Homeowners Stuck as Lenders Cinch Standards

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By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY
Edward Booker is one of nearly 3 million homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages who've had trouble paying their bills. And, like Booker, many of them won't be able to refinance their loans once the interest rates start rising. At that point, they'll have to tighten their belts, sell their homes or lose them through foreclosure.
This month, the mortgage payment on Booker's Chicago home rose $200, to


By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY

Edward Booker is one of nearly 3 million homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages who've had trouble paying their bills. And, like Booker, many of them won't be able to refinance their loans once the interest rates start rising. At that point, they'll have to tighten their belts, sell their homes or lose them through foreclosure.

This month, the mortgage payment on Booker's Chicago home rose $200, to about $1,300. It'll go up again in September. He wants to refinance, but he fell behind on payments after his wife died of cancer in 2005, so no lender wants to take the risk.

"I'm just trying to hold onto my house until I can figure out something else to do," says Booker, 58, a former rail-car inspector who's on disability.

Since the start of the year, more lenders have been shutting their doors to people such as Booker, just as those homeowners' interest rates are rising. They're slashing the "Bad credit? No problem" types of loan programs, known as subprime, that helped fuel the housing boom. And they're raising the bar for homeowners and first-time buyers to qualify for new loans.

The trend accelerated last week after federal regulators proposed stricter guidelines for banks that make subprime ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages). The move followed Freddie Mac's decision to drastically raise the criteria for the subprime ARMs it would buy and to require better proof of a borrower's finances.

The industry is reacting to the waves of subprime borrowers who've defaulted on their ARMs in recent months. The tighter controls should help prevent future borrowers from getting in over their heads and protect them from predatory lenders. But the sudden shift in lending rules could also threaten the homeownership gains made by families since 2000, weaken the recovery of the housing market and potentially slow the economy.

"It will be a very severe correction (in the subprime market), and I think it will last anywhere from six to 12 months, during which many of the lenders who have operated in this market will gradually get pushed out of business," says Chris Flanagan, a managing director for JPMorgan.

Nearly two dozen subprime lenders have already closed their doors or been purchased, and a dozen more are in trouble, according to a report by Credit Suisse.

To stem their losses, lenders nationwide are notifying mortgage brokers to cancel loan programs. Many of them are:

  • Reducing loans for 100 percent of the purchase price.
  • Reducing the number of "piggyback" loans, whereby a lender makes one loan for 80 percent of the purchase price and a second loan for the remaining 20 percent of the price at a higher interest rate
  • Raising the required credit score.
  • Requiring more documentation of a borrower's income and scrutinizing the appraisal and comparable-home sales data.
  • "Some of these companies are yanking away six, eight (loan) products at a time, and the reps are just hanging on the phone with their mouths open, saying, 'What are we going to sell?' " says Dave Tucker, owner of MileHighMortgage.com in Castle Rock, Colo.

    That's partly why he can't help Anita Furakh and Bobby Pervez this time.

    Continued Next Page

    Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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