What You Need To Know About Mortgages: Part One

If you are considering getting a mortgage there are a few things you should know. Getting a mortgage is not easy for everyone, and at the same time there are costs involved. With that being said, before you invest in a mortgage application, here are some things to consider in determining if you are ready for a mortgage.

    1. Application Fee – There is always an application fee to apply for a mortgage. This fee may vary from bank to bank and may range from $65 to $640
    2. Down Payment– When making a purchase, you may make a down payment anywhere between 10 percent to 20 percent of the purchase price. However, it is recommended that you make a down payment of 20 percent or more because when your down payment is less than 20 percent you will be required to get Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is basically an insurance that protects the lender against default of your mortgage. This is required because lending money to someone who provides a down payment of less than 20 percent is riskier than lending money to someone who provides 20 percent or more. Since PMI is an insurance, it is an extra cost that you will have to pay every month as part of your mortgage. Therefore, if you would like to keep down the cost of your monthly payments, it is best to make a 20 percent down payment.
    3. Closing Costs– Always remember that costs associated with getting a mortgage does not stop at the application fee, there are also closing costs. These costs include the underwriting process, obtaining the appraisal report, as well as the credit reports needed, the title/insurance search, flood certification and lenders attorney. Closing costs also include state taxes, which varies from area to area.These costs are generally 3 to 5 percent of the value of the property being purchased, it may be as high as 6 percent in areas with higher than average taxes. It is true that you can finance the closing costs using your mortgage, however this is not recommended due to 2 reasons: (1) this will drive up your mortgage amount, which means a higher monthly payment for you, and (2) this option requires you to take a higher interest rate than what you were originally offered, which means an even higher monthly payment. Therefore, it is always a better idea for you to pay your closing cost at closing, and before you get a mortgage make sure you have enough funds to do so.
    4. Insurance– When purchasing a home, you will also be required to get a property insurance policy that covers property damage. This is something that is paid in addition to your monthly mortgage payments and you may choose to have it escrowed into your monthly payments. This is something to always consider when you are looking into getting a mortgage as it is an unavoidable additional cost.
    5. Taxes– This is another unavoidable additional cost to consider as well. Like insurance, taxes can also be escrowed into your monthly payments.
    6. Reserve Requirements– This is not a cost, but it is a requirement. Reserves in mortgage underwriting, refer to the amount of funds you will have remaining after you have paid your application fee, your 20 percent down payment, and your closing costs. The more reserves you have the better, but the rule of thumb is that you should have at least  6 months of reserves remaining after all costs mentions above are paid. What this means is that you must have enough money in your liquid accounts to cover 6 months of mortgage payments, tax payments, insurance payments and maybe private mortgage insurance payments if it is required. However, if you have any additional financed properties, you will also have to have additional reserves set aside for each of those properties as well.

For more information about fees associated with mortgages you may visit the Federal Reserve web site at  http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/settlement/.In the next post I will discuss some key ratios that determine if you are qualified for a mortgage.

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What is HARP?

HARP stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program and it came about in April of 2009 as part of President Obama’s Making Homes Affordable initiative. The program targets homeowners who are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments and do not have the option to lower their payments through refinance. Before HARP, this was not an option for many Americans because the value of their homes had been significantly been reduced due to the housing crisis. In order to understand the significance of HARP, there are three things you must first understand:

  • Loan to value (LTV)
  • Equity
  • Mortgage refinancing

When a home is refinanced, the property must be appraised to determine the value. How much money the bank is willing to lend the homeowner is dependent on the value of the property. The loan amount cannot exceed a certain percentage of the property value, this percentage is known as the loan to value (LTV). The LTV on a loan usually cannot exceed 80 percent or 90 percent, depending on several other factors. For example, if the value of a home is $100,000 and the LTV limit is 80 percent, then the maximum loan amount possible would be $80,000. If the value of a home is $100,00 and the LTV limit is 90 percent, then the maximum loan amount possible would  be $90,000.

Consider the following scenario: A homeowner is applying for a loan in the amount of $125,000 and  the appraised value is $100,000. The maximum LTV allowed on the loan is 80 percent. Will the bank loan the homeowner the money? No- the LTV on the loan would be 125 percent, which exceeds the 80 percent limit. The following formula summarizes how to calculate LTV.

LTV = ( Loan Amount / Property Value ) x 100

When an owner is looking to take cash out of the value of their property, the LTV requires do apply. In addition to this, there also has to be equity remaining in the property. Equity, in the mortgage world, is the difference between the value of the property and the loan amount against the property. In order for a bank to loan a homeowner money against a property, there should be at least 20 or 10 percent equity in property after all loans against the property is subtracted from the value of the property. As with LTV, the equity percentage required is dependent on several other factors. If the value of a property is $100,000, the equity in the home should be about $10,000 to $20,000.

Consider the following scenario: A homeowner is applying for a loan in the amount of $95,000 and the appraised value is $100,000. If 20 percent equity is needed (or an 80 percent LTV), then  $20,000 in equity is needed. Given the loan amount of $95,000, there is only $5,000 in equity. Will the bank loan the homeowner money? No- the equity percent is less than 20 percent, it is only 5 percent. The following formulas summarize how to calculate equity.

Equity = Property Value – Loan Amount(s)

Equity as a percent = [(Property Value – Loan Amount(s)) / Property Value ] x 100

When a homeowner decides to refinance their home, the idea is that they currently hold a mortgage against their property and they would like to change something about that mortgage. In order to change something about an exiting mortgage a homeowner will have to go to the bank and ask for a new mortgage with the terms they are looking for. The new mortgage, if the homeowner is approved, will be used to payoff the existing mortgage and any remaining funds will be paid to the homeowner. Therefore the new mortgage amount will have to cover the existing mortgage amount. In addition to this, the new mortgage amount must also meet the LTV and equity requirements discussed above. A homeowner may decide to refinance their home for the following reasons:

  • They are looking to get a new mortgage with a lower interest rate (this translates to a lower monthly payment)
  • They are interested in a shorter mortgage term or a longer mortgage term (i.e. The current mortgage is a 30 year loan and the owner now wants a 15 year loan, which translates to a higher monthly payment. Or the current mortgage is a 15 year loan and the owner now wants a 30 year loan, which translates to a lower monthly payment).
  • They are looking to take out cash (or equity) from the value of the property by increasing the loan amount owned against the property. The difference between the current balance owed and the new loan amount being requested will then  be paid to the owner for their own use. In such a situation, there would have to be equity in the property at the time of the refinance.(i.e. The current mortgage owed on the property is $100,000, the value of the property is $300,000 and the owner would like to take out an additional $100,000 in equity. Therefore, the owner will ask for a $200,000 loan- $100,000 of that loan will pay off the current mortgage and the other $100, 000 will go to the owner)

Today, the most common reason a homeowner may want to refinance is because they are looking to lower their monthly payments due to an unexpected drop in income. However, due to the drop in home values, such homeowners cannot qualify for a refinance because their LTV would be over 100 percent in most cases. I have personally seen properties with LTV’s over 300 percent. HARP, on the other hand, has changed this. Thanks to HARP, until the end of 2013, most struggling homeowners with excessive LTV’s will  be able to refinance their properties. Please note that HARP does not allow owners to take cash (or equity) out of their properties. It does allow for a reduction in interest rate and an extended loan term. For more information about HARP, please visit www.makinghomeaffordable.gov.


What does U.S. Dept Consist of?

We already know the United States owes over $14.23 trillion in loans. To be exact, as a result of the debt limit being increased by $400 billion on August 1st, the total debt held by the United States went up to $14.69 trillion on that same day. Nevertheless, where does this debt come from?

For starters, this debt comes from the United States raising capital through the sales of marketable and non-marketable securities. Marketable securities are the most liquid securities held by the United States. Non-marketable securities on the other hand are the least liquid securities held by the United States. We hold much more marketable securities than non-marketable ones. Below is a list of marketable and non-marketable securities.

Marketable Securities:

Treasury Bills– Short term government securities with a maturity date ranging from a few days up to 52 weeks. These securities are sold at a discount from its face value.

Treasury Notes– Securities that have a maturity date of 2, 3, 5, 7 or 10 years. These securities pay interest every six months.

TIPS– Securities that have maturities of 5, 10 or 30 years. These securities have principles that adjust accordingly to changes in CPI and they pay interest every six months.

Treasury Bonds– Securities that mature in 30 years. These securities also pay interest every six months.

Non-Marketable Securities:

I Savings Bonds– Securities that can be purchased at any time and interest is accrued and redeemed after maturity. This security cannot be redeemed until after twelve months with a penalty of three months interest. There is no penalty after five years. Can be held up to 30 years.

E Savings Bonds– Securities that can also be purchased at anytime and interest is accrued and redeemed after maturity. It also cannot be redeemed until after twelve months with a penalty of three months interest. There is no penalty after five years. Can be held up to 30 years.

Intragovernmental Holdings– Money borrowed from government trust funds such as Social Security and Medicare.

State and Local Government Securities– These Securities are U.S. Treasury Securities that are issued to State Governments to meet their needs as State issued securities become redeemed. State and Local Government Securities consist of Demand Deposits and Time Deposits. Both earn interest, it is typically lower than the  Marketable Treasury Securities listed above. The difference is Demand Deposits can be redeemed as needed but interest is accrued by day and Time Deposits have a maturity of 15 days up to 40 years.


Why Must The U.S. Raise The Dept Limit?

As of the morning of May 16th 2011, the U.S. had officially gone over their debt limit of $14.23 trillion. Prior to that morning the main concern for everyone was whether there will be or will not be a government shut down. As we already know, there was no government shut down. Many people today are still concerned about a government shut down. Some even believe that the government is lying beause there was no government shut down despite the fact that the U.S. had reached the debt limit months ago. Neither case may be possible and here’s why.

The U.S. government’s debt consists of various types of debt, similar to the debt that is held by a business. To be more specific, the debt held by the U.S. government can be compared to the liabilities section of a business’s balance sheet. With that being said, bonds, as well as other forms oh securities are liabilities held by the U.S. As a result, because bond prices fluctuate as projected income (and ultimately interest rates) go up and down, the total liabilities (or debt) also fluctuates. For this reason on the morning of May 16th, the U.S. did indeed reach the debt limit. Nonetheless, by the afternoon of May 16th, when the trading floors closed, the liabilities held by the U.S. had gone down because the value of the U.S. securities had gone down. This has been the case since May 16th and when you consider this, it is clear that the U.S. government is not lying.

Some may now ask, “then why can’t we count on the bond prices to keep going down? Wouldn’t that help lower the debt?” The answer is– there is debt that must be paid off by August 2nd 2011. Unless U.S. securities become of no value, the U.S. will still have to pay something. However, even though securities with no value soumd like a good thing now, it certainly is not some thing we want.

Should the U.S. default on these debts the value of U.S. securities, such as bonds, will decrease due to the lack of demand. Afterall, if the U.S. fails to pay back the money it owes on some securities, it is likely that they could do so once again. For this reason individuals and businesses will no longer regard U.S. securities as “safe”. Those who currently hold such securities or intended on investing in them may not any more. This will cause the value of U.S. securities in general to decrease. With this, more and more people will dump the U.S. securities that they own to prevent losses to their investments. This will then cause the U.S. to have even less cash on hand as it has to pay back security holders their money. Moreover, it becomes harder and harder to borrow for the U.S, thus increasing the chances of more debt defaults in the future. In conclusion, the only answer at this point is to raise the debt limit and continue to borrow prudently.


Investment In Capital Needed To Save The Economy (Part Two)

We need more investments in order for our economy to recover; without more investments there will be no economic growth. That was the point of Investment In Capital Needed To Save The Economy (Part One). To most of us, this is an obvious statement because more investments does mean more spending, more production, and more employment. As explained in part one, one contributor to growth in investments would be savings because a higher level of savings creates loanable funds. Another contributor to growth in investment is government spending.

Over the last three years, starting in 2007, we saw the economy fall deeper and deeper into a recession. Since 2007, it has been estimated that over 7 million people lost their jobs, and unemployment is currently at 9.7% for the month of January 2010. Since 2007 the Dow Jones, one of the most watched stock indices, had dropped from it’s 14,000 level in October 2007 to a 10,000 level in February 2010. Mean While the S&P 500 has gone from a 1,500 level in 2007 to an 1,100 level today. Over the last three years, The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States have decreased interest rates gradually, to the point that it was at 0.11% in the month of January 2010. In addition, the Federal Reserve have created various programs to create liquidity in the markets, as discussed in part one.

Why has things just worsen over the last three years? Our current economic situation can be described as a liquidity trap. This is a phrase coined by Keynesian economic belief in the idea that government intervention through the use of monetary policy, in times of economic down turn, could prevent increases in unemployment and decreases in output. A liquidity trap, according to Keynesian economics, is the government’s inability to easily stimulate the economy using monetary policy. The main tool of monetary policy is interest rates. When interest rates are high, savings is encouraged and borrowing is discouraged. When interest rates are low, savings is discouraged and borrowing is encouraged. When an economy is in a liquidity trap, the economy is non-responsive to these adjustments in interest rates. In simple terms, a liquidity trap is the exception to the Keynesian view because lower interest rates fails to effect how much savers save and how banks make loans because they do not have the funds readily available to do so.

Before the the largest economies in the world began slumping into a recession in 2007, one of the most recent well known examples of a liquidity trap was that of Japan in the 1990’s. In 1999, short term interest rates in Japan were set at 0.10% — almost zero. At such low interest rate, individuals were reluctant to deposit savings, and banks were reluctant to loan money as a result. Like in the U.S. during the 1930’s, Japan’s stock prices and land prices fell dramatically starting in the 1990’s. This occurred after Japan experienced 8.2% growth each year from 1948 to 1972 (keep in mind average increase is 2%, so Japan’s growth over that time period is regarded as a record breaking rate). Like in the U.S. in the 1930’s, unfortunately, Japan was very focused on maintaining a balanced budget. With that being said, the Japanese government did not do all that they could do to pull the country out of the slump. The unemployment rate in Japan rose to over 8% by 2001, up from 2.1% in 1991. By 2005, the unemployment rate in Japan fell to 4.5%, the best seen so far for Japan.

Some have argued that Japan could have recovered sooner from it’s economic downturn in the 1990’s if it’s government had expanded the money supply, rather than just depend on low interest rates. The same has also been argued for the case of The Great Depression in the U.S. during the 1930’s. I am one that advocates the same for our current economic situation. While it is not fiscally responsible for an individual to spend more that they earn, the same cannot be said about the Federal Government of the U.S. This is because when the government decides to spend more money, it is creating more money and as the amount of money in circulation increases, the value of each dollar that is held or owed goes down due to inflation. As a result of this, the Federal Government is able to basically inflate it’s debt away!

Here’s a simple example to explain. If I owe you $1 today for a candy bar, and the value of a dollar is inflated 50% by tomorrow, that means we have 50% more dollars in circulation tomorrow than we did today. With more money in circulation, the price we are willing to pay for something will go up, so that $1 candy bar has most likely doubled in value by tomorrow. Now by tomorrow, that candy bar is valued at $1.50. However, I owe you $1 from today and I don’t care what the value is today, so I will only pay you what I owe you– $1! That is how the Federal Government can inflate their debt away. When you think about it, If I were the U.S. government and I was only paying you $1 instead of $1.50, you can actually say that I earned a revenue because I am not really paying you all that I owe in consideration to inflation. The name for this act of a government raising revenue from printing more money is called seigniorage.

I conclude this two part post with a summary of my policy recommendation for saving the U.S. economy: The government must spend more to stimulate the economy, and Americans must take this as a chance to spend more, but also save more.


Investment in Capital Needed To Save The Economy (Part One)

The government and the Central Bank are doing all they can, but the cost of living is rising. Can we really expect the economy to turn around if the wages paid to consumers cannot suffice for consumers to increase spending? My answer is yes, but it will come with a cost. That cost is time.

One of the major concerns of some economists is the level of savings within a country. Usually countries with lower levels of savings have lower levels of productivity. Low levels of productivity have a root in investment in capital– when investment in capital is low, productivity is low. When we talk about capital, we are not just talking about heavy machinery, buildings, and tools. We are also talking about education, technology, and research and development that contribute to both education and technology.

Hold on a minute, you might be saying just about now. How does spending less cause more productivity? Well, savings is the source for investments in many cases. This is true because many businesses and individuals do not have the money needed to preform at their fullest potential. That is where banks come in. Banks allow those who have extra money on hand to deposit their money for a chance to earn a return. Banks then redistribute this money in the form of loans to those who need it at a cost. The cost would is the interest rate. When there is a low level of savings there is limited funds for banks to loan to those who need it, hence banks will make less loans. If less loans are not made, the cost of a loan is much higher.

This correlation between savings, investments and productivity can be seen today. Many banks that had made risky mortgages ended up facing defaults. These defaults then reduced the cash on hand held by these banks– they lost their depositors savings (remember these banks were able to make the risky mortgages loans because of the savings deposits that they received; read more here). Now, as you might have guessed, these banks have very little cash on hand. With such little cash on hand, they really can’t make loans as they use to due to the required reserve ratio (the amount of cash that a bank is required to hold under our central banking system).

What would then happen if people don’t choose to save, you might wonder. Wouldn’t we just be better off if consumers just consumed with all of their money on goods and services now? Wouldn’t increased spending create more jobs now, after all, that is what the media believes? That is true, but it’s not the whole story. Increased spending will only help in the short run. However, in the long run productivity may worsen because of the lack of availability of credit due to diminishing saving levels. In other words, because banks cannot make as many loans, there will be lessening investments made in technological advances, education, and machinery, all of which would have otherwise increased productivity.

This role of savings is stressed in the well known Solow growth model, which states that maximum productivity is reached when we have the right amount of investment in capital. This right amount of investment in capital should also make up for loses in productivity due to depreciation. The name that we use for this right amount of capital is steady state level of capital. At the steady state level, we produce the most output. Keep in mind this interprets into the most possible income, and this means more people are employed, and those who are already employed may be seeing an increase in their income. For this reason, I strongly believe that investment in capital is needed to save the economy.

In that case, looking for instant increase in consumer confidence when it comes to spending habits after a year of attempted recovery from a recession by the Federal Government makes no sense. We should also be looking increases in savings and investments, because it is something that is needed in order to have a healthy and long lasting recovery. Like I said before, there is limited liquidity in the markets, and we will have to get rid of that problem in order to make room for increased consumer confidence, increased spending and investments, etc.

While the purpose of the Stimulus Package was to increase the marginal propensity to consume so that more people will be employed again, it’s not the only issue that the general public faces. Many have also lost their savings, as I stated earlier, and it is reasonable to believe that they will try to recoup as much as they can in the coming years. To our luck, it does seem that this is happening right now. Now we just have to accept the fact that the market is correcting itself in this sense, and there is little that we can do. Moreover, there is little that we should do.

(to be continued…)


Will we see another depression this century?

Many believe that our economy is at a point of no return, and that we are heading into another depression. There are even predictions of another civil war in the U.S. due to the current economic situation. That is how negative of an outlook some of us have for the future of the U.S.

Only time will tell how telling such beliefs are. Myself being one that disagrees with these foretellings, I have a different prediction. I believe that people are confusing this certain interest that economists have in the Great Depression today to be something bad. Yes, it is true that economists have shown a great interest in studying the depression recently, but that does not mean what we are experiencing now is anything like the Great Depression. The study of the Great Depression is nothing more than a guide for policymakers to make sure that history does not repeat itself.

What happened during the depression of the 1930’s can be explained by the debt-deflation theory. This theory describes the effects of an unexpected fall in prices due to a decrease in the availability of credit, assuming that most demand prior to that point was created by debt. With this reduction in demand, there was less products and services being purchased, and businesses required less being produced. With this, less people were employed, and even less demand was the result of it, production was cut back by even more, more jobs were lost, and this cycle continued. This sounds like what is happening today, however it just isn’t. The depths of the Great Depression has it’s roots in how the Federal Government and Central Bank chose to react to it.

There are a couple of mistakes made in the 1930’s which helped further the depression. One of these mistakes was that of the Federal Reserve Bank allowing the money supply to fall by 25% from 1929 to 1930, then also allowing the money supply to decline even further each year following that. This continued decline in the money supply was the result of numerous bank failures. Banks during that time were allowed to fail, which in turn worsened the already falling consumption and investment rates (keep in mind that banks have the role of providing funds to those that need it when they need it). As a result, businesses and individuals in need of funds at the time had no access to it.

The Federal Government was also to blame, as they tried their best to maintain a balance budget, rather than save the economy. Though there were a number of programs that went into effect during the Great Depression to help relieve Americans of their struggles, such as The Federal Home Loan Act and The Emergency Relief Construction Act, this was accompanied by tax increases. The Revenue Act increased taxes on mostly lower and middle income consumers starting in 1932.  Meanwhile the unemployment rate had just reached 24% that same year. To further the difficulty in which the country was facing at the time, there were also attempts to create a closed economy. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was one of the policies implemented, raising tariffs on thousands of imported items.

Today things are definitely different. When our major banks began to face insolvency in 2007, the government did not ignore it. These financial institutions were saved by the well known $800 billion bailout. Though too many people view the bailout as unjust, these very institutions today are providing liquidity to our economy to get it going again. The government had also taken it upon themselves to consider the needs of it’s citizens facing unemployment and smaller incomes with the $787 billion Stimulus Package that addresses everything from tax cuts to job creation. If you would like to track government spending as far as the Stimulus Package goes, you may visit www.recovery.gov . Based on this web site, the Stimulus Package has helped make the following possible:

  • 640,329 jobs have been created
  • $288 billion will be going to tax cuts, of which $92.8 billion has already been spent
  • $275 billion will be going to contracts, grants and loans, of which $69.6 billion has already been spent
  • $224 billion will be going to entitlements, of which $97.5 billion has already been spent

When it comes to the U.S. interaction with other countries, we have not resorted to  a closed economy. Due to this, the U.S. is actually seeing a large amount of foreign dollars pouring into the economy. Recent reports released for November 2009 by the Buearu of Economic Analysis show U.S. exports totaling $263.9 billion, up from October 2009’s $246.1 billion (see full report here— keep in mind we’re looking at the short term difference; the change in exports during 2009 to examine the economy’s response to the government’s response).Foreign investments in the U.S. has also become very common, and continues to be despite the economic downturn, such as the debatable sovereign wealth funds .

To add to this, the Federal Reserve Bank has kept a close eye on the money supply. So much so that they have not hesitated to open their discount window to financial institutions in need starting in 2007. In addition, they have even created new bodies to provide more liquidity to the institutions that need it in the coming days (note that  this is possible due to the dollar becoming a floating currency; one that is not backed by commodity, unlike in 1929 when the dollar was backed by the gold standard and the money supply was limited). These newly created bodies include the following (click on the bullet points for a full description):

It is true that the cost of living is going up, which include increases in State taxes. Some may argue that these rises in the cost of living will make the increase in government spending meager. So the question now is, will the rising cost of living counteract the efforts of the Government and the Central Bank to prevent another depression? This is something I will talk more about in the next post.