If you are a homeowner and haven’t refinanced your mortgage within the past 12 to 18 months, you are likely paying far more interest on your loan than you need to be paying. Over the past year and a half, home loan interest rates have dropped significantly and are much lower than the options that were offered last year. In addition to new low rates, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has introduced new mortgage refinance initiatives that are helping homeowners more easily refinance and save money very quickly.
The refinance program that works best for you and the amount of money that you can save on your mortgage depends on the type of mortgage that you currently have. There are several different kinds of mortgages, and each one has specific refinance programs that it will qualify for. Not all mortgages will qualify for all types of refinance programs. Here we will discuss the two most popular kinds of loans and the refinance options that work for each one.
FHA and First-Time Homeowner Loans
If you are a first-time homeowner, meaning that the home you currently own is the first one you have ever purchased, you likely have an FHA loan. These loans are great options for first-time buyers as they have low interest rates, low down payment requirements, and low or no upfront closing fees. In addition, they do not require that the buyer purchase additional private mortgage insurance (PMI).
If you have an FHA loan, your mortgage is guaranteed by the government, and you can only refinance with FHA or government programs. Luckily, the FHA has recently released the new FHA streamline Refinance program, which allows homeowners with an FHA loan to refinance quickly and affordably. The new FHA refinance program requires no credit check, no employment verification, and no home appraisal. The purpose of the streamline program is to refine the refinance process, making it happen quickly and very affordably. The fees associated with this program have been reduced or eliminated, and can help homeowners save money within 30 days of applying. If you have an FHA mortgage, the FHA streamline refinance is likely your best bet for lowering your interest rate and saving money.
If you are or have been a member of the United States Armed Forces, you likely used your veteran benefits to purchase your home with a VA loan. If you qualify, VA loans are easily the best home buying option available. They carry the lowest rates, best closing fees, and most convenient terms out of any mortgage available. Only US veterans and members of the Armed Forces qualify for these loans, however, so if you have not served there is no way you can get a VA loan.
Similar to the FHA options, the those with VA loans can also apply for a VA streamline refinance and save money quickly with little or no money paid upfront on fees or application processing. The streamline program requires little verification and does not require a home appraisal. VA mortgage rates are the lowest available out of any mortgage option, and the refinance options are quick and affordable. Current rates are extremely low and can potentially save you thousands on your mortgage depending on your current interest rate.
Start Saving Money Immediately
If you have either of these kinds of mortgages and haven’t yet refinanced your property, or have refinanced but it has been a while since you did, you may be able to save a significant amount of money on your mortgage with the right refinance. Take some time to speak with a few different lenders and learn about their refinance options and see what rates they are currently offering. It is important to shop around as different lenders charge different fees up front and offer slightly different mortgage rates. Be sure you are getting the best deal and start saving today!
Jessica Markam is an associate at StreamlineRefinance.net and writes about current mortgage industry news including refinances, new home loans, and other lending options.
By: G. M. Filisko
Published: January 05, 2012 Don’t rouse the IRS or pay more taxes than necessary — know the score on each home tax deduction and credit.
As you calculate your tax returns, consider each home tax deduction and credit you are – and are not – entitled to. Running afoul of any of these 10 home-related tax mistakes – which tax pros say are especially common – can cost you money or draw the IRS to your doorstep.
Sin #1: Deducting the wrong year for property taxes
You take a tax deduction for property taxes (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/taxes-incentives/property-tax-exemptions/) in the year you (or the holder of your escrow account) actually paid them. Some taxing authorities work a year behind – that is, you’re not billed for 2011 property taxes until 2012. But that’s irrelevant to the feds.
Enter on your federal forms whatever amount you actually paid in 2011, no matter what the date is on your tax bill. Dave Hampton, CPA, tax manager at the Cincinnati accounting firm of Burke & Schindler, has seen home owners confuse payments for different years and claim the incorrect amount.
Sin #2: Confusing escrow amount for actual taxes paid
If your lender escrows funds to pay your property taxes, don’t just deduct the amount escrowed, says Bob Meighan, CPA and vice president at TurboTax in San Diego. The regular amount you pay into your escrow account each month to cover property taxes is probably a little more or a little less than your property tax bill. Your lender will adjust the amount every year or so to realign the two.
For example, your tax bill might be $1,200, but your lender may have collected $1,100 or $1,300 in escrow over the year. Deduct only $1,200. Your lender will send you an official statement listing the actual taxes paid. Use that. Don’t just add up 12 months of escrow property tax payments.
Sin #3: Deducting points paid to refinance
Deduct points you paid your lender to secure your mortgage (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/deduct-mortgage-interest/) in full for the year you bought your home. However, when you refinance, says Meighan, you must deduct points over the life of your new loan. If you paid $2,000 in points to refinance into a 15-year mortgage, your tax deduction is $133 per year.
Sin #4: Failing to deduct private mortgage insurance
Lenders require home buyers with a down payment of less than 20% to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI). Avoid the common mistake of forgetting to deduct your PMI payments (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/deducting-private-mortgage-insurance/). However, note the deduction begins to phase out once your adjusted gross income reaches $100,000 and disappears entirely when your AGI surpasses $109,000. Also, unless Congress acts to extend the PMI deduction again, 2011 is the last tax year for which you can take this deduction.
Sin #5: Misjudging the home office tax deduction (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/tax-deductions-when-you-work-home/)
This deduction may not be as good as it seems. It’s complicated, often doesn’t amount to much of a deduction, has to be recaptured if you turn a profit when you sell your home, and can pique the IRS’s interest in your return. Hampton’s advice: Claim it only if it’s worth those drawbacks. If so, here’s what to know about what you can write off (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/tax-deductions-when-you-work-home/).
Sin #6: Missing the first-time home buyer tax credit
While the original home buyer tax credit deadline passed in April 2010 (and isn’t available in 2012), military families and some government workers on assignment outside the U.S. were given an extension until April 30, 2011 (http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=215594,00.html), to get a home under contract and take advantage of up to $8,000 in tax credits for first-time buyers and $6,500 in credits for repeat buyers.
It applies to any individual (and, if married, the individual’s spouse) who serves on qualified official extended duty service outside of the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.
Sin #7: Failing to track home-related expenses
If the IRS comes a-knockin’, don’t be scrambling to compile your records. Many people forget to track home office and home maintenance and repair expenses, says Meighan. File away documents as you go. For example, save each manufacturer’s certification statement for energy tax credits, insurance company statements for PMI, and lender or government statements to confirm property taxes paid.
Sin #8: Forgetting to keep track of capital gains
If you sold your main home last year, don’t forget to pay capital gains taxes on any profit. However, you can exclude $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re a married couple) of any profits from taxes. So if you bought a home for $100,000 and sold it for $400,000, your capital gains are $300,000. If you’re single, you owe taxes on $50,000 of gains. However, there are minimum time limits for holding property to take advantage of the exclusions, and other details. Consult IRS Publication 523 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p523.pdf).
Sin #9: Filing incorrectly for energy tax credits
If you made any eligible improvement (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/how-to-claim-energy-tax-credits/), fill out Form 5695 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f5695.pdf). Part I, which covers the 30%/$1,500 credit for such items as insulation and windows, is fairly straightforward. But Part II, which covers the 30%/no-limit items such as geothermal heat pumps, can be incredibly complex and involves crosschecking with half a dozen other IRS forms. Read the instructions carefully.
Sin #10: Claiming too much for the mortgage interest tax deduction
You can deduct mortgage interest (http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/tax-deductions/deduct-mortgage-interest/) only up to $1 million of mortgage debt, says Meighan. If you have $1.2 million in mortgage debt, for example, deduct only the mortgage interest attributable to the first $1 million.
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but shouldn’t be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
Visit houselogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
The government announced changes to its HARP program November 15, 2011. This post is accurate and up-to-date
If you’re underwater on your conforming, conventional mortgage, you may be eligible to refinance without paying down principal and without having to pay mortgage insurance.
Here are the details of the government’s new 2011 HARP refinance program.
What Is HARP?
HARP was started in April 2009. It goes by several names. The government calls it HARP, as in Home Affordable Refinance Program.
The program is also known as the Making Home Affordable plan, the Obama Refi plan, DU Refi +, and Relief Refinance.
In order to be eligible for the HARP refinance program:
- Your loan must be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
- Your current mortgage must have a securitization date prior to June 1, 2009
If you meet these two criteria, you may be HARP-eligible. If your mortgage is FHA, USDA or a jumbo mortgage, you are not HARP-eligible.
HARP: Questions and Answers
Do these question-and-answers account for the “new” HARP mortgage program?
Yes, everything you are reading is accurate as of today, November 21, 2011. This post includes the latest changes as rolled out by the Federal Home Finance Agency on October 24, 2011, and as confirmed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on November 15, 2011.
Is “HARP” the same thing as the government’s “Making Home Affordable” program?
Yes, the names HARP and Making Home Affordable are interchangeable.
How do I know if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac has my mortgage?
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have “lookup” forms on their respective websites. Your loan must appear on one of these two sites to be eligible for HARP.
If my mortgage is held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, am I instantly-eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program?
No. There is a series of criteria. Having your mortgage held by Fannie or Freddie is just a pre-qualifier.
My mortgage is held by Fannie/Freddie. Now what do I do?
Find a recent mortgage statement and write “Fannie Mae” or “Freddie Mac” on it — whichever group backs your home loan — so you don’t forget. Give that information to your lender when you apply for your HARP refinance.
What if neither Fannie Mae nor Freddie Mac has a record of my mortgage?
If neither Fannie nor Freddie has record of your mortgage, your loan is HARP-ineligible. However, you may still be eligible for a “regular” refinance to lower rates. Please contact a licensed mortgage professional to see your options. Or, if your mortgage is insured by the FHA, use the FHA Streamline Refinance program. The FHA Streamline Refinance helps underwater homeowners, too.
Does HARP work the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac?
Yes, for the most part, the HARP mortgage program is the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac. There are some small differences, but they affect just a tiny, tiny portion of the general population. For everyone else, the guidelines work the same.
Am I eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program if I’m behind on my mortgage?
No. You must be current on your mortgage to refinance via HARP.
Will the Home Affordable Refinance Program help me avoid foreclosure?
No. The Home Affordable Refinance Program is not designed to delay, or stop, foreclosures. It’s meant to give homeowners who are current on their mortgages, and who have lost home equity, a chance to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates.
What are the minimum requirements to be HARP-eligible?
First, your home loan must be paid on-time for the prior 6 months, and at least 11 of the most recent 12 months. Second, your mortgage must have been sold to Fannie or Freddie prior to June 1, 2009. And, third, you may not have used the HARP mortgage program before — only one HARP refinance per mortgage is allowed.
If I refinanced with HARP a few years ago, can I use it again for HARP II?
No. You can only use the HARP mortgage program one time per home.
Is there a loan-to-value restriction for HARP?
No. All homes — regardless of how far underwater they are — are eligible for the HARP program.
I am really far underwater on my mortgage. Can I use HARP?
Yes, you can. There is no loan-to-value restriction under the HARP mortgage program so long as your new mortgage is a fixed rate loan with a term of 30 years or fewer. If you use an adjustable-rate mortgage, your loan-to-value is capped at 105%.
Maybe I wasn’t clear. I am really, really far underwater on my mortgage. Are you sure I can use HARP?
Yes, I am sure. The new HARP mortgage program specifically has no loan-to-value restriction so that homeowners can take advantage of it. You can have 300% loan-to-value, and still be HARP-eligible. HARP is now unlimited LTV for fixed rate loans with 30-year terms or less.
If I refinance with HARP using an ARM, do I still get “unlimited LTV”?
No, if you use an ARM for HARP, you are limited to 105% loan-to-value. Only fixed rate loans get the unlimited LTV treatment.
Will my home require an appraisal with the HARP mortgage program?
Sort of. Although your home’s value doesn’t matter for the HARP mortgage program, lenders will run what’s called an “automated valuation model” (AVM) on your home. If the value meets reliability standards, no physical appraisal will be required. However, your lender may choose to commission a physical appraisal anyway — just to make sure your home is “standing”.
Is HARP the same thing as an FHA Streamline Refinance?
No, the HARP mortgage program is administered through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA Streamline Refinances are performed through the FHA. The programs have similarities, however.
Does Ginnie Mae participate in the HARP Refinance program?
No, Ginnie Mae does not participate in the HARP Refinance program. Ginnie Mae is associated with FHA mortgages — not conventional ones. HARP II is for conventional mortgages only.
Do I have to HARP refinance with my current mortgage lender?
No, you can do a HARP refinance with any participating mortgage lender.
So, I can use any mortgage lender for my HARP Refinance?
Yes. With the Home Affordable Refinance Program, you can refinance with any participating HARP lender.
My current bank says that they’re the only ones who can do my HARP Refinance. Is that true?
No, that’s not true. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. There are very few instances in which a HARP applicant will be precluded from shopping for the best rate. It’s doubtful that your situation is one of them.
My current mortgage is with [YOUR BANK HERE] and I don’t like them. Can I work with another bank?
Yes, with HARP, you can work with any participating lender in the country.
I put down 20% when I bought my home. My home is now underwater. If I refinance with HARP, will I have to pay mortgage insurance now?
No, you won’t need to pay mortgage insurance. If your current loan doesn’t require PMI, your new loan won’t require it, either.
I pay PMI now. Will my PMI payments go up with a new HARP refinance?
No, your private mortgage insurance payments will not increase. However, the “transfer” of your mortgage insurance policy may require an extra step. Remind your lender that you’re paying PMI to help the refinance process move more smoothly.
My current mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI). Can I refinance via HARP?
No. If your mortgage has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), you are HARP-ineligible.
How do I know if my mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI)?
To find out if your mortgage has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), locate your loan paperwork from closing. There should be a clear disclosure that states that your mortgage features LPMI, and the terms should be clearly labeled for you.
I don’t see an LPMI disclosure in my closing package but I think that I have it. How do I know if my mortgage has LPMI?
If there is no LPMI disclosure, first check if your first mortgage’s loan-to-value exceeded 80% at the time of closing. If it did, look to see if you are paying monthly mortgage insurance. If you are not paying monthly PMI, you’re likely carrying LPMI (and are HARP-ineligible).
What’s the biggest mortgage I can get with a HARP refinance?
HARP refinances are limited to your area’s conforming loan limits. In most cities, the conforming loan limit is $417,000. However, there are some cities in which conforming loan limits are as high at $625,500.
Can I do a cash-out refinances with HARP?
No, the HARP mortgage program doesn’t allow cash out refinance. Only rate-and-term refinances are allowable.
Can I refinance a second/vacation home with HARP?
Yes, you can refinance a second/vacation property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.
Can I refinance an investment/rental property with HARP?
Yes, you can refinance an investment/rental property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. You can refinance a home on which you’re an “accidental landlord” via HARP. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.
I rent out my old home. Is it HARP-eligible even though it’s an investment property now?
Yes, you can use the HARP Refinance program for your former residence — even if there’s a renter there now.
These things I’m reading here… Why, when I call my bank, do they tell me it’s not true?
It’s possible that the call center representative to whom you’re speaking is neither knowledgeable about HARP, nor the actual mortgage underwriting process. This post is researched and cross-referenced against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines, and publicly-available reports from the FHFA.
Are condominiums eligible for HARP refinancing?
Yes, condominiums can be financed on the HARP refinance program. Warrantability standards still apply.
Can I consolidate mortgages with a HARP refinance?
No, you cannot consolidate multiple mortgages with the HARP refinance program. It’s for first liens only. All subordinate/junior liens must be resubordinated to the new first mortgage.
Can I “roll up” my closing costs with a HARP refinance?
Yes, mortgage balances can be increased to cover closing costs in addition to other monies due at closing such as escrow reserves, accrued daily interest, and a small amount of cash. In no cases may loan sizes exceed the local conforming loan limits, however.
I am unemployed and without income. Am I HARP-eligible?
Yes, you do not need to be employed to use the HARP mortgage program. HARP applicants do not need to be “requalified” unless their new principal + interest payment increases by more than 20%. If the new payment increases by less than 20%, or falls, there is no requalification necessary.
My original mortgage was a stated income loan. Will my income be verified with a HARP refinance?
No, your income will not be verified via the HARP refinance program unless your new principal + interest payment increases by more than 20 percent. If you’re new principal + interest payment increases by less than 20%, or falls, there is no income verification necessary.
I am now divorced. I want to remove my ex-spouse from the mortgage. Can I do that with HARP?
Yes. With HARP, a borrower on the mortgage can be removed via a HARP refinance so long as that person is also removed from the deed; and has no ownership interest in the home.
What are the HARP program’s mortgage rates?
Mortgage rates for the HARP mortgage program are the same as for a “traditional” refinance. There is no “premium” for using the HARP program.
Do HARP refinances use Loan-Level Pricing Adjustments (LLPAs)?
Yes, HARP mortgages use loan-level pricing adjustments, but LLPAs are dramatically reduced on a HARP refinance and, in some cases, waived entirely. For example, there are no LLPAs for fixed-rare HARP refinances with terms of 20 years or fewer. For all other loans, loan-level pricing adjustments are capped at 0.75 points.
Does a HARP Refinances require LLPAs for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage?
No, there are no LLPAs for 15-year fixed rate mortgage via the HARP Refinance program.
Is there a minimum credit score to use the HARP program?
No, there is no minimum credit score requirement with the HARP mortgage program, per se. However, you must qualify for the mortgage based on traditional underwriting standards.
Do I have to refinance my mortgage with my current lender?
In most cases, no. You can do a HARP refinance with any lender you want.
What does the term “DU Refit Plus” mean?
“DU Refi Plus” is the brand name Fannie Mae assigned to its particular flavor of the HARP mortgage program. “DU” stands for Desktop Underwriter. It’s a software program that simulates mortgage underwriting. “Refi Plus” is a gimmicky-sounding term that could have been anything. The name has been trademarked, however.
What does the term “Relief Refinance” mean?
“Relief Refinance” is the Freddie Mac equivalent of DU Refi+.
For how long should I lock my mortgage rate via the HARP Program
Lock for 45 days, at minimum. This is because the HARP mortgage program, while streamlined for simplicity, still has some grey areas that can lead to delay. It’s better to have a rate lock that lasts too long than not long enough.
When does the HARP program end?
If you are HARP-eligible, you must close on your mortgage prior to January 1, 2014 –days from now.
Lastly, don’t forget! The Home Affordable Refinance Program is not meant to save a home from foreclosure. It’s meant to give underwater homeowners a chance to refinance without paying PMI. If you need foreclosure help, call your current loan servicer immediately.
About the Author
Kyle Drake (NMLS #395575) is an active loan officer with Summit Funding. Email Kyle at email@example.com or call 734-634-9450.
The New and Improved (REALLY) Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP)…What You and Your Friends Need to Know!
Monday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced their enhancements to the HARP refinancing program. Operational details of the plan are to be released on November 15. Only loans that were purchased or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009 and have a current LTV over 80% are eligible. In addition, the loan must be current, no late payments in the last six months and no more than one late in the last 12 months. There are no restrictions on who may refinance these loans. Program guidelines include:
- No limit on Loan to Value (LTV), if new loan is a fixed rate loan (current LTV must be above 80%)
- Loans previously refinanced under HARP not allowed
- No cash out is allowed
- Certain agency fees will be waived if new loan is a shorter term loan
- Appraisals not required where Agency AVM is available
- Certain originator Reps and Warrants will be waived
So what does that mean in non-mortgage geek speak?
This may be the one Government sponsored refinance program that actually helps homeowners and halts the slide of the housing market!
If you owe more on your home than it is worth and have a conventional loan (not FHA, VA, USDA or portfolio loan), you may be able to refinance into a lower rate…even if you were not previously able to do so. From what I can see about this program, there are NO Loan-to-Value limits…which mean that even if you owe $100,000 more than your home’s current value, you may still be able to qualify for a lower rate refinance.
What do you need to do now?
If you (or someone you know) would like to know if you qualify for this program, please call Kyle at 734-634-9450 or Linda at 248-334-9400 and we will help you determine if your loan qualifies to be refinanced under this program.
Folks, there will literally be MILLIONS of homeowners inquiring to take advantage of this program. It is safe to say the lenders, banks and investors will be bottle-necked with loan applications by the middle of December or early January. If you want to be at the FRONT OF THE LINE, please call us this week and we’ll put you at the top of our list of clients to call when the details are released. The bottom line is that luck favors the prepared…don’t wait on this one.
Thanks and have a great week!
New HARP Information available, check out our latest post at HARP Details and FAQ’s
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