If you owe more than your house is worth, and want to refinance to today’s low interest rates, you need to check out the HARP program. Millions of homeowners with underwater homes are finding relief in a new version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). Refinancing to lower interest rates could slash your monthly mortgage payment or shorten the time it takes to pay-off your mortgage.
The new HARP loosened qualification rules, making it it easier for underwater homeowners to qualify for a refinance. When HARP 2.0 was released in November 2011 you had to work with your original lender. Since March 2012, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rolled out the automated underwriting systems, you can work with any participating HARP lender. That means more competition for your business and better rates for you
HARP 2.0’s Hurdles
There are two series of hurdles you must clear before you can refinance your loan under HARP 2.0. The first set of hurdles concerns the loan itself. The three key eligibility questions are:
- Is the loan owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?
- If so, was the loan purchased by Fannie or Freddie on or before May 31, 2009?
- The loan was not refinanced under HARP before (some exceptions apply).
If you answer yes to these three questions, then your loan may be eligible for HARP.
Tip: If your loan is a FHA loan, then check out a FHA streamline refinance loan.
The second set of hurdles concerns your finances and property. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac set up the basic guidelines. There are two basic ways your loan can be processed:
- Manual Underwriting System: Only your original lender (who is also your current servicer) can process a HARP loan through the manual underwriting system.
- Automated Underwriting System: Any participating lender can process a HARP loan through the automated system.
Keep in mind that lenders are free to have stricter qualifying rules than the basic Fannie and Freddie requirements.
When shopping for a HARP loan, here are some of the main points to look out for:
- Credit Score Requirements: Fannie and Freddie have no minimum FICO score requirements. However, each lender has its own credit score requirements, so if you are denied by one lender, keep shopping.
- Income Requirements: Your original lender can approve a loan with no debt to income ratio (DTI) requirement. However other lenders must qualify you based on your DTI. The rule-of-thumb for a HARP loan is a 45% maximum DTI.
- Timely Mortgage Payments: The HARP program allows for no late mortgage payments in the last 6 months and one late (30 days) payment in the preceding 6 months. However, some lenders do not allow any late payments.
- Investment Properties Qualify: You can refinance a second home or rental property under HARP 2.0.
- Fees: Lenders are not consistent in the fees or the interest rates they charge for HARP 2.0 loans. Some lenders charge a few hundred dollars for HARP 2.0 loan fees, and others charge thousands. It pays to shop around, so you can compare interest rates and fees.
- Condos: While HARP guidelines for condos are tricky, many more condo owners will qualify for a loan under HARP 2.0 than under the first version of HARP.
Applying for HARP
First, go to the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Web sites to learn if either owns your loan and whether they bought your loan on or before May 31, 2009. If so, you can contact either your current mortgage servicer or shop around with the many lenders who are offering the HARP 2.0 loan.
If your application is rejected, ask for the specific reason why. If you applied with your original lender, find out whether the lender used the manual or automated system. Request manual underwriting if your original lender turned you down based on automated underwriting, as it may result in your loan being approved.
It pays to shop for HARP 2.0 refinance. Many homeowners report one lender will reject their application, but another will offer them an attractive refinance. Second, lenders are not consistent in their offers. As mentioned, closing costs are all over the map. Interest rates vary, too.
HARP 2.0’s rules are technical. Each lender creates different overlays. If you believe you qualify for HARP 2.0, be persistent! The rules that are in place today could very well be expanded in the future. This is one instance in life where shopping can be the solution to your problem.