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FHA tries to stave off bailout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Housing Administration, facing a $16.3 billion deficit, will increase mortgage fees next year and take other steps in an effort to avoid a taxpayer bailout, the Obama administration said on Friday.

The agency, a primary source of funding for first-time home buyers and those with modest incomes, said it would raise the premiums it charges on loans it guarantees by 10 basis points, adding, on average, about $13 per month to a borrower's cost.

A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

Housing officials would not say whether the steps would be enough to keep the agency from turning to the Treasury Department for a cash infusion. "I'm not going to place bets," FHA Acting Commissioner Carol Galante told reporters.

An independent audit delivered to Congress on Friday showed the FHA had depleted the capital it would need to cover expected losses on the $1.1 trillion in mortgages it backs. It said the losses would leave the agency $16.3 billion in the red.

The FHA's troubles stem from rising defaults on mortgages it guaranteed from 2007-2009 as the housing bubble was deflating. As private capital dried up during the bust, the FHA's role grew. It now insures about 1.2 million loans, or about 15 percent of all U.S. home loans, up from 5 percent in 2006.

Galante emphasized that the White House's annual budget proposal in February would be instrumental in determining whether the agency would need taxpayer funds by the time its fiscal year expires on Sept. 30.

Any final determination would not be made until September.


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