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50-year mortgage debuts in California

The Methuselah of mortgages has arrived: the 50-year home loan.

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Think of it as a mortgage that has been supersized. Like that other supersizer, McDonald's, the massive mortgage was born in Southern California's San Bernardino County. Statewide Bancorp of Rancho Cucamonga began offering the loan in late March, to California residents. Advertisements have yielded a lot of phone calls and "quite a few applications," says Alex Diaz Jr., vice president of Statewide.

Half of first-time home buyers are 32 or older, according to the National Association of Realtors. If those buyers get 50-year mortgages and never refinance or make extra payments, they won't pay off their loans until they're well into their 80s. Would they be crazy to get loans that amortize or pay off the balance over 50 years instead of the standard 30 years? Not at all, Diaz says.

Getting a 50-year loan is a perfectly rational way to avoid an interest-only or payment-option adjustable-rate mortgage, he says.

With an interest-only mortgage, the minimum monthly payment doesn't put any money toward principal. A payment-option ARM goes a step beyond that: In some circumstances, the minimum monthly payment doesn't even cover the interest accrued that month. You make a minimum payment at the beginning of the month, and four weeks later, you owe more than you owed before the payment. This condition is called negative amortization, or "going negative."

Forgive borrowers for thinking that it makes better sense to amortize a loan over 50 years than to get an option ARM or interest-only mortgage.

"Payment-option ARMs and interest-onlies have been so popular, we wanted to come out with a longer-term, fully amortizing loan for people who don't want to go negative," Diaz says.

Regulators and consumers worry that foreclosures will surge in coming years, especially among homeowners who got interest-only and payment-option ARMs. The 50-year loan is a lifeline for them, Diaz says.

"There are two markets for this, " he says. "One is if they're looking to purchase a home, because of how expensive housing is, they'll consider this loan. And the other is payment-option ARMs -- borrowers are making minimum payments and they're starting to panic a little bit and look for vehicles to get out of these loans."

About a quarter of new mortgages in California are 40-year loans. This is the next logical step, Diaz believes.

Statewide's 50-year loan is a 5/1 hybrid, meaning that the introductory interest rate lasts five years and then the rate is adjusted annually, moving up and down with the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR.

Bystanders are dubious of the half-century loan's benefits.

"If you run the amortization out, it basically is an interest-only loan, in all practical terms," says Jason Flurry, a certified financial planner and president of Legacy Partners Financial Group in Woodstock, Ga. "If a person is considering something like that, they're probably trying to squeeze into too much house to begin with."

 
 
Next: "You're stretching out the payments for two decades longer. ... "
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