- The American Jobs Plan would make home ownership less accessible for low-income and minority home buyers.
- If you can’t put 20% down when you buy a house, you have to pay mortgage insurance.
- Biden’s plan would make private mortgage insurance more expensive.
- Jerry Theodorou is the director of the Finance, Insurance and Trade Policy Program at the R Street Institute.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Homeownership is a pillar of the American dream. Last year, the pandemic made many Americans realize they wanted that dream sooner rather than later. Many turned to Redfin and Zillow, swiping through home after home as travel was restricted. News reports quickly followed of surging housing prices and increasing demand as renters turned into buyers and people looked for more living space.
On the surface, this news sounds like a boon to the American economy. Owning a home builds equity and intergenerational wealth, and it can be a cushion against financial setbacks. Yes, there are risks, as shown from the 2008 financial crisis, but American homeownership is still on the rise.
It baffles the mind, then, that as the economy continues to recover, the Biden administration’s proposed American Jobs Plan would create new hurdles for minority and low-income first-time homebuyers. In an effort to pay for the plan, the government would raise the cost of private mortgage insurance, potentially squashing the dreams of millions of Americans.
Inequity in homeownership
Minority and low-income families would be hit hardest by the new legislation because 40% of loans with private mortgage insurance are for families with annual incomes below $75,000, and 60% go to first-time homebuyers. The disparity between homeownership by Black families and white families is already significant – 42.3% of Black families own homes compared with 72.2% of white families. The Biden plan would only widen this gap.
Home buyers can pay as little as 3% of a home purchase price as a down payment. But for those who supply less than 20%, mortgage insurance must be purchased to protect lenders against a borrower defaulting. But private mortgage insurers must have sufficient financial strength to withstand the inevitable peaks and valleys in the cyclical housing market. Since the 2008 financial crisis, new regulations have required insurers to maintain sufficient capital levels to survive another downturn.
Insurers have strengthened their capital base by purchasing reinsurance – insurance for insurance companies. Think of it like a financial shock absorber that spreads risk globally and acts as a bulwark against crippling losses from catastrophic events. Reinsurance is so important for mortgage insurers that in 2020, US insurers shared more than 30% of their mortgage insurance risk with non-US sources. Bermuda reinsurers alone, for example, accounted for just over 50% of such cessions.
The failure of the Jobs Plan
This is where the American Jobs Plan enters the picture. First, it would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Second, it would impose a global minimum tax rate that dilutes the benefits of Bermuda reinsurance. For mortgage insurers, this will inevitably lead to higher prices. Currently, Bermuda reinsurers do not impose taxes on corporate income, allowing mortgage insurers to benefit from the availability of low-cost mortgage insurance.
These actions seem far upstream from the average home buyer, but the effects will trickle down quickly. A higher corporate tax rate for mortgage insurers will eat into their profits. To recoup these lost dollars, they will raise required mortgage insurance rates for all home buyers who put down less than 20%. Simple financial modeling suggests that rates could rise by approximately 10% overall, a significant increase for borrowers, pushing homeownership further away for those of lesser means.
The math is fairly straightforward. Mortgage buyers with excellent credit scores – more than 740 – who put 3% down on a $200,000 home pay approximately $9,500 for the mortgage insurance over eight and half years until the loan-to-value ratio drops below 80%. Borrowers with credit scores between 680 and 699, slightly below the national average, with the same down payment on the same home pay approximately $19,800 in mortgage insurance. Under Biden’s plan, those costs could increase by as much as 10%.
If the American Jobs Plan becomes law, the cost of insurance will rise, potential homebuyers will be affected directly, and, thus, the economy overall.
The Biden administration should stop building barriers to homeownership and instead support policies that will help first-time homebuyers, particularly the low-and-moderate- income families, especially in today’s low interest rate environment. One way to begin is to reconsider the proposed anti-free trade, anti-fair trade, globally-mandated minimum tax policies. The American dream depends on it.