Mortgage Lenders Tighten Screws on U.S. Credit in Echo of 2008

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Mortgage rates are at record lows, but borrowers hoping to take advantage are running into the toughest loan-approval standards in years.

Over the past month, lenders have put in place higher credit-score and down payment requirements, and in some cases stopped issuing certain types of loans altogether, in effect shutting down a large swath of the mortgage market.

The triggers, industry executives say, include lenders becoming risk-averse during the coronavirus crisis, knock-on effects of Congress allowing millions of borrowers to delay their monthly payments, and policies implemented amid the pandemic by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The impact has been dramatic, with one model showing mortgage credit availability has plunged by more than 25% since the U.S. outbreak of the virus.

The tightened lending could add another headwind for the nation’s besieged economy by dampening home sales just as some states lift stay-at-home orders and the spring months herald the traditional buying season. Already, mortgage refinances are coming in at a much slower pace than analysts would expect, considering the rock-bottom borrowing rates.

In March, riskier borrowers “could get a mortgage but just pay a higher price than other people,” said Michael Neal, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center. “Now, some people are just not going to get mortgages.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co. tightened its standards last month, requiring borrowers to have minimum credit scores of 700 and to make down payments of 20% of the home price on most mortgages, including refinances if the bank didn’t already manage the loan.

Wells Fargo & Co. increased its minimum credit score to 680 for government loans that it buys from smaller lenders before aggregating them into mortgage bonds. – READ MORE

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