By September 26, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

Should Government Set Mortgage Rates?

With all the talk of getting a new mortgage there’s one question which no one seems ready to touch: Why doesn’t the government ought to set mortgage rates?

At first this may seem like an audacious idea, a violation somehow of the free market absolutism preferred by so many businesses and industries — at least until they need a special rule, tax break or handout from Uncle Sam.

In fact, it was not too long ago that Uncle Sam actually set mortgage rates for government-insured loans. For instance:

  • Until November 30, 1983 HUD set interest rates for FHA mortgages. The practice ended with passage of the Housing and Rural Recovery Act of 1983.
  • Under the Veterans Home Loan Program Amendments of 1992, the VA is allowed to set the maximum interest rate that can be charged for a VA loan as well as the maximum number of points. Today, the VA still has the right to set mortgage rates for vets but has elected not to do so.

Imagine what would happen if the government set daily mortgage rates for FHA and VA loans. Each day at 9 AM the daily rate would be made available online. Every borrower would have an opportunity to see the available rate for qualifying borrowers. Borrowers could compare the FHA and VA rates with rates for conventional financing — meaning there would be no need to set conventional interest levels, though if we wanted that could also by done through the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The rates would be show at “par” — meaning with zero points — and with points so that borrowers could see a number of rate-and-point combinations. For instance, today a loan might be at:

  • 3.75 percent and 1 point.
  • 4 percent and 0 point (par pricing)
  • 4.25 and -1 point (borrower gets a cash credit at closing or lender pays some or all closing costs).

In a marketplace filled with openness and clarity borrowers would have more of a chance of getting a fair deal.

Alternatively, we could go back to 2006.

The Wall Street Journal says in 2006 that 61 percent of all subprime loans originated that year went to borrowers who actually qualified for FHA, VA and conventional mortgages. Think how much borrowers could have saved if only they had known their real financial position. Think how many foreclosures could have been prevented. (See: Subprime Debacle Traps Even Very Credit-Worthy, The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2007).

And while lenders might object to HUD and the VA setting rates for their insured loan products, they certainly have not complained with new rules which have benefitted mortgage companies.

For instance,  HUD limits on lender fees for FHA borrowers were ended in November 2008 — just two weeks after the presidential election. The Bush Administration said it decided to “remove the current specific limitations on the amounts mortgagees presently are allowed to charge borrowers directly for originating and closing an FHA loan.”

While many lenders have acted fairly and in good faith, some have not. That’s why better regulation is needed and that’s why the government should publish daily loan rates that anyone with Internet access can see.



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