It’s time for HUD to revamp the FHA Streamlined Refi

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HUDHUD's Shaun Donovan was recently promoting Obama's jobs bill and the recently revised the Home Affordable Refinance (aka HARP 2.0).  Fannie and Freddie have revamped the Home Affordable Program to reduce the closing cost and eliminate the need for an appraisal on many qualified homes.

From Donovan last week on HARP for conventional refinances:

"…There are still millions of Americans who have worked hard and acted responsibly, paying their mortgage payments on time. But because their homes are worth less than they owe on their mortgage, they can’t refinance….

Just yesterday, the FHFA announced changes that will help more responsible borrowers take advantage of today’s low mortgage rates. These changes will knock down barriers such as closing costs and fees that can sometimes cancel out the benefit of refinancing altogether.

And by creating more competition so that consumers can shop around for the best rates, these changes will save homeowners on average $2,500 per year — that’s the equivalent of a pretty good-sized tax cut…"

With HUD promoting HARP 2.0, I'm hoping that they're taking a strong look at their own FHA Streamlined refinance.  FHA streamlined refi's already do not require an appraisal as long as the loan amount is not being raised over the balance of the existing FHA loan.  

The problem with the FHA streamlined refinance is that with the last adjustment to FHA's annual mortgage insurance and funding fee, it's more difficult to have these refi's pencil out. The annual premiums are so much higher than past insurance premiums that despite today's much lower rates, the higher insurance fees often cancel out the reduced rate benefit. Seattle area and other home owners who are not underwater with their home values may be able to switch to a conventional mortgage (with or without private mortgage insurance depending on the loan to value) and an appraisal will be required to prove the current value of the property.

In my opinion, with FHA streamlined refi's, HUD should either allow a reduced mortgage insurance rate for streamlined refi's and perhaps not offer a credit of the remaining upfront mortgage insurance premium. VA's IRRL loans offer a reduced funding fee of 0.5% for refi's.

Another option would be for HUD to allow the FHA borrower to refinance their FHA mortgage with the same FHA mortgage insurance premiums of their current FHA loan.  

HUD should also make it easier for borrowers with FHA ARM's to be able to do a streamlined refi into a fixed rate program.  Current guidelines require a reduction in payment of 5% and a caps the interest rate at no more than 2% higher than the ARM. If the borrower qualifies for the higher payment and they are opting for a fixed rate program, they should be allowed to do so.  Currently this eliminates borrowers from being able to streamline refi from an adjustable rate to a 15 year fixed.

HUD already has the risk with the loan, why not help Americans with FHA insured loans reduce take advantage of this current low rate environment by making FHA streamlined refinances more feasible? 

Mr. Donovan, it's time for HUD to knock down barriers such as closing costs and fees that can sometimes cancel out the benefit of refinancing altogether for FHA streamlined refinances.

EDITORS NOTE: This post was updated 11/21/2011 with the addition of the paragraph addressing changing the requirement for a steamline refinance out of an adjustable rate.

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