Fannie-Freddie short-sale program may hurt sellers’ credit scores
By Kenneth R. Harney
September 9, 2012
WASHINGTON ― With generous new guidelines from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac likely to stimulate large numbers of short
sales by underwater homeowners, what effect will the sales have on the sellers’
It’s a crucial question, because short sales typically
cause FICO scores to plummet, sometimes 150 points or more. This, in turn,
complicates sellers’ credit capabilities for years and makes additional
borrowing ― whether for auto loans, credit cards or new mortgages ― tougher and
The issue arises now because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ―
the dominant sources of home loan funds ― recently outlined plans to approve
short sales for underwater borrowers who are current on their loan payments,
provided that they face an imminent hardship. Although the numbers of
participants in the plan won’t be known for months, the two companies combined
have about 3.7 million underwater mortgages in their portfolios on which
borrowers are making their payments on time, according to federal regulators.
Short sales traditionally have been associated with
extended periods of delinquency by borrowers. The technique itself ― in which
the lender agrees to accept less than what’s owed and the property is sold ―
usually has been employed as an alternative to foreclosure.
As a result, FICO credit scores ― the major risk predictive
tool used in the mortgage industry ― have severely penalized borrowers who opt
for short sales. VantageScore, the FICO rival created by the three national
credit bureaus, also hits short sellers with triple-digit point losses.
In a recent blog post, Frederic Huynh, FICO’s senior
scientist, said statistical reviews of short sellers by the company concluded
that they “represent a high degree of risk” to lenders. More than 55%
of short sellers in a sample of borrowers from 2007 to 2009 went on to later
default on other credit accounts after completing the sale transaction. This
ranks them in the same “heavyweight” risk class as people who have
been foreclosed upon, filed for bankruptcy, or had a tax lien or collection account.
But hold on. Won’t underwater homeowners who qualify for
the upcoming short-sale program be fundamentally different? Won’t they have
solid mortgage payment histories despite being underwater? Why should they have
to take the same heavy hits to their scores earned by people who didn’t pay
their mortgage for months on end?
Good questions, but it appears that these sellers won’t get
the break they deserve. The scoring system, credit experts say, isn’t set up to
recognize ― or properly report ― short sales by on-time mortgage customers to
the national credit bureaus. And the credit score companies aren’t planning to
make any changes to the penalties their models assign to people who participate
in short sales.
Anthony Sprauve, a spokesman for Fair Isaac Corp.,
developer of the FICO score, says that in general, when a loan is paid off for
less than the full balance, it is “classified as a severe negative
item” by the FICO scoring model. And “there are currently no plans to
change,” he added.
Sarah Davies, senior vice president for research and
analytics for VantageScore Solutions, said her company probably won’t modify
its scoring algorithms either, despite the fact that the seller was not
delinquent and came to a mutually satisfactory resolution with the lender.
Terry Clemans, executive director of the National Credit
Reporting Assn., an industry trade group, says this is all inherently unfair
for borrowers who have continued to make timely payments on their loans.
Crushing them with deep credit score penalties “doesn’t reflect the fact
that these people are actually excellent credit risks. They simply encountered
an extraordinary situation” ― namely, the national home value bust ― which
put them underwater.
A Fannie Mae spokesman, Andrew Wilson, said his company has no control over
how short sales ― whether of people who paid on time or those who didn’t ― are
scored. But when borrowers do a short sale rather than force the lender to
foreclose, Fannie rewards them: They are potentially eligible for a new
mortgage again within two years of a short sale. People who go to foreclosure,
by contrast, may not be able to get a new Fannie loan for as long as seven
Bottom line: If you’re underwater and plan to use the new
Fannie-Freddie short-sale program this year, don’t bank on any special favors
when it comes to your credit score. It looks as if you’re going to take a big
hit, despite all your on-time payments.
Source: Los Angeles Times