The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Mortgage Loan Forbearance

A record number of homeowners entered into a forbearance plan for their mortgage over the past year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Forbearance — an option that allows borrowers to pause payments on their mortgage for a limited amount of time due to an unforeseen hardship — served as a veritable lifeline for many people who found themselves unexpectedly out of work and unable to pay their mortgage as COVID restrictions tightened.

As more time passes, however, it is apparent that issues stemming from forbearance are starting to surface. While this is not an immediate cause for panic if your own mortgage has been in forbearance, being aware of issues that others are facing will help to keep you prepared for any trouble that arises.

For that reason, I had a Zoom meeting this week with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about complications that forbearance may bring about.

When the CARES Act was initially passed back in March 2020, it included a provision for mortgage forbearance, making it relatively easy for millions of borrowers with government backed mortgages to enter into such a program. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest servicers of government backed loans, subsequently issued an extensive list of guidelines for lenders in response to Covid-specific forbearance.

One of the most crucial guidelines involved credit score reporting. An account in for-bearance must continue to be reported as current, provided it was current prior to the forbearance plan. Due to the vast number of people who entered into forbearance in such a short time period, it is especially important to monitor your credit score — but that is not necessarily the end of the story.

Some borrowers who were previously in forbearance that are now applying for new loans are discovering that their issue does not lie with the credit reporting bureaus themselves but with the underwriting on their new loan. Underwriters, who are primarily responsible for qualifying a borrower for a loan from a specific lender, have a significant amount of discretion when it comes to approving an application. The consequence of this is that borrowers who would otherwise be well qualified to purchase — with high credit scores, steady employment, and a significant down payment — may find themselves struggling to obtain the loan they are seeking if they previously had a loan in forbearance. Although Fannie’s and Freddie’s guidelines include specifics for underwriting, the sometimes unfortunate reality is that these guidelines can be interpreted differently by different underwriters.

If you had a loan in forbearance sometime this past year and are now considering a new purchase or refinance, you should not immediately despair. Maintaining meticulous records that indicate when you initially applied for forbearance and being able to produce all communications with your current lender to the new lender are essential. If you have entered the repayment phase of the loan it is critical that the repayment agreement is followed exactly as written.

Because forbearance was originally intended to help those that had a loss of income or employment due to COVID, underwriters are scrutinizing employment history and the likelihood of it continuing for all borrowers. Borrowers that did not have any change in employment status during the pandemic but who entered into a forbearance agreement should be prepared to outline for the new lender their motivations for entering forbearance and to additionally explain how they will be able to avoid forbearance in the future. This is a bit ironic, in that lenders strongly encouraged many to utilize the options afforded them under the CARES Act. If you have questions about how forbearance may impact your future lending, I recommend, as always, that you consult Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network. You can reach her anytime on her cell phone, 303-990-2992.

Higher Loan Limits and Lower Rates Improve Affordability for Homebuyers

By JIM SMITH, Realtor

Both the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been in the headlines in the past couple weeks with their respective announcements that they will be raising mortgage loan limits for 2021. I exchanged emails with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about loan limits and what their implications are for potential purchasers. Here’s what I learned from her.

Jaxzann Riggs

Although loan limits have been around for many years for both conventional loans (loans that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s loan standards) and FHA loans, (loans insured against default by the Federal government) the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 has largely shaped how we know them today. The 2008 act established a base loan limit of $417,000 for conventional loans and, due to the declining price trend in the real estate market at the time, also included a mandate that this baseline limit would not increase until prices rose to previous levels. In 2016, FHFA increased loan limits for the first time in ten years, and they have increased every year since. HERA also mandated that FHA set loan limits at 115% of area median house prices, with a floor and ceiling on both limits.

2021 will see conventional loan limits for single-unit properties increase from $510,400 to $548,250 as a baseline. High-cost areas (which always included places like Aspen and Boulder, but now also includes the metro area) have a maximum loan limit that is a multiple of the area’s median home value, up to 150% of the baseline. Denver, Jefferson, Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, and Douglas counties will all be seeing an increase from $575,000 to $596,850. Boulder county increases to $654,350. The increase in these limits means that more borrowers will be able to qualify for a conventional loan versus having to obtain a high-balance or jumbo loan, which typically come with higher interest rates.

It’s important to remember that purchase price does not necessarily correlate with loan limits. If a borrower plans, for example, to purchase a $750,000 property but puts a significant amount of money down, thus bringing their loan amount under the conforming limit, they can still qualify for a conventional loan.

The FHA has also increased loan limits for 2021, with a national conforming limit of $548,250. In the majority of the Denver metro area the loan limit has increased to $596,850, up from $575,000 in 2020. The FHA’s loan limit increases are tied closely to the FHFA’s conventional loan limit increases.

Although loan limits are most frequently mentioned in terms of single-family homes or one-unit properties, both conventional and FHA loans also impose limits on duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. These increase at the same time and at the same frequency as single-unit loan limits. In the case of the FHA, which also insures Home Equity Conversion Mortgages —  also known as HECMs or Reverse mortgages — there will be a 2021 limit increase to $822,375. Unlike traditional loan limits, this increase applies across the board, regardless of what market the home is located in.

2021 is sure to be a year of changes, and mortgage loan limits are no exception. The increase in limits for both FHA and conventional loans matched with historically low rates and 3-3.5% down payment options just might be the ticket to purchasing your dream home.

Regardless of what loan type you are seeking, I recommend giving Jaxzann Riggs with The Mortgage Network a call today at (303) 990-2992.

‘Conforming’ Loan Limits Raised

Until recently, the conventional loan limit was $417,000. Anything above that was considered a “jumbo” loan, which had stricter credit requirements and higher interest rates.  But things have changed.

Last week, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored entities that purchase the bulk of mortgage loans from lenders, raised that limit to $484,350 for much of the country.  In some regions with higher property values however, including metro Denver, the limit is now $561,200. This is good news for borrowers, as conventional loans allow a smaller down payment percentage versus that of Jumbo loans – as little as 3%.

Contact your mortgage broker to see if it makes sense for you to buy (or sell, for that matter) before mortgage rates rise further. If you don’t have a mortgage broker call us. We can put you in touch with several professionals we know and trust