Mortgage giants blame the fee on COVID-19 'uncertainty'

Masked sightseers in Miami on July 12, 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic is being cited as the reason for the new fee.

The fee is due to "market and economic uncertainty resulting in higher risk and costs," says Fannie Mae, one of the two mortgage giants announcing the new fee.

The other, Freddie Mac, more specifically refers to "COVID-19 related economic and market uncertainty" in its notice.

Ironically, it's the pandemic that has made refinancing so appealing, by driving down mortgage rates. The outbreak forced the Federal Reserve to take action to push interest rates lower, as part of a campaign to heave the economy out of its coronavirus recession.

Virus fears also have led investors to pile into Treasury bonds in search of safety, and that trend has pushed down the interest on Treasuries. Mortgage rates tend to move in sync with bond yields.

So, 30-year mortgage rates have been averaging less than 3% for the first time ever, and at least one lender has rolled out a 30-year loan with a rate below 2%.

But the new 0.5% refinance charge will effectively "raise interest rates on families trying to make ends meet in these challenging times," says Bob Broeksmit, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

"The recent refinance activity has not only helped homeowners lower their monthly payments, but it is also reducing risk to (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and taxpayers," Broeksmit says. He's urging federal regulators to stop the fee.

How refinancers can make up the fee

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You can offset the new fee by trimming other refinance and related costs.

Before the twin notices from Fannie and Freddie, the mortgage data firm Black Knight estimated that 15.6 million U.S. homeowners who still hadn't refinanced could save an average $289 a month by taking out a new loan.

Let's say you're in that group, have been wanting to refi but have been putting it off, and now you're looking at another upfront fee that'll amount to $1,000 on a $200,000 mortgage balance. How do you swallow that?

The best way is to cut some of your other refinance and related costs — through good old-fashioned shopping around.

First, shop around diligently for your mortgage rate. Research by Freddie Mac has found that nearly half of borrowers stop at the very first rate quote they receive — and overpay as a result.

But getting a second quote results in average savings of $1,500 over the life of the loan. And if you gather quotes from five lenders, you'll save around $3,000, on average, according to the study.

Then, shop around for your closing costs. Many borrowers don't realize this, but some of those costs are negotiable.

A lender may be persuaded not to charge you an appraisal fee, if your property was appraised fairly recently. And if you stick with the same title insurance company that handled your original mortgage, you can save up to 40% off title fees.

Finally, shop around for your other insurance policies. When your homeowners insurance comes up for renewal, check rates from several insurers, so you can be confident you're getting the best price for your coverage.

And when you're a homeowner, you need good life insurance to protect your loved from the financial burder of a mortgage, in case something happens to you. In less than 90 seconds online, you can get three life insurance rate quotes starting as low as $28 per month for $1 million in coverage.

Smart comparison shopping is the key to reducing your costs as a homeowner — so you can refinance and still come out far ahead, even with that new fee.

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman


Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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