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FHA Head: Don't Raise Down Payment

Now is not the time to raise the downpayment requirement on a Federal Housing Administration loan, warns FHA Commissioner David Stevens.

Stevens, testifying before a committee of the U.S. House, said his agency would probably insure 300,000 fewer home loans per year if the mandatory down payment was raised from 3.5 percent to 5 percent — a 40 percent increase.

Congress has been considering various ways to put FHA on a sounder financial footing. Besides increasing the downpayment requirement, another suggestion under discussion is raising the upfront mortgage insurance premium to 2.25 percent of the loan amount, up from 1.75 percent currently.

The National Association of REALTORS® also opposes the proposal to raise the mandatory down payment for an FHA loan. The FHA remains financially strong because it has taken steps to ensure solid underwriting standards and responsible lending practices, said Charles McMillan, NAR immediate past president, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity.

"As the leading advocate for housing issues, NAR believes that one of the best ways Congress can help strengthen FHA is to quickly consider and pass legislation that would make current loan limits permanent," McMillan said. “It’s important to note that higher balance FHA loans perform better than lower balance ones. While some argue that higher balance loans put taxpayers at risk, such loans actually strengthen the program and reduce risk to the fund."

Explaining that FHA has played an important role in the recent housing and economic crisis by filing the gap left by private lenders, McMillan said FHA insured almost 30 percent of single-family mortgages in 2009 and more than 50 percent of first-time buyer loans. “Historically, FHA’s market share has hovered between 10 and 15 percent of all loans. And when the private market is strong enough to return, we welcome a reduced FHA market share,” he said.

McMillan said NAR was also concerned that FHA wanted to decrease seller concessions to 3 percent. Reducing seller concessions could put homeownership out of reach for many buyers, he said, because it could require buyers to pay more at closing.

SOURCE: Associated Press, Alan Zibel, and NAR (03/11/2010)