From the WSJ:
The Federal Housing Administration will announce more-stringent lending requirements and higher borrower fees on Wednesday to cushion against rising defaults and stave off the need for a taxpayer bailout of the agency.
The FHA, which has taken on a major role in the housing market during the economic downturn, doesn’t lend money to home buyers, but insures lenders against default on loans that meet FHA criteria. In exchange for that backing, borrowers who take out FHA-backed loans must pay an upfront insurance premium, currently set at 1.75% of the total loan amount. The premium can be rolled into the loan.
The FHA is set to raise that fee to 2.25%, the second increase in the past two years, according to people familiar with the matter. The value of the FHA’s reserves to cover losses has fallen to $3.6 billion, about 0.5% of the $685 billion in loans outstanding, down from 3% a year earlier. Congress requires the agency to maintain a 2% capital-reserve ratio. If the larger upfront fee had been in place last year, the FHA would have boosted its reserves by more than $1 billion.
The FHA, which backs as many as half of all new loans in certain housing markets, has come under fire for insuring loans with little or no money down as home prices have plunged over the past three years. With its reserves falling, the agency has been forced to walk a tightrope between protecting taxpayer dollars and helping to facilitate the housing recovery.
The FHA will keep minimum down payments at the current 3.5% level for most borrowers. But the agency will require riskier borrowers with credit scores below 580 to make a minimum 10% down payment. While the FHA doesn’t have a credit-score cutoff, most lenders require a minimum 620 score.
Some housing analysts have pushed for higher down payments on FHA-backed loans, and a bill in Congress would raise down payments to 5%, from the current 3.5%.
Instead, the FHA will reduce the amount of money that sellers can kick in for closing costs to 3% of the sale price, down from the current level of 6%. The higher cap led to abuses where sellers “heavily marked up the purchase price,” says Lou Barnes, a mortgage banker in Boulder, Colo.
From the NY Times:
The Federal Housing Administration, which is supporting the housing market by insuring thousands of new mortgages every day, is expected to announce on Wednesday that it is tightening standards.
Borrowers who get an F.H.A.-insured loan will soon have to pay a higher initial insurance premium. The new premium will be 2.25 percent of the value of the loan, up from 1.75 percent.
Starting this summer, sellers will not be able to offer as much help to buyers to pay their closing costs. The maximum amount of assistance will drop to 3 percent of the value of the property, from the current 6 percent.
For years, the F.H.A. operated largely out of the public view. But it has become a subject of controversy recently even as it has ballooned in size. Some of the agency’s critics want it to tamp down risk by insuring fewer loans; others think it should help the market by insuring even more.
As of December, the F.H.A. was insuring 5.8 million single-family residences that had a total loan balance of $750 billion. More than half a million of the loans were seriously delinquent and heading toward foreclosure.
Many of these troubled loans were made in 2007 and 2008 as the market was plunging.