Jackie Kurz

Jackie Kurz

Jackie Kurz has been a practicing attorney for more than 15 years, focusing primarily on real estate matters. She received her Juris Doctor from the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University and is a member of the Pennsylvania and DC bars. 

Jackie says her job greatest satisfaction comes as the ink dries on the closing documents and she sees the smiling faces of homebuyers and sellers, knowing she played a part in creating that happiness. Her experience and expertise make Jackie an invaluable resource.

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Maximum VA Loan county limits updated for 2016

Maximum VA Loan county limits updated for 2016

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county “limits” to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2016.

Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county. The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is 25% of the 2016 VA limit.

For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $625,500 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2016 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing 25% of the loan amount, or approximately $156,375.00. These amounts have remained unchanged in most of the DC Metro Region compared to the 2015 VA limits.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia. For a complete list of the county limits for 2016, please click the chart of conforming loan limits. If your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2016 limit is $417,000.

State
County
2016 VA Limit
DC
District of Columbia
$625,500
MD
Anne Arundel
$517,500
MD
Frederick
$625,500
MD
Howard
$517,500
MD
Montgomery
$625,500
MD
Prince George's
$625,500
MD
Alexandria
$625,500
VA
Arlington
$625,500
VA
Fairfax
$625,500
VA
Falls Church
$625,500
VA
Fauquier
$625,500
VA
Loudoun
$625,500
VA
Manassas
$625,500
VA
Prince William
$625,500

FHA to reduce cost of mortgage insurance

In an attempt to bring more First-Time Homebuyers back into the housing market, the Federal Housing Administration ("FHA") recently announced that it would reduce its annual mortgage insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.  

This is estimated to save borrowers approximately $1,000 per year on a $200,000.00 loan, for example.

After requiring a $1.7 billion bailout from the federal government as a result of a high number of loan defaults during the financial crisis in 2013, FHA more than doubled the mortgage insurance premiums to rebuild its funds and raised the average credit scores required in order to qualify for an FHA loan.  

Now that FHA has started to earn profits, industry insiders called for FHA to reduce the insurance premiums to allow more borrowers back into the market.  FHA has also stated that they will take additional steps over the upcoming months to reduce additional mortgage costs by cutting red tape and making lending standards more clear.

The new policy is expected to go into effect by the end of January 2015.

Maximum VA loan county limits updated for 2015

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county "limits" to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2015.

Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county.

The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is twenty-five (25%) percent of the 2015 VA limit. For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $625,500 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2015 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing twenty-five percent (25%) of the loan amount, or approximately $156,375.00. These amounts have decreased dramatically in most area of the DC Metro Area compared to the 2014 VA limits.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia. To get a complete list of the county limits for 2015, please click here. [Please note, if your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2014 limit is $417,000.]

State County 2015 VA Limit
DC District of Columbia $625,500
MD Anne Arundel $517,500
MD Frederick $625,500
MD Howard $517,500
MD Montgomery $625,500
MD Prince George's $625,500
VA Alexandria $625,500
VA Arlington $625,500
VA Fairfax $625,500
VA Falls Church $625,500
VA Fauquier $625,500
VA Loudoun $625,500
VA Manassas $625,500
VA Prince William $625,500

Not all Power of Attorney documents created equal

The topic of "Power of Attorney" comes up pretty frequently in our office. On an almost daily occurrence, clients ask whether or not a Power of Attorney is sufficient for a client’s upcoming real estate settlement.  

Or, at the 11th hour we are informed someone who should be at settlement will not be attending settlement, and then come to find out their Power of Attorney is insufficient.  

Government mortgage entity Fannie Mae also issued new guidelines regarding the use of Powers of Attorney for purchase transactions earlier this year, so it seems like a good time to revisit the topic of Power of Attorney and discuss the differences between various types of Powers of Attorney.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a written document which grants authority to an agent to act on behalf of a principal, in the event that the principal is unable to make decisions or act on his or her own behalf.  

There are several different kinds of Powers of Attorney, and it is important to understand the differences between them.

A General Power of Attorney is one that allows an agent to make all personal and business decisions on behalf of the principal.  It gives the broadest authorizations to the agent, and it is often used to allow the agent to make medical, legal, financial or business decisions for the principal.

In stark contrast, a Specific or Limited Power of Attorney is one that is narrowly drafted to give an agent power to conduct a specific transaction with specific powers.  For example, a principal could have a specific Power of Attorney drafted authorizing his agent to sell his property at 123 Main Street, Washington, DC, including the authority to sign all documents related to the sale, to include the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, Deed, etc.

In addition, a Durable Power of Attorney is one that remains in effect even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated.  In order for any Power of Attorney to be accepted as a Durable Power of Attorney, specific language must be included in the body of the document (not just the caption of the document) stating that it shall "not be affected by subsequent disability or incapacity of the principal, or lapse of time."  If the specific language is not included in the document itself, the agent’s power to act on behalf of the principal will end if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated.

As each of the jurisdictions in the DC metro area have different requirements for drafting a real estate power of attorney, we strongly recommend that if you require the use of a power of attorney for an upcoming real estate transaction, you contact our office so that we can provide you with the required form for that particular jurisdiction.  

Or, if you already have a power of attorney, please forward a copy to our office for review, well in advance of settlement, to ensure that all the statutory requirements have been included for that jurisdiction.

DC increases Homestead Deduction for second straight year

For the second straight year, the DC Office of Tax and Revenue increased the Homestead Deduction benefit from $69,100 to $70,200 for those DC residents who own and occupy their property as their principal residence. This results in an annual property tax bill reduction of $596.70.

Per the DC Office of Tax and Revenue, in order to qualify for the deduction, the homeowners must:

  • Submit an application with the Office of Tax and Revenue;
  • Occupy the property, and the property must not contain more than 5 dwelling units (including the unit occupied by the owner); and
  • Use the property as their principal residence

If the DC property owner files an application and it is approved by the Office of Tax and Revenue between October 1 and March 31, the benefit will be granted to the homeowner for the entire tax year and all future tax years.

If the application is filed and approved between April 1 and September 30, the benefit will be granted for the second half tax bill of that year and all future tax years.

You can complete the new form online, or visit the Office of Tax and Revenue’s Homestead Deduction website link for additional information.

Maximum VA loan county limits for 2014 released

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county "limits" to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2014.

Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county.

The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is twenty-five (25%) percent of the 2014 VA limit. For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $692,500 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2014 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing twenty-five percent (25%) of the loan amount, or approximately $173,125.00. These amounts have decreased dramatically in most area of the DC Metro Area compared to the 2013 VA limits.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia. To get a complete list of the county limits for 2014, please click here. [Please note, if your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2014 limit is $417,000.]

State County 2014 VA Limit
DC District of Columbia $692,500
MD Anne Arundel $500,000
MD Frederick $692,500
MD Howard $500,000
MD Montgomery $692,500
MD Prince George's $692,500
VA Alexandria $692,500
VA Arlington $692,500
VA Fairfax $692,500
VA Falls Church $692,500
VA Fauquier $692,500
VA Loudoun $692,500
VA Manassas $692,500
VA Prince William $692,500

DC wants to 'Open Doors' to potential home owners

A new program from the DC Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA) called ‘DC Open Doors’ seeks to make homeownership in the District even more affordable. This new program offers qualified homebuyers a variety of mortgage loans, including FHA and Fannie Mae conventional mortgages, as well as down payment assistance.

In order to qualify for the new program, the following conditions must be met:
  1. There is a borrower income limit of $123,395. Please note, this is not a household limit, so if two people live together and have a combined income of over $123,395, one member can still apply for the loan as long as his/her income is less than the limit.

  2. The borrower has a minimum credit score of 640.

  3. While borrowers are not prohibited from purchasing a higher priced home, there is a $417,000 loan limit.

  4. Once a borrower has applied, he/she is then required to take 8 hours of homebuyer education classes in person or online, and

  5. The program is not just available to first-time homebuyers.

The benefit of the down payment assistance program is that it is a 0%, non-amortizing, subordinate loan that has a 5-year term. The loan is only repayable if the borrower sells the property, refinances or converts it to a rental property within the first 5 years of owning the property.

The program provides for a 20% annual forgiveness for each year the property remains the borrower’s principal residence, therefore at the end of 5 years, the loan will be 100% forgiven.

The DCHFA website provides a list of participating lenders for any potential homebuyer who may have questions or be interested in the program and who meets the above-referenced criteria.

FHA issues new rule on foreclosure, bankruptcy and short sale waiting period

In its August 2013 Mortgagee Letter, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) issued updated guidelines for giving an FHA-insured mortgage to borrowers who may otherwise be ineligible as a result of its post-bankruptcy, foreclosure or short sale waiting period.

For the majority of FHA-insured mortgages, the guidelines are fairly straightforward:
  • The borrowers monthly debt should not exceed 45% of their household income, unless exceptional cause is shown,
  • The borrowers must put down at least 3.5% of the purchase price or appraised value (whichever is less),
  • The borrowers must have a credit score of at least 580 or higher, and
  • The amount of the loan cannot exceed the local FHA loan limits.
However, under the prior guidelines, if a borrower filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, or underwent a foreclosure or short sale, the mandatory waiting period for borrowers to obtain another FHA-insured mortgage were as follows:
  • Foreclosure: Must wait for 3 years before eligible
  • Short Sale in Default: Must wait 3 years before eligible
  • Chapter 7 Bankruptcy: Must wait 2 years before eligible
Due changes in the housing market, these mandatory waiting periods have now essentially been waived.  The FHA will, however, require that borrowers prove:
  • That any major credit issues have been cleared from their credit history,
  • Completion of housing counseling, and
  • They meet all other HUD requirements.
This has the potential of introducing more buyers into the housing market, thereby driving demand for more housing inventory and increasing home values.  However, it also begs the question……is this opening the door for another housing crisis in the years to come?

How to estimate closing costs when buying a new home

The searching is over. The bank has been contacted. The offer has been accepted, and now the dream of owning your new home is coming to fruition. So, what are the typical closings fees that you can expect to pay as part of your upcoming settlement?

Let’s take a look at what some of the typical closing costs are that you can expect to pay before the keys to your new home are placed in your hands:

Lender Fees

Typical fees that you can expect to pay to your lender for originating your mortgage:

  • Loan origination fee. Fee charged by the lender to originate your mortgage, and is typically 1%-2% of the loan amount, depending on the lender you select and the loan program for which you qualify.

  • Application and underwriting fees. Fees charged by the lender to process your loan application and underwrite the loan. These fees are typically rolled into the total Loan origination fee.

  • Appraisal fee. Fee charged by the lender to have your pending new home appraised to ensure the value of the home is equal to or exceeds the purchase price of the property and the loan amount you are requesting.

  • Tax service fee. Fee charged by the lender to have an independent company ensure there are no delinquent taxes or outstanding tax liens against your property.

  • Flood certification fee. Fee charged by the lender to ensure your new home is not located in a flood zone, and therefore there is no requirement for flood insurance.

  • Credit report fee. Fee charged by the lender to ensure that you are credit worthy of being given a loan and that your financial liabilities do not exceed your financial assets.

  • Interim interest. Mortgage payments always pay for interest in arrears. Interim interest is therefore charged by the lender from the date of settlement until the end of the month. For example, if you close on August 15th, you will pay interim interest from August 15th through August 31st, and your first mortgage payment will be due on October 1st. Your October 1st mortgage payment will therefore pay for all the interest accrued in September.

  • Escrows. Whether your lender requires it or you choose to have an escrow account to pay your homeowner’s insurance and property taxes, you will be required to establish your account at the time of settlement. Depending on how close your settlement date is to the next due date for your property taxes, depends on the number of months that the lender will need to collect. However, the lender will need to collect at least 2 months for the buffer they keep in the account at all times.

Settlement/Title Company Fees

Fees that are typically paid to the title company to search the title of the property and issue an owner’s and lender’s title insurance policy:

  • Settlement fee. Fee charged by the title company to conduct your settlement. Under the new Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) guidelines, this fee now also includes the costs for any title search, courier fee, notary fees, etc.

  • Owner’s Title Insurance fee. Cost of owner’s title insurance to protect you, as an owner, against title claims that could arise against the property. You typically have the option of selecting either the standard policy or enhanced policy. Our title policy a comparison chart outlines the major differences between coverages. The cost is determined by the purchase price.

  • Lender’s Title Insurance fee. Cost of lender’s title insurance policy to protect the lender against title claims that could arise against the property. The cost is dependent upon the loan amount.

Government Fees

Fees that are paid to the state and local government of the jurisdiction in which the property is located to record your deed and mortgage and transfer the property:

  • Recording fees. Fees charged to record your deed and mortgage. Said fees vary depending on the jurisdiction in which the property is located. Recording fees are also charged to record any releases for any current/prior mortgages found against the property, to record any Powers of Attorney used by any party to the transaction at the time of settlement, etc.

  • Transfer/recordation taxes. Fees charged by the state/local government to transfer title to the property.

Miscellaneous Fees 

Fees that are paid to third parties for inspections, surveys, etc.:

  • Termite inspection. Fee paid to inspect the property for any termite or other bug damage.

  • Survey. Fee paid to have a location survey done of the property to ensure there are no boundary line issues.

  • Condo/HOA Dues. If the property is in a condominium association or homeowner’s association, dues are typically required to be paid for the upcoming month. For example, if you purchase the property in August, the dues for September will typically be required to be collected at the time of settlement.

  • Condo/HOA transfer fees. The condominium or homeowner’s association management company may charge a fee to transfer the property account from the seller to the new purchaser.

Prorations

Charges that have been or will be paid by one party to the transaction that are reimbursed by the other party to the transaction.

  • Tax prorations. Property taxes are prorated between buyer and seller depending on when the last tax bill was paid and when the next bill is due. Tax prorations are dependent on the jurisdiction in which the property is located, as each jurisdiction has different tax due dates and tax periods.

  • Condo/HOA dues. Any condominium or homeowner’s association dues are prorated between buyer and seller based on the last month paid. For example, if you are settling on August 15th, and the seller has already paid the August dues, the buyer would reimburse the seller for the dues already paid from August 15th through the 31st for the time the buyer will own the property.

All of these fees can be overwhelming; however, all of these closing costs will be disclosed to you by your lender in your Good Faith Estimate (GFE).

In addition, if you want to get ahead of the game before you even submit your first offer, you can always calculate your own total closing costs by using Federal Title's brand new mobile app CloseIt! 

The app allows you to input different loan products, property locations, purchase prices and much more to produce a detailed picture of cash to close and what your proposed monthly mortgage payments would be. And best of all, the app is free!

How changes to FHA loans could impact you

Two major changes to FHA loans designed to boost its depleted mortgage insurance fund may result in many borrowers opting to forego an FHA loan for a conventional loan with private mortgage insurance.

The first change became effective April 1, 2013 in which the annual mortgage insurance premium charged to borrowers has increased 5-10 basis points, depending on the loan amount and loan term.

For example, for a 30-year $500,000 loan with a loan-to-value ratio greater than 95%, the new FHA mortgage insurance premium will be 1.35% or $6,750 per year (previously 1.25% or $6,250 per year), for an overall increase of $500 per year or $42 per month.

Click beyond the chart to review updated charts and rates

HARP extended 2 more years

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced earlier this month that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would extend the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) through December 31, 2015 .

The HARP Program was originally set to expire December 31, 2013.

The extension will allow more borrowers who have little or no equity in their homes take advantage of refinancing at today’s lower interest rates.

Eligibility for a HARP refinance is based upon the following criteria

  1. The borrower’s current loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae* or Freddie Mac**
  2. The current mortgage must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009
  3. The current mortgage must not have been refinanced under HARP previously unless it is Fannie Mae loan that was refinanced under HARP from March-May 2009
  4. The current mortgage’s loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be greater than 80%
  5. The borrower must be current on their mortgage payments, have no late payments in the prior 6 months, and must not have more than 1 late payment in the prior 12 months
In addition to announcing the extension of the HARP program, the FHFA further announced the launch of a nationwide campaign designed to inform borrowers about the HARP program and its eligibility requirements in the hope that it motivates more borrowers to refinance using the program.

The HARP Program has already assisted approximately 2.2 million borrowers refinance since April 2009.

Benefits of a VA loan in today's real estate market

With interest rates remaining steady at all-time lows and a housing market that has seen below-market prices in most areas, now is a great time for servicemembers to purchase a home or refinance their existing home and take advantage of the benefits of a VA loan.

So, what are the benefits of a VA loan?

  1. It is available for active-duty servicemembers, veterans and some surviving spouses
  2. It can be used to purchase an existing home, build a new home or refinance an existing mortgage
  3. For the purchase of a new home, a down payment is not required – it is possible to finance 100% of the purchase price
  4. For the refinance of an existing VA mortgage, borrowers can refinance to a lower interest rate VA loan (VA to VA loan) without having to re-qualify by taking advantage of the VA Streamline Refinance Loan Program (IRRRL)
  5. If the borrower/purchaser can provide proof from the VA of a service-related disability, the VA funding fee may be waived by the lender
  6. There is no form of mortgage insurance premiums that are paid during the course of the loan, unlike FHA loans or some conventional mortgages
  7. While conventional mortgages guarantee the best interest rates for borrowers with a credit score of 720 or higher, a VA loan will not be denied to a borrower nor will a higher interest rate be charged based solely on a low credit score
Now is the time to take advantage of this government-backed loan program and low interests rates to buy the home of your dreams!

New simplified loan modification initiative announced to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will offer a new loan modification initiative designed to help troubled borrowers avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes, according to an announcement today from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Consequently loan servicers will be required to send a Streamlined Modification Solicitation Offer to troubled borrowers who are delinquent on their mortgages for at least 90 days beginning July 1, 2013.

The purpose of the initiative is to simplify the way a borrower’s current mortgage payments are reduced and modify their current loan without requiring the borrower to document their income and financial hardship. The offers will include a reduction in mortgage payment based on a fixed interest rate, potential extension of the loan term to 40 years, or a principal forbearance for qualified underwater borrowers.

Click beyond the jump to continue reading

Maximum VA loan county limits for 2013 released

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county “limits” to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2013.  

Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county.  The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is twenty-five (25%) percent of the 2013 VA limit.  For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $843,750 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2013 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing twenty-five percent (25%) of the loan amount, or approximately $210,937.50.  These amounts have increased dramatically in most area of the DC Metro Area compared to the 2012 VA limits.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia.  To get a complete list of the county limits for 2013, please click here.  [Please note, if your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2013 limit is $417,000.]

State County 2012 VA Limit
DC District of Columbia $843,750
MD Anne Arundel $500,000
MD Frederick $843,750
MD Howard $500,000
MD Montgomery $843,750
MD Prince George's $843,750
VA Alexandria $843,750
VA Arlington $843,750
VA Fairfax $843,750
VA Falls Church $843,750
VA Fauquier $843,750
VA Loudoun $843,750
VA Manasas $843,750
VA Prince William $843,750

How do you calculate a home inspection contingency window?

The GCAAR Regional Sales Contract provides basic definitions to clarify

We receive many phone calls from real estate agents asking us, "I have this contract that was ratified on "x" date, it has a home inspection contingency, but we didn’t get notification until "y" date, so have the parties met their obligations under the contract?"

Let’s start with the actual contract itself. Paragraph 26 of the GCAAR Form #1301 – Regional Sales Contract provides us with some basic definitions:

  1. Day or Days are considered to be calendar days unless otherwise directed in the Contract.

  2. Date of Ratification is the date upon which both Purchaser and Seller accepted in writing all terms of the Contract.

  3. Computing Time Period commences on the first day after delivery of the document; with the contingency period expiring no later than 9:00 pm Eastern Standard Time on the date specified in the Contract.

What exactly does this mean? Click beyond the jump to find out...

$25B settlement means mortgage help for servicemembers, veterans

The Justice Department negotiated agreements to provide additional assistance to military servicemembers

The Justice Department announced it had reached a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s five largest banks (Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Ally, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America) and 49 states regarding nationwide mortgage fraud last month. 

In addition to this settlement, the Justice Department further negotiated agreements with these lenders to provide additional assistance to military servicemembers and veterans who have been caught in the housing market crisis and who have been unable to obtain any relief from the Expanded Homeowners’ Assistance Program.

However, as these additional agreements have just recently been reached, specific details and how to obtain information from the lenders are inconsistent as the parties work through interpretations of language and implementation.  

So, what does all this mean for you? Click beyond the jump to find out...

Maximum VA loan county limits for 2012 released

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county "limits" to be used for VA Loans effective January 1, 2012. Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county.

The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is 25 percent of the 2012 VA limit. For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $625,500 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2012 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing 25 percent of the loan amount, or approximately $156,375.00.  

These amounts are down sharply from the 2011 VA limits.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia. Here's a complete list of the county limits for 2012. [Please note, if your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2012 limit is $417,000.]

State County 2012 VA Limit
DC District of Columbia $625,500
MD Anne Arundel $494,500
MD Frederick $625,500
MD Howard $478,400
MD Montgomery $625,500
MD Prince George's $625,500
VA Alexandria $625,500
VA Arlington $625,500
VA Fairfax $625,500
VA Falls Church $625,500
VA Fauquier $625,500
VA Loudoun $625,500
VA Manasas $625,500
VA Prince William $625,500

How VA funding fee changes may impact you

On October 5, 2011, President Obama signed the Veterans Health Facilities Act Capital Improvement Act, which includes provisions impacting the amount active-duty military and veterans must pay upfront for a VA loan.  

It was reported that the new funding fee structure would go into effect as of October 1, 2011.  However, under the Act, the new fees actually go into effect as of November 18, 2011.  

As a result, any loans that closed based on the lower funding fee amount between October 1, 2011 and October 5, 2011, will have the difference in the funding fee waived, according to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

For those loans closing after the date the Act was signed and prior to the effective date of the funding fee change, the rates remain the same as they were prior to October 1, 2011.

The new funding fee amounts are as follows:

For first-time use

Down Payment Time Period Veteran Reservist/National Guard
Less than 5% Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 1.40%  1.65%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 2.15%  2.40%
  On or after
Nov. 18, 2011
 1.40%  1.65%
At least 5% but 
less than 10%
Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 0.75%  1.00%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 1.50%  1.75%
  On or after
Nov. 18, 2011
 0.75%  1.00%
10% or more Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 0.50%  0.75%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 1.25%  1.50%
  On or after
Nov. 18, 2011
 0.50%  0.75%

For second-time use

Down Payment Time Period Veteran Reservist/National Guard
Less than 5% Oct. 1, 2007-
Oct. 1, 2011
 3.30%  3.30%
  Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 2.80%  2.80%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 3.30%  3.30%
  Nov. 18, 2011-
Oct. 1, 2012
 2.80%  2.80%
  Oct. 1, 2012-
Oct. 1, 2013
 2.15%  2.15%
  On or after
Oct. 13, 2013
 1.25%  1.25%
At least 5% but
less than 10%
Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 0.75%  1.00%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 1.50%  1.75%
  On or after
Nov.18, 2011
 0.75%  1.00%
10% or more Oct. 1, 2011-
Oct. 5, 2011
 0.50%  0.75%
  Oct. 6, 2011-
Nov. 17, 2011
 1.25%  1.50%
  On or after
Nov.18, 2011
 0.50%  0.75%

How short sales and foreclosures impact your credit score

As the number of home foreclosures and short sales continue to dominate the housing market, it is important for foreclosure homeowners and short sale sellers to understand the impact of their decisions on their credit scores. 

In a May 2, 2011 article in the Baltimore Sun by Eileen Ambrose, an interview with FICO scores director Joanne Gaskin, discusses the potential hazards on credit scores.

While many argue that a short sale impacts credit scores less than a foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, Ms. Gaskin states that "[B]oth are considered a default. There is little difference in impact."

However, it is possible for a short sale to have less impact depending on how the lender reports the short sale to the respective credit bureaus. If the short sale lender does not include the amount of shortage from the sale, the homeowners FICO score would be approximately 35 points higher than if the homeowner underwent a foreclosure.

Another myth that Ms. Gaskin addresses is that being 30 days late on a mortgage payment will not affect a credit score as much as being 90 days late. This is untrue because once you are late, the damage to your credit score has been done. “The first 30 days late makes a significant impact and it takes a good deal of time to repair that credit,” according to Ms. Gaskin.

Click beyond the jump for a chart that shows how foreclosure and short sale can impact your credit score.

Pending settlement reached in JPMorgan Chase class-action military mortgage lawsuit

Earlier this year, JPMorgan Chase admitted to improperly overcharging thousands of military service members on their mortgages and foreclosing on their homes. As the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in a federal court in Beaufort, South Carolina, JPMorgan has agreed to pay $56 million to settle those claims.

Click beyond the jump to review terms of the pending settlement.

Homeowners Assistance Program cutoff date changed

Funding for popular program dwindling rapidly

In 2009, Congress passed the Expanded Homeowners’ Assistance Program (“HAP”) to assist military members suffering as a result of the housing bust across the country. As part of that bill, assistance was to be given to members of the military receiving PCS orders through September 30, 2012.

However, as the Army Corps of Engineers has recently reported, of the $855 million designated for the program, approximately $763.8 million has already been used on behalf of 5,093 homeowners.

There are another approximately 4,500 military members who have been deemed eligible to receive benefits, and the funding is dwindling rapidly. Additionally, new applications are still being submitted for consideration at approximately 300 per month. As a result of the funding issue, the cutoff date for those receiving PCS orders has been moved up by 2 years to September 30, 2010.

Military members who otherwise may have been eligible for benefits under HAP may no longer be able to receive benefits because they were in the middle of a deployment and therefore unable to receive their permanent PCS orders while deployed. In a recent article in the Army Times, Karen Jowers stated that the Army has proposed a policy change which would allow deployed personnel to still be considered eligible for benefits if: (1) they were forward deployed from March 1, 2010 through August 31, 2010, (2) received PCS orders within 45 days of their return from deployment and (3) met all the other eligibility requirements for expanded HAP assistance. It is expected that a decision on this policy change will occur in the next week or two.

Even if the proposed policy change is adopted, it is unclear whether or not additional funding will be allotted to the expanded HAP program. While government purchased HAP homes are being sold, with the proceeds being added back into the funding pool, it is possible that there are still not enough funds available to cover the losses military members face on the sale of their properties. 

New military programs offered by Bank of America

Bank of America intends to create a new program to assist military homeowners, in light of the recent stories of military members being denied their rights under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a spokesman said on Feb. 10, 2011. Recent articles in the Army Times and the Wall Street Journal, illustrate the new programs are finally coming to light. 

Effective April 1, 2011, the following new programs will go into effect:

1.    Reduced Interest Rates on Mortgages.  The SCRA requires interest rates on loans secured prior to a service member’s active duty status be reduced to 6% upon application for SCRA protection.  Bank of America has announced they will reduce interest rates on mortgages entered into prior to active-duty service be reduced to 4%.

     a.    Applies for the entire term of active-duty service and for 12 months upon release from active-duty service.  At the end of this period, the interest rate will then revert to the pre-SCRA protected rate, and

     b.    Goes into effect for April 2011mortgage payments, and

     c.    Applies only to mortgages which are owned by Bank of America.  If your mortgage is only serviced by Bank of America, the 4% reduced interest rate will not apply.  (For example, if your original loan is with a bank other than Bank of America, and then you were notified that your loan was sold to Bank of America, this means that Bank of America only services your loan and the original bank from whom you obtained the loan technically owns it.)

2.    New Customer Service Team for Military Members.  A special customer service team is being established to handle military loans, and can be contacted at 888-325-5357.  

3.    Reduced Principal Balances.  For military members about to leave active-duty service, and thereby lose their protection under SCRA, Bank of America will work to assist those members having difficulty making their mortgage payments with several options: 

    a.    Forgiveness of a portion of the outstanding balance still owed, or

    b.    A reduction in the outstanding principal balances to “as low as 100% of the current market value,” or

    c.    Additional reduced interest rates, or

    d.    Extended repayment periods.  

    e.    However, this only applies to loans which are owned by Bank of America and will not apply to service members who must relocate as a result of PCS orders.

Tax tips for military services members

It’s that dreaded time of the year again — tax time! For those military service members, there are some distinct tax advantages for you that may result in a windfall:

First-Time Homebuyer Credit.  For service members serving overseas for at least 90 days between January 1, 2009 through May 1, 2010, you are entitle to an extension of the $8,000 First-Time Homebuyer Credit, if you enter into a contract prior to April 1, 2011 and settle by June 30, 2011.  Even if you settle in 2011, you are entitled to claim the credit on your 2010 Federal tax returns.  

Military Spouse Residency Relief Act.  Under the Act, military spouses who maintain their state residency in one state (for example, Florida), but move to another state due to PCS orders of their military spouse (for example, Virginia), can claim an exemption from having to pay state income tax in Virginia.  Some states like Virginia however, do require proof that the non-military spouse’s domicile is in another state.  Therefore, it may be necessary to file an additional tax form in the non-domicile state.  Please seek legal and tax advice, if you have any questions.

Combat Zone Tax Exclusion.  For any day that a service member serves in a designated combat zone, the member’s entire month of pay is excluded from their gross income for tax purposes.  There is no limit to the exclusion for enlisted member or warrant officers.  For officers, however, the exclusion is limited to the highest rate of enlisted pay (currently capped at $7,714.80) plus hostile fire or imminent danger pay they may be entitled to receive. 

Click beyond the jump for a list of combat zones.

5 tips for military members looking to buy in DC

The Washington, DC metro area is the home to numerous military installations, which results in thousands of members of the military and their respective families moving into and out of the area on a regular basis. As a recent article in the Washington Post pointed out, as most military members move into the area in June and July, now is the time that most begin looking for their future home.

For military members looking to purchase property in the DC area, it is important for you to consider the following:

1.    Be prepared to pay considerably more for a house than you may have paid in your current location.  While housing prices have dropped in the area over the past few years, the cost of living in this area is significantly higher than in most other areas of the country.  However, also note that you receive a higher BAH.

2.    Be prepared to sit in traffic – and lots of it!  Any person living in the area will tell you that even if you buy or rent a home within 5 miles of your duty station, that does not necessarily translate into a 5 minute commute every day!

3.    If you think you are interested in purchasing a home in the DC area, but know that you will be transferred in 3-4 years, be sure to find out what the rental market is like in the area you are looking to purchase in.  As lending guidelines tighten, it is possible that fewer people will be able to secure a mortgage, leading more to start pursuing rentals.  In addition, as the DC metro area is so accessible to multiple military bases, service members are generally some of the best rental applicants you can find.

4.    If you are looking to purchase a property and you have been overseas for at least 90 days between December 31, 2008 and May 1, 2010, the $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit still applies to you, as long as you enter into a binding contract by April 30, 2011 and settle on the property by June 30, 2011.

5.    If you are interested in taking out a VA loan, the current VA loan limit in the DC Metro area is $818,750.  However, it is important to note that the loan limit is lower in certain areas.  

4 tips for marketing your home to military members

June, July peak moving times for military families

The Washington, DC metro area is the home to numerous military installations, which results in thousands of members of the military and their respective families moving into and out of the area on a regular basis. As a recent article in the Washington Post pointed out, as most military members move into the area in June and July, now is the time that most begin looking for their future home.

Click beyond the jump to find out what sellers should consider to market their homes to members of the military.

Wells Fargo issuing VA fee refunds in wake of lawsuit

Closing attorneys were encouraged to bundle fees, which is against VA rules

As a result of a $10 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta, Georgia, Wells Fargo will issue refunds of $175 to approximately 60,000 military members and veterans who refinanced VA loans through Wells Fargo, Wachovia and SouthTrust between January 20, 2004 and October 7, 2010.

At the heart of the lawsuit were allegations that Wells Fargo failed to adhere to VA rules regarding fees that are permitted to be charged to military members and veterans taking out a VA loan.  Under VA guidelines, lenders are required to cover all attorneys’ service fees with the exception of title work, and lenders are prohibited from requiring a borrower to pay for said fees.  

However, the lawsuit alleged that Wells Fargo encouraged closing attorneys to bundle their fees into title search and title examination fees, thereby charging the borrower for them instead of the lender having to cover the fees as required by the VA rules.

As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo denies any liability, and intends to send letters to those military members and veterans eligible for a refund in late March of 2011, which will include all necessary details in how to apply for and receive the refund.

JPMorgan Chase introduces new, enhanced programs to assist military

On February 15, 2011, JPMorgan Chase* announced new and enhanced programs designed to assist its military and veteran customers in the wake of recent stories of unlawful foreclosures and failure to adhere to guidelines under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). 

 The new programs include:

  • Reduced interest rates on loans for active duty service members.  The SCRA requires a maximum rate charged to active duty service members be capped at six percent (6%).  However, effective April 1, 2011, JPMorgan Chase will lower the mortgage interest rate to 4% for personnel on active duty and for one additional year thereafter, subject to all required approvals.

  • Enhanced mortgage modification program.  Also effective April 1, 2011, an enhanced mortgage modification program will assist military members who have been on active duty since September 11, 2001, and who are delinquent or have been having difficulties making their mortgage payments.  In addition, if there are two mortgages on the property, both of which are owned by Chase, the second mortgage interest rate will be modified to one percent (1%).

  • New Homeownership Centers to open.  While the SCRA protects military members from being foreclosed upon only if they entered into a mortgage prior to going on active duty, Chase is ensuring additional protection by not foreclosing on any active duty military personnel who are deployed.  In addition, in cases where Chase foreclosed on military personnel covered by SCRA, Chase will be rescinding the foreclosure sale as well as forgiving the remaining mortgage debt of the military member.  Further, Chase will do the same for any future military member who is wrongfully foreclosed upon.

Chase and its non-profit partners plan to donate 1,000 homes over the course of the next five years to military personnel and veterans.

Finally, by the end of 2011, Chase plans to open five Chase Homeownership Centers staffed with employees trained in SCRA, military issues and special programs offered by Chase near Ft. Hood, TX; Naval Station Norfolk, VA; Ft. Bragg/Pope Air Force Base, NC; Camp Lejeune, NC and Ft. Campbell, KY.  In addition, Chase will also hold 10 outreach programs to military personnel near large military bases throughout 2011.

7 homebuyer tips

In a recent article by June Walbert on military.com, she stressed the 7 things military personnel should consider before purchasing a home.  While these considerations apply to members of the military, they should also be considered by anyone before jumping into the housing market.

  1. Realize that purchasing a home has become a long-term investment in this economic market.  It is much more difficult to purchase a property for 2-3 years (typical length of a military assignment) and turn around and sell it for a profit.  However, if you are willing and able to purchase a property and hold onto it as an investment property for several years, given the dropping prices and interest rates, you may be able to make a profit several years down the road. 

  2. Determine your wants and needs from the home before you buy.  For example, if you are married and have kids or plan on having kids or have pets, do you need a house with a yard?  Do you like living in or near a large city, or do you prefer being in the suburbs?  How long will you be at work on a weekly basis, and will you have enough time to maintain a home, or would condo living be more reasonable?

  3. Do not let the low interest rates and low home prices force you into acting too quickly to purchase a property.  Take some time to review your financial situation, including your credit score.  Few people understand that the higher their credit score, the better their chances of obtaining a more favorable interest rate on their mortgage.  Everyone is able to pull one free credit report on themselves each year on www.annualcreditreport.com.  If there are any items that appear on your credit report that you dispute, it is always best to have them cleared up prior to applying for a mortgage.

  4. Take an inventory of your financial situation and only purchase a home that you can afford.  While every lender will make a determination of your debt-to-income ratio, it is not uncommon for a borrower to be told that they can take out and afford a higher mortgage than what they originally anticipated.  Ideally, your debt-to-income ratio should be 36% or less.  For example, if your gross monthly income is $4,000, you should pay out more than $1,440 towards all your debts (i.e. mortgage payment, car payment, grocery expenses, credit card bills, etc.

  5. Take advantage of all tax benefits.  As of now, the mortgage interest deduction is still in effect, and therefore is an added incentive to purchase a property.  The way the mortgage interest deduction works is it reduces your taxable income by the amount you pay out each year in mortgage interest and property taxes.  For example, if your gross yearly income is $50,000, and you pay $12,000 in mortgage interest and $2,500 in property taxes, your taxable income has been lowered to $35,500.

  6. Make sure you set aside some funds for not only a down payment, but also to cover any expenses related to moving into your new home, including any closing costs to be paid at the time of settlement.  In addition, depending on where you are moving from, it may be necessary to purchase items like furniture, a lawnmower, window treatments, etc.

  7. Finally, if you are not certain that you are financially ready to purchase a new home, consider continuing to rent until you are able to set aside enough funds for a down payment and get your credit straightened out.  Purchasers that bite off more than they could chew helped to cause the current housing crisis we are in, so it is always best to make sure you have everything in place before jumping into the housing market with both feet! 

Key components of your credit score

Here are 5 factors considered by credit bureaus

Individuals looking to purchase a new home, a car or apply for a new credit card needs to understand the importance their credit score has in determining whether they are granted a loan and at what interest rate.  Unfortunately, federal law does not mandate the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) to explain how one’s respective credit score is actually calculated.  

A recent article by Capt. Hank Coleman for military.com, however, explains the five characteristics that the respective credit bureaus use in determining your credit score.

Click beyond the jump to see what they are.

Bank of America establishing new program to assist military homeowners

Company spokesman announces new program to assist military homeowners

In light of recent news stories about JPMorgan Chase and Deutsch Bank being found in violation of military homeowners’ rights under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), on February 10, 2011, Larry DiRita, a spokesman for Bank of America appeared on Good Morning America* to announce a new program to assist military homeowners.

While specific details have not yet been announced, the intention of the new program is to allow Bank of America to reduce a military homeowner’s principal if they are in trouble, to extend their payments or to reduce their interest rate.  

DiRita further stated that it is essential for military personnel to be upfront with their lender, and in the case of Bank of America, tell them “I’m in the military, I need some help.”  That will be all Bank of America needs in order to place the military member into the new program and allow the parties to work out a reasonable solution right away.

“Our goal is, look, if you are a military person, you are deployed, you don’t need to be worrying about your house,” DiRita told George Stephanopolous.

Lenders under scrutiny for overcharging troops on their mortgages

Banks to pay damages to servicemembers who were overcharged on interest payments

Under the Service-members Civil Relief Act, rights are given to individuals who take out a mortgage loan before prior to the date of mobilization of a National Guard or Reservist or prior to when an active-duty service member joins the military.

The Act caps mortgage rates at 6% and allows any excess interest to be forgiven as of the effective date of mobilization for Guard or Reservists, or the beginning date of active-duty service. To qualify for rights under the Act, the service member must provide written notice of the request for relief pursuant to the Act, along with a copy of their official orders.

Click beyond the jump to find out who violated the Service-members Civil Relief Act.

Bank of America to charge 'grace period' fee for some customers

New policy takes effect February 14, 2011

Traditionally, mortgage customers had a 15-day grace period in which they were allowed to make their mortgage payment, without incurring late fees and penalties.  However, Bank of America is changing its method in handling the 15-day grace period.  

Effective February 14, 2011, Bank of America will begin charging some customers a fee if they make their mortgage payment near the end of the traditional grace period.

In a notice of “Upcoming Change to Fees,” which was sent to customers recently, Bank of America advised that: “If your payment is due on the first of the month and you have a 15-day grace period, you can schedule your payment to be drafted prior to and including the ninth of that same month to avoid a service fee.”  However, “[i]f you schedule your payment to be drafted on or between the 10th and 16th of the month, you will be charged a $6 service fee that will be included in your total deducted amount.”

An exception to this new $6 service fee is by making your automatically drafted payment from your Bank of America checking or savings account, even if your payment is drafted on the 10th through the 16th of the month.

Temporary foreclosure moratorium issued for some service members

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac offer assistance to military homeowners in distress

If you are a veteran, active duty service member, or surviving spouse, and you are having difficulty making your mortgage payments, it is imperative that you contact your mortgage servicer immediately.  

Freddie Mac issued a statement to its mortgage servicers last month to delay the initiation of foreclosure proceedings against military service members, who are released from active duty for a period of nine months from the time of discharge, through the end of 2011.  

This is an attempt by Freddie Mac to give additional time to its mortgage servicers to assist borrowers in preventing the loss of their home to foreclosure.  However, this program by Freddie Mac only applies to those service members who have a Freddie Mac-owned mortgage.

Fannie Mae announced last September its effort to assist surviving spouses and wounded warriors who may be struggling with their mortgage payments, to prevent foreclosure as well.  

The “Unique Hardships” program enables eligible wounded warriors and surviving spouses to either reduce or suspend their monthly mortgage payments for a six-month period.  Also, as part of the program, any reporting to credit bureaus for late or missed mortgage payments would also be suspended during the specified six-month period.  

Fannie Mae also created a special hotline number (877-MIL-4566) and a new consumer education website, knowyouroptions.com, to provide struggling homeowners with additional resources and guidance.

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs also has counseling and other resources available, although it is limited in the assistance it can provide to military members with non-VA loans.

Buyer beware with DC foreclosure addendums

Homebuyers of foreclosed properties in the District should think twice when signing a sales contract with release or waiver provisions in it, as it's highly unlikely that any title insurance underwriter will agree to insure the transaction.

In November of 2010, the D.C. City Council enacted the "Saving D.C. Homes from Foreclosure Emergency Amendment Act of 2010," which shocked the title insurance industry

Click beyond the jump to read details about The Act.

Maximum VA loan county limits for 2011 released

Chart outlines limits for FY2011

The Department of Veterans Affairs Loan Guaranty Program recently published county "limits" to be used for VA Loans closing between January 1, 2011 through September 30, 2011. The limits for Fiscal Year 2012 have not yet been released.

Please note, these limits do not reflect a maximum amount that an eligible veteran is permitted to borrow, but rather, reflects the VA’s maximum guaranty amount for a particular county. The maximum VA guaranty amount for loans over $144,000 is 25% of the 2011 VA limit. For example, an eligible veteran may borrow up to $818,750 to purchase a property in Washington, DC (2011 VA limit), with the VA guaranteeing 25% of the loan amount, or approximately $204,687.50.

The limits listed below are for some counties in Maryland and Virginia, as well as for the District of Columbia. View a complete list of the county limits for 2011. [Please note, if your county is not listed on the county limits chart on the VA website, the 2011 limit is $417,000.]

STATE COUNTY 2011 VA LIMIT
DC District of Columbia $818,750
MD Anne Arundel $500,000
MD Frederick $818,750
MD Howard $500,000
MD Montgomery $818,750
MD Prince George's $818,750
VA Alexandria $818,750
VA Arlington $818,750
VA Fairfax $818,750
VA Falls Church $818,750
VA Fauquier $818,750
VA Loudon $818,750
VA Manassas $818,750
VA Prince William $818,750

Looking to buy a home?

Why now is the time to buy and why you should consider a HAP property

Yes, it is true that the housing market in many areas across the country has been stagnant for months, if not years.  Yes, it is true that new lending guidelines have made it tougher for people to borrow money. 

But despite all the naysayers in the media about the housing collapse, now is the time to purchase a home, if you are in the market for one.  

In a September 16, 2010 Wall Street Journal article, there are at least 10 reasons why now is the ideal time to purchase a home.  

Click beyond the jump for the top reasons.

Federal first-time homebuyer tax credit extended for military members

On November 6, 2009, the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 was signed into law, which extended and expanded the first-time homebuyer tax credit (hereinafter “credit”) for members of the military, members of the Foreign Service, employees of the Intelligence Community, and their spouses serving outside the United States for at least 90 days between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010, an additional year to qualify for the credit has been granted.  

However, the law does not require both spouses to be overseas in order to qualify for the credit, only one spouse must be on official extended duty overseas for the required amount of time in order to be eligible. In addition to the overseas service requirement, the law also requires that a contract to purchase a principal residence in the United States must be entered into on or before April 30, 2011, and settlement must occur on or before June 30, 2011.  

There is no restriction in the type of loan entered into for the purchase, as the credit can be utilized on all types of loans, including FHA, VA or conventional loans. Finally, the law requires that certain income levels be met in order to qualify for the credit.  In order to receive the full credit, a single individual cannot make more than $125,000 per year, and married couples are capped at $225,000 per year.  

However, it is possible to receive a partial credit for single individuals making no more than $145,000 per year, and married couples cannot make more than $245,000 per year.

If you enter into a contract or settle on your principal residence on or before April 30, 2011, you can claim the tax credit on your 2010 IRS return. The law does not permit you to claim the credit on your 2009 IRS return. If you take out an FHA, VA or conventional loan and settle on your principal residence in 2011, you have the option of claiming the credit on your 2010 or 2011 IRS return.

A quick guide to VA loans

Active-duty service members and veterans may be eligible for a home loan guaranty program offered the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for purposes of purchasing or refinancing a home.

What is a VA guaranteed loan?

It is a loan that is made by a typical mortgage company, savings and loan, or bank, in which the VA guarantees a portion of the loan amount, thereby protecting the lender against loss if the mortgage payments are not made.  The purpose of this program is to encourage lenders to provide veterans with more favorable terms on loans.  For example, allowing the veteran to more easily negotiate interest rates, pay fewer closing costs, avoid having to pay mortgage insurance, and in most cases, not requiring a down payment when purchasing a home.

Who is eligible?

  • Veterans.  You will need a Certificate of Eligibility in order to prove you are qualified to receive a VA loan.  You can either apply online, your lender can obtain the Certificate online on your behalf, or you can apply by mail, by using VA Form 26-1880.

  • Active duty personnel.  An original statement of service signed by the adjutant, personnel officer or commander of your unit or higher headquarters, identifying you and your social security number, as well as your date of entry on your current active duty period and accounting of any time lost during that period must be provided.  

  • Reservists/National Guard Members.  If you are still active duty in the Reserves or Guard, an original statement of service signed by the adjutant, personnel officer or commander of your unit or higher headquarters, showing the length of time you have been a member of the Reserves or Guard is required.  Said statement must document at least six years of honorable service.

    If you were discharged from the Reserves or Guard, you must submit copies of adequate documentation showing at least six years of honorable service.  (Examples of adequate documentation include NGB Form 22 -- Report of Separation and Record of Service, or NGB Form 23 – Retirement Points Accounting, or their equivalents).

  • Some surviving spouses.  You must apply for the Certificate of Eligibility by mail using VA Form 26-1817.  In order to qualify, the veteran spouse must have died after service, and the VA determines if the death resulted from a service-connected disability.

What if you had a VA loan before?

If you still own the property, you may still have remaining entitlement to use towards another VA loan.  

If you have sold the property or paid your previous VA loan in full, or if a qualified buyer has assumed your previous VA loan, your full entitlement would be restored, allowing you to use it again towards the purchase or refinance of another property.

How Do You Get a VA Loan?

The process to obtain a VA loan is similar to applying for any other loan.  First, either you or your mortgage lender will need to obtain your Certificate of Eligibility.  Next, if you are purchasing a home, you will need to sign a contract, and apply for a loan with the lender of your choosing.  An appraisal will then be completed with a VA approved appraiser, to determine the value of the property.  Once the appraisal has been completed, the loan process proceeds as normal and you settle on the property and move in.

Costs of Obtaining a VA Loan

A funding fee must be paid by all veterans using the program, unless you are exempt as a result of disability compensation.  The funding fee amount ranges from 0.5% for interest rate reduction refinancing loans to 3.3% for subsequent users of the program.  In addition, you can expect to pay normal closing costs for the VA appraisal, credit report fee, loan origination fee, discount points, title search and title insurance fees, recording fees, state or local transfer/recordation taxes (if applicable), and survey fees.  You can obtain an online quote of title fees, recording fees, transfer/recordation taxes, and survey fees on our website.

Homeowners Assistance Program: The closing process

Part 5 in an ongoing series on the Homeowner's Assistance Program

Once a determination is made as to which benefits are most advantageous for the applicant, the closing process can finally begin. There are several noteworthy items to keep in mind at this time:

1. Prior to closing, the applicant will need to ensure that their mortgage is paid current, including interest, late charges, fees and penalties.  In addition, any homeowner’s association or condominium association dues will also have to be paid current.

2. If you are a PCS eligible applicant receiving Government Acquisition Benefits:

A. You will need to have certified funds sent to your Benefits Specialist to pay for interest due on your mortgage to the time of settlement, as well as for any property taxes that may be due.

B. If your buyer has requested a home warranty, your benefits will not cover the cost of a home warranty.  You will have to write a separate check to the home warranty company to cover the cost.

C. Any repairs that your buyer has requested be made to the property prior to closing will also not be covered as part of your benefits.  You will either have to provide a check to the Government at the time of closing, or you will have to ensure that the repairs are made prior to closing.

D. As part of the Government Acquisition Benefits, the applicant will “sell” their property to the Government, who will in turn, on the same day, “sell” the property to the willing buyer.  This results in two transactions, and if the applicant has a real estate agent, said agent’s commission will be paid as part of the second transaction (from the Government to the new purchaser).

3. Pursuant to the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009, which was signed into law in November of 2009, benefit payments under the Expanded HAP program are exempt from Federal taxes.  However, there may be state tax implications, so applicants should seek financial and/or legal assistance.  

4. For any applicants who had Federal taxes withheld prior to the law change in November of 2009 should receive a W-2C (Corrected Wage and Tax Statement) from the IRS.

While the housing market remains stagnate in many areas across the country, the Department of Defense is doing everything it can to assist its military families and civilian employees escape some, if not all, of the financial loss associated with selling home. While the process can be trying at times, once the settlement documents are signed and the mortgage is paid off, you will realize it was all worth it. 

If you are thinking about applying, do not hesitate -- now is the time to take advantage of this program before the appropriated funds run out.  

Homeowners Assistance Program: What are the benefits?

Part 4 in an ongoing series on the Homeowner's Assistance Program

Once your application for Expanded HAP assistance is approved, a Benefits Specialist will be assigned to your file, and will immediately contact you to determine the appropriate benefits for your specific situation.

There are four types of benefits available under the Expanded HAP program. 

Click beyond the jump to read about the benefits.

Homeowners Assistance Program: How do you apply?

Part 3 in an ongoing series on the Homeowner's Assistance Program

If you believe that you meet the eligibility criteria for Expanded HAP, as broken down in Part II of our blog, the next step is to submit an application with the Army Corps of Engineers for your respective district. 

Application packages can be downloaded from the Army Corps of Engineers HAP website, located at http://hap.usace.army.mil, along with mailing address for the respective district where they should be mailed. 

There is a checklist of items included with the application package that you will need to include, and in order for your application to be more readily processed, the Corps of Engineers recommends that you submit all requested documentation at one time. 

Click beyond the jump to find out what documents to submit.

Homeowners Assistance Program: Are you eligible?

Part 2 in an ongoing series on the Homeowner's Assistance Program

Let's continue our discussion of the Homeowners Assistance Program from Part I - General Information into Part II - Are you Eligible by answering some basic questions about Expanded HAP regarding eligibility.

Click beyond the jump to find out if you are eligible for the Homeowner's Assistance Program.

Homeowners Assistance Program: General info

Trying to sell a house during a housing market collapse is a harrowing experience. This is compounded for members of the military who are forced to do so in a short period of time due to a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move or as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of 2005.  

The Department of Defense offers the Homeowners Assistance Program (or "HAP") to eligible service members and federal civilian employees.  In addition, HAP was temporarily expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (or "ARRA" and also known as "Expanded HAP"), to include wounded warriors, surviving spouses, and service members required to permanently relocate under PCS orders during the housing market collapse.  

First, let me begin by stressing that if you think you may qualify for benefits under ARRA, you need to apply immediately.  A recent article by Karen Jowers in the September 6, 2010 Army Times, states that as of August 11, 2010, "HAP had paid nearly $383 million to 2,622 people.  Another 5,003 eligible applicants are awaiting benefits, many of them seeking buyers for their homes."

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