Time - Will Congress Pass "Special" FHA Premiums for First-Time Home Buyers?

News Article

By:  Karen Bass
Date: June 5, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

By Karen Lawson

June 11, the FHA will its raise mortgage insurance premiums for the second time this year.

In April, the FHA raised upfront mortgage insurance premiums to 1.75% of the amount borrowed, due at closing; and raised annual mortgage insurance premiums to as high as 1.25% per year. Next week, the FHA flags loan sizes in excess of $625,500 for another 0.25% per year.

What was once considered an "affordability product" is suddenly quite expensive -- especially for first-time home buyers.

This is one reason why Representative Karen Bass, D-California has introduced a bill (H.R. 5884), which is sponsored by Representative Robert J. Dold, R-Illinois and Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Illinois, and which is meant to help make FHA mortgages more affordable for first-time home buyers.

The bill is listed in Open Congress as :

H.R.5884 - To establish a 1-year pilot program to reduce up-front premiums on FHA mortgage insurance for first-time homebuyers who complete a homeownership counseling program and thereby help to reduce default rates on residential mortgages.

To qualify, first-time buyers would only have to complete a home ownership counseling program. The reward would be lower FHA mortgage insurance rates.

FHA Mortgage : 3.5% Downpayment Allowed

The FHA has gained market share this decade, in part, because it offers one of the few, true low-downpayment mortgage programs. The FHA only requires a 3.5% downpayment at the time of closing, so long as the amount borrowed does not exceed local loan limits.

It's an advantage that the FHA has over comparable loan programs from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac which are typically 5% down, at minimum, and often 10% or more. One reason that the FHA can afford to take "risks" on low downpayments is because it's a self-funded organization. FHA-backed borrowers pay mortgage insurance to the FHA, and the FHA uses those premiums to stay in business.

Unfortunately, as the number of FHA loans in default has climbed, so have FHA mortgage insurance rates. Today's rates can be 3 times as high as what they were in 2008. Back then, a homeowner in Loudoun County, Virginia may have paid 0.5% annually to the FHA for mortgage insurance -- $500 per $100,000 borrowed.

Beginning next week, that same homeowner's annual MIP could be as high at 1.50%.

Priming The FHA Pump For Housing

H.R. 5884 is not the first FHA-related bill to come through Congress. There's also talk of a HARP 3 program, and the FHA is believed to play a big role in its rollout. And, because the FHA can recapitalize itself via mortgage insurance, it's likely that the FHA's name will come up time and again as housing gets back on its feet.

For first-time buyers, though, the FHA may offer a chance a mortgage "on the cheap". As everyone else's mortgage insurance rates go up, for first-time buyers, FHA mortgage insurance rates could go down.

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