Who is a Good Mortgage Risk?

October 11, 1999, Revised February 2, 2011

"My fiancee is a dentist and his salary goes up every year. Is he a good risk?"

As potential husbands, dentists rank above lawyers but below finance professors. As borrowers, however, they are generally viewed as good risks.

"I am a very successful student looking to buy a house with a few friends. While we don't work, there is plenty of money in our families. Our SATs average 1450, so that ought to count for something… Suggestions?"

Sorry, your high SATs won't cut it with loan underwriters, since they have no bearing on the willingness to repay, and are only loosely connected to the ability to repay. You would need one or more of your parents on the note to qualify.

"My girlfriend moved here from Hong Kong 4 years ago to go to college. After graduating and getting a job, she is ready to buy a house, and is prepared to put 20% down. A loan officer told her, however, that she will have to pay a rate about 1% above that paid by residents. Is this normal practice or is she entitled to the same rate as everyone else?"

As of now, your friend is a "non-permanent resident alien", a category viewed as carrying a special (if modest) risk. The risk is that she might be obliged to leave the country. The typical lender reaction, however, is to require a larger down payment rather than a higher rate. Your friend should shop the market with this in mind.

She might want to wait until she gets her green card. At that point, she would become a "permanent resident alien" and would be treated like everyone else.

"I retired recently, at least for awhile, to enjoy my stock market winnings, and decided to use some of it to buy a house. Since I’m willing to put 25% down on an $800,000 house, and will have plenty of cash left over, I figured I was the kind of borrower lenders drool over. To my surprise, the mortgage broker quoted me a rate well above those I see quoted in the newspapers. When I asked her why, she told me that because I was unemployed, I qualified only for a “no ratio” loan where income is disregarded and the interest rate is very high. Hey, I’m a millionaire, doesn’t that count for something?”

You might be surprised at how many deadbeat millionaires there are.

With no secure source of income, the lender is looking at the property as his primary protection. But on an $800,000 property, 25% down is viewed as only marginally adequate. Expensive properties can fluctuate greatly in value. If you borrowed $600,000 and the value of your house dropped to $500,000, the lender would expect that you might mail in the key rather than continue making payments. Millionaires have been known to do that.

It might be a different story if you could show that dividend earnings (not capital gains) from your stock market portfolio over each of the last two years were large enough to support the payments on your new home. The lender might then have accepted your investment income, and you would have qualified for the lower interest rates paid by working stiffs.

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