On his first day in office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to undo a quarter-point decrease in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance premiums. The rate decrease had been announced by the Obama administration shortly before Trump’s inauguration. Many congressional Republicans, including incoming Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, opposed the Obama administration’s rate cut because they worried that the FHA would not be able to maintain adequate cash reserves.
What does this mean for potential homebuyers going forward? We’ll explain in this post.
How FHA mortgage insurance premiums work
FHA-backed mortgages are popular among first-time homebuyers because borrowers can get a loan with as little as 3.5% down. However, in exchange for a lower down payment, borrowers are required to pay mortgage insurance premiums. Lower mortgage insurance premiums can make FHA mortgages more affordable, and help incentivize more first-time homebuyers to enter the housing market.
On January 9, 2016, outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced that the administration would reduce the annual mortgage insurance premiums borrowers pay when taking out FHA-backed home loans.
For most borrowers, the rate reduction would have meant mortgage insurance premiums decrease from 0.85% of the loan amount to 0.60%. The FHA estimated that the reduction, a quarter of one percentage point, would save homeowners an average of $500 per year.
To see how the numbers would compare, we ran two scenarios through an FHA Loan Calculator — once with the reduced MIP, and again with the higher rates.
Using the December 2016 median price for an existing home in the U.S. of $232,200 and assuming a 30-year loan, a down payment of 3.5%, and an interest rate of 3.750%, the difference in the monthly payment under the new and old rates would be as follows:
Monthly payment under the existing MIP rate: $1,213.27
Monthly payment with the reduced MIP rate: $1,166.98
Annual savings: $555.48
What the rate cut reversal means for consumers
This could be bad news for people who went under contract to buy a house using an FHA loan during the week of Trump’s inauguration. Those buyers could find that their estimated monthly payment has gone up.
Heather McRae, a loan officer at Chicago Financial Services, says Trump’s move was unfortunate. “A lower premium provides for a lower overall monthly payment,” she says. “For those homebuyers who are on the bubble, it could be the deciding factor in determining whether or not the person qualifies to purchase a new home.”
David Reiss, a law professor at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, says the change will have only a “modest negative impact” on a potential borrower’s ability to qualify for a loan.
To be clear, the fluctuating mortgage insurance premiums do not affect homeowners with existing loans. They do affect buyers in the process of buying a home using an FHA-backed loan, and anyone buying or refinancing with an FHA-backed mortgage loan in the future. Had the rate cut remained in effect, Mortgagee Letter 2017-01 would have applied to federally-backed mortgages with closing/disbursement dates of January 27, 2017, and later.
Reiss does not believe the rate reversal will have an impact on the housing market. “Given that the Obama premium cut had not yet taken effect,” he says, “it is unlikely that Trump’s action had much of an impact on home sales.”
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