HUD raises costs on reverse mortgages

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it was raising the premiums for most reverse mortgages and lowering the maximum amount that can be borrowed in an effort to stem the tide of losses to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance fund.

FHA’s overseer, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said the reverse mortgage program has been a big net loser for the insurance fund over the years, and is perilously close to needing a bailout from taxpayers. Effective Oct. 2, it was restructuring the annual premiums and lowering the principal limit factor, which determines how much a person can borrow.

HUD officials said the change will result in a net increase in costs for most borrowers, and could potentially reduce the initial volume of reverse mortgages by 10 to 20 percent annually. The upfront premium will be increased to 2 percent. Currently, the upfront charge is either 0.5 percent or 2.5 percent, depending on how much is drawn in the first year. The annual premium will be reduced to 0.5 percent from 1.25 percent.

Also the maximum loan limits will be reduced.

Reverse mortgages, which are formally known as home equity conversion mortgages (HECMs) can be taken as a lump sum, line of credit or through monthly payments. HUD officials presented the theoretical case of a 62-year-old borrower, with a reverse mortgage at 5 percent. For each $100,000 in home equity, the borrower will now be allowed to borrow $41,000, which is down from $52,400.

Reverse mortgages, which represent a fraction of the overall FHA loan guarantees (there were fewer than 50,000 in fiscal 2016], have been a source of volatility for the insurance fund. Borrowers are projected to incur more losses in future years than they pay in premiums. HUD said the program has already resulted in a net cost of $11.7 billion to the FHA MMI fund since fiscal 2009. The economic value of the program at the end of the last fiscal year was estimated at negative $7.7 billion, the agency said. This number has bounced around, however. In fiscal 2015, by contrast, the HECM program was valued at a positive $7.4 billion.

A drag on the MMI fund
HUD officials say that the program is being propped up by the premium payments of younger borrowers of traditional forward mortgages. Reverse mortgages are a reason that HUD has not been able to lower the premiums on a traditional FHA loan. In a fact sheet distributed to reporters, HUD said that if it didn’t make the changes, it “would require an appropriation from Congress for FHA to endorse new reverse mortgages in FY 2018.”

The overall value of the insurance fund in fiscal 2016 was at at healthy $27.6 billion. The MMI’s capital ratio also increased to 2.32 percent, which is above the 2 percent minimum established by Congress. The fund has required only one bailout in its history, a $1.7 billion appropriation from the U.S. Treasury in fiscal 2013. This cash infusion was largely due to HECM losses, HUD said.

“Today, younger, lower-income homeowners with traditional FHA-insured ‘forward mortgages’ are routinely bailing out the HECM program through the mortgage insurance premiums they pay, placing a significant burden on the overall health of FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund,” the fact sheet said. “We can no longer tolerate putting American taxpayers and future generations of seniors at risk. Quite simply, the HECM program is losing money and can no longer remain viable in its present form.”

FHA insures almost all reverse mortgages, which are available to homeowners 62 and over. With a reverse mortgage, a homeowner can borrow against the value of a home. The loan doesn’t have to be repaid so long as the borrower remains in the home. A reverse mortgage carries fees, interest, and the borrower is required to pay property taxes and maintain the home.

The terms of a reverse mortgage depend on the amount of equity in the home, and the age of the borrower. Generally speaking, the younger the borrower, the less that can be borrowed and the higher the loan cost. The actual maximum loan limits are based on tables that factor in age and equity.

The reaction to HUD’s move was mixed.

The nation’s largest mortgage trade group, the Mortgage Bankers Association, praised the move as a way for the program to remain financially viable.

The National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) said the changes will increase the costs and reduce the benefits for most borrowers.

“We believe that there are alternative options for better managing the HECM program to reduce its overall costs and will continue to advocate for such beneficial changes to the program,” NRMLA President Peter Bell said. Bell did note that HUD’s action showed a commitment to the program and also to stabilizing the insurance fund and avoiding Treasury draws.

This story is excerpted from ScotsmanGuide.com.

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