Refinance odds still chancy, even for high earners

The news: More than 175,000 Cook County residents took advantage of record-low interest rates that hovered around 4.375 percent, by refinancing their home loans in 2009.

Behind the news: In Cook County, the odds of getting these new terms were stacked against African-American applicants who were less likely to see their applications approved than even the lowest-earning white borrowers.

Just more than half–”or 56 percent–”of black borrowers making more than $100,000 got the green light on their refinance applications in 2009. Meanwhile, 66 percent of white borrowers earning less than $40,000 a year saw their applications approved, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of newly released federal mortgage data.

Along racial lines, black borrowers trailed every other group of high earners in getting their refinance approved. Their chances of getting new home loans lagged behind white and Latino borrowers as well. Even white borrowers earning less than $40,000 a year were more likely to get a new home loan than black people whose income was at least $100,000 last year.

Sliding home values in majority black communities may account for some of the disparity, said Geoff Smith, senior vice president of the Woodstock Institute. “On a refinance, you have to appraise out at a certain amount. … [And if a property] doesn’t, then it could affect the outcome.” A recent Woodstock report also showed that there were disproportionately lower credit scores in predominantly black communities. This may also help explain the gap, Smith said.

Smith added that it is difficult for black homeowners to build wealth while locked into higher interest rates.

“If you can lower your rate by one point and a half, you’re talking about saving $100, $200, $300 a month,” Smith said.

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