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Numbers of underwater mortgages plummets

The number of underwater mortgages is plummeting as the housing market continues to recover. This will have huge ramifications for the finances of millions of people and families.

Maggie Medved was stuck with her Phoenix house for two years after the market crash wiped out the equity in the property. Last year, as prices in the area rose by the most in the U.S., she and her partner were finally able to sell the 3-bedroom 1950’s style home and move to a larger place.

“We were counting the days for when we could move,” said Medved, 40, who trains employees for weight loss company Jenny Craig Inc. “We definitely knew it was a waiting game because it would’ve been financial suicide if we had sold earlier.”

Medved was among the 12 million borrowers in the U.S. who at the peak of the real-estate downturn owed more on their mortgages than their houses were worth, blocking them from moving or saving money by taking advantage of the lowest borrowing costs on record to refinance. As prices recovered, the number of underwater borrowers fell by almost 4 million last year to 7 million, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), and could drop to 4 million within 2 years.

The housing market is rebounding faster than anyone thought possible, according to Blackstone Group LP (BX)’s global head of real estate Jonathan Gray, as the Federal Reserve buys mortgage bonds to keep rates near record lows and investors sop up a diminishing supply of properties for sale. Housing construction could boost U.S. gross domestic product by 0.4 percentage point and home price appreciation may add another 0.2 percentage point, Bank of America Corp. (BAC)’s senior economist Michelle Meyer forecasts.

The housing recovery is one of the main reasons why we can now start getting optimistic on the US economy. So many people were stuck in impossible situations, and now that burden is being lifted. The Fed has been a huge driver of this improvement, along with the billions in private investment looking for deals on under-priced homes.

New mortgage rules released


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’re starting to see new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau trying to regulate the mortgage market and prevent some of the outrageous abuses we saw leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown.

The government is establishing new rules for mortgages that will make it harder for some borrowers to qualify but that are designed to prevent the kind of risky lending that nearly caused the housing market to collapse during the financial crisis.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday will roll out the first of several far-reaching changes to the nation’s mortgage market, limiting upfront fees and curtailing practices such as interest-only payments that can leave homeowners stuck with unsustainable loans. The agency also will set standards for how much income a consumer must have to obtain a mortgage.

This marks the first time the government has spelled out what constitutes a “qualified mortgage,” an effort to prevent the widespread toxic loans that hurt millions of Americans during the housing crisis.

Banks that offer qualified mortgages will be protected from lawsuits if they adhere to the criteria. The consumer agency hopes that will drive the entire industry to live by the tighter standards that have taken hold since the crisis, ensuring safer loans but potentially limiting the number of people who can qualify to buy a home.

This will make it harder for some people to qualify for mortgages, but that’s reality. There will be a phase-in period. I’m also curious to see how people in markets like New York react where prices are so high. But in the grand scheme of things these reforms were needed.

Should you consider a biweekly mortgage?

This video does a pretty good job of explaining exactly how a biweekly mortgage works and the benefits. The benefits really go to making extra payments each year which can cut years off of your mortgage. It also aligns well with your biweekly paychecks, so it’s extremely convenient.

Just be careful in case you bank ties fees to this payment structure.

Helping your kids with their mortgage

OK. Maybe the house pictured above is a bit much for your kid’s first house.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t help out your kids by becoming their mortgage lender.

Between slumping prices and low mortgage rates, it’s a good time to look for real estate bargains. But thanks to tightened lending standards, legions of young would-be homebuyers aren’t exactly in a position to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s where their parents come in: One in three first-time buyers received either a gift or a loan from their families to help buy a home in 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Such a move can provide significant financial benefits to child and parent alike. But you need to proceed carefully to maximize the tax and estate-planning advantages and avoid unpleasant family conflicts.

Read the entire article for the details.

Factors to consider when refinancing

With mortgage interest rates being so low, more and more people are refinancing for obvious reasons.

When considering whether to refinance your mortgage there are many factors to consider, with obvious ones being the interest rate and the type of mortgage.

But there are many more factors to consider, including these from a helpful list compiled on Yahoo! Homes:

How long will I be in my home? The general rule is that unless you are planning to stay in your home at least another five years, then refinancing may not make sense. This is because a refi usually carries closing costs and the costs could outweigh the benefits. You usually “break even” at the five-year mark, which means you have paid for the costs to refinance.

Is there a prepayment penalty on my current mortgage? Since many mortgages carry a penalty if you pay off your existing mortgage, find out if you will be charged a “prepayment penalty.” The amount varies, but it can add up to several months’ worth of interest payments. Ask your lender.

What are the costs of the new mortgage? Lenders almost always charge fees for taking out a new loan. These can add up to an average of $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the size of the loan. Charges include application fees, appraisal, origination and insurance fees, plus title search, insurance and legal costs. Unless your new rate is at least a half a percentage point lower than your current rate, the fees may eat up your potential savings.

Will my tax savings be reduced? If you claim mortgage interest on your tax return, refinancing to a lower rate will mean that you’ll have less mortgage interest to deduct. That means you might have to check with your tax advisor to see if your overall savings will be increased if you refinance.

Check out the entire list so you can properly evaluate whether to move forward.

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