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Upcoming fee has some homeowners rethinking refinancing

Amy Scott Aug 17, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Getty Images / Marketplace

Upcoming fee has some homeowners rethinking refinancing

Amy Scott Aug 17, 2020
Getty Images / Marketplace
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COPY

If you’re a homeowner who’s been eyeing these below-3% mortgage interest rates and wondering if now’s the time to refinance, there’s a new wrinkle to consider. 

Aug. 31 will be the last day to avoid a new “adverse market fee” on all refis backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That’s most loans these days. 

The move has two groups that don’t often see eye to eye — lenders and consumer advocates — banding together to protest the new fee.

Steph Noble, a loan officer with Guild Mortgage in Portland, Oregon, has been fielding calls from disappointed customers looking to refinance.

“[They’re] feeling just surprised and upset … in some cases having the refinance not make sense for them any longer,” she said. 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t lend directly to consumers. They buy loans from lenders, bundle them into securities and guarantee that investors in those securities get paid, even if borrowers default.

Edward Pinto with the American Enterprise Institute said the new fee is aimed at protecting the companies from a higher risk of default.

“Because those refinances during periods of market turmoil, which we’re in terms of housing prices, can be very risky,” he said. 

But there may be another reason for the fee. Fannie and Freddie have been under government protection and control since the last recession. Jim Parrott, a fellow with the Urban Institute, said the Trump administration is anxious to cut them loose.

“My sense is that’s the primary motivation, even if lurking behind it is this concern that they’re going to see credit losses,” he said. “Either way, it’s about maintaining or building capital so that they can get them out sooner rather than later.”

But Parrott also said that undercuts the Fed’s efforts to stimulate the economy by keeping interest rates low.

Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president with the Center for Responsible Lending, said: “What should happen as this economy is weakening is that Fannie and Freddie should make it easier for families to refinance and take advantage of historically low interest rates.”

If lenders pass on the fee to borrowers, which she expects them to do, it could add, on average, $1,400 to the upfront cost of refinancing.

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