Mortgage denied: Sometimes, for no good reason

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Getting a mortgage just keeps getting tougher, and many homebuyers are getting rejected for loans they could easily afford.

The issue: Tighter standards from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government entities that back mortgages made by banks.

Banks are reluctant to make loans without the Fannie and Freddie guarantee, and loans backed by them account for just about every mortgage written these days.

In 2009, the agencies lifted the minimum credit score that borrowers must have from 580 to 620. That's probably for the best.

But they've pushed through a host of other requirements as well, and that means real estate deals don't get done, even for some relatively low-risk borrowers.

"You can have one Fannie/Freddie guideline you violate and that gets you rejected," said Alan Rosenbaum of GuardHill Financial.

A quarter of all mortgage loan applicants get denied for loans, according to the Federal Reserve. Many other potential homebuyers never even try to get loans, said Jerry Howard, president of the National Association of Home Builders.

"The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction," Howard said. "This overreaction is retarding the housing market recovery." (Homes: What a million bucks buys)

Here are some of the reasons that banks must turn down borrowers for mortgages:

Too few of the condos in your association have been sold

For Fannie/Freddie lenders to approve a mortgage to finance purchase of a condo, a large majority of the units -- 70% -- have to be already sold or under contract to individuals. Before 2009, the threshold was 51%.

If more than 30% are still owned by the company that built the complex or sponsored its conversion from rental units, the mortgage will be denied, no matter how qualified the buyer is.

The reasoning is that condo developments where the builders or sponsors still own a large share of the units are more likely to get into financial difficulty. If the builder or sponsor runs out of funds before it can sell off the units, it may stop paying the common charges and property taxes.

Struggling sponsors have also lost unsold units to creditors, which resold them off at bargain basement prices. That jeopardizes the values of all the condo units, sending borrowers underwater and making them more likely to default.

The agencies also refuse to fund condo loans if buildings face some pending legal liability, if more than 15% of owners are behind on homeowner dues or if more than 10% of units are owned by a single entity.

Your debt is too high

Fannie and Freddie have also increased their emphasis on income relative to debt.

If someone's total debt payments exceed 45% of income, the mortgage will be denied. In 2009, the limit was 55%.

Using that as a hard and fast rule can penalize very qualified buyers, ones who should be able to meet their debt obligations.

Take, for example, a couple that wants to buy a second home as a rental. Two mortgage payments could easily push them past the 45% threshold, even though they'll have rental income and home equity.

The 45% rule can also hurt small business owners who have had a couple of bad years. Their incomes may be down relative to their debt, but they may have plenty of cash to keep from defaulting on a mortgage.

The wait after foreclosure is extended to seven years from five

Some borrowers lost homes to foreclosure but then diligently rebuilt their financial health. Despite high credit scores, ample assets and income and steady employment, lenders are not allowed to finance their Fannie/Freddie mortgages if their foreclosures happened any time within the past seven years.

Before spring last year, the wait time was five years.

Missed payments on credit card debt

Fannie and Freddie also have gotten stricter in how they factor in missed payments on credit cards, auto loans and other debts in which the balances do not have to be paid off every month.

They used to be okay with a missed payment or two. Now, one missed payment will hit your debt-to-income ratio, because banks will add 5% of your outstanding loan balance to the debt part of the calculation.

That would be an extra $1,000 on a $20,000 student loan balance, for example.

Where to go

"Portfolio lenders will look at the entire credit history and see a blemish and say, 'This has no impact on credit worthiness,'" said Rosenbaum.

They may offer rates and terms competitive with agency loans but if there are serious risk factors, loans can be more expensive, according to Bob Moulton, a mortgage broker with Americana Mortgage on Long Island.

"It's a tough environment," he said "For people like the self-employed, mortgages can get pricey."

He recently arranged a mortgage for a private businessman through a savings bank. His client paid a rate of 7.9%, about three points higher than the average 30-year fixed. The rate is only good for three years, after which it resets and can rise by as much as two points annually and go as high as 13.9%. To top of page

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