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Homeowners Struggle With Rising Loan Rates, Falling House Prices

More than $380 billion in subprime adjustable-rate mortgages in the U.S. will reset to higher charges this year or next. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

In the last few years, many Americans have bought houses with ARMs: adjustable-rate mortgages. These loans usually begin with lower interest rates for the first two or three years than fixed-rate mortgages. Then the rate changes as major interest rates rise or fall.

Holders could be surprised by their new, larger monthly payments as their loans reset to a higher rate. Some people may not even know they have adjustable-rate mortgages.

Some lenders and brokers who found loans for people are accused of misleading borrowers. Yet borrowers often did not even have to show proof of earnings.

Now, many people who took out adjustable-rate mortgages may not be able to make their payments. And not only holders of risky subprime loans; even buyers with better credit histories could lose their homes.

Next week, the Federal Reserve in Washington is expected to cut its target rate for short-term loans between banks. But long-term rates are the ones that affect things like housing loans, and these have been rising. Investors have been demanding higher returns in exchange for the risk of keeping money in longer-term securities.

Federal Reserve records show that homebuyers currently hold eight hundred fifty billion dollars in subprime adjustable-rate mortgages. The nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending points to numbers from UBS Investment Research. These show that two hundred twelve billion dollars in subprime ARMs will reset to a higher rate this year. Over one hundred seventy billion dollars in loans will reset next year.

The Center for Responsible Lending says subprime borrowers are the ones having the most trouble right now. One in five of them who received their loans in the last two years could lose their home.

Some homeowners hope to refinance their loans to avoid higher payments. But this is a bad time in the housing market. Falling home prices could make it difficult to refinance. This is true especially for buyers who were permitted to use little or no money of their own to buy their house.

Two weeks ago, President Bush announced some steps to help families avoid losing their homes while faced with rising payments. But last Friday there was more bad news: the economy lost four thousand jobs last month. It was the first time employers have cut jobs in four years.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.