A jumbo mortgage is a mortgage loan that may have high credit quality but is in an amount above conventional conforming loan limits. This standard is set by the two government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and sets the limit on the maximum value of any individual mortgage they will purchase from a lender. Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FHLMC) are large agencies that purchase the bulk of U.S. residential mortgages from banks and other lenders, allowing them to free up liquidity to lend more mortgages. When FNMA and FHLMC limits don’t cover the full loan amount, the loan is referred to as a “jumbo mortgage”. Traditionally, the interest rates on jumbo mortgages are higher than for conforming mortgages however, with GSE fees increasing, Jumbo loans have recently seen lower interest rates than conforming loans.
Jumbo mortgage loans are a higher risk for lenders, mainly due to their larger size rather than credit quality. This is because if a jumbo mortgage loan defaults, it may be harder to sell a luxury residence quickly for full price. Luxury prices are more vulnerable to market highs and lows in some cases. That is one reason lenders prefer to have a higher down payment from jumbo loan seekers. Jumbo home prices can be more subjective and not as easily sold to a mainstream borrower, therefore many lenders may require two appraisals on a jumbo mortgage loan.
The interest rate charged on jumbo mortgage loans is generally higher than a loan that is conforming, due to the higher risk to the lender. The spread, or difference between the two rates, depends on the current market price of risk. While typically the spread fluctuates between 0.25 and 0.5%, at times of high investor anxiety, it can exceed one and a half percentage points. It can be more expensive to refinance a jumbo loan due to the closing costs. Some lenders will offer the service of an extension and consolidation agreement so that a jumbo refinancer will not have to pay for mortgage tax again on the same principal balance. In other cases, title insurance companies will offer up to a 50% discount, often required by law for those refinancing within 1 year to 10 years. The largest discount is for refinancing within one year.