Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Treasury: Government presence in housing ‘neither sustainable nor desirable’

June 13, 2011


The housing market still remains a fragile element of the economy, Assistant Treasury Secretary Mary Miller said, outlining the government’s myriad efforts to get the industry back on its feet.

Miller spoke at the Women in Housing Finance annual dinner Thursday night, highlighting the administration’s programs to pull housing out of its multiyear malaise.

Included in the effort: A working group of members from the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Housing Administration to consider changes to pricing and other standards at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the FHA, with the objective of reducing their market share over time.

"Treasury has created new programs to better address current challenges, like the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund, which allows state housing finance agencies in our nation’s hardest hit housing markets to design locally targeted foreclosure prevention programs," Miller said.

She oversees federal borrowing at the Treasury, which includes managing the U.S. national debt. Miller also advises Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the effect of federal policy and regulation on financial markets, including the administration’s plan for housing finance reform.

More than 4.5 million mortgage modifications were started between April 2009 and April 2011, including more than 1.5 million trial modification starts through the administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program.

Still, home prices have dropped more than 30% from their 2006 peak, housing starts are one-third the rate prior to 2005 and 3.5 million existing homes are on the market with another 3.8 million units in the shadow inventory. Foreclosures remain high and one in four homeowners is underwater, owing more than their homes are worth.

More recently, Treasury issued a program directive for the largest mortgage servicers participating in the Making Home Affordable Program that requires them to assign homeowners applying for assistance a single point of contact to improve servicer accountability and efficiency. FHFA has helped, directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to align servicing guidelines.

"But the current government presence in the market — with over 90% of new mortgages backed by the government — is neither sustainable nor desirable for the long term," Miller said. "We also recognize the necessary balance that exists between moving swiftly to reduce the government’s footprint in the market and ensuring that any actions do not disrupt the still fragile housing market."

Treasury is also taking steps to gradually wind down its agency-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities portfolio acquired during the financial crisis. The Treasury held nearly $200 billion MBS at one point, and began shedding these assets in March.

Miller suggested reform of Fannie and Freddie may not take as long as the five to 10 years that others have suggested, noting she hopes to get legislation passed within two years.

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U.S. Government Needs to Change Focus

June 8, 2011

Bank Foreclosures Sale

People across the country continue to attribute the number of current foreclosures to the banks allowing individuals to purchase homes on sub-par income as was common before the heightened government regulations and mass number of foreclosures. Although this may have been part of the reason the foreclosure inventory drastically increased over the last few years, the current foreclosures are more than likely due to high unemployment.

Our nation’s government continues to focus on creating programs to assist individuals unable to pay their delinquent mortgages in an effort to combat foreclosure. Although these initiatives are great and do provide relief for some individuals they are not sufficient to keep people in their homes. Why?

Most foreclosure relief programs only delay the foreclosure process as they provide up to three months of assistance. However, most people are unemployed for around nine months as opposed to three. In these situations, foreclosure is only prolonged as opposed to solved.

What does all of this mean? The government needs to keep the programs that are being offered to provide foreclosure relief; however, there has to be national attention, time, and effort devoted to decreasing the unemployment rate by increasing the number of jobs. The unemployment rate must decline before the foreclosure inventory subsides.

For those still facing foreclosure, there are various ways to help avoid foreclosure through everything from loan modification to short sales. The first step in avoiding foreclosure is working with your lender to amend your loan and possibly decrease your monthly payment to something more manageable. If you cannot reach a deal with your lending company, you may wish to consider a short sale or a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. There are also several other methods that may help you avoid foreclosure.

On the other hand, for those that do have stable jobs, the current real estate market provides exceptional opportunities for investing in low priced homes with all-time low interest rates. The current inventory of foreclosures includes everything from duplexes to multi-family homes.

In conclusion, the United States government should maintain the current programs to provide foreclosure relief while also turning their attention to addressing the nation’s unemployment problems that in turn affect the real estate market.

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Real estate agents and IRS audits: know the odds

April 18, 2011


You’ve filed your tax return by now, right? Congratulations. Probably the last thing you want to hear about now is Internal Revenue Service audits.

However, it’s useful for all taxpayers — especially self-employed real estate professionals, to understand what the chances are of being audited. You may be surprised to discover that the odds that the average real estate professional will be audited are higher than those for corporations with millions of dollars of assets.

First of all, you may be happy to know that IRS audits are not nearly as common as they used to be. In 1963, an incredible 5.6 percent of all Americans had their tax returns audited. In 2010, only 0.9 percent of all Americans were audited. There are several reasons for the change:

  • Between 1997 and 2006, the IRS workforce declined by 14 percent.
  • The IRS workload increased.
  • Starting in the mid-1990s, the IRS began to emphasize taxpayer service rather than enforcement.
  • Congress enacted laws in 1998 to prevent perceived abuses by IRS agents and auditors. These new protections also made it more difficult for the IRS to go after tax cheats.

Partly as a result of these changes, the "tax gap" — the difference between what taxpayers owe and what they actually pay — has grown. The IRS estimates that the tax gap exceeds $300 billion per year. The IRS also claims that nearly one-third of the tax gap is due to underreporting of income by small businesses.

To help close the tax gap, the IRS has increased its compliance efforts in recent years. And it appears to be targeting small businesses. Indeed, audit rates for small businesses have gone up for the last five years. Since most real estate professionals run small businesses, they are affected more than most.

So, what are the odds that a real estate professional will be audited? It depends on your income and whether you’ve formed a business entity.

The vast majority of real estate professionals are sole proprietors. They run a one-person business and file Schedule C tax forms. In 2010, the audit rates for all sole proprietors were as follows:

Income less than $25,000
   1.2% audit rate

$25,000 to $100,000
   2.5% audit rate

$100,000 to $200,000
   4.7% audit rate

More than $200,000
   3.3% audit rate

If you’ve formed a partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or S corporation, the audit rates are much lower: In 2010, only 0.4 percent of all such business entities were audited.

The audit rates for regular C corporations were as follows:

Assets less than $250,000
0.8% audit rate

$250,000 to $1 million
1.4% audit rate

$1 million to $5 million
1.7% audit rate

$5 million to $10 million
3% audit rate

The data shows that sole proprietors are in the IRS’s crosshairs: In 2010, 4.7 percent of sole proprietors earning $100,000 to $200,000 were audited. Not even corporations with assets worth between $5 million to $10 million were audited as often.

In 2010, a total of 277,945 sole proprietors had their returns audited. This amounted to over 16 percent of all IRS audits for the year.

These statistics undoubtedly reflect the IRS’s belief that sole proprietors habitually underreport their income, take deductions to which they are not entitled, or otherwise cheat on their taxes.

Such audits can hurt. In 2010, the average recommended additional tax for an audit of a sole proprietor earning $25,000 to $100,000 was $8,776. For those earning $100,000 to $200,000, it was a whopping $31,979.

The lesson these numbers teach is that you need to take the IRS seriously. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take all the deductions you’re legally entitled to take, but you should understand the rules and be able to back up the deductions you do take with proper records.

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Republicans Dive Head First into GSE Reform with Eight New Bills

March 30, 2011

BY JANN SWANSON –Mortgage News Daily

The House Republicans who will ultimately have the most influence on the decision have come out with a plan for reforming the two government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Scott Garrett (R-NJ) Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises released what was actually a summary of eight bills, each covering a different aspect of reform and each introduced by a different member of the parent Financial Services Committee.  They cover a broad range of issues involved in bringing the government’s conservatorship of the GSEs to an end and establishing a philosophy as well as a new system of financing the housing industry.

Garret said that this is the first in what will be multiple rounds of "very specific, very targeted bills to end the bailouts, protect the taxpayers and get private capital off the sidelines."  The end result, he said, will formally wind down the GSEs and return the housing finance system to the private marketplace.
"With the American taxpayers on the hook for $150 billion and counting, the bailout of Fannie and Freddie is already the most expensive component of the federal government’s intervention into the financial system.  Americans are tired of the ongoing bailout of the failed government-backed mortgage giants, and they are tired of Democrats’ refusals to address the driving force behind the financial collapse.  While Democrats chose to ignore the problem last Congress, House Republicans stand ready to end the bailout and protect American taxpayers from further losses."

Here is a summary of the bills:

The Equity in Government Compensation Act, sponsored by Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The bill suspends the current compensation packages for all GSE employees and replaces them with a system consistent with the Executive Schedule and Senior Executive Service of the Federal Government.  The bill also expresses the sense of the Congress that the 2010 pay packages for senior executives were excessive and the money should be returned to taxpayers.

The GSE Mission Improvement Act, sponsored by Ed Royce (R-CA)

This legislation would permanently abolish the affordable housing goals of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  According to Royce’s comments accompanying the bill, these goals were a central cause behind the collapse of the GSEs and the ongoing goal of the GSEs should be to reduce risk to taxpayers rather than expose them to further losses.  "To meet these goals, the GSEs purchased more than $1 trillion in ‘junk loans.’  These loans accounted for a large portion of the mortgage giants’ losses – losses that were later loaded onto the backs of American taxpayers."

The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Accountability and Transparency for Taxpayers Act (H.R. 31), sponsored by Judy Biggert (R-IL) Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.
This bill would establish an Inspector General (IG) within the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA,) the conservator of the GSEs, provide him/her with additional law enforcement and personnel hiring authority, and require him/her to submit regular reports to Congress on taxpayer liabilities, investment decisions, and management details.  These reports would be made publically available.
The GSE Subsidy Elimination Act, sponsored by Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight.

The proposed legislation would direct FHFA to phase in an increase in the fees it charges for its guarantee as though they were held to the same capital standards as private financial institutions.  The phase-in would be conducted over two years and would, the summary says, level the playing field so that private capital can re-emerge, decreasing the government’s exposure to housing market risks.

GSE Portfolio Reduction Act, sponsored by Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

This bill would accelerate and formalize the previously established rate of reducing the portfolios of the two GSEs by setting annual limits on the maximum size of each portfolio rather than using the percentage decrease currently in place.  The bill would cap the portfolios at $700 beginning in year one and bring them down to $250 billion by the end of year five.

GSE Risk and Activities Limitation Act, sponsored by David Schweikert (R-AZ), Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises.
This bill would prohibit the GSEs from engaging in any new activities or businesses.  The bill’s sponsor acknowledges that FHFA already has such a prohibition in place; the bill merely codifies that prohibition.
The GSE Debt Issuance Approval Act, Sponsored by Steve Pearce (R-NM).
Under the requirements of this legislation, the Department of the Treasury would have to formally approve any new debt issued by the GSEs.  Pearce comments that, "This will help protect taxpayers by requiring the formal legal authority of U.S. debt issuance to approve the issuing of agency debt which is roughly the same as U.S. debt."

GSE Credit Risk Equitable Treatment Act, sponsored by Scott Garrett.   
This proposed legislation would apply any of the standards applied to private secondary mortgage market participants to the GSEs. It would, according to Garrett, ensure that the GSEs are not exempt from new risk-retention rules mandated by Dodd-Frank and that they face the same retention standards as private market participants.  Garrett said this bill will make clear that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be held to the same standards as any other secondary mortgage market participants.  Under Dodd-Frank, Fannie and Freddie could still be able to purchase a mortgage from a financial institution that falls outside of the Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) definition and issue asset-backed securities backed by non-QRM assets.  Garrett’s bill would clarify that a GSE loan purchase or asset-backed security issuance would not affect the status of the underlying assets.  If the GSEs purchase a non-QRM loan, all lender risk-retention requirements will still apply, and if the GSEs issue a non-QRM security, all securitization risk retention rules will still apply.

The Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises will hold a legislative hearing on the eight bills Thursday, March 31st and then a markup on Tuesday, April 5th. 

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