FMERR 2020 guidelines and eligibility: Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance Program

Peter Miller
The Mortgage Reports contributor

Mortgage relief refinance program of 2020

The FMERR mortgage relief program expired September 30, 2019, so it is currently unavailable in 2020. We will keep this post updated in case Freddie Mac extends this popular refinance. The Fannie Mae version of this program, called the High LTV Refinance Option (HIRO), is still available in 2020. Click here for details on that program.

What is FMERR?

The Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance – or FMERR – is for borrowers who want to refinance but have very little or no equity in their homes. In reality, it’s for homeowners who have done all the right things but have not benefited from rising home values. The result is not enough equity to refinance at a lower rate. FMERR fixes this.

Find FMERR replacement programs here (Jan 26th, 2021)

The FMERR LTV advantage

Why is Freddie Mac worried about borrowers with little equity? After all, haven’t home prices increased? The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that average existing home prices reached $247,500 in January – the 83rd straight month of year-over-year gains.

The catch is that home values are not rising everywhere. Buried beneath the average figures is the reality that sale prices within some areas are actually falling.

In fact, home prices are falling in some areas. NAR figures show that in the fourth quarter of 2018 existing home values rose in 163 out of 178 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). That also means home prices fell in 15 metro areas.

Falling prices mean less equity. For instance, if your home is worth $250,000 and you have a loan for $245,000, you have almost no equity — not enough to refinance.

In some cases, the result is that homeowners are stuck paying mortgage rates one to two points higher than what’s available in the market.

Find FMERR replacement programs here (Jan 26th, 2021)

Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance lets you refi with a high loan-to-value

Under the Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance, you can refinance a single-family home at current market rates if you have little to no equity. So if rates drop, refinancing is still an option for you.

With the FMERR option, you can refinance even if the property is upside-down, meaning the value of the home is lower than the outstanding debt.

That’s right. If your home is worth $300,000 and you owe $310,000, you can still refinance with FMERR if you meet other guidelines.

Most loan programs are notoriously conservative but Freddie Mac eliminates loan-to-value maximums for this loan type.

For instance, your home is worth $100,000 and you owe $120,000. You could get a new loan that covers the full amount owed even though it is at 120% loan-to-value.

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Who qualifies for the FMERR initiative?

FMERR was rolled out as an initiative to help underwater homeowners. It can be a big money saver — but only recent borrowers qualify. Several requirements for borrowers to get a Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance must be met. Eligibility is as follows.

  1. Your loan-to-value is at least 97.01% for a one-unit, owner-occupied residence
  2. Freddie Mac has to own the loan. To check go to the Freddie Mac Loan Look-up Tool.
  3. Your current loan must be fairly recent. It has to have been originated on or after October 1, 2017.
  4. Your current financing must be “seasoned” at least 15 months. The day your current loan was originated and the date of the new financing must be at least 15 months apart.
  5. The program will expire later this year. You must close before September 30, 2019.

So, let’s say you purchased a home and closed on October 15, 2017. You have a $250,000 loan, but the home is worth $240,000. You’d like to refinance because rates have dropped.

You would be eligible for the FMERR program as of January 15, 2019.

Loan-to-value ratio minimums / maximums

Unlike most loan programs, the FMERR loan comes with minimum LTV requirements. In other words, you can’t have too much equity or you won’t qualify.

Minimum LTVs are as follows.

  • Primary residence
    • 1-unit: 97.01% LTV
    • 2-unit: 85.01%
    • 3-4 unit: 80.01%
  • Second home
    • 1-unit: 90.01%
  • Investment property
    • 1-unit: 85.01%
    • 2-4 unit: 75.01%

Keep in mind that these are LTV minimums, not maximum. There is no max LTV if you have a fixed-rate mortgage now.

This program is truly unique: you have to have very little equity to qualify.

If you currently have an adjustable-rate loan such as a 5/1 ARM or 7/1 ARM, there is a maximum LTV of 105% to qualify for a refinance. According to Freddie Mac, this is because of “special disclosure and reporting requirements” involved with refinancing a high-LTV ARM.

You must benefit from the refinance to be eligible

There’s no sense refinancing unless you obtain a real and material benefit.

In the case of a Freddie Mac, Enhanced Relief Refinance borrowers lenders will want to see one or more improvements in your financial situation. Such benefits include a lower mortgage rate, a smaller monthly payment, a changed amortization term, and a switch from an ARM to less risky fixed-rate financing.

Payment history and the FMERR

If Freddie Mac is going to buy your mortgage from a lender it wants to know that you have a good payment history. In terms of the Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance, that means no 30-day delinquencies during the most recent six months and not more than one 30-day delinquency in the past 12 months.

However, lenders have the right to be more strict and may not allow any late payments in the last 12 months.

Mortgage relief program FAQ

In this FAQ:

Note: The FMERR mortgage relief refinance program is expired. The FAQ below refers to the expired program. To see details on the CURRENT mortgage relief refinance from Fannie Mae, click here.

Is FMERR a HARP replacement program?

Essentially, yes. HARP was created to help people refinance, drop their payments, and stay in their homes despite falling home values. FMERR does the exact same thing, but with slightly different guidelines and eligibility requirements.

Is the FMERR program real?

Yes, it is a real program offered via local and national lenders who are Freddie Mac approved. However, be aware of gimmicky advertisements that promise “$3,120 per year savings” and similar claims. The amount you save depends on your current rate, loan balance, and mortgage rates today.

Are there FMERR program reviews?

The program is relatively new, the first homeowners being able to apply in January 2019. As such, there are not many online reviews from homeowners yet. However, The Mortgage Reports is eager to hear about homeowners’ experience about it. Contact us if you’ve gone through the FMERR program and would like to tell others about your experience.

What is “Enhanced Relief Savings for Seniors”

Advertisements that tout “enhanced relief savings for seniors” are likely talking about FMERR. There is no age restriction, young or old, for this program. Homeowners of any age can qualify, provided they meet eligibility criteria.

Why is FMERR also called the Enhanced Relief Program?

HARP expired in 2018. If not for the new program, there would have been no refinance options for underwater homeowners. This mortgage loan provided relief for homeowners who purchased with a small down payment but still wanted to take advantage of today’s low rates. The program “enhanced” currently available refinance options to make them more flexible at high LTV ratios.

What credit score is needed for the FMERR mortgage relief program?

There is technically no minimum credit score to be eligible for FMERR. The FMERR replaces an existing loan with new financing. It is a streamline program and thus no need to have a given credit score. However, certain lenders may set their own credit thresholds for the enhanced relief refinance. So check with your lender to make sure you qualify.

What is the maximum debt-to-income ratio for a mortgage relief refinance?

There is no maximum debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. So even if you’ve experienced a loss of income, you could still qualify.

However, the lender is required to prove a 45% DTI in the following circumstances:

– The payment will increase by more than 20% (which might happen if you change an adjustable-rate loan to a fixed-rate)

– A borrower is removed from the loan

– The loan is a Higher-Priced Covered Transaction (HPCT) or Higher-Priced Mortgage Loan (HPML) which are special classifications of loans where the fees are higher than normally permitted, usually due to a small loan amount. These cases are rare, though.

The debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is typically not an issue because monthly costs will go down or – when replacing an ARM – borrowers will get a fixed monthly cost for principal and interest.

Does FMERR require an appraisal?

No. Lenders can use Freddie Mac’s Home Value Explorer (HVE) tool to determine property value eligibility.

If for some reason the HVE does not return eligible results, you can opt for a standard appraisal. Appraisals typically cost around $400-$500, so trying for an HVE first is the best option.

Find FMERR replacement programs here (Jan 26th, 2021)

Can the new loan be an ARM?

Yes, but the fixed period must be at least 5 years. So you could get a new 5/1, 7/1 or 10/1 ARM, but you could not get a 1/1 or 3/1 ARM.

Can you wrap closing costs into the new loan?

Yes. You can pay for closing costs up to $5,000 by raising the new loan amount and/or getting a lender credit. Just be careful not to raise your loan balance too much. While financed closing costs reduce your out-of-pocket expense for the refi, it’s still money you have to pay back eventually.

Can I get cash back from a FMERR loan?

No. A maximum of $250 may come back to the borrower after closing, and only due to unpredictable changes in escrow charges. Any additional funds will be put toward reducing the loan principal.

Can you remove a borrower from the application with FMERR?

Yes, as long as one borrower remains on the mortgage.

However, additional guidelines apply:

– The remaining borrower must prove they’ve been making payments on their own for 12 months

– The borrower must re-qualify for the mortgage with their sole income

– In case of the death of a borrower, the applicant must supply documentation of the deceased borrower’s death.

Can you add a borrower with FMERR?

No. No borrowers may be added to the loan when you refinance with this mortgage relief program.

Can you use FMERR twice?

Yes. “Borrowers,” says Freddie Mac, “can refinance using the Enhanced Relief Refinance offering more than once as long as all requirements, including the 15 months seasoning, are met.”

Can you use FMERR if you’ve used HARP?

If you have already refinanced through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), you can’t qualify for the new FMERR program.

Can I refinance my home if I’ve converted it to a rental?

Yes. The new FMERR loan does not have to reflect the same occupancy as the original mortgage. So if you purchased a home to live it, and subsequently converted it into a rental, you can use the FMERR program, assuming you disclose that it’s now an investment property.

When does the FMERR program expire?

The program expired on September 30, 2019. However, the Fannie Mae version of this refinance, called the High LTV Refinance Option, is still available. Click here for details on that program.

What are FMERR rates?

Although the FMERR program has expired, there are still options for a low-rate refinance with high LTV. Fannie Mae’s High-LTV Refinance Option is the best choice for refinancing into a low rate if you qualify.

Is there a congress mortgage relief program?

FMERR is a mortgage refinance program run by Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac is a “shareholder-owned company that operates under a congressional charter.” But FMERR is not controlled by Congress. When FMERR expires in 2019, a new mortgage relief program from Fannie Mae (Freddie’s sister agency) will remain available for some homeowners.

Is FMERR a federal mortgage relief program?

FMERR is not a federal mortgage relief program. FMERR is a mortgage relief refinance offered through Freddie Mac — which is “government-sponsored,” but not run by the federal government. FMERR expires in September 2019. But a similar program from Fannie Mae (called “HIRO”) will still be available for some homeowners.

Check your eligibility for a high-ltv refinance here (Jan 26th, 2021)

Taxes and the Freddie Mac Enhanced Relief Refinance

As a result of the 2017 tax reform legislation, the rules regarding mortgage write-offs have changed significantly. Mortgage interest remains generally deductible but it may not be a deduction you want to take. The reason is that the new standard deduction may give you bigger savings at tax time. Also, if you refinance for more than the property’s fair market value some portion of the mortgage interest may not be deductible. For details speak with a tax professional.

Mortgage relief refinance programs for 2020 (FMERR replacements)

As we mentioned above, the FMERR program ended in 2019. But there’s a new mortgage relief refinance program for 2020, offered by Fannie Mae.

This new mortgage relief program is called the High LTV refinance option, or “HIRO.” It’s available for homeowners with high mortgage balances and very little equity, whose current loans are backed by Fannie Mae.

Just like FMERR, the HIRO mortgage relief refinance can help you secure a lower mortgage rate even without enough equity for a traditional refinance.

Apply for a FMERR replacement program

Homeowners with very little equity still have options to refinance into today’s low rates.

Check your eligibility for FMERR replacement programs today to see if you can refinance and lower your monthly payment.

Apply for FMERR replacement programs here (Jan 26th, 2021)