Tag Archives: Kevin Sellers

couple

Finance tips for Arizona’s young married couples

According to a survey conducted by The American Institute of CPAs, financial matters are among one of the largest issues creating conflict among young American couples. Financial values need to be addressed between young couples, before and after they say their vows. So, when discussing a dream vacation and envisioning the perfect home, why not include a life of financial harmony to the plan?

“Good financial habits can take root early on in a relationship and become a part of everyday life,” said Kevin Sellers, executive vice president of First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “Financial choices need to be a team effort. Monetary decisions affect current and long-term goals, so it’s important that young couples begin their financial journey in the right direction.”

First Fidelity Bank is offering financial first steps for new Arizona couples as they begin their walk of life together.

Consider establishing a joint checking account. Merging two bank accounts into one can be a savvy decision for married couples. Having a joint bank account allows for transparency and equal access to the account. Joint checking provides a simplistic way to handle shared funds.

Make a budget. Often times there is a more natural “spender” and a “saver” in a relationship. Before these roles are determined in your own relationship, create and follow a spending plan. Tools, like FFB’s Home Budget Analysis help you set realistic budgets for common home maintenance needs and assess where your money is being spent.

Save and invest. Saving is a crucial piece of the financial puzzle for couples. Together, prioritize your future goals or establish a “wish-list” and keep a separate savings account to achieve these goals. Investing as a new couple now can pay off in the future. Low-risk savings vehicles like mutual funds and IRAs offer great ways to get started on long-term investing and help to build a habit of putting away money for the future.

Pay off debt and loans quickly. Working toward a new home or automobile are common priorities for young couples. But, before signing on the dotted line, make sure to investigate which loan and mortgage options work best for you both. In the current economic climate and with student loan debts increasing, it is common for young people commonly enter a relationship with debt. However, this does not mean a new couple must stay in debt or refrain from enjoying leisure activities. New couples should work on paying off debt together, focusing primarily on payments with the highest interest rates to start.

Talk about finances. New couples should be open and honest when discussing their finances. Just like other values and opinions, thoughts and concerns about finance are an important factor to communicate with your partner.

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First Fidelity's tips to conquer financial resolutions

According to Forbes, nearly 40 percent of people make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8 percent achieve their goals. Whether or not you have already made resolutions for 2014, consider taking a look at your personal and family finances to identify areas of financial improvement this year.

“Most of the time, we are focused on setting and achieving goals that have to do with physical health,” says Kevin Sellers, executive vice president of First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “Financial health is just as critical. If you are struggling with finances, it can affect everything, from your credit score to your stress level.”

First Fidelity Bank is offering advice to help individuals identify and achieve their financial goals in 2014.

Calculate your earnings and required spending in the next year. Unforeseen circumstances may arise, but make a rough estimate of fixed expenses for the year.  If you have money left over, determine whether or not it is financially wise to spend in other areas like a new car or a family vacation.

Identify areas of financial improvement. Take a close look at spending habits and frequencies and determine if there are areas you can tighten up. If you are using your credit card for every purchase and not paying the balance off monthly, consider giving your credit card a rest and operating on a cash only basis until you can pay it off. Or, maybe you have a loan payment you have deferred. Consider starting repayment early, if you have the available funds. The earlier you start paying, the less time the loan will hang over your head.

Revisit savings plans and increase your goal. Take a look at how much you are putting away into savings and consider increasing the amount this year. By doing so, you could have enough money saved to do the home improvements you’ve been planning or make a down payment on a new car in no time. If your employer offers a 401k plan, take advantage of it. Typically, the amount taken out of your paycheck is not noticeable, so it’s easy to set this up and let it build over time. Finally, take advantage of tools and resources. For example, there are a variety of savings calculators on FFB.com available to help anyone set and achieve savings goals.

A Guide to Applying for a Bank Loan

First Fidelity offers creative ways for kids to save

In a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs, only 1 percent of parents questioned said their kids save any portion of their allowance. Additionally, 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to CNN Money.

“It is never too late to start saving money,” said Kevin Sellers, executive vice president of First Fidelity Bank in Phoenix. “But, it is much easier to stay out of financial trouble and keep up with responsible saving habits if saving is taught early in life. Saving money can be fun and educational for the whole family.”

First Fidelity Bank is offering four fun tips for Arizona parents to teach their kids the value of money.

Serial Codes on U.S. Bills
Each dollar bill has a unique serial code printed on the front. This can make for both an entertaining and ongoing game with the kids. The next time your child has a $1, $5 or even a $50 bill, encourage them to pay close attention to the serial code and save bills according to different aspects of the code. For example, choose a letter or number of the month. If your child comes across a bill with that specific letter or number in the code, have them put it away into savings. This game teaches kids to pay attention to cash and gives them a creative incentive to save money. Over time, they can save up to buy a new gadget or grow their savings account.

Scavenger Hunt
Create a scavenger hunt for your kids with money as the reward. Hide cash or coins in different areas of your home and send your kids on a search. For example, write riddles that lead to areas where money is hidden or draw a map filled with different clues and areas where your kids can find money. After they find the money, encourage them to wait to spend their “treasure” and save up for something they’ve been wanting for some time. This is a great way to provide a new activity for the kids and encourage them to work to earn money.

Turn Savings into Coupons
Each time your child saves a certain amount, reward them with a coupon. The coupons with which you reward them can represent different privileges, items or activities. For example, if your child puts $5 from his allowance into savings, reward him with a coupon. In this case, four coupons could represent the privilege to watch a movie on a weeknight. Once your kid saves $20 (or four coupons), he is allowed to watch the movie. Or, maybe four coupons represent 45 minutes of TV on a Saturday morning. Parents can get creative with the coupons, but it’s important to always draw a connection between saving money and earning a reward.

Expose your Kids to Real Spending Situations
One of the most educational ways for your kids to learn the value of money is to expose them to everyday spending situations. These situations can include making a transaction at the bank or grocery shopping. Next time you make a transaction at your bank, explain to your child what you are doing, so they can understand what it means to hold money in savings accounts and take it out when it’s needed. Grocery shopping with your child can also help them understand what it means to spend money and look for the best deals on items. Make finding the lowest prices on groceries into a game or contest to get them engaged and teach them how to budget.

wildfire

First Fidelity offers tips to prepare for fire, drought season

As the fire and drought season in Arizona continues, the risk for businesses and the importance to be prepared is higher than ever. Recent research shows that small businesses are particularly vulnerable with only 38 percent having an emergency or disaster preparedness plan, 84 percent don’t have natural disaster insurance and 71 percent don’t have a back-up generator in case of power outage.

“Fires and droughts can catch any business off guard,” said Kevin Sellers, executive vice president for First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “Having a business continuity plan is a smart first step when preparing for the worst.”

First Fidelity Bank shares advice with other business owners about ways business plans can be set up or improved during natural disasters.

Have a crisis plan. Oftentimes, natural disasters like droughts and fires cloud good judgment, especially when an entire business is at stake. However, it is important to have a plan in place so next steps can be smooth and well planned out. Anytime your business may be impacted, you can easily refer to your plan and make adjustments accordingly. For example, if your business is in immediate danger, refer to your plan for key messages outlined that you can share with employees and the public if needed. It is also beneficial to have next steps planned out when dealing with insurance companies. If your business is severely damaged, you can begin working with your insurance company to make arrangements to rebuild.

Have a communication plan. A key part of your crisis plan is communication. Develop key messages you would share with your employees and fellow staff members. Also, establish a communication pyramid among leadership to ensure effective and coordinated communication. Use forms of social media like Facebook and Twitter to give updates to employees and customers since phone lines can be affected. Be honest and upfront about the state of your business and provide information that will help them know what to expect as your company regroups after a disaster. Make sure to notify your company’s bank and let them know of your situation. Current business, like loan payments, may be able to be put on hold if necessary. Also, talk to your bank to learn about loan options in case your business needs repairs after a natural disaster.

Use additional servers to back up data. During a natural disaster, it is not an ideal time to worry about information being lost. Plan ahead and store sensitive information in more than one place. Electronics and servers can be severely damaged so be sure to have all data stored on an additional server. Sensitive company data on the loose puts a company at risk for fraudulent activity. Looters can easily gain access to company credit card numbers, social security numbers and other highly sensitive data. Use flash drives to keep track of this type of data. These can be easily transported and kept safe during natural disasters.

Have a plan for payroll. In case a natural disaster interferes with the payroll process, have a plan in place to continue paying employees. Since each company has a different payroll system, a back-up plan will be a case-by-case basis. Options include working with insurance to collect the money for payroll, fronting the money to employees or cutting paper checks if the direct deposit system is down. The Society for Human Resource Management offers helpful information to make sure employers know the guidelines for paying employees during natural disasters. Visit www.SHRM.org to learn more about payment requirements for various types of employees. Be sure to contact your company’s bank and notify them of a change in payroll. Most banks will keep an extra close watch on fraudulent activity so any significant change in payment methods could send up a red flag and complicate the process.

housing.prices

Bankers: Don't try to time the market

Timing is everything.

But when it comes to buying a house, Valley banking leaders says it’s best not to rely too much on timing.

“Potential buyers who are still on the sidelines waiting for housing prices to decline further may see themselves priced out of the market if interest rates rise,” says Carl Streicher, regional sales executive at Bank of America. “Timing the market is risky in that we never really know when the bottom has hit until it has passed us by. Also, buyers should be sure they are ready financially and personally to own a home before they purchase, so timing the market shouldn’t be the sole driver of a home purchase.”

According to Streicher, home affordability is at an all-time high, interest rates are at historic lows and home values are increasing. According to a Case-Shiller report released in December, Phoenix home prices have increased nearly 22 percent, leading the nation and indicating that the real estate market is on the rebound.

“Interest rates are starting to rise and home prices are rising due to greater demand, a relatively low supply of homes for sale and foreclosure sales falling,” says Kevin Sellers, executive vice president with First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “So, if you’re able to take advantage of the lower current market with still affordable homes and historically low mortgage rates, chances are you’ll be making a good investment.”

Valley bankers are warning potential buyers that if they are waiting for home prices to “hit bottom,” they may miss the chance to be a homeowner altogether; prices may rise before we realize they were at their lowest point; or a rise in interest rate could potentially price buyers (particularly first-time buyers) out of the market.

“Trying to time the market when it comes to the purchase of a home is very difficult in any environment considering the complex market dynamics,” says Robert Winter, Arizona manager of mortgage lending for Mutual of Omaha Bank. “For example, if you try to time the market when it comes to home pricing, you risk missing a low interest rate environment. If you try to time the market when it comes to interest rates, you risk purchasing something you don’t necessarily like and possibly paying more than necessary. This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that not all transactions close successfully, potentially leading to a loss of the time invested.”

While the real estate market and lending are starting to find their new normal, it depends on where you’re positioned as to whether we are currently experiencing a buyer’s market or seller’s market, Winter says.

“The market advantage differs depending on the price point,” Winter says. “In general, the market favors sellers. However, the advantage shifts to buyers when it comes to higher priced homes.”

If you are in a position to take advantage of the favorable climate in the real estate market, Streicher says to ask yourself a few questions before getting started in the home buying process:
• Are you ready to settle in one location for a while?
• What is the total cost of home ownership?
• Is your job stable?

“Buyers should also research their target neighborhood to establish a baseline for local selling prices and the amount of time properties in their target area stay on the market,” he says. “For those considering an upgrade to a larger home, there are still good options available to purchase higher-end properties using jumbo loans. Bank of America continues its jumbo financing, and offers competitive rates, when many other lenders were forced to discontinue these loans due to a lack of a secondary market.”

While bankers say it’s not wise to try to time the market, they agree that working with a mortgage professional and real estate professional to help meet your real estate goals and objectives is a sure-fire formula for success.

Affordability is great,” says Tim Disbrow, senior vice president, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “Rates are incredibly low. It is a great time to buy as long as it meets your financial needs.”

housing.prices

Bankers: Don’t try to time the market

Timing is everything.

But when it comes to buying a house, Valley banking leaders says it’s best not to rely too much on timing.

“Potential buyers who are still on the sidelines waiting for housing prices to decline further may see themselves priced out of the market if interest rates rise,” says Carl Streicher, regional sales executive at Bank of America. “Timing the market is risky in that we never really know when the bottom has hit until it has passed us by. Also, buyers should be sure they are ready financially and personally to own a home before they purchase, so timing the market shouldn’t be the sole driver of a home purchase.”

According to Streicher, home affordability is at an all-time high, interest rates are at historic lows and home values are increasing. According to a Case-Shiller report released in December, Phoenix home prices have increased nearly 22 percent, leading the nation and indicating that the real estate market is on the rebound.

“Interest rates are starting to rise and home prices are rising due to greater demand, a relatively low supply of homes for sale and foreclosure sales falling,” says Kevin Sellers, executive vice president with First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “So, if you’re able to take advantage of the lower current market with still affordable homes and historically low mortgage rates, chances are you’ll be making a good investment.”

Valley bankers are warning potential buyers that if they are waiting for home prices to “hit bottom,” they may miss the chance to be a homeowner altogether; prices may rise before we realize they were at their lowest point; or a rise in interest rate could potentially price buyers (particularly first-time buyers) out of the market.

“Trying to time the market when it comes to the purchase of a home is very difficult in any environment considering the complex market dynamics,” says Robert Winter, Arizona manager of mortgage lending for Mutual of Omaha Bank. “For example, if you try to time the market when it comes to home pricing, you risk missing a low interest rate environment. If you try to time the market when it comes to interest rates, you risk purchasing something you don’t necessarily like and possibly paying more than necessary. This doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that not all transactions close successfully, potentially leading to a loss of the time invested.”

While the real estate market and lending are starting to find their new normal, it depends on where you’re positioned as to whether we are currently experiencing a buyer’s market or seller’s market, Winter says.

“The market advantage differs depending on the price point,” Winter says. “In general, the market favors sellers. However, the advantage shifts to buyers when it comes to higher priced homes.”

If you are in a position to take advantage of the favorable climate in the real estate market, Streicher says to ask yourself a few questions before getting started in the home buying process:
• Are you ready to settle in one location for a while?
• What is the total cost of home ownership?
• Is your job stable?

“Buyers should also research their target neighborhood to establish a baseline for local selling prices and the amount of time properties in their target area stay on the market,” he says. “For those considering an upgrade to a larger home, there are still good options available to purchase higher-end properties using jumbo loans. Bank of America continues its jumbo financing, and offers competitive rates, when many other lenders were forced to discontinue these loans due to a lack of a secondary market.”

While bankers say it’s not wise to try to time the market, they agree that working with a mortgage professional and real estate professional to help meet your real estate goals and objectives is a sure-fire formula for success.

Affordability is great,” says Tim Disbrow, senior vice president, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “Rates are incredibly low. It is a great time to buy as long as it meets your financial needs.”

A Guide to Applying for a Bank Loan

Are Arizona banks lending?

Are they or aren’t they?

Banks can only stay in business by making loans, not turning away customers who want to borrow money. So why does the public believe that banks aren’t lending?

“The truth of the matter is that when things were really bad a few years ago, banks weren’t lending,” said Robert Sarver, CEO of Western Alliance Bancorporation. “The banking business, not unlike other businesses, tend to react and overreact and sometime we react too much when times are good and we lend too much money on too liberal terms, and when times are tough, we don’t lend enough money and are too conservative.”

Banks are a business — a unique kind of business — that is under significant pressure to make a profit like any other like any other business. A typical bank, in healthy years, should earn a return on assets (ROA) of 1.1 percent to 1.5 percent. That translates into an return on equity (ROE), because of leverage, of anywhere between 8 percent and 18 percent, similar to most other businesses.

A bank makes its money by investing deposits into either securities or loans, both of which earn a return. Typically, loans earn more than securities and both earn more than what banks pay out to depositors. Although loans earn more, they come with a credit loss rate that a securities portfolio generally does not have. In 2009, in the depths of the economic crisis, a typical bank had a loan loss rate of 1.73 percent on its loan portfolio, which ate into the profitability of the bank. So what does a bank to do when it incurs such high loss rates in its loan portfolio? It invests in fewer loans.

But that is changing. Banks have increased their lending for four of the last five quarters, but Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) acting chairman Martin Gruenberg, is still taking a ”wait and see if the trend toward increased lending can be sustained” approach.

“Banks are lending today, and most banks have excess liquidity that they would prefer to put out in loans,” said Keith Maio, president and Chief Executive Officer of National Bank of Arizona. “Those that feel that banks aren’t lending are likely those who have had their credit compromised in recent years. Loan demand is down from consumers and businesses particularly, since the recession. The recession has caused many personal borrowers to be more conservative in their approach to leverage. Businesses tend to increase borrowing when their revenues are increasing and they need to finance that growth.”

Sarver said that banks do want to lend, “but unfortunately there is a lot of regulation in our industry, which to a certain degree has stifled long-term growth because our capital requirements have almost doubled over the last five years, so that’s been another barrier to banks lending money.”

As an outgrowth of those regulatory changes, lending standards have tightened in certain consumer loan categories like mortgages, experts said. But while mortgage rules have changed, lending standards for business haven’t seen dramatic shifts.

“Commercial lending standards for owner-occupied real estate and commercial and industrial loans have not changed much,” said Kevin Sellers, executive vice president with First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “For investment property loans, banks are requiring owners to maintain more equity capital in the properties and higher net operating income relative to the property debt service.”

According to Adam White, senior vice president of credit administration at Biltmore Bank of Arizona, bankers have always used the “Five C’s of Credit” to determine if a business is credit worthy.  Those included:
1. Cash flow – history of positive cash flows and probability of recurring
2. Collateral – adequate collateral support
3. Capital – adequate capital to support normal business operations
4. Conditions – what’s affecting the business
5. Character – who are the people behind the business

“In today’s environment, banks emphasize ALL five elements,” White said, “whereas in the past too much reliance may have been placed upon appreciating collateral values under unsustainable market conditions.”

Kevin Halloran, Arizona state president of Mutual of Omaha Bank, said that while there have been shifts in the requirements banks are setting for lending, he sees the industry taking steps toward normalcy.

“I believe lending standards have returned to the original norm,” he said. “In the early to mid-2000s, the banking industry required only limited borrower documentation relating to income and other basic information for residential loans. Now, the industry is requesting proper information to make sound decisions.”

On the business lending side of the equation, “lending standards over the past 10 months have loosened in both pricing and structure for both large and small companies,” Halloran said.

And while some banks have pulled back lending activity, it’s definitely not the case at many Arizona banks.

“Loans at our company have grown 8 percent this year and in discussions with my colleagues at other financial institutions in the Valley, they are experiencing similar results,” said Dave Ralston, chairman and CEO of Bank of Arizona. “Loans are the lifeblood of a bank and at Bank of Arizona. loan growth is our number one priority.  We are seeing increasing demand from credit-worthy consumers and businesses in the Valley.”

Halloran echoed Ralston’s observations.

“Over the past three years, we have completed more than $500 million in new loans in Arizona,” Halloran said. “That includes commercial loans and commercial real estate financing across multiple industries, as well as private banking loans and residential mortgages. Our local commercial banking group has provided local businesses with working capital, revolving lines of credit, equipment loans, owner-occupied loans and merger and acquisition loans. Our commercial real estate group has provided loans in industrial, multi-family, senior and student housing, charter schools and multiple other real estate segments. So we have been – and will continue to be – a very active lender.”

A positive result in the changes in lending banks have been forced to examine in the wake of the Recession is that bank have learned lessons that will create a stronger business model for the industry.

“Banks need to consistently monitor their concentrations in all lending sectors and understand they can only provide so much capital to any one industry,” Halloran said. “Arizona’s population grew so much over the past decade that it resulted in a substantial need for real estate lending. The concentration Arizona banks had in real estate negatively affected all Arizona banks.  In the future, I believe all banks will be better at managing their overall balance sheet risk as a percentage of capital.”

137053852

Are Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes feeding the bubble?

Jack and Jill were living the American dream. They bought their dream house in 2006. Then, the economy spiraled downward. Jack lost his job. Housing values dropped, and the amount remaining on Jack and Jill’s mortgage exceeded the value of the property — commonly known as having a house that is “under water.”

Jack and Jill didn’t want to pay the mortgage any more, so they walked away, leaving the bank to clean up the mess from their financial misstep.

They were able to do that because of Arizona’s anti-deficiency statute, which says that if a person or corporation owns a residential property on 2.5 acres or less that is used as a dwelling, the owner is not responsible for any deficiency occurring after a foreclosure, according to Lynne B. Herndon, city president for BBVA Compass.

“The difference between the fair market value of the home — or the amount that the foreclosure sale brings — and the loan balance is known as a deficiency,” said Paul Hickman, president and CEO of the Arizona Bankers Association. “In Arizona, the bank suffers that loss, not the homeowner who walks away from the home.”

But it’s not only the homeowners — whom the statutes were intended to protect — who are catching the breaks.

“Unfortunately, the statute has been interpreted more broadly than originally intended such that properties used for investment are also covered,” Herndon said.

Arizona is one of only 12 states that has some form of anti-deficiency protection. Of the 12, Herndon said Arizona has the most liberal statute.

“This statute absolutely contributed to the housing bubble as investors both in this state and outside of the state knew they could buy residential real estate in Arizona and walk away if the investment became negative,” Herndon said. “Homeowners in this state have experienced larger declines in home value due to this statute allowing investors to speculate and walk away.”

The incidence of homeowners like Jack and Jill walking away from their home, avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative equity in their home, and legally sticking their lenders with a loss and became an all-too-common move during the Recession, experts said.

“In my view, the average borrower was not likely aware of the finer points of the anti-deficiency statutes when determining whether to purchase a home,” said Jennifer Hadley Dioguardi, a partner in Snell & Wilmer’s Phoenix office. “However, once the housing market crashed, the anti-deficiency statutes likely caused some homeowners who had the means to make their mortgage payments to decide to simply walk away from the residence given the fact that the lender had no recourse against them other than to foreclose upon the residence once the residence was under water. The borrower was not responsible for the deficiency. This likely contributed to some homeowners who could pay their mortgage simply walking away from the property and leaving the lender on the hook.”

Experts believe that homeowners and investors who seized the opportunity to take advantage of Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes to protect their own financial futures, might be stifling the state’s chance at an economic recovery and exacerbating the economic collapse.

“The broadness of the deficiency statute has had an overall negative impact not just on the banking industry, but more importantly, Arizona’s long-term economy,” said Keith Maio, president and chief executive officer of National Bank of Arizona. “Arizona’s statute is the most liberally interpreted of the 12 non-recourse/deficiency states, the majority of which limit the protection to primary residences or some other means that limit its contribution to speculation. In Arizona, it allows investors to finance their speculation in housing, risk-free. If their investment does not work out, they don’t have to pay back the difference between what they sold the home for and what they owe. This statute was intended to protect homeowners, but what it has really done is hurt traditional homeowners by opening them up to large swings in housing values. I believe the impact, while negatively effecting banks earnings, is greater on the homeowners in the community at large.”

Despite the impact on the overall economy, it’s still been the banks who take the initial and biggest hit because they are often precluded from recovering the balance of the loan deficiency from the foreclosed borrower. While short sales are not protected by the Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes, lenders have often been willing to agree to short sales and reduce or otherwise waive deficiency claims, because lenders know they could not otherwise recover loan deficiencies, should the borrower elect to foreclose.

“The deficiency statute has led to greater losses for residential lenders in Arizona because they cannot obtain a judgment against the borrower who may have the ability to repay the deficiency,” Kevin Sellers, executive vice president of First Fidelity Bank. “Lenders’ inability to pursue the borrower for the deficiency creates an environment that results in a higher incidence of strategic defaults.”

The biggest problem for lenders may be that it doesn’t appear that they will get any relief from lawmakers. Dioguardi said properties initially covered by the anti-deficiency statutes had to be two and one-half acres or less and utilized either for a single one-family or a single two-family dwelling. This language was interpreted by the Arizona Supreme Court to require that the dwelling be built and at least occasionally occupied.

“However, a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals has extended the anti-deficiency protection to cover a residence that was not yet constructed and in which the borrowers had never resided,” Dioguardi said. “The Court found that even though the home was never utilized for a residence as required by the statute, because the borrowers intended to live in the single-family home upon its completion, they were subject to the protections of the anti-deficiency statute.”

The court decision, Dioguardi said, needs to be refined to protect both lenders and borrowers.

“Given that the Arizona Supreme Court declined the petition for review of the decision, the legislature should amend the statute to make it even clearer that the borrower must physically inhabit the property to claim the protection of the anti-deficiency statute,” she said. “The current risk to lenders created by the decision as it currently stands will likely drive up the cost of construction loans.”

Bank executives also believe that amending — not necessarily getting rid of — the state anti-deficiency statutes is what the banking industry needs to continue on the road to post-Recession economic recovery.

“A very reasonable solution proposed by the Arizona banking community is to simply require that a property protected from a deficiency judgment be the primary residence of you or a member of your family as already defined in Arizona’s property tax statues,” Maio said. “This will have the effect of limiting this protection for homeowners, which is what was intended. Those in our Arizona business community that oppose this type of change are motivated by their own special interests. Those whose real motivation is to profit on speculative investment or from the fees and commissions that come from buying and selling speculative homes for profit, you will oppose this type of change. But for the rest of us that want to protect Arizonans from future bubbles and encourage a long-term and sustainable economy, we should support this simple change, as it is in our best long-term interest.”

home.prices

Are Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes feeding the bubble?

Jack and Jill were living the American dream. They bought their dream house in 2006. Then, the economy spiraled downward. Jack lost his job. Housing values dropped, and the amount remaining on Jack and Jill’s mortgage exceeded the value of the property — commonly known as having a house that is “under water.”

Jack and Jill didn’t want to pay the mortgage any more, so they walked away, leaving the bank to clean up the mess from their financial misstep.

They were able to do that because of Arizona’s anti-deficiency statute, which says that if a person or corporation owns a residential property on 2.5 acres or less that is used as a dwelling, the owner is not responsible for any deficiency occurring after a foreclosure, according to Lynne B. Herndon, city president for BBVA Compass.

“The difference between the fair market value of the home — or the amount that the foreclosure sale brings — and the loan balance is known as a deficiency,” said Paul Hickman, president and CEO of the Arizona Bankers Association. “In Arizona, the bank suffers that loss, not the homeowner who walks away from the home.”

But it’s not only the homeowners — whom the statutes were intended to protect — who are catching the breaks.

“Unfortunately, the statute has been interpreted more broadly than originally intended such that properties used for investment are also covered,” Herndon said.
Arizona is one of only 12 states that has some form of anti-deficiency protection. Of the 12, Herndon said Arizona has the most liberal statute.

“This statute absolutely contributed to the housing bubble as investors both in this state and outside of the state knew they could buy residential real estate in Arizona and walk away if the investment became negative,” Herndon said. “Homeowners in this state have experienced larger declines in home value due to this statute allowing investors to speculate and walk away.”

The incidence of homeowners like Jack and Jill walking away from their home, avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative equity in their home, and legally sticking their lenders with a loss and became an all-too-common move during the Recession, experts said.

“In my view, the average borrower was not likely aware of the finer points of the anti-deficiency statutes when determining whether to purchase a home,” said Jennifer Hadley Dioguardi, a partner in Snell & Wilmer’s Phoenix office. “However, once the housing market crashed, the anti-deficiency statutes likely caused some homeowners who had the means to make their mortgage payments to decide to simply walk away from the residence given the fact that the lender had no recourse against them other than to foreclose upon the residence once the residence was under water. The borrower was not responsible for the deficiency. This likely contributed to some homeowners who could pay their mortgage simply walking away from the property and leaving the lender on the hook.”

Experts believe that homeowners and investors who seized the opportunity to take advantage of Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes to protect their own financial futures, might be stifling the state’s chance at an economic recovery and exacerbating the economic collapse.

“The broadness of the deficiency statute has had an overall negative impact not just on the banking industry, but more importantly, Arizona’s long-term economy,” said Keith Maio, president and chief executive officer of National Bank of Arizona. “Arizona’s statute is the most liberally interpreted of the 12 non-recourse/deficiency states, the majority of which limit the protection to primary residences or some other means that limit its contribution to speculation. In Arizona, it allows investors to finance their speculation in housing, risk-free. If their investment does not work out, they don’t have to pay back the difference between what they sold the home for and what they owe. This statute was intended to protect homeowners, but what it has really done is hurt traditional homeowners by opening them up to large swings in housing values. I believe the impact, while negatively effecting banks earnings, is greater on the homeowners in the community at large.”

Despite the impact on the overall economy, it’s still been the banks who take the initial and biggest hit because they are often precluded from recovering the balance of the loan deficiency from the foreclosed borrower. While short sales are not protected by the Arizona’s anti-deficiency statutes, lenders have often been willing to agree to short sales and reduce or otherwise waive deficiency claims, because lenders know they could not otherwise recover loan deficiencies, should the borrower elect to foreclose.

“The deficiency statute has led to greater losses for residential lenders in Arizona because they cannot obtain a judgment against the borrower who may have the ability to repay the deficiency,” Kevin Sellers, executive vice president of First Fidelity Bank. “Lenders’ inability to pursue the borrower for the deficiency creates an environment that results in a higher incidence of strategic defaults.”

The biggest problem for lenders may be that it doesn’t appear that they will get any relief from lawmakers. Dioguardi said properties initially covered by the anti-deficiency statutes had to be two and one-half acres or less and utilized either for a single one-family or a single two-family dwelling. This language was interpreted by the Arizona Supreme Court to require that the dwelling be built and at least occasionally occupied.

“However, a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals has extended the anti-deficiency protection to cover a residence that was not yet constructed and in which the borrowers had never resided,” Dioguardi said. “The Court found that even though the home was never utilized for a residence as required by the statute, because the borrowers intended to live in the single-family home upon its completion, they were subject to the protections of the anti-deficiency statute.”

The court decision, Dioguardi said, needs to be refined to protect both lenders and borrowers.

“Given that the Arizona Supreme Court declined the petition for review of the decision, the legislature should amend the statute to make it even clearer that the borrower must physically inhabit the property to claim the protection of the anti-deficiency statute,” she said. “The current risk to lenders created by the decision as it currently stands will likely drive up the cost of construction loans.”

Bank executives also believe that amending — not necessarily getting rid of — the state anti-deficiency statutes is what the banking industry needs to continue on the road to post-Recession economic recovery.

“A very reasonable solution proposed by the Arizona banking community is to simply require that a property protected from a deficiency judgment be the primary residence of you or a member of your family as already defined in Arizona’s property tax statues,” Maio said. “This will have the effect of limiting this protection for homeowners, which is what was intended. Those in our Arizona business community that oppose this type of change are motivated by their own special interests. Those whose real motivation is to profit on speculative investment or from the fees and commissions that come from buying and selling speculative homes for profit, you will oppose this type of change. But for the rest of us that want to protect Arizonans from future bubbles and encourage a long-term and sustainable economy, we should support this simple change, as it is in our best long-term interest.”

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First Fidelity Bank offers layaway tips for Arizona residents

With the economy on the upswing for the first holiday season in years, national and local retailers alike are promoting layaway plans to help Arizona families buy something special for their loved ones without breaking the bank.

“A layaway contract with a reputable retailer can be a great money-saving tool for the budget-conscious holiday shopper,” said Kevin Sellers, executive vice president with First Fidelity Bank in Arizona. “The important thing is to do your homework and make sure you’re being smart with your money. That way, the process of preparing for the gift-giving season can be fun and rewarding for everyone.”

Layaway refers to an agreement between a retailer and a customer where the customer makes payments on an installment plan until the product is paid for in full. The method’s historical roots are in the Great Depression, when credit was largely unavailable even for the most hardworking Americans.

Today, retailers are bringing layaway back in an effort to reach out to budget-conscious consumers, according to the Better Business Bureau. Sometimes, layaway is placed on credit and debit cards by people who want to stay out of debt over the holidays by keeping their monthly payments low, avoiding the sticker shock of seeing the entire price of an item show on a single monthly statement. Other times, it is used by buyers who do not have credit cards.

Identifying a safe and cost-effective layaway arrangement can be difficult. First Fidelity Bank is offering the following tips for shoppers considering layaway this holiday season:

Know the terms. Each retailer offering layaway has a different plan, and even then the terms can vary based on the type of the product being purchased. Before committing to layaway, know what payment amounts are, when they are due, the exact product you will receive upon completion of payment and other relevant details. Ensure that the terms are locked over the life of the contract.

Know who you’re doing business with. Although national retailers are promoting layaway in a big way this year, local and regional retailers sometimes offer the service, too. Make sure that the company with which you enter a layaway contract is reputable. The Bureau of Consumer Protection makes available the federal guidelines governing layaway contracts in their online business center, accessible at www.business.ftc.gov.

Keep records. Ask for a printed invoice of the entire payment schedule upon entering a layaway contract, and request a receipt each time you make a payment. This will avoid any confusion when the time comes to pick up your product.

Discuss the cancellation policy. Over the course of the weeks leading up to the holidays, sometimes it becomes clear that the “perfect” gift for your loved one won’t be so perfect after all. Make sure you know what happens if you back out of your contract. Reputable companies will usually offer a full rebate or store credit for the amount you have paid so far, but check for any unexpected fees.

Watch out for fees. Sometimes, companies will include fees in addition to the stated payment installments, often as storage fees for keeping the product on the shelf instead of making it available to buyers willing to pay for it on the spot. Know what these fees are and what the final total of your payment will be, and make sure that total is an economically sound alternative to buying the product through another avenue.