It’s Now Easier for Millions of Student Loan Borrowers to Get a Mortgage

Student loan borrowers who are making reduced income-driven repayments on their loans will have an easier time getting mortgages under a new policy announced recently by Fannie Mae.

Nearly one-quarter of federal student loan borrowers benefit from reduced monthly student loan payments based on their income, Fannie Mae says. However, there’s been some confusion about how banks should treat the lower monthly payments when they calculate a would-be mortgage borrower’s debt-to-income ratio (DTI): Should banks consider the reduced payment, the payment borrowers would have to pay without the income-based “discount,” or something in between?

It’s a tricky question, because student loan borrowers have to renew their qualification for the lower payments each year, meaning a borrower’s monthly DTI could change dramatically a year or two after qualifying for a mortgage. The banks’ confusion over which payment amount to use can mean the difference between a borrower qualifying for a home loan and staying stuck in a rental apartment.

There’s even more confusion when a mortgage applicant qualifies for a $0 income-driven student loan payment, or when there’s no payment amount listed on the applicant’s credit report. Previously, in that situation, Fannie Mae required banks to use 1% of the balance or a full payment term.

As of last week, Fannie has declared that mortgage lenders can instead use $0 as a student loan payment when determining DTI, as long as the borrower can back that up with documentation.

That announcement followed another Fannie update issued in April telling lenders that they could use the lower income-based monthly payment, rather than a larger payment based on the full balance of the loan, when calculating borrowers’ monthly debt obligations.

“We are simplifying the options available to calculate the monthly payment amount for student loans. The resulting policy will be easier for lenders to apply, and may result in a lower qualifying payment for borrowers with student loans,” Fannie said in its statement.

Taken together, the two announcements could immediately benefit the roughly 6 million borrowers currently using income-driven repayment plans known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR).
Freddie Mac didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about its policy in the same situation.

What This Means for Student Loan Borrowers Looking to Buy

Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers said the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

The broader change announced in April, which allowed lenders to use the income-driven payment amount in calculations, could make a huge difference to millions of borrowers, Evers said.

“Imagine you have $60,000 in student loan debt and are on IBR with a payment of $150 a month,” she said. Before April’s guidance, lenders may have used $600 (1% of the balance of the student loans) as the monthly loan amount when determining DTI, “basically overriding actual debt with a fake/inflated number.”

“Imagine you are 28 and making $40,000 per year. Well, even if you’re fiscally responsible, that added $450-a-month inflated payment would absolutely destroy your ability to buy a decent home … This opens up the door to a lot more lenders being able to use the actual IBR payment,” Evers said.

The Fannie Mae change regarding borrowers on income-driven plans with a $0 monthly payment could be a big deal for some mortgage applicants with large student loans. A borrower with an outstanding $50,000 loan but a $0-a-month payment would see the monthly expenses side of their debt-to-income ratio fall by $500.

It’s unclear how many would-be homebuyers could qualify for a mortgage with an income low enough to qualify for a $0-per-month income-driven student loan repayment plan. Fannie did not have an estimate, spokeswoman Alicia Jones said.

“If your income is low enough to merit a zero payment, then it is probably going to be hard to qualify for a mortgage with a number of lenders. But, with the share of IBR now at almost a full 25% of all federally insured debt, it’s suspected that there will be plenty of potential borrowers who do,” Jones said. “The motivation for the original policy and clarification came from lenders’ requests.”

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Student Debt Confessions: How I Got Kicked Off My Income-Driven Repayment Plan

Liz Stapleton wrote about her experience getting kicked off her income-driven repayment plan for MagnifyMoney. Overnight, her monthly student loan payment skyrocketed from $365 to nearly $2,000.

I graduated from college at the onset of the recession in 2008 and graduated from law school just in time for the recession to hit the legal market in 2011. By the time I finished with both my degrees I had $193,000 of federal student loan debt, which has since grown to over $250,000. Needless to say, I’ve never been financially able to make student loan repayments under the standard repayment plan.

Once my six-month student loan grace period ended in 2011, I immediately signed up for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan with each of my three loan servicers.

Every borrower enrolled in one of these plans has to renew their eligibility through their loan servicer every year. Since I have three servicers, that means at this point I have been through the renewal process 18 times. The first 17 recertifications went off without a hitch.

So I was stunned when I found out my 18th and most recent submission for recertification through one of my three loan servicers was denied. That was it — I was kicked out of the program. Suddenly, my monthly payments of $362 were going to balloon to nearly $2,000.

I got on the phone with the lender right away, determined to find out why I was booted from the program. In the end, I was able to successfully re-enroll.

Why my income-driven repayment renewal was denied

It turns out my status as a self-employed worker was to blame.

After I was laid off from my job as a solutions consultant at the end of 2016, I started a business as a freelance writer in 2017. One of the requirements to recertify your eligibility for income-driven repayment plans is to submit proof of income. When I was working full time, that was no problem. I just used records of my pay stubs to verify my income.

But now that I was self-employed, I didn’t have pay stubs. Early in 2017, when my deadline to recertify with one of my loan servicers was approaching, I called them and asked what documents I could use to verify my income.

I was told that all I needed was a self-certifying letter stating that I’d been laid off and was now self-employed as a freelance writer. I also needed to include my gross monthly income. I wrote the letter and stated what my approximate monthly income was thus far, and my submission for recertification on the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan was approved, no problem.

But remember that I have three different loan servicers. So I had to go through the same process with the other two as well. Unfortunately, when I tried to use the same strategy to renew my certification with my second servicer, I was denied.

I was shocked and stressed out, to say the least.

Resubmitting my application

I called this loan servicer and asked why I had been denied. At first, the representative I spoke with told me there wasn’t sufficient documentation of income. When I asked why my self-certifying letter wasn’t enough, the representative on the phone explained that it usually was enough. I pressed her to find out what exactly was wrong with my letter that had resulted in a denial. It turns out, they didn’t like that I used the word “approximate” when stating my gross monthly income. They needed a firm number. Additionally, they wanted a work address.

I rewrote the letter to take out the word “approximately” and explained that as a self-employed freelance writer I worked from home and had no additional company address. I submitted my forms again and crossed my fingers.

In the meantime, my loan servicer agreed to put my loans into deferment for one month. That would ensure that I wouldn’t get hit with my new larger payment the following month.

Here’s what the application looks like to re-certify your enrollment in an income-driven repayment plan. Download a copy at https://studentaid.ed.gov.

The long wait for news

After I resubmitted my IDR Plan recertification application, I was told I would hear back within 10 days. It was nearly a month before I heard back from them in June. It was good news – my documents were approved, and I would be enrolled in my new IDR Plan starting in August.

But the celebration was short-lived.

Since I had only been granted a one-month deferment, which covered me for June, and my new IBR Plan wouldn’t kick in until August, that meant I would have a gap in July. And I’d have to pay my new, larger monthly payment. I couldn’t afford the payment of nearly $2,000 and to miss it would mean defaulting on my loans. Defaulting on federal loans could mean losing access to the income-driven repayment plans as well as forbearance and deferment options, not to mention it would wreak havoc on my credit.

Once again I was caught off guard and stressed out. And, once again, I called my loan servicer to find out why the new plan wasn’t being applied sooner. Apparently, the billing cycle had already passed for July.

To solve the problem, I requested another month of deferment for July, which I was granted.

Asking for a forbearance or deferment is never fun, but it is always better than defaulting on your loans and losing access to those options and flexible repayment plans.

What to do if your recertification is denied

  1. Be proactive. One of the biggest lessons I learned from this ordeal is that it pays to be proactive. Don’t count on the loan servicer sending the paperwork you need to fill out; you can find a recertification document here. If you are struggling with payments, you have to take action. Ask your loan servicer questions to find out what might work best for you, a new payment plan or a temporary forbearance or deferment. If your loan servicer is being stingy with answers, persist, do not hang up the phone until you have the answers you need.
  2. Don’t be shy about requesting deferment or forbearance. Loan servicers won’t necessarily anticipate that you may need a deferment or forbearance if your repayment plan is denied. So be sure to ask.
  3. Resubmit your application. It isn’t unusual to have your recertification denied for a number of reasons. For example, if you are a salaried employee, paid biweekly, and only submit one pay stub, you could be denied for not demonstrating an entire month’s worth of income. But remember, you don’t have to accept that denial as final; you can usually resubmit if something was wrong with your original submission.

The Bottom Line: Not all loan servicers are created equally

As I learned the hard way, some loans servicers are pickier about the language you use on your renewal forms than others.

“For those that are self-employed, some [servicers] will have specific requirements in the phrasing of the documents used to certify income,” says Columbus, Ohio-based financial advisor Natalie Bacon. “What works for one loan servicer may not work for another.”

The biggest lesson I learned was not to assume that just because one loan servicer accepted my documentation, the other loan servicer would as well. It’s always important to communicate with each of your student loan servicers.

The post Student Debt Confessions: How I Got Kicked Off My Income-Driven Repayment Plan appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How Tragedy & Identity Thieves Kept One Woman From a Near-Perfect Credit Score

Tragedy and identity theft is never a good thing, but in this case, it positively impacted a woman's credit.

Identity theft can deal serious damage to your finances. And repairing its effects can be stressful and time-consuming, especially when it comes to repairing the damage to your credit.

Just ask New Jersey resident, Erin (who asked us not to use her last name, as she was a victim of identity theft). This, plus credit problems arising from her recently deceased parents’ financially accounts, dragged her score down by nearly 50 points, keeping her from the near-perfect credit she had worked hard to earn.

There was no special trick to Erin saving her credit scores. It took hours of calls, but she ended up with a giant credit boost over one weekend this past March.

When the Last Thing on Your Mind Is Your Credit Report

Erin’s credit troubles arose during a time of grief. Her mother died in September 2010. Months later, in March 2011, her father also died.

At 27-years-old, Erin was working to become the administrator of her parents’ estate. They left no will, and Bank of America was looking for a late credit card payment belonging to her father.

Erin told the bank she couldn’t send the payment because she hadn’t been appointed the administrator yet. Once she was appointed in June, she made the payment. She wouldn’t learn until years later that the late payment had ended up on her credit report. In the meantime, she ran into another problem: identity theft.

Just before Christmas 2015, Erin got an alert on her phone from Sprint telling her the new lines she ordered were ready. Problem was, she hadn’t ordered any new lines. She checked her account and saw that someone had added three brand-new iPhones to it.

Whoever had done so was using Erin’s address and Social Security number to get these new devices. And because Erin had good credit, they were able to put the phones on her bill and walk out of three different Sprint stores with three new phones. Erin said her identity was also used to make purchases at AT&T, Verizon, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target and Bloomingdales.

Hours of Phone Calls

To this day, Erin doesn’t know who stole her identity, which is often the case for identity theft victims. She changed all her passwords and started working the phones.

“It was just basically a ton of phone calls,” she said. “Each phone call probably lasted between 35 minutes and an hour.”

Lisa Belot, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said retail workers use scanners to authenticate customers’ driver’s licenses and other technology to prevent fraud. The company urges customers to regularly update passwords and to never share account info with a third party unless the request comes from a trusted source, she added.

With each company, Erin had to start with customer service, which transferred her to the fraud department before they agreed to send letters saying she wouldn’t be responsible for the charges. She filed a report with her local police department and called the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to put security freezes on her credit reports.

In doing this, she kept anyone from pulling her credit reports to keep anyone from opening lines of credit using her stolen Social Security number. She had never checked her credit reports or scores regularly until her identity was stolen, but she started soon after.

That’s when Erin finally saw the late payment to Bank of America was on her report.

Normally, said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, once the bank is notified that a customer has died, it removes any fees and interest assessed eight days before and after the notification. Any delinquencies should have no effect on the credit report of the estate administrator.

Therefore, Erin should have been off the hook for the late payment. But after Credit.com looked into Erin’s case, Riess revealed that Erin had been listed as an account holder on the account along with her father when it opened in 2010.

Erin had been unaware of this and expressed surprise when she found out this year. She had helped her dad with paperwork and bills after her mother died, but she had her own credit cards.

“There would have been no reason for my name to be on the account,” she said.

She also couldn’t find any mention of her name on any of the Bank of America documents she has and says she still keeps a thick file folder of paperwork from her credit fiasco. Erin does acknowledge she may have been on the account without remembering — noting it was a long time ago and during a difficult time.

One Giant Leap for a Credit Score

Despite the credit report and the leftover late payment, Erin still had a decent credit score around 680 at the start of 2017. She had built it up after separating from her ex-husband in 2009, when her score was in the 500s.

After clearing the identity theft off her credit reports, her score shot up to an excellent 767. But around that time, another check of her reports showed the Bank of America payment had remained on her Experian report.

She checked with Experian in February to see what was up, and the agency said the removal of the payment was still pending. When she checked at the beginning of March, it was finally removed. The effect was to rocket up her score 46 points to a near-perfect 804.

Erin gained more than an excellent score from the experience. She also learned good credit habits.

“I’ve been good about always paying on time and making as big of a payment, if not the entire thing, since 2011,” she said.

What You Can Do

To others in the same situation, Erin advised checking the federal IdentityTheft.gov website, which breaks down the steps required to recover from identity theft.

Rod Griffin, director of Public Education for Experian, said if you share a joint account with your parent and they die, it’s important to check your credit report to make sure they’re accurately reported. The account may be updated with a statement saying the parent is deceased to keep anyone from using their identity fraudulently. All three national credit bureaus have similar policies.

Meanwhile, your credit report should still say the account is open and active, Griffin said. (For starters, you can check your credit report summary for free on Credit.com)

“As a cosigner or joint account holder, you share full responsibility for the debt, so you may be held liable for any remaining balance on the account,” he said.

While Erin said the experience was a valuable lesson, it didn’t sound like she’d risk going through it again.

“It was really difficult,” she said. “It was probably more difficult because I was stressed and worried about what the implications might be.”

Image: martin-dm

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How Living Like Lord Voldemort Can Save You Money

No need to be a wizard or famous villain to save some serious cash. Just be inspired by one.

Let’s start with a disclaimer — I’m not telling you to murder anyone or become a villainous snake wizard. I’m going to help you save some money while taking inspiration from the most infamous villain of our youth and (no shame) adulthood. If Lord Voldemort was real and, you know, not busy trying to destroy Harry Potter, he would’ve probably been great at managing money.

A lot of Lord Voldemort’s core characteristics and common practices deserve a second look and, if they’re applied properly to your financial habits, they could make you more successful than he ever was. Here’s how living like Lord Voldemort can save you money.

Be Resourceful

Between crafting plans and tricking others, Lord Voldemort is one of the most resourceful characters in the “Harry Potter” series. Being resourceful helped him move closer to his goals and it can help you do the same. This is especially seen when he creates potions using items around him like unicorn blood, human flesh and snake venom. One of the potions he created literally helped him regenerate a body. If that’s not resourcefulness I don’t know what is. Resourcefulness can seriously pay off, whether it be fixing your sink without paying for a plumber or testing new ways to save at grocery stores.

Have Dedication

Lord Voldemort didn’t build an army in a day and your savings account won’t be magically filled in a day either. Lord Voldemort had persistent, unfaltering dedication to his goal to find and destroy Harry Potter. He stayed dedicated to his mission for eight movies and seven books until he died. If you divert a fraction of that amount of dedication to saving money, you’re sure to find money success.

Be Ruthless With Yourself

Remember when Voldemort killed Harry Potter’s mom in front of him and then tried to murder infant Harry Potter? You’ve got to be pretty ruthless to do that. While Lord Voldemort was ruthless towards others, one money saving strategy is to be a little bit ruthless to yourself. Saving money can require a lot of self-control to wage the internal battle between spending temptations and your desire to save. Being harsh to your inner spender can pay off.

While you should never be too harsh on yourself, if you’re stuck in a spending rut be open to trying stricter money saving methods like going a week without spending or even making it your mission to stop ordering lunch every day. It’s possible to save without feeling deprived but it takes a bit of self-control. 

Wear a Uniform

The whole idea of not wearing the same outfit twice is very Hollywood, but not so much Hogwarts. Our pal Voldemort essentially wore the same black cloak every day. While wearing a black cloak on the daily isn’t necessary, creating a go-to outfit formula or even downsizing your wardrobe saves money and time. 

Share Your Mission

It’s safe to say the entire world knew Lord Voldemort wanted to find and kill Harry Potter. Like Voldemort, be vocal with your goals. Tell your friends and family about your mission to save. When those around you know about your money saving mission, they have the opportunity to be more accommodating and understanding. This is especially handy when you suggest a tighter budget for holiday gift giving or opt for more affordable restaurants when eating out with friends.

You might also want to create a blog or Twitter account where you can share your money-related fails and triumphs. Sharing can certainly increase accountability. When others know your goal they might hold you to it and you may feel more motivated to stick to it.

Focus on Actually Understanding

Voldemort’s ultimate demise resulted from his lack of understanding about a certain curse — I won’t spoil too much. Learn from his mistake and make a point to actually understand your finances. Make sure you know your credit score (you can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com). It can help you understand your financial situation and improve it. It’s also important to read up about your student loans and other debt instead of pretending they don’t exist and learn about all of the benefits and rewards your credit cards and employers offer that you might not be taking advantage of.

Keep a Diary

When he was still Tom Riddle, Voldemort had a diary used for manipulation. He really made the most of the diary by also using it as a Horcrux. While your diary won’t be quite as nefarious, it will help you paint a clear picture of how and where you’re spending your money. Create a spending diary where you keep track of purchases. Seeing all of your expenses can help you visualize which types of spending you want to cut back on and exactly where your money is going.

Know Your History

Voldemort had a slight obsession with his heritage. He spent a lot of time tracking down his own history while he was still at Hogwarts and through his history he learned a lot of important details about himself. Including the fact that he was half-blood, which served as a catalyst to his becoming Lord Voldemort in the first place. Knowing your own credit history is crucial when it comes to building credit. Your credit report can give you an insight into how long you’ve had your accounts and help identify any factors dragging your finances down.

Start Young

Voldemort created his first Horcruxes at the age of 17. As he built Horcruxes, you can build your credit. Even 17 isn’t too young to start thinking about your financial future. You can start building credit as a teen.

Find Motivation That Works For You

Voldemort’s actions were motivated by a true hatred and hunger to rid the world of muggles. While that probably isn’t your goal, one of the keys to saving money is to find your motivation. Perhaps you’re paying off student loans, saving for a summer trip or trying to start an emergency fund. When you pin down your money saving motivation, unlike Voldemort, you’ll be unstoppable.

Image: izusek

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How Much Should You Budget for Groceries?

Groceries are an essential, but going way over budget isn't. Learning how to properly budget for groceries will save you a lot of time and money.

When creating your budget, it’s important to include accurate numbers. After all, an accurate budget sets you up for financial success. It’s easy to know how much you need to include for utilities, loans, and even fuel. However, it can be difficult to figure out how much to budget for groceries. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount to include on your grocery budget so you don’t overspend.

Fortunately, there are some tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to budget for groceries.

Average American Consumption

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend, on average, around 6% of their budget on food. However, the study also shows that they also spend 5% of their disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income.

If you use this method, budget 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out. If your take-home income is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, you should cut back on dining out and use any additional money towards your grocery needs.

Actual Spending

A more efficient and realistic way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to find what you’re currently spending. Do this by completing a spending form.

A spending form will help you to review all of your purchases over several pay periods. The result will show you the average you are spending on groceries each week. If you feel that is too much, you can try to reduce your spending, keeping in mind that you and your family will also have to adjust the way you eat.

US Average Plan

Another way to choose a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans can be found on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the amounts listed for the people in your family.

For example, let’s say you are a family of four. Your kids are a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl. You decide to try to live on a low-cost plan. According to the report, the total monthly amount for your son will be $236.30 and for your daughter $190.10. Dad’s monthly amount is $238.30 and mom’s is $206.30. That makes the grand total grocery budget $871.00 per month or $217.75 per week.

Special Dietary Needs

If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten, or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these specialty foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods.

Reduce Your Grocery Budget Further

If you’ve calculated your grocery budget but still want to lower the cost, try some of these simple ideas:

Reduce your dining out budget. Eat at home more often and avoid restaurants and takeout. This is a simple way to find money to add to your budget.

Use coupons. While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if the coupons aren’t available for the foods you need to eat, you can find them for household products you use, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.

Menu plan. Figure out your meals every single week before you shop. That way, you have a plan for the week. You’ll know what you will eat and you’ll have the ingredients on hand when it is time to cook.

Use a cash back credit card. There are a lot of great rewards cards that help you earn cash back and other perks while you shop. This can help lessen the stress of grocery costs. Remember, a lot of these cards require a decent credit score. Before applying, see where your credit stands. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Take the time to create a grocery budget that is feasible. Don’t try to make it so low that it is unrealistic, or your budget will fail month after month. Personalize it to your family’s needs and find a way to make it work.

Image: AleksandarNakic

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