Who the Heck are Fannie and Freddie?

So, my last post may have caused you to wonder just who are Fannie and Freddie. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are America’s two largest mortgage companies.  There names are acronyms for their official names: the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie). The two are key players in the secondary mortgage market.  The secondary mortgage market is where the mortgages are purchased from banks. Once Freddie or Fannie purchase several thousand such loans, they bundle them together into a tradable security and sell the bundle to an institutional investor.

Despite common misunderstanding, Freddie and Fannie are public companies.  There is a false sense that these are government run companies because the companies are so large that the government won’t let them fail.  Is that really a false sense?  Not really.  We saw this recently when the government bailed Freddie and Fannie out to the tune of $400 BILLION dollars as of this writing.

Fannie Mae was born in 1938 as a result of the massive mortgage defaults during the great depression. Fannie Mae began with $1 billion in purchasing power, the agency helped create ways for banks to loan money to lower and middle income buyers who otherwise might not have been considered creditworthy. In 1968, after Fannie Mae grew so large, their debt portfolio was taken off the government balance sheet by President Johnson; Fannie Mae was converted into a publicly traded company owned by investors. Freddie Mac was created and launched two years later mainly to keep Fannie Mae from functioning as a monopoly.  Freddie became publicly traded in 1989.

Fannie and Freddie can only guarantee investment-grade mortgages. Sub prime mortgages are also not an option. In addition, Fannie and Freddie can only guarantee conforming loans. What’s a conforming loan? Well, loans that conform to Fannie and Freddie’s standards and under a certain dollar amount which is set by Congress.  The amount used to be $417,000 but was recently increased to a possible 125 percent of a metro area’s median home price (see table below).   Not all conforming loans are sold to Freddie and Fannie but the guidelines for loans are generally followed by most loan originators.

So, just what are the fees I mentioned in my last post?  According to Michael Amers at Chicago Bancorp:

“Some of the hikes in rate pricing are: 75 basis points for condo units with less than 25% equity stake; 25 basis points for interest-only payments; 25 to 300 basis points for credit scores coupled to loan-to-values; 25 to 300 basis points for cash-out refinancing; and 100 basis points for 2-unit properties.  For example, a condo with 25% down payment might enjoy a 5.25% rate, but the same borrower putting down 24% would get 6.00%.  And that’s not figuring in other adjustments, such as to the credit score which requires the use of a tiered matrix to determine if an additional hike is warranted.”

And who is impacted by these changes?  Just about anyone who is applying for a mortgage.  While Fannie and Freddie are not the only players in the secondary market, most loans are underwritten to the Fannie and Freddie guidelines.  Why?  If the loans are not under the guidelines then the institution will not be able to sell that loan at any point in time.  This is of course the reason why most loan originators use the Freddie and Fannie guidelines.  There are some exceptions. For example, a local credit union might hold the loans themselves.  In which case, the loan would not have to meet the guidelines. However, it is unlikely that the consumer will get the best interest rate when choosing this route.

Below is some additional information on conforming loans gathered from Fannie Mae

“The conforming loan limits apply to all conventional mortgages that are delivered to Fannie Mae on or after January 1, 2009. Please note that the 2009 general conforming loan limits are identical to the 2006, 2007, and 2008 conforming loan limits. The high-cost areas are determined by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The company may purchase loans up to $625,500 in designated high-cost areas.


Maximum Original Principal Balance


Contiguous States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico

Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands

  General High-Cost* General High-Cost*
1 $417,000 $625,500 $625,500 $938,250
2 $533,850 $800,775 $800,775 $1,201,150
3 $645,300 $967,950 $967,950 $1,451,925
4 $801,950 $1,202,925 $1,202,925 $1,804,375

*The limit may be lower for a specific high-cost area; use the Loan Limit Look-Up Table above to see limits by location.”

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