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Fannie Mae to shorten waiting periods for some troubled borrowers to get new home loans

April 25, 2010|By Kenneth R. Harney, Reporting from Washington

Here's some good news for people who have had to give the deed on their house back to the bank because of financial problems, or who have done a short sale to avoid foreclosure: You may not have to wait the typical four or five years to requalify for financing to buy another home.

Instead, it could be as little as two years. In a bulletin to lenders April 14, mortgage giant Fannie Mae said it was relaxing its previous rules that prevented loan applicants who had participated in short sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosure from obtaining a new mortgage for extended periods of time. The new rules are scheduled to take effect July 1.

Homeowners who've done short sales — such as under the Obama administration's new Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program — will also be able to qualify for a mortgage in as little as two years. Though Fannie Mae officials declined to discuss the reasoning behind the changes, the bulletin said the company hoped to encourage troubled borrowers to work out solutions that avoid the heavy costs of foreclosure.

Fannie Mae's new standards come with some noteworthy fine print, however. To qualify for a new loan in the minimum two years, most borrowers will need to come up with down payments of at least 20%. If they can only scrape together 10% for a down payment, the mandatory wait will revert back to the former four-year minimum. And if their down payments are less than 10%, the wait could be even longer.

On the other hand, if borrowers can demonstrate that their mortgage problems were directly attributable to "extenuating circumstances" — such as loss of employment, medical expenses or divorce — they may be able to qualify for new loans with minimum 10% down payments in just two years.

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae's rival in the conventional secondary mortgage market, has slightly different policies on mandatory waiting periods after short sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosure. For borrowers who cannot demonstrate that extenuating circumstances caused their earlier financial problems, Freddie Mac will not approve new mortgages in less than four years. For people who lost their houses to foreclosure because of their own financial mismanagement, Freddie's mandatory waiting period remains at five years.

When there are documented extenuating circumstances, the wait period at Freddie Mac drops to two years after short sales or deeds-in-lieu, and to three years after foreclosure.

Housing and consumer counseling advocates welcomed Fannie Mae's relaxation of rules that had penalized borrowers who lost their houses after layoffs, illness and other unforeseen catastrophic financial events.

"This is a positive move," said Marietta Rodriguez, director of homeownership and lending for NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit network created by Congress to assist with homeowner financial counseling and community development.

"We all know that there are many people who through no fault of their own have to sell" — but were blocked from repurchasing a house for four years or longer, even though they'd rebuilt their credit, had qualifying incomes and were fully capable of handling a mortgage responsibly.

The main potential complication in Fannie Mae's new approach, Rodriguez said, is in its credit rehabilitation requirements. To qualify for a new mortgage, Fannie expects borrowers to reestablish their credit sufficiently to get passing grades from the company's automated underwriting system, which considers credit bureau data among other factors.

But, according to Fannie's bulletin to lenders, it will not consider applicants with "nontraditional" credit or "thin files," where there is not enough history on file with the national credit bureaus to generate a risk score.

Rodriguez worries that many homeowners who've lost their houses during the recent periods of high unemployment and stricter underwriting requirements by banks won't have sufficiently traditional credit histories — home equity lines, revolving credit card accounts, personal loans and the like — to pass Fannie's test. After the tough years of the recession, their main credit data may instead be their rent payment histories, telephone and utility bill payments — none of which show up in the national credit bureaus' files.

Bottom line here: Fannie Mae's revised standards may well provide an early second chance for homeownership for thousands of borrowers who assumed they'd need to wait much longer than two years. But for those who don't have traditional credit profiles and sufficient down payments, that second chance is likely to be deferred.

kenharney@earthlink.net

Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group.

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