Long-term, fixed-rate mortgages are often seen as a ""safe"" loan product, but one Federal Reserve economist says adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are not as risky as some perceive them to be and did not play a major role in the recent housing crisis.[IMAGE]
To those who believe payment shocks caused by ARMs were a major player in the foreclosure crisis, Paul Willen, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, says, ""[T]he data refute that theory.""
Willen shared his views before the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing titled ""Housing Finance Reform: Continuation of the 30-year Fixed-rate Mortgage.""
In a survey of 2.6 million foreclosures, Willen found mortgage payments at the time of foreclosure were the same or lower than the initial payment for 88 percent of the mortgages.[COLUMN_BREAK]
Those with ARMs ""were almost as likely to have seen a payment reduction as a payment increase"" says Willen because interest rates in any recession Ã¢â‚¬" including the recent one Ã¢â‚¬" fall rather than rise.
Only 12 percent of foreclosed borrowers experienced payment shock, according to Willen.
More than half of borrowers whose homes were foreclosed Ã¢â‚¬" 60 percent Ã¢â‚¬" had fixed-rate mortgages.
Willen points to falling prices combined with life events, rather than payment shock, as the major proponent of the foreclosure crisis.
When borrowers have positive equity, it makes more financial sense for them to sell their property than default on their mortgage when they encounter a negative life event such as job loss, divorce, or illness.
However, when prices fall and borrowers have negative equity, disruptive life events are much more likely to lead to foreclosure, Willen says in his testimony.
""It does turn out that fixed-rate mortgages default less often than adjustable-rate mortgages, but that fact reflects the selection of borrowers into fixed-rate products, not any characteristics of the mortgages themselves,"" Willen says. He suggests that some ARM borrowers enter their mortgages without intending to stay in the homes long-term. When these borrowers' home values fall, they are more likely to default, according to Willen.