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FHA Modernization

Brian Montgomery, Assistant Secretary for Housing, has testified before the House Financial Services Committee that modernizing the Federal Housing Administration is of paramount importance for America's "troubled subprime borrowers." The FHA has been insuring mortgage loans for low and moderate income families since the depths of the Great Depression, but these loans became unpopular with the advent of the subprime market. However, subprime mortgage loans have proven to be extremely risky for borrowers with bad credit or low income, a problem which has resulted in a recent surge of foreclosures. Home foreclosures not only force borrowers out of their place of residence, but also cost the lender an average of $40,000 and can wreck havoc on real estate investors, lenders, and communities at large. By approving of the modernization reforms, Montgomery claimed that the "FHA could potentially assist tens of thousands more borrowers who need an exit strategy from their subprime mortgages." Some of the proposed changes include:

Proposed FHA Modernization Changes

  • Removal of the mandatory 3% down payment, which many low income borrowers cannot afford. The FHA plans to switch to a more flexible down payment option.
  • Increasing the limits of FHA mortgage loans. Traditionally, FHA had standard loan limits which were often lower than those of subprime mortgage loans. In areas of the country where housing costs are relatively high, many individuals looking to purchase a home could not, as the old FHA loan limits were below the median house prices. With these changes, people in states like New York and California will be able to obtain an FHA loan that will have a loan limit high enough for homes in those areas.
  • Creating a new risk-based structure. Currently, all borrowers who apply for an FHA loan are subject to a standard premium. In the new structure, the premium would be based on the credit profile of the borrower and would shift up or down based on that borrower's level of risk to the lender.
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All of these modifications are part of the Expanding American Homeownership Act which passed the House last year by an overwhelming majority. With this new structure, the FHA would not only be able to reach thousands more borrowers, but it would present "a safer, more affordable financing option than many subprime loans," according to Montgomery. By modernizing its practices and requirements, the Federal Housing Administration will be able to continue increasing homeownership among low-income Americans, minorities, the homeless and the elderly.

Though these sweeping changes to FHA policy will give the most aid to first-time home buyers and families without previous mortgages, the FHA will also continue to offer refinancing options for those who are still working on another loan. As previously noted, many low and moderate income families have found themselves unable to make monthly mortgage payments, mainly due to risky and financially unsound loans. As more and more individuals wish to refinance to a safer, more stable loan, the FHA is there to assist. The number of conventional to FHA refinances has almost doubled in the last year, and as long as borrowers meet a few simple requirements, they will qualify for a more reliable FHA refinance.

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