Newsletter: March 2017

Here is a roundup of recent news in the housing finance industry, including a blog post by USMI Chairman Patrick Sinks on the value of enhanced lending standards and practices, the release of a new column explaining low down payment mortgage options, a report on the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) exposure to risky loans, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) response to criticism over the GSEs’ entrance into financing single-family rental homes:

  • USMI Chairman Writes on Lending Standards. In a recent blog post by Patrick Sinks, the President and CEO of MGIC and Chairman of USMI, he argues that the federal government must balance important protections provided by new lending standards with reasonable consumer access to credit. Sinks also says that there must be uniform lending standards in the housing finance industry to promote consistency in the market. Sinks writes:“The safeguards that came into the marketplace for borrowers, lenders, investors, and ultimately taxpayers with the implementation of the QM standard have been helpful in improving the credit quality of the housing market in the United States… The QM rule has and will continue to be a solid foundation for responsible underwriting and borrowing in our housing system. As new housing policy or reforms to existing policies are considered, it is important that the foundations of the QM rule remain intact while also balancing the need to ensure creditworthy borrowers aren’t unnecessarily or unintentionally left on the sidelines.”
  • New Column on Low Down Payment Mortgages. A new column has been released that gives consumers the “lowdown” on low down payment mortgages. The column explains the options available to potential homebuyers who can’t afford a 20 percent down payment, giving them the pros and cons of several mortgage loan options.
  • Riskier Borrowers Make Up Growing Share of Government-Backed FHA Loans. According to USA Today, riskier borrowers are making up a growing share of new mortgages backed by the FHA, which have been pushing up delinquencies and raising concerns about a spike in defaults that could harm the housing recovery.In addition, the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a report that found HUD failed to adequately oversee billions of dollars of risky FHA loans, thereby putting the FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund at greater risk.
  • FHFA Director Mel Watt Defends Fannie Mae Deal with Blackstone. Politico Pro(subscription required) reported that FHFA Director Mel Watt is defending the $1 billion deal between Fannie Mae and private equity firm Blackstone to guarantee the company’s loans on 50,000 single-family rental units. Watt defended the deal in letters to the National Association of Realtors and House Democrats, each of whom have written letters to the FHFA expressing their opposition to the deal. According to Bloomberg News, Freddie Mac may also move toward backing loans that finance single-family rental (SFR) homes.

Blog: Balancing Important Protections Provided by Improved Underwriting Standards with Reasonable Consumer Access to Credit

by Patrick Sinks, President and CEO, MGIC and Chairman of USMI

Since the 2008 financial crisis, certain safeguards were put in place that resulted in more stringent underwriting standards for lenders and borrowers. As a mortgage insurer, lenders are my customers. For borrowers who don’t put 20% down – which is not a requirement – and are viewed by lenders as higher credit risk, mortgage insurers reduce or eliminate losses by providing protection to the lender in the event of a foreclosure. In doing so, mortgage insurance (MI) allows qualified homebuyers with low down payments (borrowers can put as little as 3% down with mortgage insurance) to qualify for mortgages because of the guarantee mortgage insurers provide to the system. If a borrower ends up suffering a foreclosure, we are in the so-called “first loss” position, and pay claims to the affected lender.

Today, there is a discussion in Washington about reforming some of the more far-reaching and costly regulations associated with the Dodd-Frank Act, including the Qualified Mortgage (“QM”) rule. To be sure, as a mortgage insurer, we have witnessed the difficulty within the mortgage lending sector to understand, implement, and comply with all the new rules and regulations, all the while ensuring mortgage credit remains available. Safe and prudent lending standards must remain intact throughout the system to avoid another housing crisis, though we must also ensure affordable mortgages don’t become out of reach for creditworthy buyers. There is a balance that must be struck. Three years after the QM rule was adopted, it is highly appropriate for industry and policymakers to ensure that there remains a balance between prudent lending and access to credit.

What the QM Rule Does

The QM rule for conventional mortgages, which was promulgated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), went into effect in January 2014 to protect borrowers, lenders, and the U.S. financial system, from risky lending practices that contributed to the housing crisis and its ripple effects throughout the economy.

Also known as the “ability to repay” rule, QM takes into account a borrower’s risk and financial situation, prohibits the use of some of the riskiest types of mortgage from the pre-2008 era, and provides legal protections for lenders if they meet strict underwriting standards.

Because of these features, qualified mortgages sold into mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (government-sponsored entities, or “GSEs”), are designed as safer investments with less risk exposure to the federal government, and therefore create less risk to taxpayers. During the financial crisis, prior to the QM rule’s existence, the GSEs took a combined $187 billion taxpayer bailout when riskier mortgage loans that the GSEs guaranteed devalued, creating catastrophic losses.

How Does the Current QM Rule Work?

To prevent government and taxpayer exposure to such housing credit risk, the QM rule requires strong underwriting standards that take into account a borrower’s financial profile, such as credit score, as well as establishes requirements for processes that lenders must follow when originating a mortgage. According to the CFPB, the general requirements needed for making a qualified mortgage include:

  • Good-faith determination of a borrower’s “ability to repay” his or her mortgage
  • No excessive upfront fees
  • Elimination of certain loan features, including “interest-only” payment periods, negative amortization, balloon payments, and loan terms longer than 30 years
  • Legal protections for lenders

Why Lending Standards are Critical

The safeguards that came into the marketplace for borrowers, lenders, investors, and ultimately taxpayers with the implementation of the QM standard have been helpful in improving the credit quality of the housing market in the United States. Since the QM rule went into effect, the default rate on loans held by the GSEs has dramatically declined. For example, for mortgages originated at the height of the housing crisis in 2007, the cumulative default rate on loans held by Fannie Mae totaled 14.4%, while for Freddie Mac it was 8.3%. Following the enactment of the CFPB’s QM rule in January 2014, the cumulative default rates for the loans backed by the GSEs have fallen to nearly zero in 2015 and 2016. As noted before, while there have been improvements to credit quality, legitimate concerns are being raised by many stakeholders about whether mortgage credit has become too restricted. The average FICO credit score of a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac low down payment borrower is over 750, which by all accounts is considered excellent credit. These questions on the access to credit underscore the need to review underwriting standards to ensure they do not overly restrict credit to creditworthy borrowers leaving the question of whether the pendulum has swung too far.

Uniform Lending Standards are Important

While consistency and uniformity are important to nearly all industries, there is a great need for uniform lending standards and rules in the housing finance industry. Currently, the CFPB and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have QM rules that are not uniform, which leads to gross inconsistencies in the housing finance industry. For example, the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) upfront mortgage insurance premium is excluded from the QM rule’s cap on points and fees, while the private MI upfront premium is included. This inconsistency effectively precludes the financing of MI premiums into the loan amount, leading to higher monthly payments for borrowers. If the QM rules are changed, it should be to align underwriting standards for GSE-backed loans and loans backed by the FHA, which are 100% government-guaranteed. The same standards should be applied to both the GSEs and FHA, given they effectively serve the same low down payment borrowers.

Keep Prudent Lending Standards Intact

Mortgage insurers are required by law to build contingency reserves, meaning that in addition to the capital our companies are required to hold against the risk we insure, a portion of every premium dollar received is reserved specifically for emergencies on a countercyclical basis. In 2015, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) implemented even stronger capital requirements called Private Mortgage Insurance Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs), which nearly doubled the amount of capital required for MIs to be approved to insure loans acquired by the GSEs. PMIERs, regulators affirm, reduce Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s risk exposure. The same can be said of the QM rule.

The MI industry fully appreciates the impact of the QM rule, and what it takes for lenders to conduct business within the boundaries of the rule, while working to provide access to mortgage credit to homebuyers. Lenders and others in the mortgage finance business are not the only ones impacted by new standards. New rules mean consumers could face different or tightened credit, making it longer to qualify for a mortgage. For some borrowers, new rules mean enhanced lending standards.

The QM rule has and will continue to be a solid foundation for responsible underwriting and borrowing in our housing system. As new housing policy or reforms to existing policies are considered, it is important that the foundations of the QM rule remain intact while also balancing the need to ensure creditworthy borrowers aren’t unnecessarily or unintentionally left on the sidelines.

Blog: The Lowdown on Low Down Payment Mortgages


You would like to buy, but you can’t manage that 20 percent down payment. Does this sound familiar?

The down payment is the biggest impediment to buying a home according to surveys, but in reality many individuals can qualify for a mortgage with as little as 3 percent down.

It is important to compare loans and do the math. Consider your closing costs (the cash you need in-hand), the monthly mortgage payment, and if that payment will go down or up in a few years. Paying a few more dollars each month in the beginning can sometimes save borrowers money in the long term.

For this exercise, we compare a $234,900 home purchase (the national median home price as of December 2016), with a 5 percent down payment and a 720 FICO score. And because calculators and loan terms vary, consider these costs as examples only. A mortgage professional can provide you with specific estimates.

Conventional Loan with PMI

A conventional loan is a traditional mortgage from a lender that is not insured by a government agency. With a 5 percent down payment, the borrower finances the remaining 95 percent over 30 years with a 4 percent interest rate. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is required because of the low down payment and is $78 of the monthly bill, making the total monthly mortgage payment $1,143.

Pros: A borrower can get a conventional loan with PMI with as little as 3 percent down. PMI can be cancelled once 20 percent equity in the home value is reached, which means your monthly bill decreases.

Cons: For some borrowers, a 5 percent versus 3 percent down payment may be a better deal as costs may be lower.  However, for many prospective homebuyers looking to lock in low interest rates, build equity and home appreciation faster, an option to get into a home with the lower down payment may be better.

A Combo Loan (aka Piggyback Mortgage)

A piggyback involves two separate loans simultaneously. In this scenario, the first “primary” mortgage covers 80 percent of the loan with a 30-year fixed interest rate of 4 percent; the second loan is for 15 percent with 10-year fixed interest rate of 5 percent; and the remaining 5 percent is the down payment. The total monthly mortgage payment would be $1,271.

Pros: The borrower will not pay PMI.

Cons: It may be a more expensive as the borrower will pay closing costs on two loans. And unlike PMI, the piggyback loan doesn’t cancel, but will be paid off over the term of the mortgage. The second loan often comes with higher interest rates too.

FHA Loans

FHA loans are mortgages insured by the government through the Federal Housing Administration. The limits for FHA loans typically are lower than conventional mortgages.  However, FHA mortgage insurance cannot be cancelled and must be paid for the life of the loan. FHA has other specific requirements, like the condition of the home. In this scenario, the mortgage is set at 95 percent of the home’s value with a 30 year fixed interest rate of 3.75 percent. The total monthly mortgage payment would be $1,199.08.

Pros: A borrower can get a FHA loan with as little as 3.5 percent down and a FICO score as low as 600 may qualify.

Cons: FHA mortgage insurance cannot be canceled, so your monthly bill won’t be reduced the way it is with a conventional loan with PMI. Also, FHA loans are subject to an upfront fee of 1.75 percent that is financed over the life of the loan.

No matter what you choose, do the math and compare so you can make an informed decision. If the conventional option sounds appealing, provides more information.

Newsletter: March 2017

Here is a roundup of recent news in the housing finance industry, including the unveiling of USMI’s new logo to commemorate 60 years of making homeownership possible through private mortgage insurance and housing policy developments in Congress and in the executive branch.

  • The private mortgage insurance industry turns 60. USMI unveiled its new logo to commemorate 60 years of private mortgage insurance (MI) making homeownership possible for millions of Americans. Since 1957, private MI has served as a reliable and affordable method of expanding homeownership, while simultaneously protecting American taxpayers and the government from exposure to mortgage credit risk. Stay tuned for more activities!
  • USMI and others send letter to Congress on g-fees. Scotsman Guide reported on a letter sent by USMI and 13 other industry trade groups to Reps. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) on a bill they introduced to ensure that guarantee fees (g-fees) charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “GSEs”) are used solely to insure against the credit risk of home mortgages. In 2016, the mortgage finance industry successfully fought off a legislative proposal to use g-fees collected by the GSEs to fund highway projects. The letter reads: “G-fees are a critical risk management tool used by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to protect against losses from loans that default. Increasing g-fees for other purposes imposes an unjustified burden on homeowners who would pay for any increase through higher monthly payments for the life of their loan. … whenever Congress has considered using g-fees to cover the cost of programs unrelated to housing, we’ve informed lawmakers that homeownership cannot, and must not, be used as the nation’s piggybank. By preventing g-fees from being scored as a funding offset, H.R. 916 gives lawmakers a vital tool to prevent homeowners from footing the bill for unrelated spending. We are grateful to you for introducing this bipartisan legislation and urge its consideration by the House.”
  • Carson confirmed as HUD Secretary. On March 2, Dr. Ben Carson was confirmed as the new Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). USMI released a statement congratulating Secretary Carson on his confirmation and welcoming the opportunity to work with the Secretary and his team to promote a stronger and more equitable mortgage finance system, as well as an expanded role for private capital.
  • Investopedia has good video explaining MI. USMI’s website features a new video courtesy of Investopedia to help people better understand what private MI is and how it helps people who cannot afford a 20 percent down payment to buy a home. To watch the video, click here.

Statement: Senate Confirmation of Ben Carson as HUD Secretary


USMI Statement on Senate Confirmation of Ben Carson as HUD Secretary

WASHINGTON Lindsey Johnson, President and Executive Director of the U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI), today issued the following statement on the United States Senate confirmation of Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

“USMI congratulates Secretary Carson on his Senate confirmation to lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a critical federal agency that is a component of the more than $10 trillion U.S. single-family outstanding mortgage debt market. We look forward to collaborating with Secretary Carson and HUD on a comprehensive and coordinated housing policy to promote a stronger and more equitable mortgage finance system that serves American taxpayers, homebuyers and lenders.

“The U.S. mortgage insurance industry welcomes Secretary Carson’s statements that more private capital needs to be brought into the mortgage market and USMI members stand ready to do more, building on the industry’s 60-year history as an effective and time-tested source of credit loss protection. Private MI shields the government and taxpayers from mortgage-related risks in the U.S. housing market that is available during both good and bad housing market cycles.

“In the past six decades, private capital in the form of MI has helped more than 25 million families get into homes; in 2016 alone, MI helped nearly 830,000 families purchase or refinance homes – nearly 50 percent of whom were first-time homebuyers. We look forward to working with Secretary Carson and his team to continue serving American families while also reducing risk to taxpayers and the government.”


U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is dedicated to a housing finance system backed by private capital that enables access to housing finance for borrowers while protecting taxpayers. Mortgage insurance offers an effective way to make mortgage credit available to more people. USMI is ready to help build the future of homeownership. Learn more at