The longest government shutdown on record has just ended but it could be reinstated within weeks. If you are in the process of securing a mortgage loan or plan on getting a mortgage loan soon, you can find useful information in this article to help you navigate through the home buying process during a government shutdown.
A government shutdown does not stop the loan process for the majority of new mortgages. Most mortgages are “conventional loans”, meaning the federal government is not the lender. Conventional loans include Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) loans. While federal agencies back qualified lenders for these loans in the event a borrower defaults, the federal government is not the lender. Conventional or not, some services needed to complete underwriting for mortgage loans is performed by federal agencies. During a government shutdown this could cause delays in closings but not postpone them indefinitely.
For a small amount of loans, such as direct loans issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal government acts as the lender. In these instances, all loan processes are completed by federal agencies. As a result, new USDA mortgage loans (direct and guaranteed) are not issued during a shutdown. For individuals in the middle of the underwriting process with a USDA loan, there are many unknowns during a shutdown.
When buying a new home subjects such as flood insurance and the federal government don’t immediately spring to mind. However, if a new home is in a high-risk flood zone (also known as a Special Flood Hazard Area) flood insurance protection is often required for the mortgage loan. For instance, FHA loans require flood insurance for homes located in these areas. Additionally, mortgage lenders have the burden of determining if coverage is required. As a precaution, some lenders require flood insurance in moderate or low risk areas. This affects the new mortgage process because most flood insurance is issued through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Just days before the shutdown began, FEMA announced it would not reauthorize use of the NFIP. However, on Dec. 21, 2018 the agency formally passed legislation to extend the NFIP through May 31, 2019.
IRS services and income verification
Most mortgage lenders submit an income verification request through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to verify income and give the lender confidence in the buyer’s purchasing power. The Income Verification Express Service (IVES) of the IRS was suspended temporarily in the early days of the shutdown, but was reinstated on January 7, 2019. A period of inactivity created a backlog of requests and cause delays in underwriting while lenders wait for income verification. This particularly affects loan seekers who are self-employed and without access to pay stubs or W-2 forms.
The shutdown and furlough of federal employees means some new home buyers will not have the proof of income needed to complete a new mortgage loan. Fortunately, lenders eager to work with these employees can create solutions to help buyers in need. For instance, in lieu of IRS income verification, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are offering a two-month mortgage payment cash reserve requirement. This allows buyers to skip income verification if they have enough cash reserves to cover two months of mortgage costs. Many other lenders are offering unique solutions, happy to answer questions regarding these options, and want to help alleviate stress surrounding a new home purchase during a shutdown.
In conclusion, a government shut down is unlikely to completely halt the new mortgage loan process, but there may be delays. While closing dates may be pushed back, the underwriting process is not at a standstill and will continue to function; though more slowly than normal. Additionally, lending options exist for federal employees and lenders are eager to assist in the process and answer questions.