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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.

Mitt Romney says we should speed up forclosures

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during the Republican Party of Florida presidential candidates debate in Orlando, Florida, September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

The foreclosure crisis has been a huge drag on the economy since the economic collapse of 2008. Warren Buffett has explained that we won’t have an economic recovery until we have a housing recovery.

One of the controversies, however, involves bad practices by the banks, and whether consumers should get a break in the face of this misconduct.

Mitt Romney apparently doesn’t think so, as he is arguing in Las Vegas that foreclosures should speed up.

“Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom,” Romney said when asked by the Las Vegas Review-Journal what he would do to jump-start the floundering housing market. “Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up.”

The administration, Romney said, “has slow walked the foreclosure process … that has long existed and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang.” Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto sued Bank of America in August, accusing it of foreclosing on homes without proper authority. Nevada is beset by economic turmoil and foreclosures. Last year, one in nine Las Vegas homes received a foreclosure notice.

On pure economic terms he has a point, but he seems to ignore how millions of American were screwed over by the banks. Yes, many home buyers made mistakes, yet it’s clear that the banks were jamming through mortgages just to rack up fees.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Is it cheaper to buy than rent your home?

For many parts of the country, this is becoming true:

As the national real estate slump deepens, home prices in many cities have crossed a worrisome milestone.

It’s cheaper to buy a home than to rent onein 74 percent of the country’s largest 50 cities, according to the real estate site Trulia — findings that confirm the national epidemic of depressed housing prices remains in full swing.

Trulia’s research, which compared the median list price and median rent for two-bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes in America’s 50 largest cities, found that renting is more expensive than buying in dozens of markets, particularly in Miami and Las Vegas, as well as Mesa, New Mexico, and Arlington, Texas.

Of course, you have to have the credit to buy a home, thus this doesn’t apply to everyone. That said, if you have good credit, with mortgage rates so low, now is a good time to start looking if you want to purchase a home.

American are shedding their mortgage debt

USA Today has a story on an interesting trend:

Americans are reducing mortgage payments at a record clip, directing cash that once went for debt into consumer spending and savings.

Low interest rates, defaults and refinancings have shaved more than $100 billion off the nation’s annual mortgage bill — an amount comparable to all unemployment benefits for one year or this year’s Social Security payroll tax cut.

“This is a form of economic stimulus that goes to Main Street rather than Wall Street,” says Nicholas Carroll, a journalist on consumer finance and author of Walk Away From Debt for a Better Future. When freed from a mortgage payment, people’s first purchases tend to be necessities, such as socks and underwear, he says.

Homeowners have trimmed interest payments alone by 11% — or $67 billion a year — from the peak in 2008, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The savings come equally from grabbing lower interest rates and reducing what’s owed by paying down principal or defaulting on loans.

This is another positive byproduct of the real estate bust. Home prices keep coming down, and more and more Americans are underwater on their mortgages. So many of them are walking away. Homeowners with jobs and good credit are taking advantage of low mortgage rates to refinance and lower their payments.

This results in more disposable income, so Americans can spend more on typical consumer products.

Collapsing home prices are good for the young

Robert Samuelson is usually bringing bad news. He’s a respected economist, but nobody will accuse him of being an optimist. In fact, he’s very bearish on our fiscal future and he believes that life will be more difficult for the next generation of Americans given our massive debt and the inevitable need for higher taxes or cuts in benefits like Medicare and Social Security.

But he sees a silver lining with the collapse of housing prices. It’s terrible for anyone who bought a home in the past decade, but it’s good news for young people who home to buy a home some day.

But housing’s troubles may have a silver lining. If you’re a homeowner, the steep fall in prices is calamitous. But if you’re a future buyer, it’s a godsend. What we’re seeing is a massive wealth transfer from today’s older homeowners to tomorrow’s younger homeowners. From year-end 2006 to 2010, housing values fell $6.3 trillion, reports the Federal Reserve. Assuming there’s no sharp rebound in prices — a good bet — that’s $6.3 trillion the young won’t pay.

Up to a point, the lower home prices merely deflate the artificial “bubble.” But there’s evidence that the declines transcend that. The National Association of Realtors routinely publishes a housing “affordability” index, which judges the ability of median families to buy the median-price home at prevailing interest rates. By this measure, existing homes are the most affordable since the index started in 1970.

Young buyers “will be able to enter the housing market at bargain prices,” argues NAR economist Lawrence Yun. When home prices again rise, increases will parallel income gains, meaning that the relative burden of housing costs will remain roughly stable, Yun says. He expects only modest increases in interest rates. (A rise of one percentage point — say, from 5 percent to 6 percent — on a $150,000 mortgage boosts the monthly payment about $95.)

The important thing for young people, however, is learning to avoid credit card debt. If they don’t learn this lesson, lower housing prices won’t matter much as they wont be able to afford a mortgage payment if they’re loaded up with credit card payments.

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