According to a recent New York Times article from 06-29-2011 pretty much everyone agrees it’s a good idea for home buyers to put some of their own money down when borrowing to buy a house. Having a stake in the property, the thinking goes, encourages homeowners to keep making payments on the mortgage.
But how much of a down payment is reasonable? Ten percent? Twenty? Five?
That question is part of a debate in Congress and among a cluster of federal regulatory agencies as they try to craft new rules for mortgage lenders following the housing debacle.
As part of the financial reforms mandated last year by the Dodd-Frank law, the agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, among others, must set criteria for what constitutes a reasonably safe, plain-vanilla mortgage.
Lenders issuing such mortgages — what are to be called “qualified residential mortgages” — will be able to sell them to investors and avoid retaining any of the risk associated with a default of the loan on their own books. Loans that don’t meet the new standards won’t be considered qualified and will be considered riskier so the lender will have to retain 5 percent ownership. The goal is to encourage banks to thoroughly vet a borrower’s ability to repay the loan. In other words, the banks must have “skin in the game” for loans that don’t meet the standards by setting aside extra capital for possible defaults.
The agencies proposed requiring qualified mortgages to have a down payment of 20 percent, but that idea provoked a firestorm of opposition from an unusual alliance of banks, real estate agents and consumer housing advocates. The Center for Responsible Lending, which has been vociferous in urging financial reforms to protect borrowers, argued that 20 percent down, or even 10 percent down, would price many homeowners out of the mortgage market. Many creditworthy borrowers would find it difficult to meet the down payment rule and would end up paying more for their loans because lenders would boost interest rates on their loans to cover their extra costs, the center argued.
The group’s Web site has a chart showing the length of time it would take borrowers of different occupations to save enough for a 10 percent down payment. A public school teacher at the median salary of $33,530, for instance, would take 14 years to save enough cash to buy a $173,000 home.
Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the center, said a borrower’s ability to repay a loan should be determined by thorough underwriting, that is, an assessment of risk through examining a borrower’s credit history, income and debt, by the lender.
“We’re not advocating for zero percent down,” says Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the center. “We think down payments are good. But we think the market should set them, based on the underwriting.”
(Loans insured by the Federal Housing Agency, which can be obtained with small down payments, are exempt from the qualified mortgage mandates.)
Due to an outpouring of concern from the industry and consumer groups, as well as members of Congress, the regulatory agencies have extended the public comment period on the change to Aug. 1.
What do you think? Is it reasonable to set a minimum down payment for home loans?
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