WASHINGTON — Fannie Mae is making its housing counseling requirements more flexible so additional borrowers can qualify for its low-down-payment, affordable loan program called HomeReady.

Borrowers who receive one-on-one counseling from Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved counselors will be exempt from taking the HomeReady online course, according to a Fannie Selling Guide Announcement issued Tuesday.

One-on-one counseling will "assess the borrower's current financial situation, address credit challenges, develop a workable budget, help determine whether it is the appropriate time to become a homeowner and educate the borrower on the home buying process and responsibilities of homeownership," according to the selling guide.

In addition, Fannie will no longer require homeownership education for limited cash-out refinancings and will allow an owner-occupant borrower on a HomeReady loan to own other residential properties.

The government-sponsored enterprise also dropped it requirement that buyers of two- to four-unit properties must take an additional landlord education course. Homeownership education will still be required, however.

Fannie will allow down payment assistance and second mortgages from providers that work through HUD-approved nonprofit counseling agencies. The GSE does not purchase the second mortgages, which the agency calls Community Seconds, but the second mortgages can be provided by employers or nonprofits to finance down payments or closing costs on HomeReady mortgages.

All the changes mentioned are effective immediately, the enterprise said, but Desktop Underwriter will be updated later. "Until that time, lenders may disregard any messages that conflict with changes," the guide said.

The GSE also wants to make it easier for banks to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to HomeReady borrowers as part of institutions' Community Reinvestment Act requirements. Lender-funded gifts and down payment assistance may be eligible on HomeReady loans on a "case-by-basis," according to Fannie. "The assistance, however, cannot be funded through the mortgage transaction and must represent the lender's own funds."

Fannie also previewed some HomeReady changes it will be announcing later this year.

Fannie will count one-on-one counseling as a compensating factor in Desktop Underwriter and allow debt-to-income ratios up to 50%. Additionally, lenders will receive a $500 loan level price adjustment credit for delivering those HomeReady loans.

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