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Posted 02/03/2016

Fed Survey: Mortgage Lenders Rapidly Lowering Loan Approval Standards

FRB Senior Loan Officer Survey: Banks loosening prime mortgage guidelines

Senior Loan Officer Survey Shows Mortgage Standards Loosening

It's an excellent time to be buying a home or refinancing one -- current mortgage rates are dropped and U.S. lenders are making it easier to get mortgage-approved.

Between October-December 2015, for the seventh straight quarter, a greater number of mortgage lenders reduced their loan approval standards than those which increased them. It points to why more mortgage loans are being approved than during any period in recent history.

Lenders have armed themselves with better lending models and feel buoyed by the rising U.S. housing market. As a result, banks are making new concessions for borrowers with less-than-perfect credit; and for those with little or no home equity.

If you're worried about getting turned down for a mortgage, it can't hurt you to apply. You may be surprised at what you find out.

Click to see today's rates (May 2nd, 2016)

Banks Issuing More Mortgage Approvals

Once per quarter, the Federal Reserve conducts a survey in which it asks its member banks about the current lending environment. The survey covers a wide-range of loan types, both commercial and residential.

The purpose of the Fed's survey is to discover what the consumer and business demand is for bank loans, and what's the banks' willingness to make such loans to those who apply.

As part of its survey, the Fed inquires on banks' mortgage lending guidelines -- specifically, those for prime residential mortgages.

A "prime residential mortgage", according to the Federal Reserve, is a mortgage for a borrower whose credit scores are 740 or higher; whose debt-to-income ratios are lower than average; and, whose mortgage features the standard amortization schedule common to a fixed-rate or an adjustable-rate mortgage.

The Fed's most recent Senior Loan Officer Survey shows prime mortgage borrowers are having an easier time getting mortgage-approved.

18% of banks reported an easing of mortgage loan standards last quarter. Just three percent declared a tightening. It's clearly getting easier to get mortgage-approved.

Ellie Mae statistics back this up.

According to the mortgage processing software provider Ellie Mae, whose software handles more than 3.7 million mortgage transactions annually, more than 7-in-10 purchase mortgage applications made it closing last quarter.

This is the highest percentage since Ellie Mae began tracking such data.

If you've been turned down for a loan in the past, consider re-submitting your application to a lender. Your loan which was declined yesterday may yet get approved today.

Click to see today's rates (May 2nd, 2016)

FHA Loans And VA Loans Buck Trend

The fourth-quarter Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer survey showed a loosening in prime mortgage guidelines.

With respect to guidelines for government-backed loans, however -- a category which includes FHA, VA, and USDA loans -- lenders weren't so friendly.

Just 7% of banks making government residential mortgages loosened guidelines last quarter. This is the same percentage as those which tightened.

FHA loans are loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. They are sometimes referred to as 203(b) loans after the section of the FHA code in which they're described.

FHA loans are popular among first-time home buyers because they allow for low downpayments of 3.5% and because credit score requirements are often lower as compared to other loan programs.

FHA loans are available to all mortgage applicants. By contrast, VA loans and USDA loans require borrowers to meet special qualification.

VA loans, for example, are available to members and veterans of the U.S. military, and surviving spouses. VA loans allow for 100% financing and never require mortgage insurance.

USDA loans are limited by geography.

Available in less-densely populated areas, including many rural parts of the country and many U.S. suburbs, USDA loans also offer no-money-down options.

Lenders Removing Investor Overlays

Few banks "make their own loans" anymore. Most prefer to lend again the guidelines set forth by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and, the FHA, VA, and USDA.

However, the "official" guidelines of a government-backed loan program can look a bit aggressive to bank -- especially a conservative one. This is why investor overlays exist.

An "investor overlays" is a mortgage approval standard enforced by a bank, but not listed in the program's official mortgage guidelines.

For example, official FHA mortgage guidelines state that borrower's minimum credit score must be 500 in order to get FHA home loan-approved. Lenders, however, implement an investor overlay, and set their minimum credit score requirement to be 580.

When a bank says it's loosening its mortgage guidelines, this generally means that its investor overlays are being softened and, for the last several years, there's been a lot of loosening industry-wide.

Minimum credit scores have dropped. Self-employment documentation has reduced. Maximum loan-to-values have been increased.

If you've been turned down for a mortgage within the last two years, it may be worthwhile to re-apply. The reasons for which your application was denied may no longer matter.

Get Today's Mortgage Rates Now

Whether you're making a mortgage application for the first time, or re-applying after a turn down, it's an excellent time to shop for a home loan.

Get today's live mortgage rates now. Your social security number is not required to get started, and all quotes come with access to your live mortgage credit scores.

Click to see today's rates (May 2nd, 2016)

The information contained on The Mortgage Reports website is for informational purposes only and is not an advertisement for products offered by Full Beaker. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of Full Beaker, its officers, parent, or affiliates.

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2016 Conforming, FHA, & VA Loan Limits

Mortgage loan limits for every U.S. county, as published by Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)