USDA loans

government shutdown I’ve been glued to CNN in recent days, watching incredulously as those buffoons in Washington grind our government to a halt. I though for sure that a midnight deal would have been struck, but I woke up this morning with the dreaded news that the government has indeed shutdown. I’ve been trying to get a handle all morning on how this is going to affect the Massachusetts and national real estate market, and here’s what I have so far. (Updated 10/1/13 at 4:30pm below).

Tax Transcripts/SSN Verification Delays

Virtually all federally back mortgage lenders request copies of borrower’s tax transcripts through the IRS and social security numbers through the SSA. According to my friend Rick Moore, loan officer at Lendmark Loans in Framingham, and media reports, the shutdown will apparently either stop or hinder the federal agencies’ ability to issue those verifications, resulting in mortgage approval delays across the board. I know that lenders were furiously ordering tax transcripts and SSN verifications last week, in preparation for the shutdown. If your loan is in the middle of underwriting, speak to your loan officer now. You may be facing a delay in getting a clear loan commitment and a resulting delay in your closing date.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
The shutdown’s impact on FHA loans appears to be not as bad as originally thought. HUD’s Contingency Plan states that FHA will endorse new loans in the Single Family Mortgage Loan Program, but it will not make new commitments in the Multi-family Program during the shutdown. FHA will maintain operational activities including paying claims and collecting premiums. Management & Marketing (M&M) Contractors managing the REO portfolio can continue to operate. You can expect some delays with FHA processing.

VA Loan Guaranty Program
Lenders will continue to process and guaranty mortgages through the Loan Guaranty program in the event of a government shutdown. However, borrowers should expect some delays during the shutdown.

Flood Insurance
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirmed that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will not be impacted by a government shutdown, since NFIP is funded by premiums and not tax dollars. Changes to the flood insurance program scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1 will be implemented as scheduled.

USDA Loans
For USDA loan programs, essential personnel working during a shutdown do not include field office staff who typically issue conditional commitments, loan note guarantees, and modification approvals. Thus, lenders will not receive approvals during the shutdown. If the lender has already received a conditional commitment from the Rural Development office, then the lender may proceed to close those loans during the shutdown. A conditional commitment, which is good for 90 days, is given to a lender once a USDA Underwriter approves the loan. If a commitment was already issued, the funds were already set aside and the lender may close the loan at its leisure. If Rural Development has not issued a conditional commitment, the lender must wait until funding legislation is enacted before closing a loan.

It is important to note that the traditional definition of “rural” for qualifying communities for assistance will be continued in effect during the shutdown.  We expect that language to continue the current definition will be included in whatever funding measure is eventually enacted.

Government Sponsored Enterprises
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue operating normally, as will their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, since they are not reliant on appropriated funds.

The Making Home Affordable program, including HAMP and HAFA, will not be affected as the program is funded through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act which is mandatory spending not discretionary.

Updated (Oct. 1 at 4:30pm). Memo from national mortgage lender:

“There has been no progress today toward a resolution to the government shutdown. Fortunately, the initial impact of the shutdown on mortgage originations has been small. The biggest concerns are obtaining transcripts from the IRS and social security verifications from the SSA. Certain Government produced economic reports will not be available. The Construction spending report due out this morning was not issued. The Non-Farm Payrolls report due on Friday may be affected. The impact on the mortgage market of this lack of data is difficult to anticipate.

At this time, Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie say they will continue to operate as normal. VA says that they, too, will have no disruptions in services. FHA, however, expects delays due to reduced staffing. Origination companies, correspondent banks, and warehouse lenders may react differently as they access the risks associated with an extended shutdown.”

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A guest post by David Gaffin, Senior Mortgage Lender, from Greenpark Mortgage.

David Gaffin, Greenpark Mortgage

Since Nov. 3rd when the Federal Reserve Bank released details of QEII (Quantitative Easing II), we have seen a very rapid rise in mortgage rates. On a national basis, the Freddie Mac 30 year fixed rate has moved from 4.20% to 5.05% this week. The 10 year Treasury has risen above 3.70% and Inflation seems to be the word of this month.

Last year at this time the 10 year was at 3.73% and it hit 4.00% on April 5th. It then started a fairly rapid descent all spring and summer to its low of 2.38% on October 8th. There were several economic events that brought this about, but the question in every mortgage company’s and consumer’s mind is “Will history repeat itself this year”?

Wishful thinkers will say YES. Many think the stock market is overbought. The Mid-East and Egypt situation is still very unstable. Inflation remains low according to the FED. Unemployment is stubbornly high and the housing market is continues to be very sluggish.  Until these issues are resolved, rates cannot rise too far or consumer demand will fall and economic growth will not be sustained.

HOWEVER, there are a few wrinkles that have nothing to do with Macroeconomics that will be in play in the coming months and years.

Changes In Loan Officer Compensation

As part of the Dodd-Frank Bill, loan officers’ compensation is about to undergo a dramatic change. Loan officers will no longer be paid based on certain loan characteristics such as interest rate. The intention is to have consumers with like profiles receive the same interest rate when quoted from one loan officer to another within the same company. One the surface this makes sense. In practice, the policy is very unfriendly to the consumer, limits consumer choice, and is uncompetitive for the marketplace. Loan officers already have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to put them in the best loan for them, while compensation to the loan officer is not a major factor. This is a higher standard than the financial planning or brokerage environment which must merely come up with a suitable product, not the best product for their clients.

The anticipated effect of this change, coupled with the reduced volume of loan transactions due to rising rates, will further increase the profit pressures on lending institutions, thereby requiring them to make their loans more profitable. This may be done through reduction of expenses and overhead (read layoffs) or higher rates to the consumer, and will eventually lead to fewer choices to the consumer as companies go out of business. The large lending institutions will then be free to control the market even more so.

Fannie/Freddie (GSE) Reform

A bigger factor is the Fannie/Freddie GSE reform now being detailed by the Treasury. This plan, which may take affect over several years, will reduce/eliminate the government’s backing of the mortgage market, except perhaps through FHA, VA and USDA loans. When the government moves to a private secondary market, those investors are going to want a greater return on their investments and rates will almost certainly rise and may do so dramatically. Less than 10 years ago 7.25% was considered a great rate!

Current programs such as a 30 year fixed rate may vanish in favor of the adjustable rate mortgages which move with the interest rate market and would be more profitable for investors. Additionally, for those programs that are somewhat or fully guaranteed by the government, I would expect the fees associated with these programs to rise substantially.

The GSE reform options include reducing the Agency Jumbo Limit to $625,000, down from $729,000 in the highest cost areas. In Massachusetts those high cost areas are Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Islands off Cape Cod. The highest max loan amount in other counties is $523,750. Will this reduction of loan size have a big impact? I don’t think so. Current rates may be .250% to .500% higher with portfolio lenders that offer loans over these limits, but these jumbos have come way down in rate compared to the depths of the financial crisis. Most of the risk is relieved through very strict underwriting guidelines.

I have Portfolio lenders offering under 4% on ARM rates on loans to $1MM at 5 year interest only for the right borrower! While ARMs may not be the right product for everyone, they are for certain individuals and these folks are saving tremendous sums compared to where rates were just a couple of years ago.

A big concern for for future homeowners with GSE reform will be the minimum down payment requirements. There is talk that borrower’s may be required to put down 10 or 20% to qualify. Some major lenders have suggested 30%. Yeah, that’ll work…not. If that becomes the requirement you can kiss home ownership goodbye for the next generation or so, and rents will rise very rapidly.

I certainly recognize the need for GSE reform. Taxpayers have been getting killed by the losses from the mortgage giants, and the bleeding will not stop anytime soon. The plan as outlined by the Obama administration will gradually make changes to the GSEs over 5-7 years. But hopefully the market will understand what will be happening well in advance of the changes occuring.

Interest Rate Predictions For 2011 and Beyond

So what do I think? I think (unfortunately) rates will:

  • increase to 5.875%-6.125% for a 30 year fixed rate by the end of 2011;
  • increase to 6.50% by end of 2012; and
  • level out at closer to 7% by 2013.

By that time hopefully there will be a more clear path to GSE reform.

I want low rates. It’s good for my business, helps pay for my mortgage, and keeps the house heated.

All of this rate speculation, however, could be meaningless if Congress decides to finally act on the deficit. If they do, then rates could stay low for a very long period. One thing is for sure, my 3 kids are going to see a very different economic and housing landscape when they are ready to buy a home.

To see the  the full report on Reforming America’s Housing Finance Market, click here .

I welcome comments and your point of view.  I also welcome subscribers to my blog, The Massachusetts Mortgage Blog. Also check out my new Facebook page, Mortgagemania. I can be reached via email by clicking here.


I’m pleased to welcome back guest blogger, David M. Gaffin, a licensed Loan Officer with Greenpark Mortgage Corp. of Needham MA. You can visit him at Greenpark Mortgage or through his LinkedIn profile.

Dave is here to talk about USDA loans which are, surprisingly, available in such *rural* areas of Massachusetts such as Hopkinton, Sudbury, Ashland, South Shore, Cape Cod and many other communities.

Due to the mortgage meltdown that has plagued our county for the past couple of years, lending guidelines have tightened significantly and obtaining a home loan has been more akin to giving birth. In fact, it seems that many lenders want your first born in order to complete the transaction. Low down payment and no down payment loans vanished from the landscape, unless you really knew who to speak with. FHA became the buzzword and savior to those with less than a 10% down payment in a declining real estate market.

Now that FHA is more mainstream (requiring only a 3.5% down payment and having very generous credit and debt tolerances), many think this is the only alternative to the traditional Fannie/Freddie loan.

However, there are some little known loan programs available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that could benefit borrowers in many parts of Massachusetts and beyond. Known as the Guaranteed Rural Development Housing Section 502 Loans, these programs are designed for low to moderate income individuals or households purchasing a property in a “rural” community. The definition of rural is surprising, as you will see from the list of eligible communities in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts communities eligible for the rural loan include: Ashland, Hopkinton, Sherborn, Sudbury, Maynard, Littleton, Harvard and most of central and western Mass. Most of the South Shore and virtually all of Cape Cod are considered “rural” for this program as well. To see an interactive map of eligible Massachusetts communities follow this link.

There are some exceptional features to these programs, as well as some needed conservative features. Program Features include:

  • No Down-payment
  • No Monthly Mortgage Insurance
  • Unlimited Seller Contributions
  • The ability to repair certain aspects of the property and build in those costs into the total loan.

To be eligible to purchase a home with a Rural Housing loan, borrowers must meet income eligibility requirements.  Here is the link for Massachusetts.  For example, in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy MSA (which includes most of Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk Counties) for Moderate Income a 1-4 person household’s income cannot exceed $95,100. For a 5+ household income cannot exceed $125,550.

Like FHA, the USDA programs requires an upfront fee of 2% that will guarantee the loan for the lender. FHA will allow the borrower to finance the upfront mortgage insurance premium (MIP) (currently 1.75% of the base loan, but scheduled to rise to 2.25% in April). In addition FHA will be reducing the allowable seller contributions from 6% to 3%. USDA will allow the upfront fee to be financed only if the appraised value of the home is greater than the purchase price.

Let’s look at the differences between FHA and USDA loans side by side:

Appraised Value $200,000 $200,000
Purchase Price $175,000 $175,000
Down Payment 3.5% FHA $6,125 $0
Upfront Fee 2.25% FHA 2% USDA $3,800 $3,500
Monthly Mortgage Insurance $77 $0
Allowable Seller Contributions $6,000 $25,000
*Assumes $200 monthly taxes and $50 monthly homeowners insurance.  Interest rate of 5.50%, $400 monthly consumer debt

As you can see, with the upcoming FHA changes, the USDA loan requires less out of pocket, a lower guaranty fee and greater flexibility in managing the closing costs associated with the transaction.

The USDA loan is more conservative in qualifying than FHA, but that is probably a good thing. FHA, with its looser guidelines, is in trouble and may need the dreaded taxpayer bailout. FHA’s overall percentage of loan activity has increased from roughly 3% of closed loans to about 40%. With no minimum credit score and debt to income limits of 55%, the fact that folks are defaulting on these loans and FHA has tightened its requirements is not surprising.

David Gaffin, Greenpark Mortgage

USDA qualifies borrowers with more traditional debt ratios of 29% for housing and 41% for overall indebtedness. This is good for the borrower, who will not bite off more than they can chew, and for the taxpayer as the default rate on these loans is less than FHA. However, you will need to earn a higher income to qualify for the same house with USDA than FHA.

So, what do you do if you want more information about these loans?  Start by visiting the USDA program page.

You may also contact me with any questions you may have at [email protected].

Greenpark Mortgage Corp. is licensed to originate USDA loans in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida.

Wow, what a great post Dave. I never knew about this program and its availability in some of the most toniest “rural” towns in Massachusetts.