March 24, 2023

Mortgages: Loans For a Niche Market Are Interest-Only

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.

On a $700,000 loan with a fixed rate of 3.875 for the first 10 years, the monthly payment would be $2,260, as calculated by Mr. Pisnoy. After 10 years, based on the same rate, the payment would rise to $4,195. If over time the rate adjusted upward by as much as five percentage points (the usual cap), the payment could reach $6,700.

To avoid such a scenario, however, borrowers generally put money toward their principal balance ahead of time, or refinance out of the loan before a full payment is due.

Two lenders — Community National Bank and National Cooperative Bank — offer interest-only loans for co-ops in the New York market. Demand is weak, however, because so many co-ops take a dim view of such financing, said Jordan Roth, a senior branch manager of GFI Mortgage Bankers in Manhattan.

“We’re finding a number of co-ops that are becoming more conservative when it comes to the mortgage products they will allow their prospective buyers to use,” Mr. Roth said. “Very rarely do you find one that allows an interest-only mortgage in the current market.”

More lenders may yet decide to get out of the interest-only segment. Under rules issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, beginning next January, lenders will face greater legal exposure on interest-only loans that go into foreclosure.

But mortgage executives played down that risk, citing the high qualifying ratios for these loans. “These are very strong loans,” Mr. Wind said, “and that’s creating availability among smaller lenders as well as larger banks.”

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Bucks Blog: A Simple Place to Start: Your Net Worth

Carl Richards

Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at BAM Advisor Services. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

The world is a crazy place. We hear reports that say the economy is getting better. Next month, we hear that things don’t look so good. It feels like a tug-of-war, and we’re caught in the middle. Looking around, you may feel like the only thing you have any hope of controlling is your financial situation. So you want to make some changes and put a framework around your financial future.

But there’s so much information! Credit card statements, mortgage payments, insurance renewals, student loan bills and every other piece of financial data about your life can be overwhelming. It’s incredibly easy to throw up your hands and say, “I don’t know where to start.”

The best place to start is with your current reality. Seems obvious, right? But if it’s so obvious, then why haven’t we done it?

  1. It can be painful. The reason you’re looking to change things is because something isn’t working. That something may be incredibly personal, like how you talk about money with your spouse. So we avoid our current reality and tell ourselves things will get better tomorrow.
  2. There are a million other things to do. We’re all busy. Thinking about what’s right and wrong with your current reality probably doesn’t make anyone’s Top Ten list.

But if you find yourself in a situation where you’re ready to make a change, the best place to start is at the beginning by creating a personal balance sheet. Your goal is to discover where you stand financially right now.

You don’t need a fancy spreadsheet or even a computer for this exercise. Just grab a blank piece of paper and a pen. Then draw a line down the middle.

On the left side, list all your assets in detail. Bank accounts, equity in your home (that is not meant to be a joke), investment portfolio. For every asset, list it and its value.

On the right side, list all your liabilities. Credit card debt, mortgage, school loans. Again, get specific and list the actual amounts of each liability.

If you don’t know, call your bank, credit card company or your adviser. In this exercise, guessing isn’t allowed, so ask the questions and get the real numbers on paper.

Then, add up all your assets and subtract all your liabilities. You now have your net worth.

What does it look like? If you’re not happy with the number you see, you have two choices that will probably involve some hard work:

  1. Increase your assets
  2. Decrease your liabilities

If you’re wondering why I suggest starting with something so simple, it’s because I keep crossing paths with people who don’t know how their assets compare to their liabilities. And the reality is that if you don’t know where you stand today, then how will you ever figure out where you want to be tomorrow?

So the next time you think you don’t know where to start, ask the question, “What does my current reality look like?” Once you know where you stand, then you can make an honest assessment of your options and what comes next.


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Emergency Homeowners Aid Ending With Up to $500 Million Unspent

But the program is now ending after achieving lackluster results and stirring widespread recrimination.

Fewer than 15,000 households are expected to receive help despite enormous demand, and perhaps half of the money will go unspent.

The department attributed the program’s performance to the way it was set up by Congress. But Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, an author of the legislation, said the program’s failings were a result of poor administration and the department’s late start in rolling it out.

“They dragged and dragged their feet,” Mr. Frank said in an interview. “I believe it was not one of their priorities.”

The program, called the Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program, or EHLP, was signed into law in July 2010 as part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It offered people who were unemployed or underemployed up to $50,000 in zero-interest loans to pay their mortgage debts. HUD has until Friday to mete out the funds or lose the balance.

Yet the department did not begin the program until this June, and set an original application cutoff date of late July. Across the country, nonprofit housing groups and mortgage counselors who had been chosen to work with applicants rushed to meet the deadline, which ended up being extended several times.

The counselors also found the eligibility criteria complicated and overly restrictive.

Under the stipulations, applicants had to be at least 90 days behind on their mortgage payments. They also had to be earning at least 15 percent less than their 2009 income due to unemployment, underemployment or serious illness. The program subsidized mortgage payments for up to two years. But if the cost of the subsidies and the repayment of a homeowner’s mortgage debt exceeded $50,000, the applicant would be ineligible.

The combination of these rules, housing counselors said, disqualified a large number of people who had gone through their savings and fallen behind on mortgage payments. Nor have all of the applicants who met the qualifications been approved for the loan.

And with the Friday deadline, the clock is ticking.

At the Twin Cities Community Development Corporation of Fitchburg and Leominster, Mass., 31 of the 250 applicants who sought help met the program’s requirements, and by Wednesday, six had been approved.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, in Washington, took applications from 506 people. Of those, 49 met the eligibility guidelines, and 26 had been approved as of Wednesday.

Operation Hope, a nonprofit based in California, fielded queries from 1,200 people seeking help; of those, 25 were found to be qualified, and by Wednesday, five had been approved.

“It’s been a very discouraging process,” said Laurel Miller, director of homeownership at the Twin Cities agency. “It was almost like in order to qualify for this, it had to be the perfect storm.”

In states where housing costs are high, like New York, bitterness about the program was compounded by the fact that many homeowners were deeper in arrears than the program allowed. Of the 1,000 people who sought help through the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, only 74 qualified.

“It’s been a frustrating program,” said Bernell K. Grier, chief executive of the organization. “We wish we could have done more.”

HUD officials cited many reasons for the program’s slow rollout, saying the agency had to build the infrastructure to do direct lending, hire organizations to put the program into effect and create regulations for its operation.

Housing officials also said that nearly all of the eligibility guidelines came from a 1975 act through which the new money had been appropriated, and that they had interpreted the guidelines accordingly, leading to restrictions like the one involving the 15 percent income drop.

“No one could have anticipated how difficult the statutory requirements would make it to qualify homeowners, causing us to overestimate the number of people who could meet the eligibility criteria,” said Todd M. Richardson, director of the emergency loan program.

Yet Representative Frank said he never heard the agency complain about the statue guidelines’ being overly stringent. “They’re just trying to cover up their embarrassment,” he said.

John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, which also processed applications, said the agency could have been nimbler, modeling its program on an existing one rather than creating its own and eliminating stringent requirements, when it became clear that hundreds of millions of dollars would not be spent.

Housing counselors had also been pushing to secure money for people who met the program’s qualifications yet might not be approved by Friday. Last week, Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, introduced a bill to extend the deadline, but it was not voted on.

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