Levels of Mortgage Documentation, or, Why You Should Demand to Do More Paperwork

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(UPDATE NOTE: After several years of it being unavailable, I've recently started getting lender solicitations for stated income loans again. I haven't done any of these new loans yet, but as much as I don't like stated income there is a legitimate market segment that it served: The self employed and those with large amounts of business deductions, who actually could afford these loans because they got to pay for things with "before tax" dollars while it is only "after tax" dollars that are considered by traditional underwriting standards. Given the growth in the self employment segment of the economy, somebody is going to decide they want the income from serving it and figure out appropriate controls to prevent its abuse. That does not alter the basic thrust of the article, however, which is that you will save money by providing full documentation if you can)

No matter which provider, no matter what type of loan you get, nobody is going to loan you money without the appropriate documentation. The more documentation you have that you are a good risk, the better the rate you are going to get, and the lower your costs are going to be.

Everybody hates filling out forms and providing documentation. When I originally wrote this, there was a billboard two blocks from my house advertising, "Stress free loans." Actually, these signs are all over. And I'll bet they bring in a lot of business. Low documentation loans are easy money - I could do them all day and all night, and make more money, and make the lender more money, while doing less work, than I can by hunkering down and actually serving my clients best interests. Those billboards say "stress free loans" which three words look like an English sentence meaning this will be easy, but the real translation to English reads, "Hello, I am a lowlife scum who wants to take advantage of lazy people who are too ignorant to know better by making a lot of money providing loans at higher interest rates and less favorable terms than they could obtain elsewhere, and putting a large proportion of my clients into loans that they cannot afford, from which point they will inevitably default and lose the property and whatever investment they may have made"

The fact is, that for something dealing with this much money, if there is documentation you can produce to prove that you are a better risk and gets you a better rate, you should be eager to present it. If I can spend half an hour instead of fifteen minutes filling out forms and as a reward I save $40 or more every month until the next time I decide to refinance, I want to fill out the extra papers. If I refinance every two years, I have essentially been paid $960 for a quarter hour of work. That works out to $3840 per hour. I don't know about you, the reader, but even when I'm completely inundated with clients, I don't make that kind of money per hour. I don't know any job that pays that much, unless you want to include wealthy investor. And let me tell you, the wealthy investors I've dealt with are eager to spend the extra time filling out said forms. It really is a "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" situation. They know it will Save Them Money, and don't have to be sweet talked into filling out one more form or providing a little more documentation. They've got it already copied for me, and if I want their business, I'd better buckle down and get to work on finding the loan with the best terms possible. If you, the reader, wish to be wealthy, you could do worse than emulate their example.

There are, when you get right down do it, three different levels of documentation. The lowest level of documentation is NINA, which is short for "No Income, No Assets." There are other names for it ("No Ratio" being the most common, while "ninja" was the creation of a reporter with samurai fever). This is a loan where the rate you get is purely driven by your credit score (as well as other factors, such as the equity in your home or down payment you're making, but those are constants endemic to the situation, not variables about which I am talking). You're not even documenting that you have a source of income. You're basically saying, "Here I am! Gotta love me!" to the bank, and they really do love you because you're filling their coffers by paying the highest rates for your loan. Guess what? You're still filling out all the forms (or somebody is doing so on your behalf, which they can do to the same extent on other loan types!), and you're still providing all the documentation on the property - how much it's worth, proving you own it, proving the taxes are current, etcetera. Owing to identity theft and homeland security laws, you can expect to have to provide two things that basically show that you are you. You can expect to deal with problems if the county doesn't show the taxes as current, your landlord or current mortgage holder shows you as being behind or that you have a history of being behind or the county doesn't show you officially in title of record, or any of a host of other potential problems, but hey, at least you didn't have to show that you've got a source of income!

The next level of documentation is a "Stated Income" loan. This is where you document that you've got a source of income, but not that said income is sufficient to justify the loan, so you tell the bank you make that much, and they agree not to verify the actual numbers. This is going to require two additional items: verification of employment, or a testimonial letter if you are self-employed, and reserves. Reserves are quickest to explain. Industry standard is money sufficient to pay the loan, your taxes, and your homeowner's insurance for six months, in a form that is sufficiently liquid such that the money can be accessed, for a long enough period that the bank will believe it isn't borrowed - and the bank will require documentation of its availability if it's in an account type such as 401k where access may be restricted. Verification of your employment is somebody in the HR department filling out a form on your behalf and verifying it over the phone. The testimonial letter for self-employed borrowers comes from your lawyer, accountant, or tax preparer on their letterhead saying that you really do have a legitimate business. It basically reads: "To whom it may concern. John Smith is self-employed as the owner of business X. He has been doing this for Y years. Based upon information provided to me, he will earn the same amount of money this year as last year." The person providing the testimonial must sign the letter. It really is only about three sentences, but that person is putting their business on the line for you if it's not true. So they tend to require evidence if you're coming to them for the first time to get this letter written and signed.

The bank is basically looking for two years in the same line of work or at the same company to approve this one. Subprime lenders - when we had those - would sometimes accept a year or even six months, although their terms will not be as favorable. What the bank is looking for is evidence that you can really afford the loan. The thinking goes like this: "He's got a source of income, He's got a good credit score, he's making all his payments, he's got money in the bank, okay, we think he's living with his means and can afford to pay us back. We'll lend him the money." There are variants on stated income of which "stated income, stated assets" is the most common, but these carry higher rates, higher charges, or both, in many cases actually end up looking more like a heavily propagandized NINA loan than anything else.

It is a misapprehension to believe that Stated Income Loans have no debt to income ratio or income requirement. They are precisely that: You are allowed to state your income, which the lender agrees not to verify, in exchange for paying a higher interest rate. It's still got to be believable within the context of your profession and locale, and if believable amounts of income do not justify the loan, then you can expect to have it rejected. This income must also be sufficient to convince the lender that you can make the payments upon all of your known debts according to lender guidelines, mostly having to do with the aforesaid debt to income ratio. For these reasons, while you can always move a "stated income" loan to "full documentation," going the other way is forbidden.

I've heard Stated Income (and NINA) commonly referred to as "liars loans", and they are often used for such, but that is not their intended use. As a matter of fact, people get in a lot of trouble with these loans, and many times it comes back on an unscrupulous loan officer or real estate agent trying to push something through for which their clients really aren't qualified. If you can't afford the payment, am I really doing you a favor by qualifying you for the loan? I submit that I most emphatically am not. Before they push such a loan through, an ethical loan officer using it for this purpose should sit down, tell the people what the real payment is going to be, and make certain they can afford it - and not just by words, either! The loan officer has responsibility to both the lender and the borrower, and putting somebody into a loan they cannot afford harms both of those parties. On the other had, I have run into situations where they borrowers were renting and their effective cost of housing was going to go down! And in that case, I submit that I probably are helping the clients. On the other hand, if you're doing Stated Income or NINA (especially on a purchase) and the loan officer doesn't sit you down and cover what the payment is going to be within a couple dollars per month, and make certain you're okay paying it, this is a red flag in no uncertain terms!

What Stated Income is meant for is self employed people and people working on commission who really do make the money, but have write-offs such that their taxes aren't going to show enough income. Or people who had a bad year, or large losses or high write offs one year, but are still basically solid. I am going to observe that regulating stated income out of existence is doing no favors for the people it is meant for, nor the market at large. I certainly understand why Stated Income and NINA have evaporated currently and agree with those reasons due to the abuses that have been practiced. However, it doesn't do anyone except politicians any good to pretend that there haven't been people who could have otherwise afforded their loans hurt by this development.

The highest form of documentation is Full Documentation (almost everyone says "full doc" because the unabbreviated phrase is a mouthful). This does not necessarily mean I've got to prove to the bank that you make every penny you actually make, but only that you make enough to justify the loan. The proof the bank will accept is very straightforward. Self-employed borrowers are still going to need that testimonial letter from stated income. They will additionally be asked for their federal income tax packet. This is all of the forms, front and back, that you sent to the IRS last April 15th, and perhaps the April 15th before that, too. It's got to be a signed copy, and it must include copies of any w-2s or 1099s that you get. People in the construction profession, as well as those who may be w-2 employees but work on commission will also need to furnish their taxes, and the bank's underwriter can always require it of anyone. It is to be noted that banks did not have to accept your loan on a stated income basis even when it was available - the underwriter could always require that you furnish full documentation.

Those people who are hourly or salaried employees of a company can usually get by the full documentation of income requirement with just w-2 forms. If you are a company employee, the last 30 days worth of pay stubs will also be required.

The basic rationale for this is simple. Very few people tell the IRS that they make more money than they do, because the consequence is higher taxes. So the bank is willing to use tax forms to prove your income. In the case of a w-2 employee, the company is telling the IRS that those are the wages it paid you, and therefore wants to deduct your wages as a business expense, and you went and paid taxes on it, so the bank will usually accept that. Similarly, your pay stubs should have year to date pay on them. Here the bank will accept the word, metaphorically speaking, of a third party without a stake in the outcome of the loan.

A subset of the full documentation loan is the streamline refinance. As the name indicates, it is available on refinances only, not purchases. There are a lot of limits on these loans, but when I get to do one it is the easiest of all loans. Basically, it's a case where the same lender is now offering better rates, and no equity is being taken out of the home, and they'll allow you to do it because otherwise you'll take this client elsewhere. 90 percent of a loaf is much better to them than none.

Within the sub-prime mortgage world (when it existed, which it probably will again - once again, it's a legitimate market that someone will decide they want the money from servicing), those lenders would often take the deposits from 12 consecutive months of bank statements (sometimes 6 or 24), usually discounted by a certain amount, and accept that as proof of income. This is called Lite or EZ doc, although there's nothing easy about it and as a matter of experience there are more fights with the underwriter and jumping through hoops here than with any other type of loan documentation. The rates are somewhat higher than for full documentation, but not nearly the rates for stated income. Mind you, sub-prime rates are higher in the first place as well. Furthermore, many of these sub-prime lenders would advertise the fact that "EZ doc rates same as full doc!" I shouldn't have to explain to adults that this phrase translates to English as they don't give the lower rates to true full documentation loans, now should I?

So, on the subject of documentation, I think you should be able to tell that the higher the quality of your income documentation, the lower the rate that you are going to get from a given lender. If you can qualify, a full documentation loan is probably going to save you more than enough money to pay you to do the extra paperwork, the amount of which is marginal anyway. The only reason not to do the extra paperwork is if you can't supply requisite proof, which is pretty much the reason why the lesser loan types such as stated income and NINA have been so abused and I can't find a single investor offering them today.

I should probably repeat one final time that as of this update, true full documentation loans are the only thing available. The others will almost certainly make a comeback at some point, but with some changes. They were badly abused by the marketplace, but the fact that they went away caused a lot of people who really could afford their loans to be unable to refinance, or unable to get a purchase loan. Eventually someone will decide they want the profit for serving this market segment and figure out a way, but until then, lesser documentation loans are gone.

And as one final warning: If a loan officer requires originals not only of the forms they ask you to sign (A couple of the standard forms require original signatures - really!), but of your own documentation, it is a BIG RED FLAG. I can't think of any client-supplied document that lenders will not accept copies of. The only reason to require your originals is that loan provider does not want you able to apply for a loan with someone else, so they're putting an end to your shopping, and once they've got them, good luck trying to get them back (at least until the loan is done so they get paid). A good loan officer needs good readable copies - not your originals. An ethical loan officer doesn't need or want custody of your originals any longer than is necessary to make good copies, and if you hand them a good readable copy in the first place, that isn't a problem.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on November 8, 2019 7:00 AM.

Real Estate Sellers Giving A Buyer Cash Back is Defrauding the Lender was the previous entry in this blog.

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