Home Loans

Loans for a Niche Market

The New York Times By LISA PREVOST

If interest-only loans were issued too freely before the foreclosure crisis, their availability now is restricted to a privileged few.

A staple of the jumbo market, interest-only loans continue to be used by affluent borrowers to help them manage irregular cash flow, reap a tax benefit, or free up cash for investment elsewhere.

In particular, people in the financial services industry who derive most of their compensation from yearly bonuses commonly rely on interest-only loans to keep their mortgage payments manageable the rest of the year. “Then they take some of that bonus and pay down their mortgage each year,” said David Adamo, the chief executive of Luxury Mortgage in Stamford, Conn. “And their monthly payment then also goes down.”

Thus, interest-only loans have evolved into a financial tool, and no longer a means to affordability.

Freddie Mac stopped backing the loans in 2010 after suffering big losses; as a result, fewer lenders offer them. Those that do have strict qualifying standards. Lenders generally require that the borrower have at least 30 percent equity in a property, and a minimum FICO score of 720. Determination of ability to pay back the loan is based on the fully amortized payment, not the interest-only payment.

Additionally, “a lot of lenders will want to see assets to cover as many as 24 months’ worth of principal, taxes and insurance payments,” said Richard Pisnoy, a principal of Silver Fin Capital, a brokerage in Great Neck, N.Y.

Interest-only loans are primarily adjustable-rate products with an initial fixed period when only interest is due. Available in 5-, 7- or 10-year terms, they “are generally done for 10 years so there’s no payment shock in the near term,” said Tom Wind, the executive vice president for residential and consumer lending at EverBank, a national lender based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Interest rates are usually an eighth- to a half-percentage point higher than on fully amortized jumbo loans. After the fixed term is up, the mortgage re-amortizes, and both principal and interest are due.

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NJ State Leads Nation in Down-Payment Size

BUYERS in New Jersey have the highest down-payment rate in the country, putting down an average 13.71 percent of the purchase price, according to a new report from LendingTree. That surpasses percentages in cities like Washington, and states like New York, Hawaii and California, though only by tenths of a point. In New York, the average down payment works out to 13.47 percent. The national average is 12.24 percent, for the year ending in November.

Of course, very few borrowers pay the average percentage, which is computed by figuring out the average down payment on conventional loans made by banks and government-insured Federal Housing Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs loans, which have down payment minimums of 3.5 percent.

Countrywide, about a quarter of all mortgage loans are government-backed, according to lending specialists.

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A Tax Test on Canceled Mortgage Debt

By Kenneth R. Harney

With hundreds of thousands of homeowners having negotiated loan modifications or short sales or been foreclosed upon during the past year, the Internal Revenue Service has issued fresh guidance on how to handle canceled mortgage debt in the upcoming tax season. It’s a huge issue, widely misunderstood by consumers, and involves potentially billions of dollars of tax liability.

When most debts are canceled by a creditor, such as unpaid balances on student loans or credit cards, the forgiven amounts are treated as ordinary, taxable income by the Internal Revenue Code. But under a special exemption adopted by Congress covering distressed home mortgages, many owners can escape the ultimate double-whammy: Getting kicked while you’re down, hit with extra taxes because your mortgage went seriously delinquent or you lost your house.

In its latest guidance, the IRS focuses on several key points that owners — and former owners — need to know. Tops on the list: Just because a lender wrote off a portion of your mortgage debt, this doesn’t mean you automatically qualify for special tax treatment. To the contrary, there are essential tests you need to pass to qualify: The debt your lender canceled must have been used by you “to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence.”

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