Proposal would allow Freddie Mac to acquire closed-end second mortgages

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) this week announced a new product proposal for government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) Freddie Mac that would allow the agency to purchase certain single-family, closed-end second mortgages.

This would offer borrowers an alternative way to access their home equity without surrendering a first mortgage with a more favorable interest rate than is currently available.

The proposal, published in the Federal Register, recognizes that existing borrowers “face limited options” if they seek to access equity on their primary residence, particularly if they have a mortgage rate from a loan originated during the low-rate environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[A] traditional cash-out refinance today may pose a significant financial burden, as it requires a refinancing of the entire outstanding loan balance at a new, and likely much higher, interest rate,” FHFA said in its proposal. “Homeowners may also use second mortgages to access the equity in their homes, [where] only the smaller, second mortgage would be subject to the current market rate, as the original terms of the first mortgage would remain intact.”

Second mortgages are also typically offered at a lower interest rate than certain alternative products like personal loans, so Freddie Mac’s proposal is to purchase “certain closed-end second mortgage loans from primary market lenders” that are already approved to sell mortgages to Freddie Mac, the proposal states.

“In a closed-end second mortgage loan, the borrower’s funds are fully disbursed when the loan closes, the borrower repays over a set time schedule, and the mortgage is recorded in a junior lien position in the land records,” FHFA stated. “Freddie Mac has indicated that the primary goal of this proposed new product is to provide borrowers a lower cost alternative to a cash-out refinance in higher interest rate environments.”

FHFA Director Sandra Thompson explained that such options are needed in the current mortgage rate environment.

“The proposed activity is intended to provide homeowners with a cost-effective alternative for accessing the equity in their homes,” Thompson said in an announcement of the proposal. “Reviewing and considering comments from the public will be a critical component of our review as the agency exercises its statutory responsibility to evaluate new enterprise products.”

This is specifically designed to benefit consumers during the high rate environment, the agency said.

“In the current mortgage interest rate environment, a closed-end second mortgage may provide a more affordable option to homeowners than obtaining a new cash-out refinance or leveraging other consumer debt products,” the proposal explained. “A significant portion of borrowers have low interest rate first mortgages, and the proposal would allow those homeowners to retain this beneficial interest rate on the first mortgage and avoid resetting to a higher rate through a cash-out refinance.”

The Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008, requires the GSEs to provide advance notice to FHFA of any potential actions or products they aim to pursue. This notice demonstrates that FHFA is fulfilling its mandate and seeks public comments on the proposal.

The comment period lasts 30 days from the publication of the proposal in the Federal Register, making May 16, 2024, the end of the comment period. Interested parties can submit comments to the agency on its website or via email.

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