Samsung Investigation Reveals New Details About Note7 Battery Failures

Samsung says two different battery flaws were to blame for the fires that plagued its flagship Galaxy Note7 smartphone throughout the fall, leading to two separate recalls and, ultimately, the permanent withdrawal of the model from the market. The details are being released after an internal investigation, following weeks of speculation by reporters and analysts about what the company’s report would conclude.

Consumer Reports and several other outlets were briefed on the findings in separate meetings on Thursday. An article published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday and widely cited by other news organizations said the report found that a number of the fires occurred because “some of the batteries were irregularly sized.” That conflicts with details provided to Consumer Reports, and a Samsung representative said the information “did not come from Samsung.”

It has been known since early on that the phones’ lithium-ion batteries caused the explosions and fires, which began to occur around the globe shortly after the model was launched to consumers on Aug. 19, 2016. The Note7 fires became a staple of news in the fall, leaving in their wake damage including a destroyed Jeep, some injuries, and the evacuation of a Southwest Airlines flight.

According to Samsung, the new investigation shows that problems were isolated to the batteries, and were unrelated to other hardware components or the software that manages energy use in the device. However, some experts say that Samsung’s drive to make thinner phones with longer battery life may have contributed to the problem.

In addition to its own investigation, Samsung contracted with independent groups, including Underwriters Laboratories, to look into the causes of the fires.

The company used batteries from two suppliers in its Note7 phones—a company division called Samsung SDI and a separate company, Amperex Technology Ltd., that makes batteries for many smartphone brands. Samsung officials said the batteries from the two companies were designed and manufactured differently, and failed for separate reasons.

That distinction is important, because it helps explain the unusual sequence of events during the recalls in the fall. Samsung first said it was stopping sales of the phone on Sept. 2, and announced a formal recall on Sept. 15 in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But, with permission from the CPSC, Samsung began distributing replacement Note7 phones just a few days later.

Soon these, too, started catching fire and a second recall was announced on Oct. 13.

Now, Samsung is saying that its investigation shows there was no reason to believe the new phones would malfunction. “It was a very tough period, and we are sorry,” DJ Koh, Samsung’s global president of mobile communications, said during the briefing. “The most important thing for us is customer safety,” and, ultimately, “earning back customers’ trust.”

Samsung says that fires in its Galaxy Note7 phones were caused by battery defects that led to short circuits. Image: Samsung

How Defects Led to Short Circuits

Like other Li-ion phone batteries, the Note7 batteries were made of sheets of material that served as positive and negative electrodes, with a separator between them. The electrodes and separator were folded up into a “jelly roll,” and then inserted into a pouch or casing.

Chemical reactions in a battery’s electrodes allow an electrical charge to flow between them, generating a current that flows through a circuit and powers the device. Normally, the electrodes don’t touch; if they do, a “short circuit” is created, and that can spark a fire.

During the presentation, executives showed a CT scan of a Note7 from before the first recall, in which one corner of the battery’s pouch impinged on the jelly roll, deforming the negative electrode. In some consumers’ phones, the positive and negative electrodes touched, causing a short circuit.

Samsung officials said that the company found that flaw before Sept. 15, and could see that wasn’t present in batteries made by the second supplier. At the time, the company did not disclose those details to the public.

We “were very comfortable” switching all battery production to the second manufacturer, marketing senior VP Justin Denison said.

Fires in the second group of batteries were caused by a manufacturing defect, Denison said. A sharp edge, or burr, was created by inconsistent welds in one section of the battery, the “positive tab.” (See illustration, above.) In some cases the burr pierced insulating material and the separator between the two electrodes, causing a short circuit.

Thin Design a Contributing Factor

Samsung says its investigation involved 200,000 handsets, 30,000 standalone batteries, and 700 engineers working in a dedicated facility. Phones were tested with the back cases both on and off (see photo at the top of the article) and with various types of software running. They were evaluated during both rapid and standard charging. According to the company, batteries tested on their own failed at about the same rate as complete phones did.

This may show that no hardware beyond the batteries was at fault, but others in the battery industry say that smartphone design trends are making flaws more likely.

Qichao Hu is the CEO of SolidEnergy, a developer of high-energy-density batteries used in mobile devices, high-altitude drones, and clean-energy vehicles. He thinks Samsung’s battery problems were partly a result of the company’s attempt to maximize battery life while cramming components into ever-thinner phone cases. High-end phones typically use custom-designed batteries.

“Samsung is really pushing the boundaries, making the separators really thin,” Hu says. “Making the separator thinner makes the battery much easier to short because it’s already a porous membrane and that makes it easier for pin holes to form in the separator.”

According to Samsung, the Underwriters Laboratories investigation concluded that thin separators could have contributed to the risk of short circuits in both Note7 batteries. UL would not comment for this article.

If you want safer batteries, according to Hu, you’ll probably be looking at a bulkier phone with a removable battery. “They have a protective plastic case and may even have a gas relief valve to diffuse volatile conditions,” he says. “Non-removable batteries don’t have a case—just aluminum foil wrapping.”

The other option for phone makers, according to Hu, is to create a very thin phone with a shorter battery life.

Successful Recall

The saga of the Galaxy Note7 is ending with a singular accomplishment: one of the most successful recalls in history, as measured by the number of products that were recovered from consumers. As of mid-January, Samsung says 97 percent of all Galaxy Note7 smartphones have been returned in the United States, and 96 percent worldwide.

“A 97 percent recall rate is almost unheard of,” says Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the CPSC who is now a partner at Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, LLP. The historic figure is often less than 50 percent, she says, even when auto safety is concerned. “People have an amazing ability to avoid doing things in their best interest if it’s inconvenient.”

Like Consumer Reports and some other organizations, Gilbert was critical of Samsung in September for not involving the CPSC quickly enough. During the Consumer Reports briefing, executives said that the company notified the agency of problems on Sept. 2. (Officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined to comment for this story.) But in the end, Gilbert says, “I think [Samsung] took this very seriously and wanted to get these phones back.”

One reason for the success of the recall was the steady beat of publicity, both from news outlets and other sources. For instance the Federal Aviation Administration banned Note7 phones from flights, and until Jan. 10 the agency required airline personnel to make announcements telling passengers not to bring the phones on planes. Samsung dispatched customer service staff to the country’s 22 largest airports to help facilitate returns.

Tim Baxter, the president of Samsung America, said the biggest reason for the high success rate was that “the subject of the recall was actually the communication tool in reaching consumers.”

Once the recall was put in place, 23 million text messages were sent to Note7 owners telling them to return the phones, Baxter said. When people plugged the phones in to charge, a message appeared advising them of the recall, and through a series of firmware updates, the company and its cellular partners reduced the functionality of the phones, until they were finally rendered inoperable.

Samsung officials said that they have instituted a new, eight-point program of quality assurance measures to help prevent future problems. And they plan to share what they’ve learned with others in the battery and mobile-phone industries.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Trump Executive Order Directs Federal Agencies To Scale Back Obamacare; Could Remove Individual Mandate

One of President Trump’s first acts in the Oval Office on Friday was to sign an executive order directing federal agencies to scale back on enforcing and implementing the Affordable Care Act wherever they can, while the new administration and Congress work on dismantling the 2010 law.

The order — the full text of which is at the bottom of this post — provides no specifics in terms of which federal agencies should be reining in ACA implementation, or which particular aspects of the legislation are to be targeted.

Instead, it directs the agencies to “take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [ACA], and prepare to afford the States more flexibility and control to create a more free and open healthcare market.”

The President’s order asks the head of all relevant agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”

The one-page directive uses very broad language, and it’s important to note the repeated use of phrases like “To the maximum extent allowed by law,” as some costly aspects of the ACA are baked into the law and therefore can not simply be halted by the White House.

One facet of the existing law that appears to be the unnamed target of this order is the so-called “individual mandate” — the general requirement for many taxpayers to have some form of health insurance or pay a penalty.

This mandate was key to the structure of the Affordable Care Act, but it’s believed that this order could grant enough latitude for agencies to waive or pause enforcement of that requirement for many Americans.

Since neither Congress nor the White House have come forth with new proposals for replacing Obamacare, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently released its analysis of the possible effects of a previous GOP repeal legislation that made it all the way to the White House before being vetoed by President Obama in early 2016.

That law — introduced in 2015 by Rep. Tom Price (GA), who is Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health & Human Services — sought to remove the individual mandate and the requirement for larger employers to provide workers with a certain level of insurance.

According to the CBO estimates, some 18 million Americans would drop or lose their insurance within the first year of repealing those mandates. Additionally, the Price plan retained popular aspects of the ACA like its ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The CBO contends that this combination would result in higher premiums, since fewer people would be purchasing insurance and those that retained coverage would be more likely to need medical care.

Last week, Congress moved forward on its effort to dismantle the ACA piecemeal through a budget resolution. Full repeal of the law would likely not make it through Congress as it would need 60 votes in the Senate, but a budget resolution that includes targeted repeal initiatives can be passed by the Senate with a simple majority.

Relevant Senate and House committees had been given a deadline on Jan. 27 for releasing their first repeal proposals, but that date is flexible.

Here is the full text of the Trump executive order, as released on Jan. 20 by the White House Office of the Press Secretary:


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. It is the policy of my Administration to seek the prompt repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148), as amended (the “Act”). In the meantime, pending such repeal, it is imperative for the executive branch to ensure that the law is being efficiently implemented, take all actions consistent with law to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the Act, and prepare to afford the States more flexibility and control to create a more free and open healthcare market.

Sec. 2. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies (agencies) with authorities and responsibilities under the Act shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.

Sec. 3. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies with authorities and responsibilities under the Act, shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to provide greater flexibility to States and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs.

Sec. 4. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the head of each department or agency with responsibilities relating to healthcare or health insurance shall encourage the development of a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance, with the goal of achieving and preserving maximum options for patients and consumers.

Sec. 5. To the extent that carrying out the directives in this order would require revision of regulations issued through notice-and-comment rulemaking, the heads of agencies shall comply with the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable statutes in considering or promulgating such regulatory revisions.

Sec. 6.
(a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

January 20, 2017.

More reading on this executive order:
Wall Street Journal
NY Times
Washington Post

Source: Consumer Reviews

Jury Finds Dish Liable For Annoying Telemarketing Calls By Dealer

Poor Dish Network. After its dealers engaged in illegal telemarketing years ago, now everyone’s holding it responsible for those calls: first it was federal and state regulators, and now the jury in a class action lawsuit in North Carolina has concluded that the satellite provider’s sales force broke the law.

Out of more than a million calls placed by a Dish Network dealer that’s no longer in business, 51,000 of them were repeat calls to people on the National Do Not Call Registry. The ten-person jury had to decide how much each violation should be worth, from $0 to $500, and it settled on $400 per illegal call. That adds up to Dish owing the plaintiffs $20.5 million. If that seems like a lot, note that there are over 18,000 people registered in the class.

The lead plaintiff was a man from North Carolina, which is why the five-day trial was held in the Middle District of North Carolina, in the city of Greensboro. In a statement released by his attorneys, he emphasized what the case has really been about: protecting Americans from annoying telemarketers.

“This case has always been about enforcing the Do Not Call law and protecting people from nuisance telemarketing calls,” he said in the statement. “I am thrilled with the jury’s verdict, and thrilled we were able to win this enforcement action.”

We contacted Dish Network to find out what it had to say and whether it plans to appeal the verdict, and will update this post when we hear back. In a statement to the Durham Herald-Sun, a company spokesperson emphasized that the company totally follows telemarketing laws now.

“Dish has long taken its compliance with telemarketing laws seriously, has and will continue to maintain rigorous telemarketing compliance policies and procedures, and has topped multiple independent customer service surveys along the way,” the statement said.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Town Traces Foul Mystery Odor Plaguing Residents To Rotten Radishes

Something is rotten in the state of Pennsylvania, where a foul mystery smell has been plaguing residents of one town for weeks. The good news is, they’ve figured out what’s causing the rank odor, and it won’t last forever. The bad news is, right now it smells pretty nasty out there.

According to WNEP, folks around Jersey Shore, PA (which has nothing to do with the beach and is actually hours away from the actual New Jersey coastline) have complained for weeks about an odor that is “enough to gag you” and worse than a “dead deer.”

Several people contacted the sewage plant, in case the rotten eggs odor was linked to human waste. WNEP visited the Jersey Shore Sewer Authority, but the smell wasn’t coming from there.

“If someone could smell our plant five miles (away), then the odor here would be quite overbearing and that’s not the case,” said executive director Shawn Lorson.

Instead, the source is a field of radishes, planted by a company called T.A. Seeds as ground cover for the winter. By the time the ground thaws in the spring, the radishes have mostly decayed.

However, it’s been warmer than expected in recent weeks, so acres and acres of crops are decaying faster, a representative from T.A. Seeds explains.

“You know you are going to get more odor if you have this warm weather in January. You are going to smell it a lot quicker,” she says.

The good news for long-suffering residents? Once it gets colder, the smell should dissipate.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Apple Sues Qualcomm For $1B Over Alleged Antitrust Violations

Days after federal regulators sued smartphone and device chip maker Qualcomm accusing it of antitrust violations, one of the company’s largest customers, Apple, is following suit, seeking $1 billion in damages. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple filed the lawsuit Friday in a federal court in California, accusing Qualcomm of using its muscle to overcharge the tech company for use of its patents.

According to Apple, in order to use the patents, Qualcomm created terms that required Apple to pay a percentage of the average selling price of an iPhone to the company and required the smartphone manufacturer to exclusively use its chips for five years.

As part of the agreement, Apple was to receive quarterly rebates from Qualcomm.

However, Apple claims in the suit that Qualcomm withheld $1 billion worth of rebates as retaliation for Apple’s cooperation with South Korean antitrust regulators, who later fined Qualcomm $853 million.

To make matters worse, the WSJ reports that Apple claims Qualcomm attempted to force the tech giant into changing responses to the Korean regulators in order to receive the withheld funds.

Apple tells the WSJ that it is “extremely disappointed in the way Qualcomm is conducting its business with us and unfortunately after years of disagreement over what constitutes a fair and reasonable royalty we have no choice left but to turn to the courts.”

Apple’s lawsuit comes just three days after the Federal Trade Commission filed an antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm, claiming the company used its position as a supplier of certain baseband processors to impose anticompetitive supply and licensing terms on cell phone manufacturers, including Apple, as a way to weaken competitors.

Qualcomm holds patents that it has declared essential to industry standards that enable cellular connectivity. In exchange for having their patented technologies included in the standards, participants like Qualcomm typically commit to license their patents on what are known as “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory” (or FRAND) terms.

Companies can then negotiate a license and royalties allowing other companies to use the technology.

Regulators claim that Qualcomm threatened to disrupt cell phone manufacturers’ supply of baseband processors in order to entice them into providing the company with more royalties and beneficial license terms for the patents it holds.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Net Neutrality Basher Ajit Pai Reportedly Close To Being Named FCC Chairman

As we mentioned more than a month ago, conservative FCC firebrand Ajit Pai was among the most likely candidates to be appointed as Commission’s chairman following the exit of now-former Chair Tom Wheeler. Now comes a report claiming that Pai will soon be handed the reins of an agency whose recent policies he openly opposed.

Politico reports that Pai met with President Trump earlier this week at Trump’s office in New York City, and that the administration could name him as Chair as early as today. Because Pai is already a sitting FCC Commissioner, he would not need to go through the process again to be elevated to Chair.

What To Expect

When Wheeler became FCC Chair in 2013, no one knew quite what to expect from him, given that his previous experience had included heading up the lobbying arms of both the cable and wireless industries.

The same won’t be true for Pai, who has made no effort to conceal his anti-regulation, pro-business positions during his nearly five years as a Commissioner.

“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” he said at a recent Free State Foundation event about the future of the FCC.

Pai’s penchant for colorful metaphors was also on display when he voiced his opposition to the FCC’s efforts to overturn some state-level restrictions on government-owned broadband services.

“Unfortunately for the Commission, all the lipstick in the world can’t disguise this pig,” he said at the time.

But he saved some of his most vicious — and questionably truthful — remarks for his comments on Net Neutrality and the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a piece of vital communications infrastructure.

On the day in Feb. 2015 when the FCC voted to approve these rules, Pai spent a full 30 minutes railing against the regulation, repeatedly politicizing it by referring to Net Neutrality as “Obama’s plan to regulate the internet,” and claiming that new taxes and fees were coming, even though the rule does not allow for such charges.

The passing of the Net Neutrality rules only seemed to embolden Pai, who claimed — in spite of evidence to the contrary — that the new regulations had resulted in “market failure.”

“The FCC should only adopt a regulation if it determines that its benefits outweigh its costs,” Pai has said, though it’s unclear exactly what he means by “costs.”

Pai seemed to have a problem with virtually everything the FCC did under the Obama administration. A rule to help block robocalls?

“The primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not American consumers,” he argued in his vote against that rule, inexplicably using a creepy example of a guy who’s sued for texting a girl who doesn’t like him.

New privacy rules for broadband service? Pai complained that the FCC was unfairly going after internet service providers and not content companies (even though the FCC has the authority to regulate the former, and not the latter).

Most recently, he felt compelled to unleash on an FCC Wireless Bureau report that concluded — without any sort of penalty or enforcement action — that AT&T may be violating Net Neutrality guidelines with its program that doesn’t charge AT&T wireless customers for access to DirecTV Now streaming video data.

Pai referred to it as “midnight regulation” (even though no regulation took place) and, without explanation, a “regulatory spasm,” all the while acknowledging that it was pointless because a new administration was coming into the White House.

The potential new FCC Chair is not beloved by many consumer and privacy advocates.

“Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron told Politico. “He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine. He’s been an inveterate opponent of net neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, broadband privacy, media diversity and more.”

The Harvard- and University of Chicago-educated Pai has actually been with the FCC in some capacity for most of the last decade, starting in 2007 as an attorney. After a brief stint in the private sector, he was eventually nominated by President Obama to fill one of the five Commissioner spots.

Before joining the FCC, Pai worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department, and spent two years as Associate General Counsel for Verizon.

Source: Consumer Reviews

It’ll Now Cost You $5 More To Activate Or Upgrade A Phone On AT&T’s Network

If you don’t have a contract with AT&T prepare to pay $5 more than you would have in the past to upgrade your phone, or activate a new one on the carrier’s network.

Previously, non-contract customers paid $20 to upgrade or activate a phone. That fee will now be $25, AT&T says, whether you’re purchasing a device with an installment agreement or bringing your own device.

However, customers with a device purchased on an installment agreement prior to Aug. 1, 2015 do not have to pay to upgrade.

Anyone is on a two-year agreement will pay $45 to activate or upgrade, but that option is only available on select devices, AT&T says. That fee has remained the same since it was raised from $40 in July 2015.

“The change is effective today,” AT&T told Ars Technica.

This is the third time AT&T has raised this fee, which it didn’t start charging until July 2015, when non-contract customers paid $15 to upgrade or activate. That fee went up to $20 in April 2016, which brings us to today.

AT&T isn’t the only game in town with upgrade fees, as Ars points out: Verizon Wireless recently raised its fee from $20 to $30; Sprint charges a $39 activation and upgrade fee; and T-Mobile doesn’t charge an activation fee but does have a $20 fee for a SIM card starter kit and a $20 “assisted service” upgrade fee that can be avoided if customers don’t upgrade their device in a retail store or through customer care, but instead handle it themselves.

Source: Consumer Reviews

The $300 From My Southwest Gift Card Vanished & Got Lost In Costco Switch To Visa

The gift of flight turned into a nightmare for a California woman when the Southwest Airlines gift card she purchased for her daughter was mysteriously canceled without notice, and then the funds vanished into thin air.

NBC San Diego reports that in 2015, the woman purchased a $300 Southwest gift card as a present only to find six months later the card was inactive.

When the daughter tried to redeem the card for an upcoming trip, the transaction wouldn’t go through. The woman then called Southwest and was informed that the card and points had been canceled and the money refunded to her American Express card.

While the woman wasn’t thrilled that the gift card was canceled without notification, the real issue was that she no longer had the American Express card.

It had been a Costco-branded credit card that switched to Citibank Visa in June 2016. When she contacted the credit card companies to find out where her money was, she was told it should have automatically transferred to her new card.

Except it hadn’t. Visa told her that too much time had lapsed and they couldn’t do anything about the missing funds.

“I couldn’t believe why nobody could find this money and my children told me Mom don’t give up,” the woman said.

Out of options, the woman contacted NBC San Diego’s 7 Responds team, which looks into consumer issues.

The team contacted Southwest, Citibank, and American Express. While none of the companies were able to actually explain why the gift card was canceled or what happened to the funds, Citibank said that because the woman was a valued customer they would credit her account for the full $300.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Skittles Scattered Across Highway Were Destined For Cattle Feed: Mars Investigating

Mars Inc. has a number of very distinct businesses under its sizable umbrella, covering everything from its well-known candy brands to pet food to veterinary clinics. But that doesn’t explain why a load of Skittles spilled all over a Wisconsin highway were on their way to become cattle feed.

A sheriff’s deputy in Dodge County, WI, noticed “hundreds of thousands” of small red things on the road on a rainy night, and they turned out to have the distinctive smell of Skittles. The sheriff’s department posted photos on its Facebook account, since that’s what one does when the road is covered with Skittles.

Mars Inc. is still investigating this incident, but here’s what the public knows, thanks to the Associated Press. Discarded or defective candy sometimes ends up in animal feed: Skittles would be subbed in for corn, perhaps, or another starch. You might picture cattle munching on candy, but the reality is more complicated and processed than that.

Mars says that it does send defective candies to be melted back down into syrup that’s used in animal feed at their other Skittles plant in Texas, but the box on the highway in Wisconsin came from a factory in Yorkville, IL.

The mystery, according to a corporate environmental manager for Mars, is that the company doesn’t sell directly to farmers, and the factory in Yorkville doesn’t sell its defective products for animal feed at all. The candies were supposed to be destroyed, and instead ended up on a truck in Wisconsin.

The defect in the Skittles, by the way, was that they were missing the white “S” that is normally printed on them, which a Mars spokeswoman blamed on a power outage during production. They scattered on the highway because a wet cardboard box burst.

Source: Consumer Reviews

Trump Administration Suspends Mortgage Insurance Discount For New Homeowners

The new Trump administration has already made one of its first moves, directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend a recently announced program that would have reduced mortgage insurance rates for a number of new homeowners.

This reduction, which was announced [PDF] by the Federal Housing Administration on Jan. 9, would have reduced annual mortgage insurance premiums on most new FHA-backed mortgages by .25 percentage points. Mortgages worth more than $625,500 would have seen a larger reduction of .45 percentage points on their insurance premiums.

Shortly after President Trump was sworn in, HUD announced via Twitter that this program had been suspended indefinitely.

The planned changes to insurance rates were not set to go into effect until Jan. 27, and would have only applied to loans originated or disbursed after that date, so existing homeowners would not have been affected.

In the mortgagee letter [PDF] announcing the suspension, HUD explains:
FHA is committed to ensuring its mortgage insurance programs remains viable and effective in the long term for all parties involved, especially our taxpayers. As such, more analysis and research are deemed necessary to assess future adjustments while also considering potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy that could impact our efforts.

The intention of the rate reduction had been to hopefully spur home-buying among consumers who don’t have the full 20% down-payment that is generally needed to avoid mortgage insurance. The move had been criticized by conservative lawmakers who view the FHA insurance program as high-risk.

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Source: Consumer Reviews