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Return of 20% Home Down Payments Looms

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Hopeful homebuyers may soon need to shell out more money upfront before being approved for a mortgage.

The public comment period concludes Monday for potential mortgage-related provisions spawned by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Among the potential outcomes is that homebuyers could be required to front a higher down payment -- as much as 20% -- before they can legally qualify for a mortgage loan.

Government regulators are cracking back into mortgage reforms that could create hurdles for buyers: a return to 20% down payments for homes.

The proposed changes are being reviewed by federal regulators, among them the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the SEC, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development. There is no set timeline for when final decisions will be made.

Many in the real estate sector have joined forces to fight such a change aimed at so-called Qualified Residential Mortgage loans, arguing that a 10% or 20% down payment mandate would deliver yet another damaging blow to the floundering housing market.

In past decades, a 20% or more down payment was standard. The lower the down payment, according to conventional wisdom and ongoing research, the greater the risk of default.

As housing prices soared and mortgage lenders dove head-first into what would be the subprime crisis, that common practice fell by the wayside. You may pay more in interest, closing costs or PMI, but just 5% down is enough for many banks and lenders. FHA loans, insured by the government, typically require only a 3.5% down payment.

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