There's a lot of talk in the media these days about subprime lending. Do you really know what it is? Essentially, subprime lending means loaning money at a rate of interest that is usually much higher than the “prime" rate. In the United States, the most frequently used prime rate is the one established by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). This is the interest rate on corporate loans currently posted by at least 23 of the 30 largest American banks. The prime rate doesn't change regularly, only when three-quarters of the banks decide they need to change it!
And how might subprime lending affect you? If you have a generally poor credit rating (under 620 on the FICO scale), you are considered a greater credit risk to a lender. You're perceived as more likely than others to default on your loan. To compensate them for taking a greater degree of risk with their money, subprime lenders charge a significantly higher rate of interest. If you are classified as a subprime borrower, bear in mind that when you need to borrow money, your best bet is not a regular bank, but an organization specializing in subprime lending.
The problem that faces the American public right now is that several years ago people began borrowing more than they could afford to repay. The real estate market appeared solid a few years back; home values were steadily rising. As much as 125% of the value of a home was available for borrowing to the owner. People who opted for subprime mortgage loans expected that the value of their homes would keep rising, and within the next 3-5 years they could refinance once again. Some other types of mortgages that suddenly became popular were negative amortization mortgages, 80/20 mortgages, and interest-only mortgages. These left many homeowners owing more on their mortgage loans than their properties were worth, as the housing market began its sharp decline. These people thus found themselves with “negative equity" in their homes.
Adding to the present subprime lending problem is the fact that many of these homeowners hold adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), which are continually readjusting - and always upward. Although most of these ARMs have a cap of some sort, preventing them from limitless increases, they generally have long-term rates. Many people have found that their mortgage payments have nearly doubled over time, with the continual readjustment of their rates. Simultaneously, we are experiencing record costs for gas and oil, and greatly elevated food prices, making it more and more difficult for many families to make monthly mortgage payments. Once a family is in arrears by three months on mortgage payments, they can expect foreclosure proceedings to be inaugurated by the bank that holds their mortgage. The problem is further augmented as neighborhood real estate values drop, due to the foreclosure sales of some homes.
After reading this description about the subprime lending trouble, assess your own situation. If you believe you may be in trouble, you should discuss the matter with your lender. Sometimes lenders are willing to offer various forms of relief to overextended borrowers, rather than have the bank foreclose on the mortgage. If, on the other hand, your mortgage is up to date and your payments are being made in a timely fashion, don't worry. Keep yourself informed, and keep focused on your budget. Most importantly, whatever your position, do not panic!
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