Banks Start To Loosen Up In Underwriting

After a half-decade of tightening mortgage guidelines, banks are starting to “loosen up”.

FOMC senior loan officer survey 2011 Q4

After a half-decade of tightening mortgage guidelines, banks are starting to “loosen up”.

The Federal Reserve conducts a quarterly survey of its member banks and, last quarter, not a single responding bank reported having tightened its mortgage guidelines for prime borrowers.

A “prime borrower” is defined as one with a well-documented credit history, high credit scores, and a low debt-to-income ratio.

53 banks responded to the Fed’s survey and none said that mortgage guidelines “tightened considerably” or “tightened somewhat” between September and December 2011; 50 said that guidelines remained “basicaly unchanged”; 3 said that guidelines “eased somewhat”.

Mortgage applicants sometimes remark that the mortgage approval process can be challenging. Last quarter’s Fed survey hints that looser standards are coming. 

Not since before the recession have banks lowered mortgage approval standards like this and it bodes well for this year’s  housing market. Real estate agents report that 1 in 3 home sale contracts fail with “declined mortgage applications” as a leading cause.

Looser mortgage lending standards should mean more home loan approvals for buyers, and fewer contract cancellations. This can spur the housing market forward.

Make note, though. “Looser standards” should not be confused with “irresponsible standards”. It remains more difficult to meet bank standards as compared to 5 years. Today’s underwriters are more conservative with respect to household income, overall assets and credit scores. 

Even as compared to one year ago:

  • Minimum credit score requirements are higher
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger
  • Maximum allowable debt-to-income ratios are lower

For buyers and refinancing households gaining approval, though, the reward is the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates continue to fall, helping home affordability reach new highs.

If you’re in the market to buy a new home or refinance one, your timing is excellent.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 9, 2012

Mortgage markets improved last week, pushing mortgage rates lower for the second straight week.

Retail Sales 2009-2011Mortgage markets improved last week, pushing mortgage rates lower for the second straight week. Conforming fixed and adjustable-rate mortgage cut new, all-time lows, and FHA mortgage rates did the same.

In a holiday-shortened trading week, stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data and ongoing weakness within Europe drove investors into the U.S. mortgage-backed bond market. When demand for bonds is high, mortgage rates improve.

The Refi Boom continues.

Since beginning their descent last February, mortgage rates have shed 114 basis points en route to reaching 3.91%, the current, “average”, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate nationwide and a new all-time low, according to Freddie Mac and its mortgage market survey. If you’re among today’s home buyers or would-be refinancers, on a $200,000 mortgage, the 1.14% rate drop represents a monthly mortgage payment savings of $135 — $1,623 per year.

Larger loans save more, smaller loans save less.

This week, with little economic news set for release, mortgage rates are expected to take their cue from the 8 Federal Reserve members scheduled to speak in public, and from whatever news may bubble up from the Eurozone.

The Federal Reserve said it will communicate its vision for the U.S. economic more openly and more often so Wall Street will be watching the Fed members’ speeches this week, in search of clues about the Fed’s 2012 roadmap.

For example, there has been speculation that a new round of stimulus would be introduced at the Fed’s next meeting later this month. If, after listening to this week’s speeches, investors sense it will happen, mortgage rates may be susceptible to an increase.

We’ll also be watching the Retail Sales report this week, due Thursday. Retail Sales are a reflection on consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of the U.S. economy. If Retail Sales make gains, it may spark stock market gains at the expense of mortgage bonds.

This, too, would result in higher mortgage rates.

You can’t time the mortgage market, but with mortgage rates this low, it’s hard to go wrong. Talk with your loan officer to get a live rate quote.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 12, 2011

The Federal Open Market Committee meets this week. Mortgage rates could get volatile.

Federal Reserve meets this weekMortgage markets were mostly unchanged for the 6th consecutive week last week as Wall Street’s uncertainty regarding the future of U.S. and global economies remain.

Mortgage bonds made gains made through the early part of the week, which caused mortgage rates to drop Monday through Wednesday afternoon. Those gains were erased, however, as 23 of 27 Euro leaders reached agreement on fiscal coordination and budget planning, sparking optimism for the future of the Eurozone, in general.

Mortgage rates rose Thursday and Friday.

This week, the momentum may continue. The main story we’ll be watching is the Federal Open Market Committee’s Tuesday meeting — its 8th scheduled meeting of the year and its last until 2012. 

When the Fed meets, mortgage rates are often volatile.

At its meeting, the FOMC is expected to vote the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current range near zero percent. However, it won’t be the Fed’s vote on the Fed Funds Rate that changes markets. Wall Street is keyed in to two other elements, instead.

The first element is the verbiage of the FOMC’s press release to markets. Issued upon adjournment, the FOMC’s press release identifies strengths and weaknesses in the U.S. economy, and offers an outlook for the future plus potential threats. The “tone” of the press release can change how mortgage bonds trade.

If the Fed describes an economy in recovery with few threat to growth, mortgage rates are likely to rise post-FOMC. By contrast, if the Fed says the economy has slowed, mortgage rates should fall.

The second element on which Wall Street is focused is the likelihood of new, Fed-led economic stimulus. Should the Federal Reserve modify existing support programs, or introduce new ones, mortgage rates are sure to shift. Unfortunately, we can’t know in which direction — it will depend on the size of the program and its expected impact on the U.S. economy.

The Fed adjourns Tuesday at 2:15 PM ET.

Beyond the Fed, there is other rate-moving news, too, including Tuesday’s Retail Sales report, Thursday’s Producer Price Index, and Friday’s Consumer Price Index. Each has the capacity to change mortgage rates so if you’re floating a mortgage rate, it may be a good time to lock one in. 

Freddie Mac reports the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.99% with 0.7 discount points, plus closing costs.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 5, 2011

Mortgage markets made little change last week for the fifth time in as many weeks.

Non-farm payrolls Dec 2009 - Nov 2011Mortgage markets made little change last week for the fifth time in as many weeks.

As Wall Street watched both the Eurozone and the U.S. regain their respective footing, expectations for a new Fed-led stimulus increased, which prevented mortgage rates from rising.

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage rose just 2 basis points last week to 4.00% nationwide with an accompanying 0.7 discount points

1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

For every $100,000 borrowed at 4.00 percent, therefore, today’s mortgage applicant should expect to pay $700 in “points”. Mortgage rates for “zero-point loans” are higher than Freddie Mac’s published, average value.

This week, with few economic releases set for release, last week’s big stories should carry over into the current one — the biggest of which was a worldwide, coordinated central bank effort to increase system liquidity.

The European Central Bank, Bank of England and U.S. Federal Reserve were joined by the central banks of Japan, Canada and Switzerland in the effort. Stock markets rallied on the news.

Another of last week’s big stories was the sharp drop in the U.S. Unemployment Rate.

After hovering near nine percent since April, the Unemployment Rate broke out of range, dropping to to 8.6% in November. This is the lowest national Unemployment Rate since March 2009, a milestone achieved via the combination of new jobs created (+192,000 in November with revisions) plus a smaller U.S. workforce.

The U.S. economy has added 1.9 million jobs in the last 14 months.

Lastly, last week’s New Home Sales and Pending Home Sales Index releases support the growing belief that the U.S. housing market is in recovery. Both reports showed strong growth for October, corroborating what home builders have been saying — the housing market is improving and buyer ranks are growing.

Home supplies are lower in many U.S. markets.

This week, rate shoppers should be on alert. Market momentum changes quickly, and rates are currently anchored by the expectation of new Federal Reserve stimulus. The Fed meets December 13, 2011. As that date approaches, expectations could change, causing rates to rise.

Mortgage rates remain near all-time lows. It’s a good time to lock a rate with your lender.

Banks Resume Tightening Mortgage Guidelines

After a 2-year easing cycle, the nation’s biggest bank banks report that they’ve reversed course, and are raising the bar on mortgage approvals.

Mortgage guidelines get tougher

As part of its quarterly survey to member banks nationwide, the Federal Reserve asked senior loan officers whether last quarter’s “prime” residential mortgage guidelines have tightened, loosened, or remained as-is.

A “prime” borrower is defined as one with a well-documented, high-performance credit history; with low debt-to-income ratios; and who chooses to finance a home via a traditional fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage product.

After a 2-year easing cycle, the nation’s biggest bank banks report that they’ve reversed course, and are raising the bar on mortgage approvals.

For the period July-September 2010, 88% of responding loan officers admitted to tightening their prime guidelines, or leaving them “basically unchanged”.

If you’ve applied for a home loan of late, you’ve experienced this first-hand.

High delinquency rates and defaults since 2007 have caused the banks to rethink what they will lend, and to whom. As a result, today’s mortgage lenders scrutinize assets, incomes, and credit scores to make sure that nothing “slips by”.

For today’s home buyers and would-be refinancers, the mortgage approval process can be challenging as compared to how it looked just 18 months ago.

  • Minimum credit scores requirements are higher today
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger today
  • Debt-to-Income ratio requirements are more strict today

In other words, although mortgage rates are the lowest that they’ve been in history, fewer applicants can qualify. And, with more the housing market still in recovery, it’s likely that guidelines will tighten again in 2012.

Therefore, if you’re among the many people wondering if it’s the right time to buy a home or refinance, consider that, although mortgage rates may fall, approval standards may not.

The best rate in the world won’t matter if you’re not eligible to lock it.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 26, 2011

Mortgage markets improved last week as the Federal Reserve provided new market stimulus and the Eurozone continued to grapple with Greek’s sovereign debt issues.

Fed Funds Rate 2008-2011Mortgage markets improved last week as the Federal Reserve provided new market stimulus and the Eurozone continued to grapple with Greek’s sovereign debt issues.

Conforming mortgage rates fell last week overall, dropping for the second straight week.

For rate shoppers, the best day on which to lock a mortgage rate last week proved to be Thursday.

Fresh off the Federal Reserve’s Wednesday afternoon announcement that the group will launch a $400 billion program in support of longer-term bonds, mortgage rates fell. This occurred because mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds, and mortgage bonds are a beneficiary of the Fed’s new program.

Those gains were short-lived, however, because Friday morning, when the market opened, mortgage bonds were deteriorated, and that momentum carried through to the afternoon.

By the time the markets closed for the weekend, nearly all of the Fed-led gains had been drained from mortgage bonds.

Within a matter of 48 hours, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates had plunged — then surged — 0.250 percent.

The speed at which rates changed underscores how tough it can be to shop for a mortgage these days. If you were quick on Thursday, you locked your rate at its low. If you “slept on it”, though, or even took too much time to think, you not only missed the best mortgage rates in more than 50 years, you missed it by entire quarter-percent.

On a $200,000 mortgage, that’s an approximately monthly payment difference of $30 per month.

This week, mortgage rates should be similarly volatile. There is a lot of economic news set for release, and the Eurozone is rumored to have a plan to save Greece from debt default.  Depending on the strength of said data, and the passage of a Greek default plan, just how mortgage rates will change is unknown.

If you’re shopping for mortgage rates, the safe path is to lock what you can. Mortgage rates may fall this week, but what if they don’t? Rates have a lot farther to rise than to fall.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 19, 2011

Mortgage rates rose for the first time in three weeks last week, pushing conforming and FHA mortgage rates off their all-time, historical lows

FOMC meets September 20-21Mortgage bonds worsened last week as Eurozone default fears eased abroad, and expectations for a domestic stimulus increased. 

Mortgage rates rose for the first time in three weeks last week, pushing conforming and FHA mortgage rates off their all-time, historical lows. Rates were at their lowest Tuesday morning, then rose through Friday’s afternoon closing. 

Markets open this week with an eye toward the world’s central banks.

In the Eurozone, central bankers (continue to) discuss the debt burdens of Greece and whether a coordinated intervention is necessary. Without it, some economists believe that the nation-state will default on its sovereign debt, which would then create additional financial stress within other nations in the region.

Italy is included among those countries.

In the United States, central bankers are making equally-important choices. 

The Federal Open Market Committee will emerge from a 2-day meeting Wednesday and is expected to announce new stimulus for the U.S. economy.

Since 2009, the Federal Reserve has twice stimulated the economy via an open-market, bond buying initiative. The programs created demand for mortgage bonds which, in turn, lowered mortgage rates for U.S. homeowners. If the Fed chooses this path a third time, expect for mortgage rates to fall.

If the Fed’s sponsored stimulus is something else, however — or if the Fed choose to do nothing — mortgage rates may rise.

There is economic data due this week, including the Existing Home Sales and Housing Starts report, but it will be the world’s central bankers that sit in spotlights. 

Expect volatile mortgage rates this week. Wall Street can only guess what governments will do to stimulate their respective economies and can lead to wild swings in pricing. The “safe play” is to lock a rate while we’re still near all-time lows.

Once rates reverse higher, they’re expected to rise quickly.

After A Pause, Mortgage Guidelines Resume Tightening

Mortgage guidelines appear to be tightening with the nation’s largest banks.

Mortgage guidelines tighteningMortgage guidelines appear to be tightening with the nation’s largest banks.

In its quarterly survey to senior loan officers nationwide, the Federal Reserve uncovered that a small, but growing, portion of its member banks is making mortgage approvals more scarce for “prime” borrowers.

A prime borrower is described as one with a well-documented payment history, high credit scores, and a low monthly debt-to-income ratio.

Of the 53 responding “big banks”, 3 reported that mortgage guidelines “tightened somewhat” last quarter. This is a tick higher as compared to prior quarters in which only 2 banks did.

46 banks reported guidelines unchanged from Q1 2011.

When mortgage guidelines tighten, it adds new hurdles for would-be home buyers. Tighter lending standards means fewer approvals, and that can retard home sales across a region.

Just don’t confuse “tighter standards” with “oppressive standards”.

While it is more difficult to get approved for a purchase home loan in 2011 as compared to 2006, the same basic rules apply:

  • Show that you have a history of paying your bills on time
  • Show that your income is sufficient to cover your obligations
  • Show that you can make a downpayment

And the good news is that, once approved, you’ll benefit from some of lowest mortgage rates in history.

Last week, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was below 4.250% for buyers willing to pay points, and the average 5-year ARM was below 3.000%. The 15-year fixed rate loan was similarly low.

For as long as delinquency rates remain high, expect mortgage guidelines to continue to tighten through the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Therefore, if you’re a “fringe” borrower looking at a purchase in the fall or winter season, consider moving up your time frame. Changing guidelines may render you ineligible for a mortgage.

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (January 26, 2011 Edition)

Today, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 10-to-o to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within in its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent. Mortgage rates are reacting.

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 10-to-0 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that since December’s meeting, economic growth is ongoing, but at a pace deemed “insufficient” to make a material impact on the jobs market. In addition, the Fed said household spending “picked up” late last year, although it continues to be held back by joblessness, tight credit and lower housing wealth.

This is similar to the language used in the FOMC’s November and December 2010 statements.

Also like its last two statements, the Fed used this month’s press release to re-affirm its plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period”, and to keep its $600 billion bond market support package in place.

And finally, of particular interest to home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers, for the second straight month, the Federal Open Market Committee’s statement contained an entire paragraph detailing the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of managing inflation levels, while fostering maximum employment. 

The Fed acknowledges progress toward this goal, but calls that progress “disappointingly slow”. Inflation is too low right now, and joblessness too high.

Over time, the Fed expects both measurements to improve.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC has been positive since the statement’s release. Mortgage rates are unchanged, but poised to improve.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a 1-day event, March 15, 2011.

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