haven’t paid off their mortgages undoubtedly would rather be debt free but couldn’t afford to retire their home loan sooner. But others might be putting the money that could have gone toward extra mortgage payments to a better use. (footnotes omitted)

Reverse Mortgage Lowdown

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Athene quoted me in Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for You? It opens,

Experts weigh the pros and cons of this loan—to help you make a smart choice.

For homeowners age 62 and older who have a significant amount of equity (appraised value minus mortgage balance) in their homes, a reverse mortgage can seem like an attractive option. Simply put, a reverse mortgage allows you to convert a portion of the equity in your home into cash, without having to sell your home. But this type of loan isn’t right for everyone. Here’s help determining if a reverse mortgage is the smart choice for you.

Pros: A reverse mortgage is a loan against your home equity, which you can take as a lump sum payment, a monthly payment, or a line of credit. The loan is paid off when you no longer live in the home. “It allows a homeowner to access home equity in the present in order to supplement current income,” says David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School who teaches residential real estate courses.

Consider this loan if you would like to stay in your current home and

  • Have lived in your home for a long time and plan to use the equity to supplement Social Security and other investment income streams
  • Have other assets and are not using this as a loan of last resort
  • Might not be able to access the cash you need in emergencies

Cons: These loans aren’t cheap, says Scott Withiam, housing counseling supervisor at American Consumer Credit Counseling, Inc. Plus, the industry that sells them has been under scrutiny from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for deceptive practices. “The reverse mortgage industry has had more than its share of shady operators who are drawn to all that equity that seniors have amassed,” says Reiss. “Homeowners considering a reverse mortgage should make sure to review the terms of the transaction with someone whose financial judgment he or she trusts.”