Senate approves higher gov’t mortgage fees

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Higher monthly fees are coming for consumers who take out home loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, the primary source of mortgages for first-time homebuyers.

The Senate late Wednesday unanimously approved legislation giving the FHA the power to hike monthly premiums it charges to consumers. The measure now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The new law would affect new loans and not ones that already have been made.

Officials say the agency needs the authority to stabilize its finances, which have deteriorated because of the foreclosure crisis. The fees are projected to bring in an extra $3.6 billion per year, according to the FHA.

The agency does not make loans, but offers insurance against default.

People who take out FHA-backed loans pay a smaller down payment, as low as 3.5 percent of the home price. But they are subject to two additional fees — one at the start of the loan and an annual fee. Both fees are typically spread out in monthly installments over the life of the loan.

Borrowers who take out loans through FHA pay an annual fee of 0.55 percent of the total loan. FHA officials expect to raise that to 0.9 percent, though the bill would give them the power to hike it as high as 1.55 percent.

Earlier this year, the FHA raised the upfront fee to 2.25 percent of the total mortgage amount from 1.75 percent. Agency officials want to lower that to 1 percent.

The combined impact of lowering the upfront fee and raising the monthly fee would mean a borrower taking out a mortgage of $170,000 at an interest rate of 5 percent would pay an extra $38 a month.