Opinion: Excessive VA mortgage loan fees expire

Veterans and active-duty families that are buying their first home could save from $600-$1,200

Friday, April 7, marked a day for celebration. After four years of Congress hiking Veterans Administration (VA) so-called “Bluewater Navy” mortgage loan fees as an offset to pay for other critical veterans’ benefits, Congress has finally let those excessive VA mortgage loan fees expire.

This good news for homebuyers comes on top of FHA action in late February to cut the annual premium on FHA loans by 30 basis points, from 0.85% to 0.55%, saving most families around $800 starting last March 20. And it follows actions over the last year by FHFA to cut Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac LLPA fees for certain first-time homebuyers.

What does the VA loan fee reduction mean for veterans and active-duty families using their no-down-payment mortgage, an “earned benefit” thanks to their uniformed service to the nation? It means that first-time buyers using VA loans will see guarantee fees fall 15 basis points, from 2.30% to 2.15%, and other buyers will see a 30-basis point improvement, from 3.60% to 3.30%. For these families, savings will range from $600 to $1,200 saved starting this week. 

The expiration of the higher VA mortgage fees was not a sure thing and should not be taken for granted going forward. Last November, the Community Home Lenders of America (CHLA) wrote a Letter to top members of Congress asking Congress to let these fees expire. 

Why was CHLA concerned? Because just one year earlier in November 2021, Congress, in their perpetual hunt for “offsets” to pay for other federal spending, hiked fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans by $21 billion over 10 years to help pay for part of the cost of the totally unrelated $1 billion infrastructure bill. And technical budget offset concerns played a big role in delaying FHA’s action in cutting FHA premiums.

Meanwhile, Congress and the president are gearing up for a fight over spending cuts in connection with an increase in the debt limit. Any revenue source that has been used in the past could be a target. But at least for now, veteran homebuyers and homeowners are the clear winners.

Charging fees higher than needed for insurance purposes has prevented some qualified families on the margin from being able to escape rents that have been rising faster than incomes. Given that the VA (and FHA) loan programs serve a higher proportion-of first-time buyers and lower-FICO score buyers than conventional loans, reducing these costs helps redress wealth inequities over time. 

To be clear: these loan fee reductions are not some giveaway to families that ought not buy a home — the reductions redress the issue of artificially high fees keeping qualifying families from buying a home. CHLA supports actuarially-based insurance fees to ensure programs remain solvent and proper insurance pricing that balances both risk and opportunity.   Mortgage loan fees should not be higher than needed to safely run government-backed lending.

So, a thank you to FHA for making FHA mortgage loans more affordable, a thank you to FHFA for making GSE mortgage loans more affordable, and a thank you to Republicans and Democrats in Congress for making VA mortgage loans more affordable.

The year is yet young, but this mortgage news for young families has so far been positive.  CHLA stands ready to work with Washington stakeholders to keep the good news coming.

Rob Zimmer is Director of External Affairs for the Community Home Lenders of America (CHLA).

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of HousingWire’s editorial department and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Rob Zimmer at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Sarah Wheeler at [email protected]

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