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FHA projected to exhaust reserves, could need bailout

November 16, 2012|By Jim Puzzanghera | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Hermes Maldonado in the living room of his new 2,000-square-foot home in Moreno Valley in August. He lost a home to foreclosure and declared bankruptcy three years ago, but in July he closed escrow on this new home. The mortgage is backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
Hermes Maldonado in the living room of his new 2,000-square-foot home in… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Housing Administration, which has played a crucial role in stabilizing the housing market, said it ended September with $16.3 billion in projected losses -- a possible prelude to a taxpayer bailout.

The precarious financial situation could force the FHA, which has been self-funded through mortgage insurance premiums since it was created during the Great Depression, to tap the U.S. Treasury to stay afloat.

The agency said a determination on whether it needs a bailout won't come until next year.

The FHA is required to maintain enough cash reserves to cover losses on the mortgages it insures. But in its annual actuarial report to Congress, the agency said a slower-than-anticipated housing market recovery has led its reserves to fall $16.3 billion below anticipated losses.

The FHA's cash reserves aren't supposed to drop below 2% of projected losses. They ended the 2012 fiscal year at -1.44%, down from the seriously low level of 0.24% at the end of 2011.

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The FHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees it, said the report "does not mean FHA has insufficient cash to pay insurance claims, a current operating deficit or will need to immediately draw funds from the Treasury."

A request for taxpayer money would come in President Obama's 2014 budget, set to be released in February, with a final determination of whether the FHA needs the funds coming next September. The FHA has permanent and indefinite authority to draw money from the Treasury, although it has never had to use that power.

The FHA does not lend money, but guarantees loans made by banks in exchange for insurance premiums. The agency's role has expanded since the crash of the subprime mortgage market, and it now insures about $1.1 trillion in loans, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

But the expanded role, including backing mortgages with as little as 3.5% down payment and for some people who have undergone recent foreclosures, has taken a toll on its finances. The agency boosted premiums and took other steps in 2009 to shore up its capital reserves.

"While the loans made during this administration remain the strongest in the agency's history, we take the findings of the independent actuary very seriously," said acting FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. "We will continue to take aggressive steps to protect FHA's financial health while ensuring that FHA continues to perform its historic role of providing access to homeownership for underserved communities and supporting the housing market during tough economic times."

[For the record, 5:13 a.m. Nov. 16: A previous version of this post referred to the FHA as the Federal Housing Agency. It is the Federal Housing Administration.]

[For the record, 5:20 p.m. Nov. 16: An earlier version of this post said the FHA's cash reserves aren't supposed to drop below 2% of projected losses. Actually, its net worth must not drop below 2% of the outstanding balances of the loans it guarantees.]


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