Delete Collection Accounts

Getting a home mortgage loan or refinancing an existing loan calls for a clean credit report. Banks simply will not give a mortgage to someone with collection accounts on their credit report. And, sometimes these collection accounts can be a big shock to the prospective home buyer. Who knew the account was even there?

In California, the statute of limitations for an unpaid collection account is four [4] years. It seems, though, that  creditors have come up with some creative ways to keep collection accounts going. Sometimes, the debt is sold to another credit company, thus re-activating it or sometimes it is simply transferred to another division of the same company with a different name. Both gambits are done with the hope of resurrecting these debts.

This can have a major impact on the consumer’s credit score, sometimes as much as 30 points. This is, of course, of major concern when applying for a home loan. All collections must be paid or the bank will not grant the mortgage. If collection agencies realize that a debtor is trying for a home loan, then they will definitely play hardball and expect to get the entire amount of the debt paid with additional fees added.

So, what to do?

Thanks to a recent court case, the 9th Circuit held that the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act requires substantial activity by the debt collector before a debt can be considered valid. Specifically, for a debt to be valid the collection agency must send a notice to the debtor within 5 days.This is true if it’s the first collection agency, one of many or a subsequent one.

Of course, people often don’t even realize they have collections because collection agencies rarely send out these “validation notices.” Now, the collection agency must inform the debtor of the total amount of the debt and to whom it is owed and this must be in writing within 5 days. Furthermore, the agency must inform the consumers they have 30 days in which to dispute the debt.

When the consumer disputes the debt or any part of it, the agency must supply a copy of the judgment or verification of the debt. Previously, knowing the consumer wanted to buy a house, the agencies would simply insist on payment until either the home buyer gave up the quest for a house or paid the loan.

Now, there is some protection for the home buyer with a collection account. If you discover a collection account on your credit report, it is only valid if you have received notice of it from the collection agency in writing and you may still dispute the account. If the collection agency refuses to back down, yes, you will have to hire an attorney, but a simple letter may do the trick.

Save Big! 15-Year v. 30-Year Mortgage Loan

Thinking about refinancing or getting a new loan?

Check out the infographic, prepared by California Association of Realtors to help those refinancing or contemplating a new mortgage.

It shows how much you can save in life-of-the loan interest charges if you can afford a 15-year rather than a 30-year mortgage.

Save Big Big

Fiscal Cliff Approval and Real Estate

economic_cliff_rect

Real Estate Tax Provisos for 2013

 

Finally, “fiscal cliff” debate is over! For months now, it’s been impossible to turn on the TV or radio without getting an earful of breathless and mostly unwanted information.  Even though most of us now regard Congress as on a par with cockroaches, what happens there does have an impact on our lives. All the more reason for members of Congress to act like grownups, but that’s another topic…

home money

Real Estate Tax Deductions

Rushed through at the last minute, the “fiscal cliff” legislation contains a number of important provisions and none more important than those that relate to real estate.  Here are a few of the most salient.

  • Short sale taxation relief extended for another year until January 1, 2014
  • Deduction of mortgage insurance premium is retroactive to 2012 and extended to 2013 for incomes under $110,000
  • 10% tax credit [up to $500] for energy-saving home improvements retroactive to 2012 and through 2013.
  • Capital gains tax stays at 15% except for those earning over $400,000 [single filer] or $450,000 [joint] and then it’s 20%.
  • $250,000/$500,000 [single/married] exclusion on capital gain from sale of principal residence remains unchanged.
  • Estate taxes on first $5 million for individual and $10 million for family estates are ZERO.  Above those amounts, the rates are 35% and 40% respectively.

Effect of Real Estate Provisos of 2013

Given these provisos, it’s clear that real estate remains in a privileged position as far as federal taxes go. Not only do homeowners get a tax deduction  for the interest in their mortgage payments, which is unheard of in other developed countries, such as Australia and Canada, but we can deduct mortgage insurance premiums which are only applied if the equity in the home is less than 20%. By extending this tax deduction, Congress is implicitly encouraging home ownership among those who do not have the traditional 20% down payment. Is this a good thing? Considering the recent mortgage meltdown, maybe not.  It does help lenders and real estate professionals, though.

Homeowners also get to purchase equipment for their homes and then deduct some of the cost–just so long as it saves energy and fits the criteria.  Naturally, no one can argue that energy-saving is bad, but here the government supports homeowners and no one else.

Additionally, estate taxes on the first $5 or $10 million, depending, amount to nothing. This also supports homeowners since a large proportion of most estates of this size is made up of real estate holdings, both principal residence and investment properties. Again, the tax code is supporting home ownership and investment in property.

Last, but not least, the tax code encourages home ownership by not taxing any capital gain up to $250,000 or $500,000 respectively. This means that home owners can sell their homes frequently, pocket the gain or purchase a more expensive home, without worrying at all about taxes. This has been part of the tax code several decades, though the amounts have increased, and does encourage home ownership. In fact, it encourages or at least does not discourage serial home ownership.  Of course, this benefits those who change jobs and must change jobs, but it also benefits lenders and real estate professionals.

Extending the tax relief to those who short sale their homes is in a different category. So long as underwater homeowners face no tax penalties for short selling their homes,  they will usually prefer it to the foreclosure alternative. At the same time, short sales are a much faster way of  dealing with an inability or unwillingness to pay the mortgage in underwater homes.  Short sales help to clear the vast inventory of underwater property which has been clogging the system for the past few years making it difficult for the real estate industry to recover.

 

How To Assume A Non-Assumable Loan

Half the Country Has Bad Credit

It’s no secret that half the county’s credit has been trashed during the Great Recession. Due to short sales, foreclosures, bankruptcies, job loss and assorted maladies, a significant chunk of the population can no longer qualify for a mortgage loan. Add, too, the new, much more stringent, underwriting guidelines adopted by lenders in the wake of their irresponsible behavior during the “bubble” years and that creates a huge problem for many, many would-be home buyers and investors.

Assumable Loan

What to Do?

What to do? One thing buyers can do is search out seller-financed properties, though often such sellers, too, will check out the credit report and be unhappy with the result. Another, lesser-known, option is to assume an existing loan, saving thousands of dollars in closing costs to boot.  Now, this, too, has its own problems since most fixed-rate loans of the past 10 or so years have a “non-assumable” clause. This means that if the property title is transferred, the  new owner cannot take over the old mortgage. Most loans have a “due-on-sale clause”, meaning the lender can call in the entire amount of the loan in the event of a title transfer. Even the “assumable” loans usually require that the buyer qualify.

Assumable Mortgage

Some Ways To Assume a Non-Assumable Loan

Is there a work-around? Thankfully, in some cases, but certainly not all,  it may be possible to assume a non-assumable loan. Here are some of the scenarios where that may just work.

  1. Make Sure There Is A Due-On-Sale Clause. Even if the lender insists that the mortgage is not assumable, here’s a tip: read the mortgage and promissory note to make sure that it has a due-on-sale clause.  With all the confusion in the past few years, the lender may not even be able to produce the required documentation.  Without it, no due-on-sale clause is legally enforceable.  This is a check-with-a-real-estate attorney option.
  2. Death of a Joint Tenant. When the surviving joint tenant receives title after a death, federal law, the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982, prohibits the mortgage lender from enforcing a due-on-sale clause.
  3. A Related Owner-Occupant Inherits. When a related owner, such as a spouse, either occupies or continues to occupy the property, the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause.
  4. A Junior Lien Is Placed On The Property. Here, too, the primary lender is enjoined from enforcing the due-on-sale clause.  In reality, the primary is in a better position if the homeowner has a second mortgage or an equity line since now two parties are  vitally interested in seeing that payments continue to flow in.
  5. An Owner-Beneficiary Trust Takes Title. These days, trusts and, especially inter vivos trusts, are used to avoid probate costs. Although the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause under this scenario, the mortgage-holder does have a right to a copy of the trust.
  6. Transfer After Divorce. After a divorce the lender cannot enforce a due-on-sale clause if either children or a former spouse occupy or continue to occupy the property. They must occupy though.
  7. Ask About an Assumption Fee. Even if the situation is not one of the above, it always pays to ask the lender if an assumption is possible despite the presence of a due-on-sale clause. Especially if the loan is in default, the lender may be exceedingly happy to have the loan brought up to date often with no fee whatsoever. Lenders today have plenty of foreclosures and short sales already and so may be quite willing to make a mutually-beneficial deal.

Automatic Loan Mods?

Just Like The Lottery

Believe it or not, one bank has actually started offering automatic loan mods. No more reams of paperwork delving into intimate financial records of borrowers [treated more like beggars], no more waiting for six months, eight months and even more than a year to get an answer from the haughty banks. Finally, one bank, JP Morgan Chase, is automatically writing loan mod contracts for its underwater borrowers.

Chase Bank

Yes, it’s true. Some Chase customers are getting loans mods, offering rate reductions, principal reductions or both–all without having to file the onerous paperwork. In one case cited by CNN Money, Chase surprised a Darrington, Wash. couple, who had tried, without success, to effect a loan mod with the very same bank, with a loan mod reducing their interest rate from 6.5% to 2.8% for five years and then a fixed 3.19% for the remaining 18 years of their loan, saving them $229 a month. For this couple, still suffering with job loss as well as an underwater house, it was just like winning the lottery.

Why Would Chase Offer Automatic Loan Mods?

Bank Trick

Why would Chase be doing this? Is this a trick?

It’s not a trick. In fact, in accordance with the $25-billion mortgage settlement agreed to a few months ago by 49 out of 50 attorneys general, discussed in a previous post, Chase’s share of the payout burden is $4.2 billion.  Because banks get “extra credit” for acting quickly and making their mods during the first year, Chase  bit the bullet and decided to go ahead and make loan mod offers to thousands of underwater borrowers. In the past, contacting all these homeowners has proven difficult if not impossible. Many homeowners are so inundated with financial woes they no longer read their mail or answer the phone. Many underwater homeowners move out, anticipating a foreclosure.

Borrowers who receive the loan mod offers must, of course, sign the new contracts which typically would run for 5 years and then, most important, start making the new payments which are usually hundreds of dollars less than the previous amounts. Between March and June 2012, Chase claims that it has completed 3,086 loan mods,  $359 million’s  worth.

But, Isn’t The Housing Crisis Over By Now?

To understand how deep-seated this problem is despite the good news we’ve been hearing about home prices rising,  look at what Chase, just one of the five major banks involved, says it still has to do: another 11,500 loan mods. I say, “Bravo,” to Chase for undertaking to honor the settlement. It is too bad, though, that the banks had to be forced by litigation to treat their borrowers like human beings. Makes you wonder what else we could get the banks to cough up if the federal government would just hold their feet to the fire just a teensy, weensy bit?

Tax Benefits of Real Estate Investment

Rental Property: Amazing Tax Benefits

These days we hear a lot about the tax havens and tax loopholes available to high-income taxpayers and corporations, but  most ordinary people do not understand the amazing tax benefits offered by owning rental property. In most cases, a “taxable loss” accrues from the rental which can offset ordinary income and thus the federal income tax bite. Of course, most people’s eyes glaze over at this point, so I’m going to make this as painless as possible!

Tax Savings For Middle-Income Earners

Not everyone is going to save tax money on real estate investments. Most middle-income wage-earners, though, will.  First, let’s be clear.  It takes a certain type of person to be a landlord as indicated in a previous post.  So, looking at owning property to save money on taxes is, how do you say, bass-ackwards.

First and foremost, purchase a rental property with the idea of making money. Look for a property which will give you income after all the expenses are eliminated. This is cash-flow. Assuming you have such a property, how does it happen that even cash-flow properties can save you money on your taxes?

Rental properties generally show a “taxable loss” for many years after the purchase. This is true because, as in any business, you have the income from the rents, but then you can deduct all your expenses  to come up with your net operating income. Your expenses include repairs, utilities paid, labor costs, property management or any of a vast variety of other expenses. Once you have your net operating income, then you can deduct any mortgage interest paid to arrive at the net income.

Rental Tax Saver: Depreciation

Now, here comes the good part for rental property--depreciation. You also get to deduct 1/27.5 of the building’s cost from your net income.  This figure becomes your taxable income or, in many cases, loss. This is how even a good, cash flowing property can manage to be a loss for tax purposes. It is also how an investment property can help reduce ordinary income because this “loss” is deducted from the owner’s wage income and can often substantially reduce income tax owed.

There is a hitch, naturally. If losses are over $25,000 and ordinary income is over $100,000, then the taxpayer may not be able to deduct the whole amount due to Passive Activity Loss Limitations. Still, the taxpayer does get all other ordinary deductions and may well substantially reduce the amount of tax owed. Owning real estate is one of the best tax strategies allowed by the current tax code. Anyone earning any kind of money really should consider investing in rental property, whether residential, multi-family or commercial.

Today’s real estate market offers amazing opportunities for anyone thinking about investing in real estate. Mortgage rates are incredibly low, values are lower than they have been in many years and rents have not dipped. Want to discuss rental property? Call me anytime.

Banks Are Still Cheating!

After all the hullaballoo last fall over the “robo-signing” scandal, you would think that banks had learned their lesson. You wouldn’t expect to see a big bank still forging documents so it could foreclose, would you? You would be wrong.  GMAC, one of the biggest of the big mortgage lenders/servicers, was recently caught-again!-doing that very thing.

Here’s what happened. The bank wanted to foreclose on a property in New York and, as often happens in these days of mortgage-backed securities, tranches and what have you,  did not have the requisite documents. Usually in a case like this, the bank goes to the original lender and asks permission to recreate the original documents. Even that sounds pretty murky. We consumers are required to have documentation for everything or–too bad for you–no dice. In this case for GMAC, though, it was even worse because the original lender, notorious subprime mortgage-maker Ameriquest, had gone out of business in 2007.

So, GMAC, not to be deterred, started seeking ways to craft the documents anyway. The problem, as stated by its own “Document Execution Team” head, Jeffrey Stephan, was that the bank did not have signing authority.  Several months passed and no solution appeared to help GMAC out of this legal “snag.”  Then, suddenly, GMAC had an answer. It filed a document with New York City authorities  stating  the delinquent Ameriquest loan had been assigned to it “effective” August 2005. The document was dated July 7, 2010, three years after Ameriquest had ceased to exist and was signed by Stephan, who was identified as a “Limited Signing Officer” for Ameriquest Mortgage Company. Soon after, GMAC filed for foreclosure.

Was it legal? No way was this little trick legal as it did not have signing authority from the defunct Ameriquest. In fact, it’s own paperwork giving itself authority was dated in 2010. Oops!

Guess what, GMAC? In New York it’s a felony to file paperwork “with intent to deceive”.  Already we know that GMAC was at the forefront of the fradulent “robo-signers” and, apparently, has not taken its lesson to heart because, according to ProPublica which discovered this particular case, this is just one of hundreds, if not thousands of similar work-ups arranged by GMAC so it can proceed to foreclosure, regulations and laws be damned.

Snagged in the act, so to speak, GMAC has not yet been able to foreclose on this home where the owner still resides. And, since apparently no one did much homework at the time of the demise of these sub-prime lenders, this will continue to plague not only GMAC, but also other mortgage servicers in their quest to foreclose.

How inconvenient it is that real estate laws exist! How much better if these silly little laws could be just wiped off the books and the banks allowed to do as they wish-foreclose without proper documentation.

That is the root of the cries for “less regulation”, “free market capitalism,” no “job-killing rules” and the like.   GMAC is not alone in its tricky interpretation of foreclosure laws.  Many banks have filed thousands of false foreclosures, knowing full well that few homeowners will contest them in court.  In fact, fewer than 4% of foreclosures are contested, though the stakes are very high for homeowners.   Recently, in Vermont a judge threw out a pending foreclosure from GMAC, based on a flawed signature emanating from the aforementioned Stephan who has admitted to signing up to 400 foreclosure notices a day, precipitating the foreclosure scandal.