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Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac: What They Are And What They Do

5-Minute Read
Published on October 31, 2023

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government-backed privately held mortgage companies originally created by the U.S. Congress. Both provide liquidity, stability, and affordability to the mortgage market, making them crucial to the country’s housing system. You’ve probably heard both companies mentioned from time to time, but do you know what they do?

To better understand both companies and how they support the mortgage market, here's how they operate and impact the home buying process.

Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac, Explained

First, let’s look at what these companies are, why they were created and what they accomplish.

What Is Fannie Mae?

Congress established Fannie Mae in 1938 through the Federal Home Loan Bank Act. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to help Americans realize the dream of homeownership. Initially, the company was a government agency that purchased Federal Housing Administration mortgages and put them in its books.

Congress turned Fannie Mae into a private company in 1968 to stop funding it as a government agency since Congress needed extra money to fund the Vietnam war. The government allowed Fannie Mae to sell stocks to shareholders as an initial public offering (IPO), instead of using taxpayer dollars fund the newly private company.

While shareholders could own a portion of the company, it was also a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), and the government backed its loans.

What Is Freddie Mac?

Congress established Freddie Mac in 1970. Similar to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac was a GSE that purchased mortgages to free up bank funds to lend more mortgages to borrowers. Freddie Mac could purchase any mortgage, therefore focusing on 30-year fixed mortgages, unlike Fannie Mae.

Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have nicknames derived from their full names: Fannie Mae from Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Freddie Mac from Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FMCC).

Fannie Mae’s And Freddie Mac’s Role In Mortgage Markets

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase mortgages from financial institutions that lend mortgages and then repackage those mortgages into their portfolios or mortgage-backed securities to sell to investors on the secondary mortgage market. By using mortgage-backed securities and guaranteeing on-time principal payments and interest on the mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entice investors to invest in the secondary mortgage market. The attractiveness of the secondary market results in the expansion of housing funds available.

How Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Are Different

One of the other key differences between the companies is the original purpose of each. Fannie Mae was created in 1938 to combat the lack of affordable housing after the Great Depression by allowing banks to create more mortgages. While Fannie Mae bought mortgages from lenders, it was more likely to keep the mortgages on their books.

For the first few decades of its establishment, Fannie Mae remained a government-owned entity and monopolized the secondary mortgage market. When Fannie Mae was privatized, Freddie Mac was created in 1970 to compete.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have different programs for borrowers who can only provide minimal down payments. Fannie Mae offers the HomePath loan, which only allows applicants to qualify as first-time home buyers who earn less than 80% of their area’s median income. At the same time, Freddie Mac offers Home Possible for applicants who live in their home and make less than the area’s average income.

Freddie Mac And Fannie Mae In Times Of Crisis

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have played a significant role in causing and responding to recent crises. Not only did they support the housing bubble of 2005 – 2007, but they assisted with the bailout.

Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued or guaranteed about 40% of the entire mortgage market by 2007. Of the mortgages issued, $300 billion were subprime. These loans were at higher risk but brought forth a higher return. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac needed high returns to uphold higher stock prices in an extremely competitive market landscape.

By the summer of 2007, borrowers began defaulting on the loans. Unless Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were guaranteeing the loans, banks were not lending. Essentially, the risk was being put on the two companies, resulting in a massive loss for them – $8.7 billion. This also resulted in stock prices plummeting and investor confidence dwindling.

To bolster the mortgage market, Congress approved Fannie Mae and Freddie back to guarantee more subprime loans in early 2008. As the mortgage crisis continued, the government eventually had to step in and rescue both companies. The U.S. Department of Treasury bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on September 7, 2008. Congress authorized the purchase of $100 billion in their mortgage-backed securities and preferred stock held in conservatorship by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

How Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac Encourage Low-Income Homeownership

The GSEs continue to offer mortgage programs to assist borrowers who earn a low-to-moderate income. Fannie Mae offers the HomePath mortgage, and Freddie Mac offers the Home Possible mortgage to these borrowers.

Both GSEs offer additional assistance to first-time home buyers and maintain a list of homes at and that they own, through foreclosure or deeds in lieu of foreclosure, and offer for sale at a discount. Additionally, for eligibility, private mortgage insurance (PMI) is a requirement.



Home Possible

Low Down Payment



Income Requirements

You must earn up to 80% of your area’s median income

There are no income limits in low-income census tracts, otherwise limited to 100% Area Median Income (AMI).

First-Time Home Buyers

Must be a first-time home buyer to qualify

Do not have to be a first-time home buyer to qualify

The Bottom Line

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are two government-sponsored enterprises that help provide stability to the U.S. housing market. As a home buyer, you should be aware of the role each of these companies play in the mortgage process, especially when considering the specific loan requirements that you’ll need to fulfill.

If you’re ready to begin shopping for home loans, start the approval process today.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.