Saturday, July 29, 2017

Missing Car Talk (because Tom and Ray spoke not of what they did not know)

Saturday morning errands were more attractive when, while driving, one could listen the Tappet Brothers give sound advice on auto repair and safety.  Something they did not do, however, is give advice on the financial implications of leasing/owning  (even though I suspect that their MIT educations would have allowed them to figure out how to make good financial choices).

This morning, I thought I found a substitute for the Magliozzi boys--a car-advice program on KNX, a local newsradio station.  But within ten minutes, I heard the host give terrible advice.  When his sidekick asked him if buyers should make an upfront payment on a lease in order to buy down their monthly payments, the host said no, that such an upfront payment was a waste of money, because of the absence of equity value at the end of the lease term.  But the buydown can, in fact, be a very sensible thing to do, depending on the nature of the deal.

To give one example, consider this lease calculator for a Honda Accord.  With a $3000 downpayment, the monthly payments for the car are $186 per month for 36 months.  At zero down, the payments are $266 per month.  So by investing $3000 more up front, you are reducing your payments by $80 per month.  Now lets consider the implicit rate at which you are borrowing the $3000, by using the excel function RATE.

RATE(36,266-186,-3000) =  .0022.

So the cost of borrowing here is 22 basis points per month, or, on an annualized, compounded, basis, 3 percent.  This is not a great return on investment, so the lower down payment may make sense.  But to give general advice without doing the math first is to give bad advice.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fannie and Freddie don't really do 30-year mortgages

The reason is prepayment.  I just happened to notice recently that even in periods where there isn't an interest rate incentive for people to prepay their mortgages, lots of people do.  As this piece in Mortgage News Daily shows, conditional prepayment rates on GSE secured loans are essentially always above 10 percent, regardless of market interest rates.  When people have mortgages whose rates are lower than market rates, some still prepay, either to move, or to get cash, or to consolidate debt.

At a 10 percent conditional prepayment rate, 65 percent or mortgages are paid off in less than 10 years (and when one adds in amortization, 73 percent of mortgage balances are paid off, assuming a rate of 4 percent).  Of course, 10 percent is the minimum, so actual mortgage payoffs are much higher than 65 percent.

One of the justifications (and one I have used myself) for GSEs is that they allow borrowers access to 30-year, fixed rate mortgages.  Consumers generally pay more for the very long term--a payment that may be justified as an insurance premium.  But if very few people use the insurance, it is not clear whether the cost is worth it to consumers.  At the same time, because of slow amortization, the 30-year mortgage--particularly one that is being refinanced regularly, is not a great savings commitment device.

Perhaps a better product for consumers would be a 7-year adjustable rate mortgage, or even better, a 7-year ARM with a 20 year amortization term.  The 30 year mortgage arose as an affordability product when interest rates neared and exceeded double digits, and was a good product for those times.  But in a world of very low interest rates, it may no longer be the gold standard for consumers.  And so if we are to ever get to housing finance reform, perhaps the next model of housing finance should be very different from today's.