Wednesday, September 29, 2004

How would a truly flexible mortgage work?

Reducing, skipping monthly payments comes into fruition

Lat week I had little good to say about Fannie Mae's new Payment Power Program (PPP), which allows a borrower to skip up to two mortgage payments in any 12-month period, and up to 10 over the life of a loan. A skipped payment results in an additional loan, equal to the payment plus a healthy access fee, tacked on to the balance. As an emergency source of funds, it is much more costly than accessing a home-equity line of credit (HELOC).

My view is that borrowers don't need a high-cost way to borrow for emergencies. What they need is a no-cost way to accumulate a reserve within their existing mortgage that would allow them to skip or reduce payments when necessary. A truly flexible mortgage would provide this. Here is how it would work.

The flexible mortgage would base the borrower's payment obligation on the loan balance. A schedule of required balances, declining month by month over the life of the loan, would be part of the contract. If the borrower made all the scheduled payments, his balances month by month would correspond exactly to the required balances. But if he paid more in some months, his actual balance would fall below the required balance, the difference constituting a "reserve account," which he could draw on by paying less later on.

For example, the loan is for $160,000 at 5.5 percent for 15 years, with a monthly payment of $1,307. The borrower receives a bonus every Christmas from which he pays an extra $1,000 on his mortgage. With each extra payment, the gap between his actual balance and the required balance widens. If he does this five years running and then loses his job, he can skip his payment entirely in months 72, 73, 74, and 75, and in month 76 he can pay only $575. At that point, the actual balance and required balance are equal, so his "reserve" is exhausted.


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