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Low Rates, High Obstacles to Refinancing Mortgage

As interest rates have slid over the past couple of years, Gabriel Bousbib of Englewood, N.J., refinanced his 15-year mortgage not once, but twice-cutting his interest rate in two steps from about 4.6 percent to 3.375 percent.

He’s one of a number of homeowners who refinanced just a year or two ago, but decided it was worth considering again as mortgage rates hit record lows-now averaging around 4 percent for a 30-year loan.

refinancing your home“When you’re quoting rates in the high 3s, people are saying, ‘It’s worth it to me,'” says Steve Hoogerhyde, executive vice president at Clifton Savings Bank.

“My monthly savings are going down a few hundred dollars; it adds up over 15 years,” said Bousbib, a financial services executive. “And if rates keep going down, I would refinance again.”

Refinance applications have more than doubled over the past year, though they’re not as high as in previous refinancing booms because it’s harder to qualify in the current atmosphere of tighter credit standards, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. With the volume of home purchases still low, refinancing accounts for about 80 percent of recent activity.

Although the old guideline used to be that you should consider refinancing only when rates drop at least 2 percentage points, the new wisdom is that it can be worthwhile even with smaller drops.

“For most people, if you can shave three-quarters of a percentage point off your interest rate, it’s worth looking at,” says Greg McBride, an analyst with Bankrate.com, a personal finance website.

For homeowners who plan to stick with the same loan term and want to lower their monthly payments, the math is straightforward. Find out how much it will cost to refinance, figure out how much you’ll save each month and then how long it will take to break even. If you can save enough to offset the refinancing costs within a year or two-or even longer if you expect to stay in the house for a number of years-it’s worth considering.

Though low-interest rates are eye-poppingly low, the refinancing climate has changed from the easy-money days of five years ago. Generally, to get the best rates, homeowners need a 740 FICO credit score, well above the median score of 711. They also usually need at least 10 to 20 percent equity in the property. A recent expansion in the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program should allow refinancing this year by more so-called underwater borrowers – those who owe more than their homes are worth.

Lenders are also demanding much more documentation – including pay stubs, tax returns and bank statements – than they did five years ago, at the insistence of government regulators as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy mortgages from lenders.

“You have to have a taste for doing paperwork,” says Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates, a Pompton Plains, N.J., company that tracks mortgage data. “You’re going to be asked for lots of documents. No one loves the process to begin with, and in today’s environment, it’s even less palatable.”

These stricter requirements are simply a return to the kind of underwriting standards that prevailed before lending standards slackened a few years back, leading to the housing bust and foreclosure crisis, McBride says.

“We’re in this mess because money was too easy to get,” he says.

Refinancing costs roughly $3,000, according to several mortgage companies. That covers costs like an appraisal, title insurance, application fees, attorney’s fees and recording the mortgage. Some lenders also offer low- or no-cost options, which they can do by either adding the closing costs to the mortgage amount or charging a slightly higher interest rate.

Bousbib, for example, took a no-cost refinance with Equity Now, a New York-based lender that also lends in New Jersey. “It didn’t cost me a penny,” he says. Equity Now says it charges a slightly higher interest rate on no-cost loans.

Lowering the monthly payment is not the only reason people are refinancing. Many are shifting from a 30-year loan to shorter terms, said Matthew Gratalo of Real Estate Mortgage Network in River Edge, N.J. He has worked with clients in their 40s who hate the thought of carrying a mortgage into retirement.

“They’re looking ahead and saying, ‘I don’t want to pay a mortgage forever; can I get this done in 15 years? Can I be done with this and have it paid off?’ ” Gratalo says.

“Certainly shortening the term makes a lot of sense because you can cut years of mortgage payments,” says Carl Nielsen of Mortgage Master Inc.’s Wayne office.

Nielsen, for example, recently talked to a customer with a $375,000, 30-year mortgage at 4.5 percent. The customer is considering a 20-year mortgage at 3.75 percent. His monthly payments would go from $1,900 to about $2,223, but by shortening the life of the loan, he’ll save more than $150,000 in interest payments.

“That’s kind of a no-brainer,” says Nielsen.

Sources: Greg McBride, Bankrate.com ©2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.), Distributed by RISMedia and MCT Information Services.

New Modification Law & Avoiding Foreclosure

A new law that will be implemented on November 15, 2011 is yet another slap in the face to the American Homeowner regarding modifications.

Making Home AffordableThe basic eligibility requirements for an enhanced HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) loan are as follows:

  • Existing mortgage loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. To check whether a borrower has a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov’s page on “Look up your loan“.
  • Existing mortgage loan must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before June 1, 2009.
  • Existing mortgage loan cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously (except for Fannie Mae loans refinanced between March and May 2009).
  • Current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be more than 80%.
  • Existing mortgage loan must be current, with no late payments in the past six months, and no more than one late payment in the past 12 months.

More information is available from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on the agency’s website: www.fhfa.gov.

The reason why HARP is not good, is the same basic reason that HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) and the traditional modification is as follows:

It is strictly voluntary with all lenders; even though they say they participate.  Of course, there are factors with the seller or borrower that have an affect on being put in a modification plan that eliminate many from it.  This problem could be avoided if the banks would just lower the loan amount to the fair market value and a greater percent of people would have been able to keep their homes.  Even a future shared equity with the lender would have been acceptable if the property was sold for a profit in the future. Few banks are offering this program as well.

In conclusion, it is obviously important that we talk ASAP to go over your situation. I have several associates waiting to help: accountants, attorneys, and credit repair company.  If you’re moving on, getting back on track with your credit, staying in your home with an extended time without payments due in order to recoup finances, and most importantly receiving thousands from your bank at closing are all opportunities within your grasp!  I am just a phone call away!

John | (619) 890-3648

Namaste!