You can get a no-money-down mortgage – if you are really wealthy and put your investments up as collateral

No-money-down mortgages have been blamed for helping bring about the recent economic crisis but they can still be obtained – if you have the assets to obtain one.

It’s 100% financing—the same strategy that pushed many homeowners into foreclosure during the housing bust. Banks say these loans are safer: They’re almost exclusively being offered to clients with sizable assets, and they often require two forms of collateral—the house and a portion of the client’s investment portfolio in lieu of a traditional cash down payment.

In most cases, borrowers end up with one loan and one monthly payment. Depending on the lender and the borrower, roughly 60% to 80% of the loan can be pegged to the home’s value while the remaining 20% to 40% can be secured by investments. On a $2 million primary residence, for instance, the borrower could get a $2 million loan, which would require a pledge of assets in an investment portfolio to cover what could have been, say, a $500,000 down payment. The pledged assets can remain fully invested, earning returns as normal, without disrupting the client’s investment goals.

While these affluent clients may be flush with cash, this strategy allows them to get into a home without tying up funds or making withdrawals from interest-earning accounts. And given the market’s gains combined with low borrowing rates in recent years, some banks say clients are pursuing 100% financing as an arbitrage play—where the return on their investments is bigger than the rate they pay on the loan, which can be as low as 2.5%. Some institutions offer only adjustable rates with these loans, which could become more expensive if rates rise. In most cases, the investment account must be held by the same institution that’s providing the loan.

These loans also provide tax benefits. Since borrowers don’t have to liquidate their investment portfolios to get financing, they can avoid the capital-gains tax. And in some cases, they can still tap into the mortgage-interest deduction. (Borrowers can usually deduct interest payments on up to $1 million of mortgage debt.)

Theoretically, this is how no-money-down mortgages could work since only signing up wealthier clients helps limit the losses a bank might incur if they default on the mortgage. Yet, it also sounds like another financial option that is only available to the wealthy who might even be able to make money by taking out a non-money-down mortgage. In other words, is this something that only helps the rich get richer (and possibly bigger houses)?

When banks say these loans are safer, how much safer? I suspect part of the safety of these mortgages is that there are relatively few new ones being offered to wealthy Americans. It would be interesting to hear about some cases where this has worked out well or not worked out as planned.

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