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Payroll tax cut bill boosts cost of new mortgages

Posted: December 18, 2011 - 1:16am

WASHINGTON — Who is paying for the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut working its way through Congress? The cost is being dropped in the laps of most people who buy homes or refinance beginning next year.

The typical person who buys a $200,000 home or refinances that amount starting on Jan. 1 would have to pay roughly $17 more a month for their mortgage, thanks to a fee increase included in the payroll tax cut bill that the Senate passed Saturday. The White House said the fee increases would be phased in gradually.

The legislation provides a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits that would otherwise expire on Jan. 1. It would also delay for two months a cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors that is scheduled to take effect on New Year’s Day. The House is expected to act on the bill early next week. Two more months of the Social Security tax cut amounts to a savings of about $165 for a worker making $50,000 a year.

To cover its $33 billion price tag, the measure increases the fee that the government-backed mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, charge to insure home mortgages. That fee, which Senate aides said currently averages around 0.3 percentage point, would rise by 0.1 percentage point under the bill. The increase will also apply to people whose mortgages are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which typically serves lower-income and first-time buyers.

The higher fee would not apply to people who currently have mortgages unless they refinance beginning next year.

Because of the weak housing market and the huge numbers of foreclosures in the last few years, private insurers have not competed strongly for business with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have the backing of the federal government. As a result, about 9 in 10 new home mortgages are backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA.

President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats and Republicans want to curb Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s dominance in the mortgage market. Obama earlier this year proposed raising the mortgage guarantee fees they charge as one way to do that.

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