Real Estate

Who can't get a mortgage now

Buyers with good credit and a down payment will make out well - all others, prepare to pay.

By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- The stock market is going crazy. Hedge funds are going under. But for the average American looking for a home loan, the crisis in the subprime mortgage market may actually be good news.

"Not only is it nothing to worry about, it's an absolute positive," said Loni Graiver, president of the Maine-based Cumberland County Mortgage. "Not only have [home] valuations come down, but [interest rates] are still historically low."

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15 yr fixed 3.74%
5/1 ARM 4.07%
30 yr refi 4.52%
15 yr refi 3.74%

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Rates on 30-year fixed loans dipped last week, to 6.41 percent, according to the Mortgage Banker's Association.

In addition, tightened lending standards stemming from the subprime crisis likely mean fewer buyers, pushing down home prices.

The one catch is this: You've got to be a buyer with good credit, a low debt to income ratio, a healthy down payment, verifiable income, and looking to finance less than $417,000 (the cutoff for so-called jumbo loans).

Those characteristics basically define someone who qualifies for a loan through a government program like Fannie Mae, which makes up about 50 percent of all outstanding mortgages, according to Guy Cecala, publisher of the industry newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.

Graiver said to expect to pay a down payment of at least 10 percent, and have a FICO credit score of 620 or higher in order to get a rate between 6.2 and 7.5 percent. Perhaps 90 percent of home buyers qualify for that prime rate, although if you want a rate below 7 percent you probably need a FICO score above 660.

To get the best deal, "plan on coming to my office with your tax returns and a down payment," said Bob Mouton, President of the Long Island-based American Mortgage Group.

If you're among the 10 percent of people with credit scores below 620 who need a subprime mortgage, things could get tricky.

"To a large extent, they are going to find that no one wants to lend to them," said Steve Habetz, president of Threshold Mortgage in Westport, Conn. "Those loans are being eliminated from the marketplace."

Someone with a credit score of 600 might have to pay as much as 9.5 percent, according to FICO, which provides lenders with borrowers' credit ratings.

You could also run into trouble if your loan is for more than $417,00, the maximum amount that can be channeled through a government lender. Loans over $417,000 are considered "jumbo" mortgages, which have recently seen rates jump due to a perceived increase in risk.

Mouton said money for subprime loans is still there, but be prepared to pay interest rates of 8 or 9 percent on them, compared to just over 7 up until recently.

Eugene Choi and Rich Bouchner, owners of Commodore Mortgage Group, say they've had to scramble to get loans for clients in the New York area that didn't meet the traditional criteria.

One was a waitress who made decent money at a high end restaurant, but couldn't prove it because so much of her pay was in cash tips.

Another was a young lawyer, making nearly $200,000 in the city but who didn't have the money saved for the down payment on a $800,000 Manhattan condo.

"A lot of people who should have qualified for credit are getting squeezed out of the market," said Bouchner. "Our lenders are turning off the spigot so quickly, these loans might not be here tomorrow." Top of page