Loan requirements tighten, change as home sales fall
NEW YORK - The loan you qualify for on Monday might be out of reach on Tuesday.
Bankers and lenders are rapidly changing their requirements as home sales and prices plummet and delinquencies and defaults rise. Problems in the mortgage market are spilling into other lending markets as customers struggle to keep up with payments on other loans, such as auto and credit card payments.
"The market is reinventing itself daily," said Les Berman, owner of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based EB Financial and the president of the California Association of Mortgage Brokers. "I did my first loan in 1971 and have never seen anything like this."
To adjust their standards - which many critics say grew too lax in the middle of the decade - lenders now are raising minimum credit scores, offering smaller loans, and requiring detailed proof of income and assets.
For those who do meet the tightened criteria, a new plan disclosed yesterday by the Federal Reserve to provide $200 billion to the financial services sector should mean there is plenty of money available for borrowers and lower interest rates, said David Wyss, the chief economist at Standard & Poor's.
Mortgages have been among the worst performing loans in recent months. More than 16 percent of subprime mortgages - loans given to customers with poor credit history - were delinquent at the end of the third quarter, according to the latest data available from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
In early 2007, customers with credit scores in the low 600s would be able to receive a mortgage with no down payment and by simply stating their income. Today, a credit score below 680 is a red flag that subjects a prospective homeowner to higher rates and special fees. Credit scores range between 300 and 850, and are determined by a borrower's past ability to repay loans.
And regardless of credit score, customers are going to have to provide proof of income and assets in the bank. Lenders have drastically reduced the amount of money they will lend on any given purchase and their maximum loan-to-value ratios.
The ratio measures the amount a customer borrows compared with the total value of the property. Traditionally, ratios did not exceed 80 percent, but at the peak of the housing market a borrower could take out a loan worth more than the house.
Last year, a borrower could get complete financing on a $300,000 home with a mortgage alone or in combination with a home equity loan or a line of credit. Today, that same borrower likely needs $60,000 for a down payment or will face large fees and higher interest rates.
The easy lending environment of the past few years extended into home equity products, which like mortgages are now subject to tougher standards as defaults rise.
Tom Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase & Co., said that within the past eight months, Chase has focused on combined loan-to-value ratio, documentation, and credit scores to improve loan quality, and raised minimum requirements for each.
Just as delinquencies and defaults are rising among mortgage and home equity products, problems are mounting for auto lenders, as well.
Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, said many auto lenders are requiring larger down payments on loans.