Newsletter: April 2021

We are well into Spring and there continues to be numerous developments in housing finance. April is Financial Literacy Month, so U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) has been hard at work highlighting the unique role private mortgage insurance (MI) plays in the mortgage finance system and the importance of financial literacy in the homebuying process. Washington policymakers have also been busy moving forward confirmations of key administration officials as well as holding congressional hearings and introducing legislation on housing. Below are some of the key developments USMI has been following over the last month.

USMI Member Spotlight: MGIC CEO Tim Mattke Talks Financial Literacy. Earlier this month, USMI talked with MGIC CEO Tim Mattke about the company’s efforts to ensure first-time homebuyers have access to the right information and resources to be “mortgage-ready.” Mattke noted that “understanding the process” is the most difficult step, after finding the right property, among those aged 22 to 40, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. “To help overcome this challenge, MGIC has provided homebuyer education for decades,” said Mattke, adding that “[l]ast year alone, over 100,000 people took our online tests in English or Spanish. More recently we launched a consumer site, Readynest,” which serves “to demystify the homebuying journey through relatable explanations and stories of others who have gone through the process.”

Mattke also called on federal policymakers to recognize the importance of low-down payment lending, especially for minority, lower-wealth, millennial, and first-time homebuyers. He noted the need to address the shortage in supply to increase affordable housing options and encouraged policymakers to explore ways to reduce regulatory red tape for new home construction and incentivize increased remodeling and rehabilitation of distressed properties.

2020 Numbers are in: Private MI Industry Record Year in Mortgage Originations. In late March, USMI announced a record year for the private MI industry, having helped over 2 million low down payment borrowers secure mortgage financing in 2020, a 53 percent increase from the previous year. Of these, nearly 900,000 were first-time homebuyers, up 25 percent from 2019. The industry supported $600 billion in mortgage originations — approximately 65 percent of this volume was for new purchases while 35 percent was for refinanced loans. This resulted in nearly $1.3 trillion in outstanding mortgages with active private MI coverage at year’s end, underscoring the industry’s critical role in enabling American families to obtain affordable and sustainable low down payment mortgages. “Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, conventional loans backed by private MI continued to make the dream of homeownership a reality for millions of low down payment borrowers,” said Lindsey Johnson, President of USMI.

Johnson also discussed the record volume with National MI CEO Claudia Merkle, who noted two key factors that contributed to the strong production: “First, there are more and more first-time homebuyers coming into the market. They have good credit but struggle to put 20 percent down on their first house. Private MI is a great fit for them. A second factor is attributed to low interest rates, which helped fuel the strong mortgage market momentum in 2020, for both the purchase segment and also for refinances.”

House Financial Services Committee Holds Hearing on Equitable and Affordable Housing Infrastructure. On April 14, the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) held a hearing titled, “Build Back Better: Investing in Equitable and Affordable Housing Infrastructure.” Several bills proposed by Democratic committee members on issues ranging from lead abatement to broadband infrastructure were discussed. The main proposal, presented by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), was the “Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2021.” Chairwoman Waters introduced similar legislation in the past and the 2021 iteration incorporates several of the other proposed bills considered by the committee, including the Down Payment Toward Equity Act of 2021 that would provide for $10 billion in targeted down payment assistance (DPA) for first-generation, first-time homebuyers of up to $20,000 and $25,000 for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. A recent analysis from the Urban Institute estimates that between 2.51 million and 5.37 million renters households could be eligible for the proposed DPA.

There was also bipartisan agreement among committee members that the persisting shortage of affordable housing is a pressing crisis, and that the nation would benefit from more robust infrastructure investments. The parties, however, differed on what constituted as “infrastructure,” the implications of spending two trillion dollars on President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, and the effect of raising taxes to cover the costs.

HUD Maintains Pricing on FHA MI Premiums. Following the Senate’s bipartisan confirmation of Marcia Fudge as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on March 10, USMI said in a statement that “[i]n HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, America gains a housing advocate with proven leadership and an accomplished record while serving in Congress and supporting investments in housing programs and community development.” In one of her first actions as HUD Secretary, Fudge announced that the agency would maintain the current pricing of MI premiums on loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) due to the agency’s high level of serious delinquency rates and the need to continue focusing on helping the tens of millions of families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. USMI President Lindsey Johnson said in a statement that “USMI is encouraged by HUD’s continued support of borrowers impacted by the pandemic, and its focus to ensure an equitable recovery for FHA borrowers. FHA is a critical resource for borrowers to attain homeownership through FHA-backed loans—especially for borrowers who may not have access through the conventional market.”

What We’re Watching: National MI CEO Claudia Merkle Explains Private MI. USMI released a short video of Merkle explaining the role of private MI in the housing market, and how it helps borrowers with down payments of less than 20 percent.

What We’re Listening To: USMI President Lindsey Johnson on Housing Wire’s News Podcast. In April, Johnson was a guest on Housing Wire’s News Podcast to discuss the unique role private mortgage insurers play in helping low down payment borrowers. Johnson also discussed how the industry was well-positioned in 2020 due in part to reforms it had implemented following the 2008 financial crisis. She also highlighted the record year that the private MI industry had through 2020 in helping more than 2 million borrowers purchase or refinance their home. In responding to questions about access and affordability in today’s housing market, Johnson spoke about the challenges of affordability, largely stemming from the lack of affordable housing supply, and spoke about specific proposals that industry and policymakers can pursue together to address these market challenges.

Member Spotlight: Q&A with Tim Mattke of MGIC

USMI’s member spotlight series focuses on how the private mortgage insurance (MI) industry works to address several critical issues within the housing finance system, including expanding access to affordable mortgage credit for first-time and minority homebuyers, protecting taxpayers from risk in the mortgage finance system, and providing recommendations on ways to reform the system to put it on a more sustainable path for the long-term.

This month we chat with Tim Mattke, CEO at MGIC. MGIC is the principal subsidiary of MGIC Investment Corporation, which founded the private MI industry in 1957 and serves lenders in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Guam. MGIC is proud to support its lender customers and help make homeownership attainable for borrowers who have lower down payments. As USMI has advocated, it is critical for individuals to have the right information and resources to understand what it means to be “mortgage ready.” That is why financial literacy is so important.

As we commemorate Financial Literacy Month, Mattke highlights the educational programs and tools MGIC has developed and sponsored to help potential homeowners better understand their options. These include:

  • Readynest, a consumer-focused website that breaks down the homebuying process, provides tips, and showcases real-life stories to help customers “find, afford and love a home” of their own.
  • MGIC’s “buy now vs. wait calculator,” which helps homebuyers explore their financial options.
  • Down Payment Connect, in partnership with Down Payment Resource which promotes education around down payment assistance (DPA) and connects homebuyers with DPA programs.

(1) April is Financial Literacy Month. How does MGIC approach financial literacy and help first-time homebuyers get ready for the mortgage process?

The homebuying and mortgage process can seem daunting, especially to those going through it for the first time. In fact, the 2021 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) showed that “understanding the process” was the most difficult step, after finding the right property, among those aged 22 to 40.

To help overcome this challenge, MGIC has provided homebuyer education for decades. Last year alone, over 100,000 people took our online tests in English or Spanish. More recently we launched a consumer site, Readynest, which reached over 2 million page views in 2020. Readynest’s goal is not to sell MGIC or MI, but rather to demystify the homebuying journey through relatable explanations and stories of others who have gone through the process. The site helps aspiring homebuyers understand how to get their finances in order and includes guides on budgeting, credit, managing student loans, and mortgage insurance.

In addition, we have begun doing more direct outreach, presenting at state and local Housing Finance Agency (HFA) events to consumer audiences. This summer we are partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee to present “The Path to Homeownership” to current college students and recent graduates.

(2) What is MGIC’s message to renters who are interested in buying a home but aren’t sure they can?

Frequently, renters self-disqualify themselves before they even begin. Many have preconceived notions about what it takes to buy a home and how much they need to put down, and too often give up without even trying. Certainly, saving for a down payment and paying bills on time are smart financial moves, but renters may not know how much they need to save. Or they don’t understand that they can have student loan debt and still qualify to buy a home. Many times, they end up waiting longer than necessary, and that could end up costing them more in the long run.

Our “buy now vs. wait calculator” helps renters compare that cost of waiting. Unlike a buy vs. rent calculator, which we also offer, this calculator allows the renter to determine for themselves when the right time to buy might be, based on their specific situation. Like Readynest, this calculator is available in English and Spanish.

(3) Do you think renters appreciate that they can buy a home with a low down payment? Why do you think the common misconception that a borrower needs a 20% down payment is still around?

The 20% down payment myth is so deeply ingrained in the media that it isn’t surprising that so many potential borrowers are held back by this false concept. Many mortgage calculators start with a default of 20% down. Even NAR’s Affordability Index reinforces this concept by using a 20% down payment as the working assumption. It is imperative that we continue to point out that there are many paths to homeownership. If a potential homebuyer believes they need 20% for a down payment, they could unnecessarily delay their first home purchase by many years. During those years they may miss out on increasing equity in the home, and they will very likely pay more for the home they eventually purchase. Just as important, they defer the improved quality of life that comes with achieving their dream of homeownership.

(4) Last year MGIC announced it was partnering with Down Payment Resource to launch “Down Payment Connect,” a program designed to help lenders match potential homebuyers to down payment assistance (DPA) programs. Can you speak to how this tool educates homebuyers on DPA and the value of these programs?

Many potential homebuyers – especially Millennial, minority, and first-time homebuyers – face barriers to saving for a down payment for a variety of reasons, including rising rents, student loan payments, and lack of intergenerational wealth. DPA programs can enable access to conventional financing and homeownership for those borrowers who may need that help.

There are more than 2,400 DPA programs across the country. Keeping up to date on the ins and outs and eligibility for all these programs is a challenge even for seasoned loan officers. So, it is no wonder that many homebuyers can be overwhelmed when beginning to search for programs for which they may qualify – assuming they know such programs exist. Down Payment Connect has been a great partnership with Down Payment Resource, enabling lenders to match borrowers with DPA programs. This assistance could be the difference between a family buying their first home and remaining renters.

(5) What are a few steps federal policymakers can take to make home ownership more accessible and affordable for first-time homebuyers?

It is important that federal policymakers recognize the importance of low-down payment lending, especially for minority, lower-wealth, Millennial, and first-time homebuyers. The expanded use of targeted DPA programs is worth exploring to enable more families to become homeowners. Rep. Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, recently released a draft bill to create a program to provide first-time, first-generation homebuyers with DPA. Targeted solutions like this could play a role in narrowing the racial homeownership gap and address longstanding inequities in access to homeownership.

Access to credit is one side of the coin for homeownership and supply is the other side. In today’s environment, borrowers looking to capitalize on low interest rates are often boxed out of homeownership due to the lack of affordable housing supply. Policymakers should explore ways to reduce regulatory red tape regarding new home construction, or incentivize increased remodeling and rehabilitation of distressed properties, which are often located in central city neighborhoods. Taking measures like these could help increase affordable housing options and close the gap between demand and supply.

The shortage is especially acute in the lower end of the market where many first-time buyers are looking for “starter” homes. Housing supply is at the lowest level of this century, with just two months of supply as of February 2021 according to NAR and the Urban Institute. The lack of supply in turn has led to record year-over-year Home Price Appreciation (HPA), which was 10.8 percent last year according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Strong HPA is great for current homeowners, but it creates a moving target for those looking to transition from renting to owning.

(6) Considering MGIC’s unique position as the first private MI company, in your opinion, how has private MI improved the housing finance system and homebuying process since 1957?

In many ways, private MI is the original down payment assistance program. We fundamentally changed the conversation when it came to buying a home. Prior to MGIC and the private MI industry in 1957, unless a person relied on the government and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the focus by lenders was to increase the amount of equity in the property to help reduce potential losses that may arise from a foreclosure. So, the question lenders would ask is “how much money do you have?” to put down when buying a home. Private MI helped remove or reduce this barrier, changing the conversation to “how much could you afford?” as it “created” the equity lenders sought.

We are able to facilitate access to affordable, low down payment mortgages by providing critical risk protection for lenders, the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), and American taxpayers. Private MI companies work to not only get buyers into homes, but to keep them there so they may build the long-term, generational wealth that is associated with homeownership.

Since 1957, the private MI industry has helped 35 million homeowners either purchase a home or refinance an existing mortgage, including more than 2 million borrowers in 2020 alone, with nearly 60 percent of purchase loans going to first-time homebuyers.

Tim Mattke’s Biography

Timothy J. Mattke is Chief Executive Officer of MGIC Investment Corporation and MGIC. He joined the company in 2006. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he served as MGIC’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer from 2014 to 2019, and Controller from 2009 to 2014. Before then, he held other positions within the Accounting and Finance departments. Before joining MGIC in 2006, Mr. Mattke was an Audit Manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. He has a BBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a Master of Accountancy from that University; and he is a CPA.

Mr. Mattke currently serves as the Board Chair of Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc., and is the Board Chair for the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). He also sits on the fundraising committee of SecureFutures and the Advisory Board for the Accounting Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Podcast: USMI Featured on HousingWire’s “Housing News”

USMI President Lindsey Johnson was a guest on HousingWire’s April 12 “Housing News” podcast. Interviewed by HousingWire Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler, Johnson explained the unique role that private mortgage insurers have played in helping low down payment borrowers, and how the industry was well-positioned in 2020 due in part to reforms the industry had implemented following the 2008 financial crisis. She also outlined four essential principles lawmakers and regulators should consider around housing finance reform, including enhancing access to mortgage finance credit while protecting taxpayers and promoting stability in the system. Listen here.

Comment Letter: CFPB on QM Compliance Delay and GSE Patch Extension

USMI submitted a comment letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in response to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) to delay the mandatory compliance date of the December 2020 General Qualified Mortgage (QM) final rule and the extension of the Temporary GSE QM category (GSE Patch). In the letter, USMI discussed both the interplay between the proposed extension of the GSE Patch and the January 2021 amendments to the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) as well as the value of increased monitoring and access to mortgage underwriting data for policymakers and housing finance stakeholders. USMI urged the Bureau to work expeditiously with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria to further amend the PSPAs to restore authority for the GSEs to acquire mortgages in reliance on the GSE Patch. See the full letter here.