Fannie Mae—known officially as the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA)—is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) chartered by Congress to stimulate homeownership 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 low- to moderate-income borrowers obtain financing for a home.
- 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 mortgages through the secondary mortgage 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 nearly collapsed amid the 2008 financial crisis, but were bailed out and placed into government conservatorship; eventually, they paid back the billions of dollars that they had received to survive.
What Fannie Mae Does
As a secondary mortgage 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 its sibling Freddie Mac, or the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which is also a GSE chartered by Congress.
After purchasing mortgages on the secondary market, Fannie Mae can pool them to form a mortgage-backed security (MBS). An MBS is an asset-backed security that is 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 MBSs.
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.
By investing in the mortgage market, Fannie Mae creates liquidity for lenders, which in turn allows them to underwrite or fund additional mortgages. In 2021, Fannie Mae provided $1.4 trillion in liquidity to the mortgage market, which helped low-income Americans buy, refinance, or rent approximately 5.5 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 it 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 Agency (FHFA). The U.S. Treasury provided $191 billion to keep both agencies solvent, which has since been repaid.
In August 2012, the terms governing Fannie Mae’s dividend obligations were changed so that the U.S. Treasury claimed any profits at the end of each quarter and provides capital if there is a deficit. In September 2019, the Treasury and FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could start keeping their earnings to shore up capital reserves of $25 billion and $20 billion, respectively. The move was a step toward transitioning the two out of conservatorship.
Fannie Mae Loan Requirements
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 borrower income documentation, and product features that make frequent refinancing of the loan likely.
The mortgages that Fannie Mae purchases and guarantees must meet strict criteria. The limit, for example, for a conventional loan for a single-family home in 2022 is $647,200 (up from $548,250 in 2021) for most areas and $970,800 (up from $822,375 in 2021) for high-cost areas, including Hawaii and Alaska. The FHFA sets these limits.
To obtain a loan backed by Fannie Mae, you’ll have to go through an approved lender. Along with avoiding subprime loans mentioned above, lenders must meet eligibility and underwriting criteria that ensure 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 loans 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 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, such as a W-2 or 1099 form to back these up. 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 ratio is too high, you can make a larger down payment, which will reduce your monthly costs. While a 20% down payment is considered ideal, some borrowers may be able to put as little as 3% down.
Homebuyers must also meet minimum credit requirements 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.
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 homes. Modifications can include a lower interest rate and extending the loan term, which would lower monthly payments. Since September 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have completed more than 6.2 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 to minimize potential impacts on the community. HomePath by Fannie Mae is where home buyers and investors can search for and make offers on these properties. The HomePath program is an affordable way for creditworthy homebuyers to finance their new homes.
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 owned by Fannie Mae and includes 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 on HomePath.com. While some homes are move-in ready, others require repairs or even extensive renovations.
Fannie Mae and COVID-19
Due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, countless homeowners found themselves in situations where they could not afford their mortgage payments. To help in this situation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed in March 2020, required that lenders holding federally backed mortgages grant their pandemic-affected clients forbearance for up to 180 days and hold off on foreclosure-related evictions.
All Fannie Mae assistance programs related to the coronavirus pandemic ended on Sept. 30, 2021 after several rounds of extensions.
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.
Fannie Mae’s RefiNow Program
Starting June 5, 2021, Fannie Mae has been offering low-income mortgage holders a new refinance option through a program called RefiNow, meant to reduce their monthly payments and interest rates. To be eligible, homeowners must be earning at or below 100% of their area median income (AMI).
This program is intended to help more homeowners refinance by removing some of the barriers of the traditional refinancing process, improving affordability, and promoting sustainable homeownership. “Lower-income borrowers typically refinance at a slower pace than higher-income borrowers, potentially missing an opportunity to save on housing costs,” says Malloy Evans, executive vice president of single family business at Fannie Mae.
If homeowners are unsure about whether or not Fannie Mae owns their mortgage, they can visit Fannie Mae’s Loan Lookup Tool. The RefiNow program offers several benefits for homeowners. First, it requires a reduction in the homeowner’s interest rate by a minimum of 50 basis points and a savings of at least $50 in the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment. Second, Fannie Mae will provide a $500 credit to the lender at the time that the loan is purchased if an appraisal was obtained for the transaction, and this credit must be passed on from the lender to the homeowner.
To qualify for RefiNow, a homeowner must meet these qualifications:
- Be in possession of a Fannie Mae-backed mortgage secured by a one-unit principal residence.
- Have a current income at or below 100% of the AMI (not the income as of origination of the original loan).
- Never missed a mortgage payment in the past six months and no more than one missed mortgage payment in the past 12 months.
- Be in possession of a mortgage with a loan-to-value ratio up to 97% and a debt-to-income ratio of 65% or less.
Why Does Fannie Mae Matter?
Fannie Mae buys mortgages from banks, credit unions, and lenders which gives them the ability to continue extending credit. If Fannie Mae didn't buy mortgages then banks would continue to hold the debt and lack the funds to provide more mortgages.
What Happened to Fannie Mae in the Financial Crisis?
During the financial crisis of 2007-2008, Fannie Mae was close to collapsing. This was a result of many of the mortgages it held defaulting. Congress bailed out Fannie Mae and put it under a conservatorship.
What Is HomePath ReadyBuyer?
HomePath ReadyBuyer is a program in which Fannie Mae provides homebuying education, closing cost assistance, and other benefits to qualified buyers looking to purchase a foreclosed property owned by Fannie Mae.
What Would Happen If Fannie Mae Didn't Exist?
It's hard to say what would happen if Fannie Mae didn't exist. Lenders currently focus most of their mortgages on terms set by Fannie Mae so they can be purchased on the secondary mortgage market. If Fannie Mae didn't exist, we would possibly see laxer requirements on mortgages purchased by non-government entities on the secondary mortgage market. Or we might see lenders faced with liquidity issues once their main purchaser of mortgages is out of the industry. Those lenders may make it harder for people to get mortgages if they don't have the capital to hold the debt of more mortgages.
The Bottom Line
Fannie Mae is a government-sponsored entity that buys mortgages that meet certain criteria. By doing this, Fannie Mae frees up cash for local and national banks to continue extending mortgages. When mortgages have lax underwriting requirements as some did during the housing bubble and subsequent crisis of 2007-2008, Fannie Mae ends up in trouble. Fannie Mae's continued existence makes it easier for millions of Americans to get mortgages.