Fannie Mae: Loans, HomePath, and All You Should Know

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Fannie Mae—known officially as the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA)—is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) chartered by Congress to stimulate home-ownership and provide liquidity to the mortgage market. It was established in 1938 during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal. Its purpose is to help moderate to low-income borrowers obtain financing for a home.

Key Takeaways

  • Fannie Mae is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) created by Congress.
  • Fannie Mae doesn’t originate or give out mortgages to homeowners looking for funding, but it does buy and guarantee mortgages through the secondary mortgage market.
  • By investing in mortgages, Fannie Mae creates more liquidity for lenders, including banks, thrifts, and credit unions, which then allows them to underwrite or fund more mortgages.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nearly collapsed amid the 2008 financial crisis, were bailed out and placed into government conservatorship; eventually, they paid back the billions they had received to survive.
  • Fannie Mae has programs to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic including a moratorium on foreclosure and eviction until March 31, 2021, and President Biden has asked that the programs be extended until June 30, 2021. 

What Fannie Mae Does

As a secondary market participant, Fannie Mae does not originate mortgage loans. Instead, it keeps funds flowing to lenders by purchasing or guaranteeing mortgages issued by credit unions, banks, thrifts, and other financial institutions. It is one of two large purchasers of mortgages in the secondary market. The other is its sibling Freddie Mac, or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which is also a GSE chartered by Congress.

After purchasing mortgages on the secondary market, Fannie Mae pools them to form mortgage-backed securities (MBS). MBS are asset-backed securities that are secured by a mortgage or pool of mortgages. Fannie Mae’s mortgage-backed securities are then purchased by institutions, such as insurance companies, pension funds, and investment banks. It guarantees payments of principal and interest on its MBS.

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Fannie Mae also has its own portfolio, commonly referred to as a retained portfolio, which invests in its own and other institutions’ mortgage-backed securities. Fannie Mae issues debt, called agency debt, to fund its retained portfolio.

By investing in the mortgage market, Fannie Mae creates liquidity for lenders, which in turn allows them to underwrite or fund additional mortgages. In 2019, Fannie Mae provided $650 billion in liquidity to the mortgage market, which helped low-income Americans to buy, refinance, or rent approximately three million homes.

Fannie Mae Stock

Fannie Mae has been publicly traded since 1968. Until 2010, it traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Following the Great Recession and the impact it had on the housing market, Fannie Mae was forced to delist its shares for failure to meet the minimum closing price requirement mandated by the NYSE. Fannie Mae now trades over-the-counter.

In the latter half of 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government via a conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The U.S. Treasury provided $191.5 billion to keep both solvent. Both agencies have repaid the money, and then some.

In August 2012, the terms governing Fannie Mae’s dividend obligations were changed so that the U.S. Treasury claimed any profits at the end of each quarter, and also provides capital if there is a deficit. In September 2019, the Treasury and FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could start keeping their earnings to shore up capital reserves of $25 billion and $20 billion, respectively. The move is a step toward transitioning the two out of conservatorship.

Fannie Mae Loan Requirements

In order to do business with Fannie Mae, a mortgage lender must comply with the Statement on Subprime Lending issued by the federal government. The statement addresses several risks associated with subprime loans, such as low introductory rates followed by a higher variable rate; very high limits on how much an interest rate may increase; limited to no borrower income documentation; and product features that make frequent refinancing of the loan likely. 

The mortgages Fannie Mae purchases and guarantees must meet strict criteria. The limit, for example, for a conventional loan for a single-family home in 2021 is $548,250 (up from $510,400 in 2020) for most areas and $822,375 (up from $765,600 in 2020) for high-cost areas including Hawaii and Alaska. The FHFA sets these limits.

In order to obtain a loan that is backed by Fannie Mae, you’ll have to go through an approved lender. Along with the avoidance of subprime loans, mentioned above, lenders must meet eligibility and underwriting criteria that ensure the credit quality of the financing.

Mortgages purchased and guaranteed by Fannie Mae are called conforming loans. Generally speaking, conforming loans have lower interest rates than non-conforming or jumbo loans, which are typically not backed by Fannie Mae because they exceed the loan size limits.

How to Apply for a Fannie Mae–Backed Mortgage

When you have found a lender who is eligible to issue a Fannie Mae–backed loan, you will be guided in filling out a Uniform Residential Loan Application. You will need to gather and provide financial information and documentation. This includes a record of employment and your gross income and statements to back these up, such as a W-2 or 1099 form. You will also have to provide a total of your monthly debt obligations, such as balances on credit cards, car payments, alimony, and child support. 

Generally, lenders prefer to follow the 28/36 Rule, that is, a household should spend no more than 28% of monthly income on housing expenses, and no more than 36% on debt servicing (including mortgages and car loans). Fannie Mae will accept a maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio of 36%, though this can be as high as 45% if the borrower meets credit score and reserve requirements. If your DTI is too high, you can make a larger down payment, which will reduce your monthly costs. While a 20% down payment is considered ideal, some borrowers may be able to put as little as 3% down. 

Homebuyers must also meet minimum credit requirements in order to be eligible for Fannie Mae-backed mortgages. For a single-family home that is a primary residence, a FICO score of at least 620 for fixed-rate loans and 640 for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) is required. Of course, the better, or higher, your FICO score, the more eligible you are for the lowest available interest rates.

Loan Modifications

Following the mortgage meltdown, Fannie Mae began to focus on loan modifications. Loan modifications change the conditions of an existing mortgage to help borrowers avoid defaulting, ending up in foreclosure, and ultimately losing their home. Modifications can include a lower interest rate and extending the term of the loan, which would lower monthly payments. Since September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have completed more than 2.37 million loan modifications.

Fannie Mae HomePath

When foreclosures arise on mortgages in which Fannie Mae is the owner/investor, or when properties are acquired through deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure or forfeiture, Fannie Mae attempts to sell the properties in a timely manner in order to minimize potential impacts on the community. HomePath.com is the Fannie Mae website where home buyers and investors can search for and make offers on these properties, and HomeReady by Fannie Mae offers buyer financing products for the properties.

In some cases, special financing may be available. These include closing cost assistance, 3% down payments, and improvement costs bundled into the loan.

HomePath.com exclusively offers properties that are owned by Fannie Mae, and include single-family homes, townhouses, and condominiums. Fannie Mae uses local real estate professionals to prepare, maintain, and list the properties for sale. Most listings have photographs, property descriptions, and other details, including school and neighborhood information. 

The number, type, and sales prices vary greatly by market, as does the condition of the properties on HomePath.com. While some homes are move-in ready, others require repairs or even extensive renovations. Each property is sold in “as is” condition.

Fannie Mae and COVID-19

Due to the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, countless homeowners may be unable to afford their mortgage payments. To help in this situation, the CARES Act requires that lenders holding federally backed mortgages grant their pandemic-affected clients forbearance for up to 180 days and hold off on foreclosure-related evictions.

As part of this, Fannie Mae offers the following mortgage assistance and relief options for borrowers of its single-family mortgages who have been financially impacted by the current national emergency:

  • Ability to request mortgage assistance by contacting a mortgage servicer
  • Suspension of foreclosure sales and evictions until at least Feb. 28, 2021
  • Eligibility for a forbearance plan to reduce or suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months
  • Suspension of credit bureau reporting of past-due payments of borrowers in a forbearance plan as a result of hardships attributable to the ongoing pandemic
  • No incursion of late fees for borrowers in a forbearance plan
  • A requirement that after forbearance, a servicer will work with borrowers on a permanent plan to help maintain or reduce monthly payment amounts as necessary, including a loan modification

If you’re uncertain of whether or not Fannie Mae is your government-backed mortgage provider, you can use its loan lookup tool to find out and request financial assistance accordingly.

In addition, the FHFA also put in place more flexible lending and appraisal standards for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make sure that homebuyers can close on loans during the pandemic and that all parties involved can maintain social distancing throughout the process. These standards now allow:

  • Alternative appraisals on purchase and refinance loans (conducting drive-by and online appraisals versus on-site)
  • Alternative methods for documenting income and verifying employment before loan closing (for example, employment verification via email)
  • Expanding the use of power of attorney to assist with loan closings (for example, e-signatures)

The lending and appraisal standards for home buyers applying for a mortgage during the pandemic are in place until March 31, 2021, and President Biden has requested that they be extended until June 30, 2021.

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