An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Sean M. Hoskins Analyst in Financial Economics Katie Jones Analyst in Housing Policy N. Eric Weiss Specialist in Financial Economics March 13, 2013 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov R42995 CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Summary When making a decision about housing, a household must choose between renting and owning. Multiple factors, such as a household’s financial status and expectations about the future, will influence the decision. Few that decide to purchase a home have the necessary savings or available financial resources to make the purchase on their own. Most need to take out a loan. A loan that uses real estate as collateral is typically referred to as a mortgage. A potential borrower applies for a loan from a lender in what is called the primary market. The lender underwrites, or evaluates, the borrower and decides whether and under what terms to extend a loan. Many different types of lenders make home loans, including banks, credit unions, and finance companies (institutions that lend money but do not necessarily accept deposits). If a mortgage is made, the borrower sends the required scheduled payments to an entity known as a mortgage servicer, which then remits the payments to the mortgage holder. If the borrower does not repay the mortgage as promised, the lender can repossess the property through a process known as foreclosure. The lender requires some additional assurance that, in the event that the borrower does not repay the mortgage as promised, it will be able to sell the home for enough to recoup the amount it is owed. Typically, lenders receive such assurance through a down payment, mortgage insurance, or a combination of the two. Mortgage insurance can be provided privately or through a government guarantee. The secondary market is the market for buying and selling mortgages. If a mortgage originator sells the mortgage in the secondary market, the purchaser of the mortgage could choose to hold the mortgage itself or to securitize it. When a mortgage is securitized, it is pooled into a security with other mortgages, and the payment streams associated with the mortgages are sold to investors. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securitize mortgages that conform to their standards, known as “conforming mortgages.” Mortgages that do not conform to all of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s standards are referred to as “nonconforming mortgages.” Ginnie Mae guarantees mortgage-backed securities (MBS) made up exclusively of mortgages insured or guaranteed by the federal government. Other financial institutions also issue MBS, known as private-label securities (PLS). The characteristics of the borrower and of the mortgage determine the classification of the loan. What happens to a mortgage in the secondary market is partially determined by whether the mortgage is government-insured, conforming, or nonconforming. Depending on the type of MBS or mortgage purchased, investors will face different types of risks. Congress is interested in the condition of the housing finance system for multiple reasons. The mortgage market is very large and can impact the wider U.S. economy. The federal government supports homeownership both directly (through the Federal Housing Administration [FHA], Department of Veterans’ Affairs [VA], and U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA]) and indirectly (through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). This support by the federal government means that the government is potentially liable for financial losses. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA currently are in financial difficulty, and Congress has shown an interest in exercising oversight and considering legislation to potentially address these difficulties. This report provides an overview of how the housing finance system works and provides context for housing finance-related policy issues that Congress might choose to consider. A glossary of terms is provided in the Appendix. Congressional Research Service An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Contents Introduction...................................................................................................................................... 1 The Primary Market ......................................................................................................................... 1 Mortgage Characteristics ........................................................................................................... 2 Lender Protection ...................................................................................................................... 3 Mortgage Servicing ................................................................................................................... 5 Mortgage Classifications ........................................................................................................... 5 Risks Associated with Holding Mortgages ................................................................................ 6 Primary Market Summary ......................................................................................................... 7 The Secondary Market ..................................................................................................................... 7 Securitization ............................................................................................................................. 8 Types of MBS...................................................................................................................... 9 Investors .................................................................................................................................. 12 To-Be-Announced Market................................................................................................. 12 Specified-Pool Market....................................................................................................... 13 Secondary Market Summary ................................................................................................... 13 Figures Figure 1. The Housing Finance System When a Mortgage is Securitized....................................... 9 Tables Table 1. Mortgage-Backed Securities Classification ..................................................................... 12 Appendixes Appendix. Glossary ....................................................................................................................... 14 Contacts Author Contact Information........................................................................................................... 18 Congressional Research Service An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Introduction When making a decision about housing, a household often must evaluate renting versus owning. Multiple factors will influence the decision, such as a household’s financial status and expectations about the future. Few that decide to purchase a home have the necessary savings or available financial resources to make the purchase without borrowing money. Most need to take out a loan known as a mortgage. This report serves as a primer that explains how the system of housing finance works. This report focuses on single-family, owner-occupied housing and not on commercial or multi-family real estate.1 Historically, the government has played an important role in the housing finance system, providing both support to the system and regulation of it. As is described in more detail later in this report, the government provides explicit support to certain homeowners, such as through government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA),2 and implicit support to others, such as through the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Advocates of government support for homeownership argue that homeownership strengthens ties to community and is a way for households to accumulate wealth. The government’s support attempts to balance two competing objectives: expanding access to homeownership for qualified borrowers and minimizing the risk and cost to the government. The government’s regulation of the housing finance system is divided across the different levels of government. Some issues, such as the foreclosure process, are primarily regulated by the states while other issues, such as certain borrower protections when taking out a mortgage, are regulated at the federal level. This report largely focuses on the federal role in supporting housing finance, not on its role in the regulation of it. The housing finance system has two major components: a primary market and a secondary market. Lenders make new loans in the primary market, and loans are bought and sold in the secondary market. The next section will describe the primary market, explaining what a mortgage is and how a mortgage is made. The Primary Market In the primary market, a lender extends a loan to a borrower so that the borrower can purchase a house.3 Many different types of lenders make home loans, including banks, credit unions, and finance companies (institutions that lend money but do not necessarily accept deposits). A loan that uses real estate as collateral is typically referred to as a mortgage. When a borrower applies for a mortgage, the lender will underwrite, or evaluate, the borrower. 1 For more on commercial and multi-family real estate, see CRS Report R41046, Commercial and Residential Mortgages, by N. Eric Weiss. 2 Terms that are italicized the first time they are used in this report are included in the glossary in the Appendix. 3 Different types of single-family properties might require different types of mortgages or might influence the type of mortgage that a borrower takes out. For example, mortgages used to purchase condominiums or co-ops might have different requirements than mortgages used to purchase detached single-family homes. Congressional Research Service 1 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States The lender is likely to take into account multiple factors, such as the applicant’s credit history, income, debts, assets, and the value of the house being purchased. The underwriting process usually takes several weeks or a month as the borrower assembles various financial documents, such as tax returns, that the lender requires. The mortgage application process can be relatively expensive for borrowers. The borrower pays a variety of fees upfront for items such as credit reports, an independent appraisal, a survey of the land, a title search, and lender fees. The borrower generally has to pay additional costs when the mortgage is closed. Collectively, these are referred to as settlement costs or closing costs. 4 The borrower and the seller can negotiate who will pay which fees, but the borrower is generally responsible for at least some closing costs. The lender is required to provide a standardized form to the borrower at closing that shows the itemized closing costs associated with the mortgage.5 Mortgage Characteristics A mortgage has four basic characteristics:6 • the amount of the loan (the principal); • the length (or term) of the loan; • the schedule for the loan’s repayment (monthly installments or lump sum); and • the interest rate. Different types of mortgages vary across these characteristics. A fixed-rate mortgage is a mortgage in which the interest rate does not change over the life of the loan. An adjustable-rate mortgage has an interest rate that is tied to an underlying index; at agreed-upon intervals, as the index adjusts, so does the interest rate.7 A balloon mortgage has a lump-sum amount, or a balloon payment, due at the end of the loan. The most common type of mortgage in the United States is the 30-year, fixed-rate, self-amortizing mortgage. A self-amortizing mortgage is one in which each payment made by the borrower pays down some of the interest and some of the principal until the loan is paid off. For example, if a 4 For more information on what closing costs can include, see the Federal Reserve Board, “A Consumer’s Guide to Mortgage Settlement Costs,” at http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/settlement/default.htm. 5 The form is made available by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is known as a HUD-1. A sample HUD-1 is available on HUD’s website at http://www.hud.gov/offices/adm/hudclips/forms/files/1.pdf. Lenders are also required to provide borrowers with additional disclosures earlier in the mortgage origination process including a good faith estimate (GFE) that provides the borrower with an estimate of anticipated closing costs. For more information on required borrower disclosures, see CRS Report R41980, Revisiting Mortgage Loan Disclosures Under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by Darryl E. Getter and Sean M. Hoskins. 6 Daniel J. McDonald and Daniel L. Thornton, “A Primer on the Mortgage Market and Mortgage Finance,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, January/February 2008, http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/review/08/01/ McDonald.pdf. In addition to the four characteristics mentioned above, a mortgage may include other characteristics, such as whether there is a prepayment penalty (a fee that may have to be paid if a borrower attempts to end the mortgage contract before a specified date). However, the four listed characteristics are generally the main focus. 7 The interest rate is likely to have a ceiling and a floor and only be able to adjust by a fixed amount at a given time. The specifics may vary by individual mortgages. Some mortgages may have an interest rate that is fixed for a given time before becoming adjustable. For example, a 2/28 mortgage has a fixed interest rate for the first two years and an adjustable rate for the existing 28 years. Congressional Research Service 2 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States borrower takes out a $200,000 mortgage with a 6.5% fixed interest rate to be repaid over 30 years, then the borrower’s monthly payment is about $1,264.8 After 360 months of making monthly payments of $1,264 (one payment per month for 30 years), the mortgage is completely paid off. With adjustable-rate mortgages, the amount of the borrower’s monthly payment can change as the interest rate adjusts. Although the typical mortgage contract may have a 30-year term, most mortgages are paid off early. Borrowers pay off a mortgage in several ways. First, a borrower could repay the loan in full over the prescribed time period, or earlier if the borrower makes extra payments. Second, the borrower could refinance the mortgage. In a refinance, the borrower takes out a new mortgage (usually with better terms than the original, such as a lower interest rate)9 and uses the new mortgage to repay the original mortgage. The borrower then makes payments on the new mortgage. Third, a borrower could sell the home and use the proceeds to repay the mortgage. Fourth, a borrower could stop paying, or default, on the mortgage. The lender would then repossess the house through foreclosure and sell it to attempt to recoup the unpaid amount of the loan. Lender Protection When taking out a mortgage, the house that is being purchased is pledged as collateral. If the borrower is unable or unwilling to pay, the lender can seize the house and sell it to recoup what is owed.10 To increase the probability that the sale of the house will be sufficient to recover the amount of the mortgage outstanding, the lender will generally require a down payment. The down payment serves as a buffer to protect the lender in the event that house prices fall. For example, if a borrower wants to purchase a $200,000 house,11 the lender may require the borrower to provide a 20% down payment ($40,000) in order to borrow the additional $160,000.12 As long as the house can be sold for more than the amount of the mortgage outstanding, the lender faces little risk of not being repaid. A larger down payment results in a lower loan-to-value ratio, or the ratio of the amount of the mortgage to the value of the home. Lenders typically require a borrower to have a 20% down payment. If a borrower does not have the necessary down payment, the borrower has several options. One potential option is for a borrower to take out a second mortgage (or a “piggyback loan”) to help finance the down 8 The $1,264 payment would cover the monthly principal and interest payment on the mortgage. In addition, each month the borrower might also pay property taxes and insurance premiums into her escrow account as part of her monthly payment. An escrow account is an account that a borrower may pay into with part of his monthly payment to ensure the payment of taxes and insurance. The account is a special account that can only be used to make tax and insurance payments on behalf of the borrower. 9 A borrower could also refinance as a “cash out refinancing.” In a cash out refinancing, the borrower refinances the home by taking out a mortgage with a larger principal amount than is needed to extinguish the existing mortgage. The borrower keeps the difference. A borrower will typically need to have built up sufficient equity in the home for cash out refinancing to be approved. 10 In some cases, it is possible that the borrower could still owe the lender the difference between the sales price of the house and the mortgage amount owed. This will depend on state law and, in states where the borrower can be held responsible for the difference, whether the lender chooses to forgive that amount or not. 11 To determine the value of the house, the lender may require an appraisal, which is an independent valuation of the home. 12 In addition to the down payment, the borrower would need to save enough to cover the closing costs of the mortgage. Closing costs are the fees associated with the mortgage settlement process. Congressional Research Service 3 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States payment. For example, a borrower could put down 10% of the value of the house, borrow 10% as a piggyback loan (which is combined with the 10% to serve as the down payment), and then borrow the remaining 80% as the first mortgage. The first mortgage is said to be first because, in the event the borrower goes into foreclosure, the first mortgage is supposed to be repaid first from the proceeds of selling the house. To compensate for the additional risk of being second in the repayment order, the second mortgage usually charges a higher interest rate than the first mortgage. A borrower could also use mortgage insurance if he or she does not have enough for a 20% down payment. Mortgage insurance, which is an insurance policy that can be purchased by either the borrower or the lender (though usually by the borrower), compensates the lender in the event that the borrower defaults. Mortgage insurance provides greater assurance to the lender that the lender will be repaid. Mortgage insurance is typically purchased by borrowers from private businesses (private mortgage insurance or PMI) or the federal government. Government mortgage insurance coverage varies depending on the agency providing the insurance, but most programs require low or no down payment. The three main agencies that provide government mortgage insurance are the following: • Federal Housing Administration (FHA).13 FHA, an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides mortgage insurance on loans that meet its requirements (including a minimum down payment requirement and an initial principal balance below a certain threshold) in exchange for fees, or premiums, paid by borrowers. If a borrower defaults on an FHA-insured mortgage, FHA will repay the lender the entire remaining principal amount it is owed. FHA is the largest provider of government mortgage insurance. • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)..14 VA provides a guaranty on certain mortgages made to veterans. If a borrower defaults on a VA-guaranteed mortgage, the VA will repay the lender a portion (but not all) of the remaining principal amount owed. Because it is limited to veterans, the VA loan guaranty program is smaller and more narrowly targeted than FHA. • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).15 USDA administers a direct loan program for low-income borrowers in rural areas, and a loan guarantee program for low- and moderate-income borrowers in rural areas. If a borrower defaults on a USDA-insured loan, USDA repays the lender a portion (but not all) of the remaining principal amount owed. The USDA program is more narrowly targeted than FHA in that it has income limits and is limited to rural areas. In recent years, there has been much concern about FHA’s financial status, most recently stemming from an actuarial report estimating that FHA does not currently have enough funds on hand to cover all of its anticipated future losses. For more information on FHA’s financial status, 13 For more information on FHA-insured mortgages, see CRS Report RS20530, FHA-Insured Home Loans: An Overview, by Katie Jones. 14 For more information on VA-guaranteed mortgages, see CRS Report R42504, VA Housing: Guaranteed Loans, Direct Loans, and Specially Adapted Housing Grants, by Libby Perl. 15 For more information on USDA-guaranteed mortgages, see CRS Report RL31837, An Overview of USDA Rural Development Programs, by Tadlock Cowan. Congressional Research Service 4 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States see CRS Report R42875, The FHA Single-Family Mortgage Insurance Program: Financial Status and Related Current Issues, by Katie Jones. Mortgage Servicing After a loan is made, the borrower is responsible for making the required payments on the mortgage. In the housing finance system, a mortgage servicer is usually hired by the lender to function as the intermediary between the lender16 and the borrower. The role of the servicer may be performed by the same institution that made the loan to the borrower, or the servicing could be performed by another institution. When a borrower is current (making the required payments on time), a mortgage servicer collects payments from the borrowers and forwards them to the lender.17 If the borrower is behind on the payments (i.e., is delinquent), the servicer may offer the borrower a workout option to potentially allow the borrower to stay in his or her home. Examples of workout options include loan modifications, such as principal balance reductions and interest rate reductions, as well as repayments plans, which allow borrowers to repay the amounts they owe over a period of time to become current on their mortgage payments. If the borrower is in default, which can be defined in different ways but generally means that the borrower has missed a certain number of mortgage payments, the servicer may pursue a mortgage liquidation option. Mortgage liquidation options include foreclosure as well as a short sale, a process in which the borrower sells the home and uses the proceeds to satisfy the mortgage debt even if the sale proceeds are less than the amount owed on the mortgage.18 Mortgage Classifications Mortgages can be classified into several categories based on their characteristics. The broadest distinction is between government-insured mortgages and conventional mortgages. Governmentinsured mortgages have mortgage insurance from a government agency, such as FHA, whereas conventional mortgages do not have government insurance. As noted, this insurance pays the lender if the borrower defaults. Borrowers can also be classified into two broad groups based on their credit history: prime and non-prime. Although there is no single agreed-upon definition, prime borrowers generally have very good credit and are offered more attractive mortgage terms, such as better interest rates, than non-prime borrowers. Non-prime borrowers exhibit one or more factors that make them appear riskier to lenders, such as past credit problems or a lack of complete income and asset documentation. Conventional mortgages can be broken down into two additional groups, conforming and nonconforming mortgages. Conforming loans are loans that are eligible to be purchased in the secondary market by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two GSEs that are discussed later in this 16 The term lender is used here, but a servicer acts as an intermediary between the borrower and any entity that holds the mortgage. The mortgage holder might be an investor or another entity rather than the lender. The sale of mortgages to investors is described in more detail in “The Secondary Market” section of this report. 17 If a servicer maintains an escrow account for the borrower, and the insurance premiums and taxes are sent to the appropriate entities by the servicer. 18 As with foreclosure, in some states it is possible that the borrower could still owe the lender the difference between the sales price of the house and the mortgage amount owed. See footnote 10. Congressional Research Service 5 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States report. To be a conforming loan, the mortgage must meet certain creditworthiness thresholds (such as a minimum credit score) and be below the “conforming loan limit,” a legal cap on the principal balance of the mortgage that can vary based on the geographic area where the house is located.19 Borrowers with conforming loans are usually prime borrowers. Nonconforming loans can be broken down into three additional categories. First, nonconforming loans that are above the conforming loan limit are called jumbo loans.20 Second, Alt-A loans are for near-prime borrowers who may have credit problems or who do not have complete documentation for income or assets. Third, subprime loans are generally for the riskiest borrowers; they either have low credit scores, documentation issues, or some other factor that makes them appear to be riskier to lenders. Subprime borrowers are likely to be charged a higher interest rate to compensate the lender for the additional risk.21 Risks Associated with Holding Mortgages When a lender originates a mortgage, it accepts certain risks. The three major risks are credit, prepayment, and funding risk. Credit risk refers to the risk that the lender22 bears if a borrower does not repay the mortgage on time. Prepayment risk is the risk that a mortgage will be paid off sooner than expected, typically by a borrower refinancing the mortgage or selling the home. This is more likely to happen when interest rates fall.23 When interest rates fall, borrowers are more likely to refinance their mortgages to take advantage of lower interest rates. When a borrower refinances, the lender is repaid the amount that it is still owed, but it now has to reinvest those funds at a time when its expected return on new investments is lower because interest rates have fallen. Although prepayment risk is a risk associated with falling interest rates, there are also risks for lenders that come from rising interest rates. One of these risks, called funding risk, arises because some lenders borrow money in the short term to fund long-term investments, such as 30-year mortgages. Short-term interest rates are typically lower than long-term interest rates because of the additional risk associated with lending money for a longer period of time. Lenders, therefore, can profit off of the difference, or spread, between the short-term and long-term rates. If interest rates rise, then the lender will have to borrow funds at a higher interest rate, while still earning the same interest rate on the mortgage. As long as the short-term rate stays below the long-term return, the lender would profit on the difference, although its profits would be lower than if the short-term interest rates had not increased. If short-term rates increase above the fixed return on the mortgage, then the investment would no longer be profitable. 19 See CRS Report RS22172, The Conforming Loan Limit, by N. Eric Weiss and Sean M. Hoskins. Borrowers with jumbo loans can still be considered prime borrowers if they have a good credit history. 21 One commonly used metric to determine a borrower’s classification is the borrower’s credit score at the time the loan is originated. There is no single commonly agreed-upon definition, but under one typical definition, borrowers with scores above 660 are considered prime; scores between 620 and 659 are Alt-A; scores below 620 are considered subprime. See Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, OCC Mortgage Metrics Report, at http://www.occ.treas.gov/ publications/publications-by-type/other-publications-reports/mortgage-metrics-2012/mortgage-metrics-q3-2012.pdf. 22 This discussion of risks describes risks to the lender that originates the mortgage, but the discussion is also applicable to any other entity that might purchase the mortgage from the original lender, such as an investor. “The Secondary Market” section of this report describes how mortgages are bought and sold. 23 Borrowers also prepay the mortgage when they sell the house. 20 Congressional Research Service 6 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Rising interest rates also present opportunity costs for lenders. If interest rates rise, but lenders’ money is tied up in long-term mortgages made at lower interest rates, then the lender is missing out on higher returns that it could be earning if it were able to originate mortgages or make other investments at the higher current interest rate. The lender that originates a mortgage does not necessarily have to bear all of the risks associated with that mortgage. In some cases, the borrower could bear some of these risks. Adjustable-rate mortgages, for example, transfer the risk that interest rates might rise from the lender to the borrower. Lenders can also sell mortgages to investors, who will then bear the risks associated with the mortgage. The market for buying and selling mortgages is called the secondary market, and it is described in the next section. Primary Market Summary A potential borrower applies for a loan from a lender in the primary market. The lender evaluates the borrower and decides whether to extend a loan and on what terms. The lender typically requires some additional assurance that the loan will be repaid either through a down payment or mortgage insurance (or a combination of the two). If the loan is made, the borrower sends the required scheduled payments to the servicer, which then remits the payments to the mortgage holder. The characteristics of the borrower and of the mortgage determine the classification of the loan. As is discussed next in “The Secondary Market” section, what happens to a mortgage in the secondary market is partially determined by whether the mortgage is government-insured, conforming, or nonconforming. The Secondary Market After a lender originates a mortgage loan, the lender has several options. The lender could choose to hold the mortgage in its portfolio and not sell it. The lender could also choose to sell the mortgage to another entity. Mortgages are bought and sold in the secondary market to domestic and international investors. If the mortgage is sold, the borrower would continue to send monthly mortgage payments to the mortgage servicer, which could be the original lender or a new entity. 24 The secondary market plays an important role in providing funding for the loans made in the primary market. When a mortgage is sold in the secondary market, the lender can use the proceeds to fund additional new mortgages in the primary market. If the lender holds the mortgage in its portfolio, the lender has fewer available funds to make new mortgages. Furthermore, selling the loan to another entity allows the lender to transfer the risks associated with mortgage lending to the buyer of the mortgage. 24 Pooling and servicing agreements (PSAs) are contracts negotiated between the investors and servicers to guide the actions of servicers when borrowers are delinquent on their mortgage payments. PSAs generally instruct the servicer to act in the best interest of the investors. See CRS Report R40210, Preserving Homeownership: Foreclosure Prevention Initiatives, by Katie Jones. Congressional Research Service 7 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Securitization When a lender chooses to sell a mortgage in the secondary market, the new mortgage holder could choose to hold the mortgage as a whole loan. When held as a whole loan, the mortgage is in the portfolio of the new mortgage holder just as it was in the portfolio of the lender, and the new mortgage holder would bear the risks associated with the mortgage.25 Instead of holding the mortgage as a whole loan, the new mortgage holder could also choose to securitize the mortgage. Mortgage securitization comes in many different forms, but generally speaking, the process involves a financial institution acquiring and pooling together many different mortgages and then issuing a mortgage-backed security (MBS). An MBS could be divided up into different pieces, or tranches, that are sold to investors.26 The investors do not own the underlying mortgages but are buying the right to receive the future stream of payments that come from those mortgages. A servicer collects the payments of all the borrowers whose mortgages are part of the security and remits the payments to the investors. For investors, purchasing an MBS offers several benefits compared with holding whole mortgages. Most notably, an MBS is generally more liquid than whole mortgages, meaning it is easier to quickly sell an MBS at the current price. Because the market for MBS is more liquid than the market for whole mortgages, MBS might be attractive to investors who would not otherwise choose to invest in mortgages. More investors in the mortgage market, in turn, can mean more funding is available for lenders to offer mortgages. More funding available in the primary market and the existence of a secondary market where lenders know that they can easily sell the mortgages that they make can result in lower interest rates that lenders charge to borrowers. Although securitization may have several advantages, it may also present several disadvantages. Securitization—and the secondary market in general—includes more participants in facilitating the flow of credit than when a loan is held by the originator. Additional participants, with some acting on behalf of others, can introduce competing incentives for the various participants and potential conflicts of interest. For example, more participants in the transaction may result in a principal-agent problem, a situation in which one entity (the agent) is supposed to work on behalf of another entity (the principal), but the agent may have an incentive to act in its own best interest rather than in the best interest of the principal. For example, mortgage servicers act on behalf of investors to evaluate a borrower for mortgage workout options or to begin the foreclosure process when a borrower falls behind on mortgage payments, as specified by a contract between the investor and the servicer. However, in some cases, a servicer may have an incentive to choose the option that is in its own best interest rather than in the best interest of the investor, and the investor might not be well-positioned to police the servicer’s actions.27 25 A loan could be sold multiple times before it is eventually securitized, often from a smaller lender to a larger lender that pools the loans. 26 The tranches could be structured in many different ways. For example, an MBS could be structured as a pass-through security, such that, if an investor purchases 10% of the security, then the investor is entitled to receive 10% of the payments made by borrowers. Alternatively, an MBS could have tiered tranches with the highest tranche entitled to the first stream of payments that borrowers make (and assuming the least amount of risk) and the lowest tranche entitled to the remaining payments (and assuming the most risk). 27 For more information on servicers’ role in mortgage modifications, see CRS Report R40210, Preserving Homeownership: Foreclosure Prevention Initiatives, by Katie Jones. Congressional Research Service 8 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Figure 1 is a simplified model showing the housing finance system when mortgages are securitized. The lines in the figure represent relationships between the different entities involved, and generally involve money flowing in one or both directions. In the scenario shown in the figure, borrowers receive money to buy homes through mortgages made by loan originators. The originators then sell the mortgages to a securitizer, who in turn sells pools of mortgages to investors as MBS. The borrower sends monthly mortgage payments to a mortgage servicer, who passes those payments on to the investors (and to any other entities who are owed part of the payment, such as tax or insurance payments). Investors, in turn, pay the mortgage servicer a fee for servicing the mortgage. Alternatively, it is possible that the originator of the mortgage will hold that mortgage itself, or that it will sell it to another entity that will hold the whole mortgage rather than securitize it. In such cases, which are not represented in the figure, the securitizer and investors would not be involved. The servicer would send the borrower’s monthly mortgage payments to whoever holds the mortgage, whether that is the originator or another entity. Figure 1. The Housing Finance System When a Mortgage is Securitized Source: Created by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Note: In this simplified illustration of the housing finance system when a mortgage is securitized, borrowers receive mortgages from originators, and the originators then sell those mortgages to securitizers to be pooled into MBS. Investors, in turn, buy the payment streams associated with the mortgages underlying the MBS. A mortgage servicer collects monthly mortgage payments from the borrower and forwards them to the investors. The investors pay a fee to the servicer for servicing the mortgage. Types of MBS The securitization process can take many different forms, but there are three broad categories that are described below: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, and private-label securitization (PLS). The underlying loans that comprise the MBS are related to the mortgage classifications described in “The Primary Market” section of this report: generally, conforming mortgages are Congressional Research Service 9 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States included in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac MBS, government-insured mortgages in Ginnie Mae MBS, and nonconforming mortgages in private-label MBS, though there are exceptions.28 When mortgages are securitized, investors generally take on the risks associated with the mortgage loan, such as credit risk and prepayment risk. However, in some cases, another entity might guarantee the MBS, in which case the entity providing the guaranty takes on the credit risk while investors bear the risks associated with rising and falling interest rates. Investors in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae MBS do not bear credit risk because of the guarantees those entities provide, but investors in PLS and holders of non-guaranteed mortgages may be exposed to credit risk. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac During the Great Depression, Congress created Fannie Mae (officially, the Federal National Mortgage Association, or FNMA) as a government agency to encourage mortgage lending.29 In 1968, Congress divided Fannie Mae into two parts: (1) a government corporation, the Government National Mortgage Association or Ginnie Mae (described below) and (2) a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) that retained the name Fannie Mae. In 1970, Congress established Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) as part of the Federal Home Loan Bank System and owned by member banks. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not originate mortgages, a process that occurs in the primary market. Instead, the GSEs purchase conforming mortgages—mortgages that meet their eligibility criteria. The GSEs either hold the mortgages in their own portfolios or pool the mortgages into MBS, which are sold to investors or retained by the GSEs as investments. The GSEs guarantee that investors in these MBS will receive timely payment of principal and interest even if the borrower becomes delinquent. The GSE guarantee transfers the credit risk (the risk that some borrowers might default and not repay their mortgages) from the investors to the GSEs. To compensate the GSEs for their guarantee, the GSEs receive a guarantee fee. The GSE guarantee makes their MBS more easily traded and worth more to investors, increasing their demand for MBS. The support provided by the GSEs in the secondary market can translate to lower rates for borrowers in the primary market.30 Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are private companies, though both have congressional charters that contain special privileges and certain special responsibilities to support affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. As private companies, their employees are not government employees, and their debts are explicitly not backed by the federal government. 28 By law, Ginnie Mae MBS can only contain federally insured mortgages. By law, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can only purchase conforming mortgages, and they have not found it profitable to purchase and securitize governmentinsured mortgages. Because of their GSE status, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been able to offer better prices in the secondary mortgage market for conforming mortgages. Private-label securitizers have not been able to compete with the GSEs in issuing MBS backed by conforming mortgages. 29 Congress also established the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) Board and the 12 regional Federal Home Loan Banks in the 1930s. Savings and loans, which were devoted to mortgage lending, were the original members. Initially, Freddie Mac was part of the FHLB System. 30 Wayne Passmore, Roger Sparks, and Jamie Ingpen, “GSEs, Mortgage Rates, and the Long-Run Effects of Mortgage,” December 2001, at http://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/feds/2001/200126/200126pap.pdf. Although the GSEs may result in lower mortgage interest rates, some of the funding advantage of the GSEs went to investors and company management. Congressional Research Service 10 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Despite the explicit disclaimer, it has been commonly believed that the federal government would, in fact, back the GSEs. In September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in extreme financial difficulty and agreed to be placed in voluntary conservatorship, which allows the federal government to run them. The stated goal of the conservatorship is to conserve the enterprises’ assets and to eventually return them to stockholder control.31 Ginnie Mae Congress established Ginnie Mae in 1968 when it divided Fannie Mae into two separate entities. Ginnie Mae remains a government agency as part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ginnie Mae guarantees MBS made up exclusively of mortgages insured or guaranteed by the federal government, namely FHA, VA, USDA, or HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing. Similar to the GSEs, Ginnie Mae guarantees investors in its MBS timely payment of principal and interest payments in exchange for a guarantee fee. By providing a secondary market for government-backed mortgages, Ginnie Mae increases the amount of capital available in the primary market for lenders to offer government-backed mortgages. Unlike Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae does not purchase or securitize mortgages; rather, it guarantees the MBS issued by certain issuers (such as banks or credit unions) that have been approved by Ginnie Mae. Furthermore, Ginnie Mae’s employees are government employees, and its guaranty is explicitly backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. This means that, if Ginnie Mae were unable to fulfill its obligations, investors in its MBS would be paid with funds from the U.S. Treasury because the guaranty is explicitly backed by the federal government. Private-Label Securities Private-label securitization (PLS) is a form of securitization that typically uses nonconforming mortgages, meaning mortgages that do not conform to the GSE standards either because they are too large (jumbo loans) or because they do not meet the necessary credit standards (typically these loans will be Alt-A and subprime). PLS is similar to GSE and Ginnie Mae securitization— both involve the pooling of mortgages and the issuing of securities—but PLS securities do not have an explicit or implicit government guarantee. Unlike with PLS, GSE and Ginnie Mae securities provide a guarantee that minimizes the credit risk for the investor. PLS MBS instead often rely on alternative forms of “credit enhancement” to minimize the credit risk for investors. For example, a private-label MBS may purchase insurance32 from a private insurer to guarantee payment for investors. Alternatively, the credit risk could be minimized for some investors by structuring the MBS so that there are multiple tranches, with the most senior tranche entitled to the first stream of payments that borrowers make (and assuming the least amount of risk) and the lowest tranche entitled to the remaining payments (and assuming the most risk). 31 For more information on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s financial status, see CRS Report R42760, Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Financial Status: Frequently Asked Questions, by N. Eric Weiss. 32 See CRS Report RL34364, Bond Insurers: Issues for the 110th Congress, by Baird Webel and Darryl E. Getter. Congressional Research Service 11 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States In addition to MBS, there are other types of products that private-label securitizers create that are derived from mortgages. For example, instead of pooling together mortgages to issue an MBS, a securitizer could pool together different tranches of MBS as a collateralized-debt obligation (CDO).33 Securitizers could also pool together CDOs to create even more types of products. Table 1 summarizes the relationship between the different types of MBS and the different classifications of mortgages. Table 1. Mortgage-Backed Securities Classification Type of MBS Type of Underlying Mortgage Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Conforming mortgages Ginnie Mae Government-guaranteed mortgages Private Label Conventional, nonconforming (jumbo, Alt-A, and subprime) mortgages Source: Created by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Notes: The table shows the type of underlying mortgage that typically comprise the different types of MBS. By law, Ginnie Mae MBS can only contain federally insured mortgages. By law, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can only purchase conforming mortgages, and they have not found it profitable to purchase and securitize governmentinsured mortgages. Because of their GSE status, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been able to offer better prices in the secondary mortgage market for conforming mortgages. Private-label securitizers have not been able to compete with the GSEs in issuing MBS backed by conforming mortgages. Investors Investors that purchase mortgages and MBS are an important source of funding for the mortgages originated in the primary market. Investors in MBS are typically large institutional investors, such as pension funds, domestic banks, foreign banks, and hedge funds. Investors choose which of the types of MBS to purchase based on the type and amount of risk the investor wishes to bear and on the expected return from their investment. GSE, Ginnie Mae, and PLS MBS are generally divided into two broad categories: agency MBS, which includes GSE and Ginnie Mae MBS, and non-agency MBS, which is only PLS. Investors purchase agency and non-agency MBS in different ways. To-Be-Announced Market Agency MBS are typically purchased by investors through the to-be-announced (TBA) market. The TBA market is a forward market: the specific mortgages in the MBS that are being purchased are unknown on the date the trade is agreed to. Instead, the buyer and seller agree on several basic criteria34 and the trade may not be settled (or completed) for several weeks. Two days before the 33 Larry Cordell, Yilin Huang, and Meredith Williams, “Collateral Damage: Sizing and Assessing the Subprime CDO Crisis,” May 2012 at http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/working-papers/2011/wp1130.pdf. 34 The six general parameters include the issuer, maturity, coupon, price, par amount, and settlement date. James Vickery and Joshua Wright, TBA Trading and Liquidity in the Agency MBS Market, Federal Reserve Bank of New (continued...) Congressional Research Service 12 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States trade is settled, the seller informs the buyer about the specifics of the pool being sold. The pool being sold must satisfy the original criteria agreed to in accordance with the settlement guidelines established by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), an industry trade group.35 The TBA market provides several different benefits to the housing finance system. The establishment of a large and liquid secondary market can boost the demand for MBS by investors, which in turn can lower the interest rate charged to borrowers in the primary market.36 In addition, by providing several weeks between when a trade is agreed to and eventually settled, the TBA market allows sellers of MBS to know the price and amount of MBS that they will sell at a future date. This can reduce the uncertainty they face in determining how many new mortgages to purchase or originate in the primary market and at what price. The time between when a trade is agreed to and when it is settled also helps borrowers to lock in interest rates a month or more before their loan is finalized. Specified-Pool Market Non-agency MBS are issued and sold by private companies to investors. They are ineligible for the TBA market and instead sell through a specified-pool market in which the details of the specific bonds are known when a trade is made.37 Some agency MBS also sell in a specified-pool market, though most trade through the TBA market. Non-agency MBS tend to be less liquid than agency MBS, meaning it is more difficult to sell non-agency MBS without reducing the price. The relative illiquidity of specified-pool markets compared with the TBA market may be due to the structure of the market, the absence of a large forward market for non-agency MBS, or due to the type of securities that are being traded, securities that do not have a perceived or explicit government guarantee. Secondary Market Summary The secondary market is the market for buying and selling mortgages. Lenders might choose to keep the mortgages that they originate in their own portfolios, or they might sell them to the secondary market. If a mortgage originator sells the mortgage in the secondary mortgage, the purchaser of the mortgage could choose to hold the mortgage itself or to securitize it in a pool of mortgages. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securitize mortgages that conform to their criteria. Ginnie Mae guarantees MBS made up exclusively of mortgages insured or guaranteed by the federal government. Other financial institutions issue PLS that do not have an implicit or explicit government guarantee. Depending on the type of MBS or mortgage purchased, investors will face different types of risks, including credit risk and prepayment risk. (...continued) York, at http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/epr/2013/1212vick.pdf. 35 The SIFMA guidelines are called the Uniform Practices for the Clearance and Settlement of Mortgage-Backed Securities and Other Related Securities. 36 James Vickery and Joshua Wright, TBA Trading and Liquidity in the Agency MBS Market, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, at http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/epr/2013/1212vick.pdf. 37 SIFMA, “TBA Market Fact Sheet,” at http://www.sifma.org/issues/item.aspx?id=23775. Congressional Research Service 13 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Appendix. Glossary Term Definition Adjustable-rate mortgage An adjustable-rate mortgage is a mortgage where the interest rate can change at agreed-upon intervals (frequently annual) based on changes in a specified index. Agency MBS Agency MBS is a term used to refer to mortgage-backed securities that are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae. Alt-a mortgage An Alt-A mortgage is a mortgage that is made to a borrower who is slightly less creditworthy than a prime borrower. This could be because of the borrower’s credit rating or because less than standard documentation is provided. Amortization or amortization schedule Amortization is the repayment of principal (as opposed to interest) on a loan. This determines how much of the original amount borrowed is owed at any time. Balloon payment A balloon payment is a special payment, usually larger than a standard monthly payment, at the end of a mortgage. Basis point A basis point is one-hundredth of one percentage point (0.01%). Basis point is sometimes shortened to point. Closing Closing is when loan documents are signed and the borrower is given the funds. In addition to the loan, documents transferring and registering the new ownership of a home are signed. Closing costs Closing costs are charged at the time loan documents are signed, which is called a closing. Closing costs can include legal fees and various taxes. In addition, borrowers are usually required to prepay certain costs, such as accrued property taxes, at closing. Closing points Closing points are a fee charged at the closing of a mortgage. The fee is stated in basis points and goes to the lender. Collateralized debt obligation (CDO) A CDO is a security created by mortgage securitizers that pools together different tranches of MBS. Conforming loan limit The conforming loan limit is the maximum original principal balance of a mortgage that can be purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Conforming mortgage A conforming mortgage meets the credit and loan limit standards for mortgages that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase. Conservatorship Conservatorship is when management of a financial institution that is in financial trouble is taken over by an outside conservator. The goal of conservatorship is to return the institution to stockholder control. The institution is placed in receivership and dissolved when it cannot recover financial health. Conventional mortgage A conventional mortgage is a mortgage that is not insured or guaranteed by a government agency, such as FHA, VA, or USDA. Correspondent lenders Correspondent lenders have a contractual relationship to sell loans, including mortgages, to another, usually larger, financial institution. Credit risk Credit risk is the risk to the mortgage holder that a borrower will default on the mortgage and not repay the loan as promised. This is sometimes also referred to as default risk. Credit score A credit score is a numerical evaluation of a borrower’s credit history. Department of Housing and Urban Development The Department of Housing and Urban Development is a cabinet-level agency that includes both the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Ginnie Mae. Congressional Research Service 14 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Term Definition Default Default is the failure to meet contracted loan obligations, such as the failure to make monthly payments on time. Some use default to mean a borrower has missed three or more monthly loan payments. Others use default to mean a borrower has missed one monthly loan payment or other required action. Delinquent A delinquent borrower is not meeting contractual loan obligations such as to make monthly payments, but the failure to meet contractual obligations has not gone on long enough for the borrower to be considered to be in default. A borrower is generally considered to be delinquent as soon as he misses a mortgage payment. Down payment A down payment is money that the borrower puts towards the purchase of the home so that the entire cost of the home is not financed by the mortgage. Lenders generally require down payments to increase the probability that, if the borrower does not repay the mortgage as promised, the home can be sold for an amount high enough to cover the mortgage amount outstanding. Fannie Mae Fannie Mae is a stockholder-owned company with a congressional charter that purchases already made mortgages. Its formal name is the Federal National Mortgage Association. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac compete with each other. Federal Home Loan Bank System The Federal Home Loan Bank System is owned by member lenders and is chartered by Congress to provide liquidity to the mortgage market by lending funds using mortgages as collateral. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is a government agency with the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides mortgage insurance on certain mortgages that meet its criteria and are made by private lenders. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s regulator and conservator. FHFA also regulates the Federal Home Loan Bank System. FICO FICO scores are a credit score developed and calculated by a company of the same name. Fixed-rate mortgage A fixed-rate mortgage is a mortgage where the interest rate cannot change over the life of the mortgage. This is in contrast to an adjustable-rate mortgage. Foreclosure Foreclosure is the process by which a lender repossesses a home after a borrower defaults on the mortgage, or the outcome of that process. Laws governing foreclosure vary by state. Freddie Mac Freddie Mac is a stockholder-owned company with a congressional charter that purchases already made mortgages. Its formal name is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae compete with each other. Funding risk Funding risk is the risk to mortgage holders that rising interest rates will decrease their profits. This could happen if mortgage holders borrow money in the short term and invest it in long-term investments, such as mortgages, to profit from the spread between short-term and long-term interest rates. If interest rates rise, the mortgage holder’s borrowing costs go up, but the interest rate that it earns on its investments remains the same, reducing its profits. Guarantee fee (G fee) A G fee, or guarantee fee, is a fee that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge the seller when they purchase a mortgage. The G fee is mandatory and is used to guarantee timely payment of principal and interest to whoever purchases the mortgage from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Ginnie Mae also charges guarantee fees. Congressional Research Service 15 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Term Definition Ginnie Mae Ginnie Mae, officially the Government National Mortgage Association, is a government agency that guarantees mortgage-backed securities that are made up of government-insured mortgages. The Ginnie Mae guarantee has the full faith and credit of the United States government behind it. Ginnie Mae is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Government-insured mortgage A government-insured mortgage is a mortgage that is insured or guaranteed by a government agency, such as FHA, VA, or the USDA. Government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) A government-sponsored enterprise is a private company with a congressional charter, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Home Loan Bank System is also a GSE. Institutional investor An institutional investor is an organization such as a commercial bank, sovereign wealth fund, college endowment, pension fund, or private equity fund that has large amounts of money to invest. Insured depository An insured depository takes deposits that are insured. Commercial banks and credit unions are two types of insured depositories. Interest rate risk Interest rate risk is the risk that a mortgage holder could lose money on a mortgage due to changes in interest rates. Jumbo loan A jumbo loan is a loan where the original principal balance exceeds the maximum amount of a loan that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac can purchase. Liquid Liquid is a term used to refer to markets where a commodity, such as mortgages, can be sold easily and quickly. Loan-to-value ratio (LTV) The loan-to-value ratio is the ratio of the principal balance of a mortgage to the value of the home that is used as collateral. A higher LTV means that a borrower has less equity in the home, and a low LTV means that a borrower has more equity in the home. LTVs are expressed as a percentage such as 80%. Mortgage A mortgage is a loan with specific real estate as collateral. Mortgage banker A mortgage bank specializes in originating mortgages using its funds. Mortgage broker A mortgage broker brings a mortgage lender and a borrower together. The lender and the borrower might not actually meet. Mortgage-backed security (MBS) A mortgage-backed security is a bond that is collateralized by mortgages. Non-agency MBS Non-agency MBS is a term used to refer to private-label securities, that is, mortgage-backed securities that are issued by private companies and are not guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae. Nonconforming mortgage A nonconforming mortgage is a mortgage that does not meet the required criteria to be eligible to be purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in the secondary market. Non-prime mortgage A non-prime mortgage is a mortgage that does not qualify for the best mortgage terms, such as the lowest available interest rate, because the borrower has one or more factors that make him appear riskier to lenders. Alt-A mortgages and subprime mortgages are examples of non-prime mortgages. Portfolio A portfolio or investment portfolio is the financial assets (bonds, stocks, mortgage-backed securities, mutual funds, etc.) that an investor owns. Portfolio lender A portfolio lender makes mortgages that it intends to keep in its portfolio as investments. Congressional Research Service 16 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Term Definition Prepayment risk Prepayment risk is the risk that a borrower will pay his mortgage earlier than anticipated, usually through refinancing. Since borrowers tend to refinance when interest rates decline, prepayments mean that a mortgage holder is unlikely to be able to reinvest the funds for as high of an interest rate as it was earning previously. Primary mortgage market The primary mortgage market is the market where lenders make mortgage loans to borrowers. It is not a physical location. Prime mortgage A prime mortgage is a mortgage made to a borrower with very good credit. The definition is somewhat vague and has varied over time. Principal balance The principal balance is the amount owed on a loan such as a mortgage. Private-label securities Private-label securities are securities that are issued by private companies are not guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae. Private-label securities are usually made up of nonconforming conventional mortgages, and do not provide a guarantee of timely payment of principal and interest payments for the investor in the case of a borrower defaulting on the mortgage. Private mortgage insurance (PMI) Private mortgage insurance (PMI) is typically required by lenders when a borrower does not make a 20% down payment. In the event of foreclosure, PMI covers part of the lender’s loss. Receivership Receivership is when a court or government regulator orders a financial company in severe distress dissolved to pay its creditors. Refinance A refinance is a transaction in which a borrower with an existing mortgage takes out a new mortgage (usually with better terms than the original, such as a lower interest rate) and uses the proceeds from the new mortgage to repay the original mortgage. The borrower then makes payments on the new mortgage. Secondary mortgage market The secondary mortgage market is where lenders and investors buy and sell loans. It is not a physical location. Securitization Securitization is the practice of pooling together many loans, such as mortgages, and selling the rights to receive the future stream of payments made on those loans to investors. Self-amortizing mortgage A self-amortizing mortgage is a mortgage where each payment made by the borrower pays off some of the principal mortgage amount and some of the interest until the mortgage is paid off. Servicer The servicer on a loan collects payments from the borrower and distributes the proceeds to the lender(s) and others (such as local property tax offices) entitled to payments. Short sale A short sale is an alternative to foreclosure where a borrower sells the home for less than the outstanding amount owed on the mortgage, and the lender accepts the sales proceeds as payment on a mortgage. Often, the lender will forgive the amount owed on the mortgage that exceeds the sales price, but it is possible for the borrower to still owe that amount in some cases. A lender agrees to a short sale because he is likely to receive more than in foreclosure. Specified-pool market A specified pool market is a market for selling mortgage-backed securities in which the details of the specific mortgages that will be included in the security are known when the sale is made. Private-label securities are most likely to trade in a specified-pool market. Subprime mortgage Technically, a subprime mortgage is a mortgage to a borrower with less than a prime credit history. Alt-A mortgages come between prime and subprime mortgages. The term is also used to mean a mortgage with consumer unfriendly terms made to anyone. Congressional Research Service 17 An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States Term Definition To-be-announced (TBA) market The to-be-announced market is a market for selling mortgage-backed securities in which the details of the specific mortgages that will be included in the security are not specified when the sale is made, but rather the buyer and seller agree to certain basic characteristics of the mortgages that will be included. Only Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae mortgage-backed securities trade in the tobe-announced market. Tranche A tranche is a piece or slice of a mortgage-backed security. Investors in different tranches of an MBS have different claims on the payment streams from the underlying mortgages. USDA The U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA is a cabinet-level agency that provides guarantees on mortgage loans made by private lenders to certain borrowers in rural areas. VA The Department of Veteran’s Affairs or VA is a cabinet-level agency that provides guarantees on mortgage loans made by private lenders to certain borrowers who are veterans. Whole loan A whole loan is a mortgage that is held as-is in the portfolio of a lender or another entity, rather than being pooled into a mortgage-backed security. Author Contact Information Sean M. Hoskins Analyst in Financial Economics shoskins@crs.loc.gov, 7-8958 N. Eric Weiss Specialist in Financial Economics eweiss@crs.loc.gov, 7-6209 Katie Jones Analyst in Housing Policy kmjones@crs.loc.gov, 7-4162 Congressional Research Service 18