Lower costs are coming for homebuyers seeking a Federal Housing Administration-insured (FHA) mortgage.
FHA announced that it’s cutting annual premiums for mortgage insurance from 0.85 percent to 0.60 percent, a move the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) says breathes new life into the program. With FHA loans, buyers pay mortgage insurance to protect FHA’s funding in exchange for down payments as low as 3 percent.
“FHA mortgage products exist to serve an important mission: providing homeownership opportunities to creditworthy borrowers who are overlooked by conventional lenders,” says NAR President William E. Brown. “The high cost of mortgage insurance has unfortunately put those opportunities out of reach for many young, first-time- and lower-income borrowers. Now, we have a real opportunity to get back on track.”
Following the Great Recession, FHA increased its monthly mortgage insurance premium from 55 basis points to 90 basis points; then, in April 2013, it increased them again due to post-recession concerns over credit risk and the need to strengthen FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF). At the time, however, NAR research found that the overall 80 basis point increase nixed 1.45 million to 1.65 million renters out of the market.
Since then, the MMIF has shown continued good health, including achieving a much-watched capital reserve ratio over 2 percent for two years in a row. In light of that strength, NAR applauded FHA’s move in January 2015 to reduce premiums to 85 basis points, and since then has advocated for a further reduction.
FHA mortgages are important for low- and moderate-income buyers in particular because a lower downpayment is required than with many conventional mortgage options. Buyers with lower credit scores may find more favorable treatment with an FHA loan than a conventional product as well.
“This is a question of simple math,” Brown says. “Every time we cut the cost of mortgage insurance, it means more borrowers meet the debt-to-income ratio required to purchase a home. It follows that dropping mortgage insurance premiums today will mean a whole lot more responsible borrowers are suddenly eligible to purchase a home through FHA. That puts more money in the fund to protect taxpayers – and it puts more families in homes so they can live out the American dream.”
While Brown thanked the FHA and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the premium cut, he suggested one other change to “better achieve FHA’s mission” of serving creditworthy families: Eliminate FHA’s “life of loan” mortgage insurance requirement, which forces borrowers to maintain mortgage insurance on an FHA-insured property regardless of their equity position. Borrowers with traditional mortgage insurance can typically extinguish their mortgage insurance once they reach 20 percent equity in the property.
“HUD and FHA leaders are to be commended for recognizing the need we have before us,” Brown said. “Our work continues, but we’re encouraged by today’s announcement.”