Friday, December 28, 2007

Under The Radar-ARMed and Dangerous

Delinquencies among holders of risky option ARMs are increasing as their minimum payments climb.
By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 28, 2007

Thought the mortgage meltdown was just a sub-prime affair? Think again. There's another time bomb waiting to explode, experts say: risky loans made to people with good credit.

So-called pay-option adjustable-rate mortgages, or option ARMs, were the easiest and most profitable home loans for lenders and brokers to make for much of this decade. Last year, they accounted for about 9% of the volume of all mortgages made in the U.S. and were especially popular in California, Florida and Nevada -- states where home prices rose the most during the housing boom and are now falling most sharply.

An option ARM loan gives a borrower the option of paying less than the interest due, causing the loan balance to rise. If it rises too much -- say, by 10% or 15% -- the opportunity to make a low payment vanishes and the required payment skyrockets.

That scenario is becoming increasingly common. In fact, more than 75% of option ARM borrowers have been making only the minimum payments, analysts at Standard & Poor's Corp. said last week. As a result, the delinquency rate on option ARMs already is jumping and is likely to keep rising sharply, S&P said. Because option ARMS went only to "prime" borrowers, they aren't eligible for a much-publicized interest rate freeze that is part of a White House-backed plan to stem sub-prime foreclosures.

One upshot could be foreclosures growing more common in affluent neighborhoods.
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