Fannie Mae—known officially as the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA)—is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) chartered by Congress to stimulate home ownership and provide liquidity to the mortgage market. It was established in 1938 during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal. Its purpose is to help moderate to low-income borrowers obtain financing for a home.

Key Takeaways

  • The Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), also known as Fannie Mae, is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) created by Congress.
  • Fannie Mae doesn't originate or give out mortgages to homeowners looking for funding, but it does buy and guarantee them through the secondary mortgage market.
  • Fannie Mae and its sibling, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or Freddie Mac, are the two largest purchasers of mortgages on the secondary market.
  • By investing in mortgages, Fannie Mae creates more liquidity for lenders, including banks, thrifts, and credit unions, which then allows them to underwrite or fund more mortgages.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both nearly collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis, were bailed out, put into government conservatorship, and eventually paid back the billions they received to stay afloat.

As a secondary market participant, Fannie Mae does not originate mortgage loans. Instead, it keeps funds flowing to lenders by purchasing or guaranteeing mortgages issued by credit unions, banks, thrifts and other financial institutions. It is one of two large purchasers of mortgages in the secondary market. The other is sibling Freddie Mac, or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which is also a GSE chartered by Congress.

$650 billion

The amount of liquidity Fannie Mae provided to the mortgage market in 2019.

By investing in the mortgage market, Fannie Mae creates liquidity for lenders, which in turn allows them to underwrite or fund additional mortgages. In 2019, Fannie Mae provided $650 billion in liquidity to the mortgage market, which helped low-income Americans to buy, refinance or rent approximately three million homes.

Fannie Mae Stock

Fannie Mae has been publicly traded since 1968. Until 2010, it traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Following the Great Recession and the impact that had on the housing market, Fannie Mae was forced to delist its shares for failure to meet the minimum closing price requirement mandated by the NYSE. Fannie Mae now trades over-the-counter.

In the latter half of 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government via a conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Committee. The U.S. Treasury provided $191.5 billion to keep both solvent. Both agencies have repaid the money, and then some. As of May 2019, the federal government has received $292 billion in dividend payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In August of 2012, the terms governing Fannie Mae's dividend obligations were changed so that the U.S. Treasury claims any profits at the end of each quarter, and also provides capital if there is a deficit. So even though Fannie Mae makes money, its profit is handed over to the government.

Fannie Mae Guidelines

In order to do business with Fannie Mae, a mortgage lender must comply with the Statement on Subprime Lending issued by the federal government. The statement addresses several risks associated with subprime loans, such as low introductory rates followed by a higher variable rate; very high limits on how much an interest rate may increase; limited to no income documentation; and product features that make frequent refinancing of the loan likely. 

The mortgages Fannie Mae purchases and guarantees must meet strict criteria. For example, the limit for a conventional loan for a single-family home in 2020 is $510,400 for most areas and $765,600 for high-cost areas including Hawaii and Alaska. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) sets these limits.

After purchasing mortgages on the secondary market, Fannie Mae pools them to form mortgage-backed securities (MBS). MBS are asset-backed securities that are secured by a mortgage or pool of mortgages. Fannie Mae’s mortgage-backed securities are then purchased by institutions, such as insurance companies, pension funds and investment banks. It guarantees payments of principal and interest on its MBS.

Fannie Mae also has its own portfolio, commonly referred to as a retained portfolio, which invests in its own and other institutions' mortgage-backed securities. Fannie Mae issues debt, called agency debt, to fund its retained portfolio.

Fannie Mae Loans

In order to obtain a loan that is backed by Fannie Mae, you’ll have to go through an approved lender. Along with the avoidance of subprime loans, mentioned above, lenders must meet eligibility and underwriting criteria that ensures the credit quality of the financing.

Mortgages purchased and guaranteed by Fannie Mae are called conforming loans. Generally speaking, conforming loans have lower interest rates than non-conforming or jumbo loans, which are typically not backed by Fannie Mae because they exceed the loan size limits.

How to Apply for a Fannie Mae-Backed Mortgage

When you have found a lender who is eligible to issue a Fannie Mae-backed loan, you will be guided in filling out a Uniform Residential Loan Application. You will need to gather and provide financial information and documentation. This includes a record of employment and your gross income and statements to back these up, such as a W-2 Form or Form 1099. You will also have to provide a total of your monthly debt obligations, such as balances on credit cards, car payments, alimony, and child support. 

Generally, lenders prefer to follow the 28/36 Rule, that is, a household should spend no more than 28% of monthly income on housing expenses, and no more than 36% on debt servicing (including mortgages and car loans). Fannie Mae will accept a maximum debt to income (DTI) ratio of 36%, though this can be as high as 45% if the borrower meets credit score and reserve requirements. If your DTI is too high, you can make a larger down payment, which will reduce your monthly costs. While a 20% percent down payment is considered ideal, some borrowers may be able to put as little as 3% down. 

Homebuyers must also meet minimum credit requirements in order to be eligible for Fannie Mae-backed mortgages. For a single-family home that is a primary residence, a FICO score of at least 620 for fixed-rate loans and 640 for adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) is required. Of course, the better, or higher, your FICO score, the more eligible you are for the lowest available interest rates.

Loan Modifications

Following the mortgage meltdown, Fannie Mae began to focus on loan modifications. Loan modifications change the conditions of an existing mortgage to help borrowers avoid defaulting, ending up in foreclosure, and ultimately losing their home. Modifications can include a lower interest rate and extending the term of the loan, which would lower monthly payments. Since September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have completed roughly 2.37 million loan modifications.

Fannie Mae HomePath

When foreclosures arise on mortgages in which Fannie Mae is the owner/investor, or when properties are acquired through deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure or forfeiture, Fannie Mae attempts to sell the properties in a timely manner in order to minimize potential impacts on the community. HomePath.com is the Fannie Mae website where home buyers and investors can search for and make offers on these properties, and HomeReady by Fannie Mae offers buyer financing products for the properties. In some cases, special financing may be available. These include closing cost assistance, 3% down payments, and improvement costs bundled into the loan.

HomePath.com exclusively offers properties that are owned by Fannie Mae, and include single-family homes, townhouses, and condominiums. Fannie Mae uses local real estate professionals to prepare, maintain, and list the properties for sale. Most listings have photographs, property descriptions, and other details, including school and neighborhood information. The number, type, and sales prices vary greatly by market, as does the condition of the properties. While some homes are move-in ready, others require repairs or even extensive renovations. Each property is sold in "as is" condition.

Fannie Mae and COVID-19

Due to the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, countless homeowners may be unable to afford their mortgage payments. To help in this situation, the CARES Act requires that lenders holding federally backed mortgages grant their clients affected by the pandemic forbearance for up to 180 days and hold off on foreclosure-related evictions until May 17, 2020.

As part of this, Fannie Mae offers the following mortgage assistance and relief options for borrowers of its single-family mortgages who have been financial impacted by the current national emergency:

  • Ability to request mortgage assistance by contacting a mortgage servicer
  • Suspension of foreclosure sales and evictions for 60 days
  • Eligibility for a forbearance plan to reduce or suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months
  • Suspension of credit bureau reporting of past-due payments of borrowers in a forbearance plan as a result of hardships attributable to the ongoing epidemic
  • No incursion of late fees for borrowers in a forbearance plan
  • Requirement that after forbearance, a servicer will work with borrowers on a permanent plan to help maintain or reduce monthly payment amounts as necessary, including a loan modification

If you're uncertain of whether or not Fannie Mae is your government-backed mortgage provider, you can use its loan lookup tool to find out and request financial assistance accordingly.