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Obama administration proposals to reduce federal role in housing market

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The White House is going to propose a range of options to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage market, which could cause changes to the face of American housing.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 11:46 PM

The Obama administration is pressing to scale back the federal government's role in the mortgage market. On Friday, it presented Congress with several proposals that would raise the costs of federally backed loans, a move designed to help the private sector better compete with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. Here are some highlights from the administration's report:

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FEES

-NOW: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac negotiate "guarantee fees" with lenders. Those fees are usually included in the interest rates paid by borrowers. When borrowers fall behind or default on their mortgages, Fannie and Freddie use these fees to pay their mortgage bond holders. As for the Federal Housing Administration, it charges borrowers an annual premium that is used to compensate lenders for loans gone bad.

- LATER: The administration proposes raising guarantee fees over the next several years, which would boost interest rates on loans backed by Fannie and Freddie. Starting April 18, the FHA will raise its annual premium by a quarter-percentage point. For the vast majority of loans, the premium will rise from 0.9 percent to 1.15 percent. That means that a borrower who takes out a $170,000 mortgage (the average FHA loan size) would pay an extra $34 a month.

LOAN SIZES

- NOW: High-cost housing markets, including the Washington area, have a three-tiered mortgage system. The lowest interest rates apply to 30-year fixed-rate mortgages that do not exceed $417,000. Higher rates apply to loans between $417,000 and $729,750. The highest rates apply to "jumbo" loans that exceed $729,750. Jumbo loans are not backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the FHA, but those other categories carry federal guarantees.

- LATER: Starting Oct. 1, the maximum size of mortgages backed by the federal government will drop to $625,500 in these expensive housing markets. It might drop even further in the future for loans insured by the FHA. Based on this week's average rate, a borrower who takes out a $650,000 loan today would be charged 5.25 percent interest, according to HSH.com. If the lower loan limits were in effect, the same borrower would be charged 5.72 percent. That would increase the monthly payment by $191.52.

DOWN PAYMENTS

- NOW: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac generally demand at least 5 percent down from borrowers with private mortgage insurance. (Lenders require this insurance if the amount borrowed covers more than 80 percent of the value of the home.) The FHA requires borrowers to put down at least 3.5 percent, though it imposes a 10 percent down payment for borrowers with credit scores below 580.


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