Apr 23, 2008

New "Jumbo Light" Loans: Not Much Help to Borrowers

Homebuyers, homeowners, real estate agents, and mortgage brokers have all been awaiting, with high expectation, details on the new "jumbo light" loan limits and lending standards. Everyone had hoped these new loans, authorized by the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, would provide lower interest rates for folks trying to buy or refinance homes in high-cost markets.

Well, the lending limits and standards are finally here, and (drumroll please) it looks like these new loans will do... nothing. That's right. Due to heavy restrictions on the loans, most people won't qualify for one. And even if they do, the interest rates are still much higher than those for traditional conforming loans.

What does this mean? For starters, people living in high-cost real estate markets that are having trouble meeting their mortgage obligations, or are already behind in payments, won't get relief from a jumbo light loan. Those folks will (1) continue to struggle, or (2) join the large ranks of those in foreclosure. And those trying to buy a home in a high-cost market won't get help from jumbo light loans either. So much for economic stimulus.

Here are the details of how all this works:

What Are Jumbo Light Loans? In the past, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) could guarantee real estate loans up to $417,000. In a nutshell, the guarantee meant lower interest rates for those loans-which in turn made them more affordable. Loans above $417,000 (called "jumbo loans") carried higher interest rates, due to a perceived greater risk.In its Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, Congress authorized Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHA to guarantee (until December 1, 2008) mortgages as large as $729,750 in some high-cost markets.

This creates three types of loans: (1) Traditional loans under $417,000 (called conforming loans). (2) "Jumbo conforming loans" or "jumbo lights" (between $417,000 and up to $729,750). The upper lending limit depends on where you live. To find out what the limit is in your area, check the HUD FHA Mortgage Limits.

(3) Jumbo loans (loans over $729,750 - or less in lower-cost markets). These loans carry the highest interest rates.The hope was that the new category of jumbo light loans would carry lower interest rates, so that people in high-cost real estate markets could more easily buy a home or refinance an existing mortgage. Alas, according to mortgage brokers, the qualifying guidelines for jumbo light loans are so difficult to meet that many people cannot get one.

Restrictive Qualification Rules. Some examples of these restrictive guidelines are:


  • The Debt-to-Income Ratio must be no more than 45%. This means that your total monthly housing expenses (mortgage, home insurance, taxes, and other home related expenses) divided by your gross monthly income is less than 45%. In high-cost housing markets, where people have to spend a large portion of their income on housing, these limits may be tough to meet. Yet these high-cost housing markets are precisely where the need for jumbo light loans is greatest.

  • Buyers must submit full documentation of income and assets (which can be difficult for self-employed people, since the typical self-employed person can deduct a variety of expenses and show very little income at the end of the year.

  • Buyers must have a credit score of at least 700 if their LTV is greater than 80% or at least 680 if their LTV is less than 80%. This factor alone eliminates a lot of would be borrowers.

  • Borrowers cannot have made a late mortgage payment within the last 12 months. Oh well.


In addition, those who are refinancing cannot wrap a second mortgage into the new jumbo light loan. Because second mortgage holders are skittish in the present-day market, borrowers may have to repay a substantial percentage of their second mortgage in order to refinance the first.

Not Much Relief in Interest Rates. In addition to these restrictions, the hoped-for favorable interest rates of jumbo light loans haven't yet materialized. Currently, the interest rates for jumbo lights range from 7% to upwards of 7.5%, not much better than rates for the regular jumbo. In contrast, the interest rates for traditional conforming loans are less than 6%.

Jumbo Light Loans May Improve in the Future. Some experts believe that it will take jumbo light loans a while to hit their stride, and once they do, interest rates may dip a bit. Some predict that for this reason, Congress may extend the planned December 31, 2008 expiration date.