Mortgage Crisis Tips

By: Jeff Hammerberg

A year ago most Americans had never encountered the word 'subprime', but today it is a notorious household word. And in too many households, it is uttered with contempt, despair, frustration, or some combination of those stressful emotions. The fact is that all of us - even those who have good credit and no mortgage whatsoever - have been somewhat affected by the so-called subprime mortgage crisis. What was originally explained as an isolated problem limited to an obscure portion of the overall mortgage market has now become a far-reaching global financial problem.

While the mess did start within the subprime industry - which accounts for only a tiny percentage of American home mortgages - it has now become everyone's problem, either directly or indirectly. By the end of the third quarter of 2007 it had become widely acknowledged and conspicuously apparent that the subprime lending catastrophe had spilled over into a wide range of sectors beyond the high-risk lending arena. Experts have even predicted that the entire USA economy could plunge into a severe recession, thanks to the current mortgage and housing crisis. What this means for the average homeowner or buyer of real estate is that the market has changed dramatically.

Here are some insights into the current mortgage situation, and how it may impact your ability to take out a new mortgage or refinance an existing one:

The Proposed Rate Freeze

Much of the trouble with loans and interest rates involves adjustable rate mortgages with so-called 'teaser' rates that start off at super-low, highly attractive rates. Homeowners pay relatively small amounts for the first few years, but then the rates readjust. Because prevailing rates have climbed dramatically, the readjustments often mean that monthly payments spike and can even double. Borrowers find themselves unable to make the new payments so they default.

Approximately 2 million of these ARM loans will reset higher within the next 18-24 months, so government officials have called on lenders to allow a temporary rate freeze or moratorium on resets. They hope this will give homeowners time to get back on their feet. Investors who backed these loans may disagree, so the proposal might get stalled. Even if it does go through, only homeowners who have keep up with their payments will qualify for the freeze. So it pays to keep up with your mortgage - even if it means financial sacrifices elsewhere.

Refinancing and Home Equity Loans

Lenders including Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have been lowering the maximum amount that borrowers can finance in some particular locations of the country where home prices are falling especially fast. Your chances of qualifying for a refinance may be diminished if you live in an especially foreclosure-prone area, even if your own home has maintained its value.

Lenders are also taking a harder look at appraisals, credit reports, and income. Applying for a refinance or a home equity loan during the mortgage crisis will be more challenging, so it is important to bolster your credit, provide excellent documentation, and be realistic about pricing and market value in terms of equity or sales prices of listed homes.

The Status of Jumbo Loans

Buyers who need jumbo loans - those unconventional mortgages exceeding $417,000 - will find that they are also in short supply, just like high-risk subprimes. The reason is that both subprimes and jumbos depend heavily upon private investment for their source of capital, and many private investors are sitting on the sidelines of the current tumultuous market. So if you plan to buy an expensive home and expect to borrow with a jumbo, you can expect to pay a hefty premium. Rates of jumbos have jumped considerably, and some mortgage brokers cannot even find jumbos for their clients, except at prohibitive prices.

If you are shopping for a jumbo at this time, one strategy is to first shop long and hard for an excellent and well-connected mortgage broker who charges reasonable fees. Less experienced brokers may not have the resources to locate a jumbo, or they may only be able to arrange them with those lenders who charge top dollar. For buyers who are close to the price of a conventional loan, it may be better to use two loans and piggyback them to come up with the funds. A conventional loan for just under $417,000 can pay for most of the purchase, and then you can take out a smaller loan - that you'll pay higher interest on but can hopefully pay off or refinance soon to a better rate - for the remaining balance.

To successfully navigate today's market is not impossible, so don't despair. You just need to employ a fresh perspective, updated information, and reliable resources - including experienced and trustworthy lenders who can creatively assist with borrowing hurdles, options, and decisions.

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