The government's FHA-insured mortgages may now be approved through Freddie Mac's automated underwriting system, making the notoriously paper-intensive process easier and quicker.

"We're changing the process of getting an FHA mortgage from an exhausting marathon to a 50-yard dash, and we're helping more families cross the finish line," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Tuesday.

Freddie Mac chairman Leland C. Brendsel also spoke. He said he was "delighted that FHA borrowers will have access to the benefits of automated underwriting."

Last year, half of all loans Freddie bought were approved through its automated underwriting system. This year, Freddie hopes 80% of its business will be electronically approved.

For a fee of $35, lenders who use Freddie's automated underwriting system may now get an electronic evaluation of whether a mortgage qualifies for FHA insurance. Such loans are typically sold not to Freddie, but to Ginnie Mae, a government agency.

About 60% of loans are approved in minutes. The loans may then be granted within two weeks after appraisal, title insurance, and property survey documents are turned in.

Loans that aren't approved immediately by the electronic underwriting system are referred to a human underwriter, with notes on the parts of the application that need further scrutiny.

For borrowers whose applications qualify for an automated approval, there are other advantages, too. They don't need to file the up to 25 documents the FHA has so far required. These include documents that verify the borrowers' income and assets and explain discrepancies in their credit histories.

HUD is taking steps to make the automated underwriting model available to lenders who do not use Freddie Mac's technology. Those lenders will soon be able to electronically transmit the FHA mortgage file to HUD, which will in turn submit it to Freddie Mac.

An FHA staffer said the government is talking to Fannie Mae about using Fannie's FHA underwriting model in a pilot program.

Meanwhile, the government is developing its own electronic underwriting model with Freddie Mac's help, the staffer said. That will be in place later this year.

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