INSIDE CHASE and the Perfect Foreclosure, by Mandelman Matters Blog


JPMorgan CHASE is in the foreclosure business, not the modification business’.”  That, according to Jerad Bausch, who until quite recently was an employee of CHASE’s mortgage servicing division working in the foreclosure department in Rancho Bernardo, California.

I was recently introduced to Jerad and he agreed to an interview.  (Christmas came early this year.)  His answers to my questions provided me with a window into how servicers think and operate.  And some of the things he said confirmed my fears about mortgage servicers… their interests and ours are anything but aligned.

Today, Jerad Bausch is 25 years old, but with a wife and two young children, he communicates like someone ten years older.  He had been selling cars for about three and a half years and was just 22 years old when he applied for a job at JPMorgan CHASE.  He ended up working in the mega-bank’s mortgage servicing area… the foreclosure department, to be precise.  He had absolutely no prior experience with mortgages or in real estate, but then… why would that be important?

“The car business is great in terms of bring home a good size paycheck, but to make the money you have to work all the time, 60-70 hours a week.  When our second child arrived, that schedule just wasn’t going to work.  I thought CHASE would be kind of a cushy office job that would offer some stability,” Jerad explained.

That didn’t exactly turn out to be the case.  Eighteen months after CHASE hired Jared, with numerous investors having filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of the housing meltdown, he was laid off.  The “investors” in this case are the entities that own the loans that Chase services.  When an investor files bankruptcy the loan files go to CHASE’S bankruptcy department, presumably to be liquidated by the trustee in order to satisfy the claims of creditors.

The interview process included a “panel” of CHASE executives asking Jared a variety of questions primarily in two areas.  They asked if he was the type of person that could handle working with people that were emotional and in foreclosure, and if his computer skills were up to snuff.  They asked him nothing about real estate or mortgages, or car sales for that matter.

The training program at CHASE turned out to be almost exclusively about the critical importance of documenting the files that he would be pushing through the foreclosure process and ultimately to the REO department, where they would be put back on the market and hopefully sold.  Documenting the files with everything that transpired was the single most important aspect of Jared’s job at CHASE, in fact, it was what his bonus was based on, along with the pace at which the foreclosures he processed were completed.

“A perfect foreclosure was supposed to take 120 days,” Jared explains, “and the closer you came to that benchmark, the better your numbers looked and higher your bonus would be.”

CHASE started Jared at an annual salary of $30,000, but he very quickly became a “Tier One” employee, so he earned a monthly bonus of $1,000 because he documented everything accurately and because he always processed foreclosures at as close to a “perfect” pace as possible.

“Bonuses were based on accurate and complete documentation, and on how quickly you were able to foreclosure on someone,” Jerad says.  “They rate you as Tier One, Two or Three… and if you’re Tier One, which is the top tier, then you’d get a thousand dollars a month bonus.  So, from $30,000 you went to $42,000.  Of course, if your documentation was off, or you took too long to foreclose, you wouldn’t get the bonus.”

Day-to-day, Jerad’s job was primarily to contact paralegals at the law firms used by CHASE to file foreclosures, publish sale dates, and myriad other tasks required to effectuate a foreclosure in a given state.

“It was our responsibility to stay on top of and when necessary push the lawyers to make sure things done in a timely fashion, so that foreclosures would move along in compliance with Fannie’s guidelines,” Jerad explained.  “And we documented what went on with each file so that if the investor came in to audit the files, everything would be accurate in terms of what had transpired and in what time frame.  It was all about being able to show that foreclosures were being processed as efficiently as possible.”

When a homeowner applies for a loan modification, Jerad would receive an email from the modification team telling him to put a file on hold awaiting decision on modification.  This wouldn’t count against his bonus, because Fannie Mae guidelines allow for modifications to be considered, but investors would see what was done as related to the modification, so everything had to be thoroughly documented.

“Seemed like more than 95% of the time, the instruction came back ‘proceed with foreclosure,’ according to Jerad.  “Files would be on hold pending modification, but still accruing fees and interest.  Any time a servicer does anything to a file, they’re charging people for it,” Jerad says.

I was fascinated to learn that investors do actually visit servicers and audit files to make sure things are being handled properly and homes are being foreclosed on efficiently, or modified, should that be in their best interest.  As Jerad explained, “Investors know that Polling & Servicing Agreements (“PSAs”) don’t protect them, they protect servicers, so they want to come in and audit files themselves.”

“Foreclosures are a no lose proposition for a servicer,” Jerad told me during the interview.  “The servicer gets paid more to service a delinquent loan, but they also get to tack on a whole bunch of extra fees and charges.  If the borrower reinstates the loan, which is rare, then the borrower pays those extra fees.  If the borrower loses the house, then the investor pays them.  Either way, the servicer gets their money.”

Jerad went on to say: “Our attitude at CHASE was to process everything as quickly as possible, so we can foreclose and take the house to sale.  That’s how we made our money.”

“Servicers want to show investors that they did their due diligence on a loan modification, but that in the end they just couldn’t find a way to modify.  They’re whole focus is to foreclose, not to modify.  They put the borrower through every hoop and obstacle they can, so that when something fails to get done on time, or whatever, they can deny it and proceed with the foreclosure.  Like, ‘Hey we tried, but the borrower didn’t get this one document in on time.’  That sure is what it seemed like to me, anyway.”

According to Jerad, JPMorgan CHASE in Rancho Bernardo, services foreclosures in all 50 states.  During the 18 months that he worked there, his foreclosure department of 15 people would receive 30-40 borrower files a day just from California, so each person would get two to three foreclosure a day to process just from California alone.  He also said that in Rancho Bernardo, there were no more than 5-7 people in the loan modification department, but in loss mitigation there were 30 people who processed forbearances, short sales, and other alternatives to foreclosure.  The REO department was made up of fewer than five people.

Jerad often took a smoke break with some of the guys handing loan modifications.  “They were always complaining that their supervisors weren’t approving modifications,” Jerad said.  “There was always something else they wanted that prevented the modification from being approved.  They got their bonus based on modifying loans, along with accurate documentation just like us, but it seemed like the supervisors got penalized for modifying loans, because they were all about finding a way to turn them down.”

“There’s no question about it,” Jerad said in closing, “CHASE is in the foreclosure business, not the modification business.”

Well, now… that certainly was satisfying for me.   Was it good for you too? I mean, since, as a taxpayer who bailed out CHASE and so many others, to know that they couldn’t care less about what it says in the HAMP guidelines, or what the President of the United States has said, or about our nation’s economy, or our communities… … or… well, about anything but “the perfect foreclosure,” I feel like I’ve been royally screwed, so it seemed like the appropriate question to ask.

Now I understand why servicers want foreclosures.  It’s the extra fees they can charge either the borrower or the investor related to foreclosure… it’s sort of license to steal, isn’t it?  I mean, no one questions those fees and charges, so I’m sure they’re not designed to be low margin fees and charges.  They’re certainly not subject to the forces of competition.  I wonder if they’re even regulated in any way… in fact, I’d bet they’re not.

And I also now understand why so many times it seems like they’re trying to come up with a reason to NOT modify, as opposed to modify and therefore stop a foreclosure. In fact, many of the modifications I’ve heard from homeowners about have requirements that sound like they’re straight off of “The Amazing Race” reality television show.

“You have exactly 11 hours to sign this form, have it notarized, and then deliver three copies of the document by hand to this address in one of three major U.S. cities.  The catch is you can’t drive or take a cab to get there… you must arrive by elephant.  When you arrive a small Asian man wearing one red shoe will give you your next clue.  You have exactly $265 to complete this leg of THE AMAZING CHASE!”

And, now we know why.  They’re not trying to figure out how to modify, they’re looking for a reason to foreclose and sell the house.

But, although I’m just learning how all this works, Treasury Secretary Geithner had to have known in advance what would go on inside a mortgage servicer.  And so must FDIC Chair Sheila Bair have known.  And so must a whole lot of others in Washington D.C. too, right?  After all, Jerad is a bright young man, to be sure, but if he came to understand how things worked inside a servicver in just 18 months, then I have to believe that many thousands of others know these things as well.

So, why do so many of our elected representatives continue to stand around looking surprised and even dumbfounded at HAMP not working as it was supposed to… as the president said it would?

Oh, wait a minute… that’s right… they don’t actually do that, do they?  In fact, our elected representatives don’t look surprised at all, come to think of it.  They’re not surprised because they knew about the problems.  It’s not often “in the news,” because it’s not “news” to them.

I think I’ve uncovered something, but really they already know, and they’re just having a little laugh at our collective expense… is that about right?  Is this funny to someone in Washington, or anyone anywhere for that matter?

Well, at least we found out before the elections in November.  There’s still time to send more than a few incumbents home for at least the next couple of years.

I’m not kidding about that.  Someone needs to be punished for this.  We need to send a message.

Chris Dudley’s Tax Cut: Capitol Gains


People are upset that Chris Dudley wants to cut the Capitol gains tax by 73%.   In this down economy who is going to be paying any capitol gains in Oregon over the next 4 or more years?  We might as well get rid of Capitol gains for businesses that pay living wage jobs and hire Oregonians and increase taxes on businesses that hire people from out of state.  The tax cut should only count if the job goes to someone that lives in Oregon.  We could also tier a deferment for the tax over the next 10 years to ensure businesses are motivated to grow through this down cycle and advance employment.   Just saying….LOL

http://www.chrisdudley.com/issues/plan-to-create-private-sector-jobs.html

Home Prices Drop in 36 States; Beazer Warns on Orders; 8 Million Foreclosure-Bound Homes to Hit the Market; Prices to Stagnate for a Decade, by Mike Shedlock,


The small upward correction in home prices from multiple tax credit offerings died in July. Worse yet, inventory of homes for sale as well as shadow inventory both soared. 8 million foreclosure-bound homes have yet to hit the market according to Morgan Stanley.

Home Prices Drop in 36 States

CoreLogic reports Growing Number of Declining Markets Underscore Weakness in the Housing Market without Tax-Credit Support

CoreLogic Home Price Index Remained Flat in July

SANTA ANA, Calif., September 15, 2010 – CoreLogic (NYSE: CLGX), a leading provider of information, analytics and business services, today released its Home Price Index (HPI) that showed that home prices in the U.S. remained flat in July as transaction volumes continue to decline. This was the first time in five months that no year-over-year gains were reported. According to the CoreLogic HPI, national home prices, including distressed sales showed no change in July 2010 compared to July 2009. June 2010 HPI showed a 2.4 percent* year-over-year gain compared to June 2009.

“Although home prices were flat nationally, the majority of states experienced price declines and price declines are spreading across more geographies relative to a few months ago. Home prices fell in 36 states in July, nearly twice the number in May and the highest since last November when national home prices were declining,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic.

Methodology

The CoreLogic HPI incorporates more than 30 years worth of repeat sales transactions, representing more than 55 million observations sourced from CoreLogic industry-leading property information and its securities and servicing databases. The CoreLogic HPI provides a multi-tier market evaluation based on price, time between sales, property type, loan type (conforming vs. nonconforming), and distressed sales. The CoreLogic HPI is a repeat-sales index that tracks increases and decreases in sales prices for the same homes over time, which provides a more accurate “constant-quality” view of pricing trends than basing analysis on all home sales. The CoreLogic HPI provides the most comprehensive set of monthly home price indices and median sales prices available covering 6,208 ZIP codes (58 percent of total U.S. population), 572 Core Based Statistical Areas (85 percent of total U.S. population) and 1,027 counties (82 percent of total U.S. population) located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

 

 

See the above article for additional charts

Beazer Homes Warns on Orders

The Wall Street Journal reports Beazer Homes Warns of Order Miss

Beazer Homes USA Inc. said Wednesday it might miss order expectations for its fiscal-fourth quarter, as it also cut estimates for the year’s land and development spending, reflecting the sector’s weakness following the expiration of home-buyer tax credits.

Last month, Beazer reported that its fiscal third-quarter loss was little changed because of a prior-year gain, while it reported a 73% surge in closings as buyers raced to qualify for the tax credit. Orders fell 33%.

Inventory Soars

Bloomberg reports U.S. Home Prices Face Three-Year Drop as Supply Gains

The slide in U.S. home prices may have another three years to go as sellers add as many as 12 million more properties to the market.

Shadow inventory — the supply of homes in default or foreclosure that may be offered for sale — is preventing prices from bottoming after a 28 percent plunge from 2006, according to analysts from Moody’s Analytics Inc., Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Plc. Those properties are in addition to houses that are vacant or that may soon be put on the market by owners.

“Whether it’s the sidelined, shadow or current inventory, the issue is there’s more supply than demand,” said Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. “Once you reach a bottom, it will take three or four years for prices to begin to rise 1 or 2 percent a year.”

Sales of new and existing homes fell to the lowest levels on record in July as a federal tax credit for buyers expired and U.S.

Rising supply threatens to undermine government efforts to boost the housing market as homebuyers wait for better deals. Further price declines are necessary for a sustainable rebound as a stimulus-driven recovery falters, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm

There were 4 million homes listed with brokers for sale as of July. It would take a record 12.5 months for those properties to be sold at that month’s sales pace, according to the Chicago-based Realtors group [National Association of Realtors].

“The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market,” said Shapiro, who predicts prices may fall another 10 percent to 15 percent. “Right now, buyers know it hasn’t hit bottom, so they’re sitting on the sidelines.”

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

Douglas Duncan, chief economist for Washington-based Fannie Mae, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview last week that 7 million U.S. homes are vacant or in the foreclosure process. Morgan Stanley’s Chang said the number of bank-owned and foreclosure-bound homes that have yet to hit the market is closer to 8 million.

Defaulted mortgages as of July took an average 469 days to reach foreclosure, up from 319 days in January 2009. That’s an indication lenders — with the help of the government loan modification programs — are delaying resolutions and preventing the market from flooding with distressed properties, said Herb Blecher, senior vice president for analytics at LPS.“The efforts to date have been worthwhile,” Blecher said in a telephone interview from Denver. “They both helped borrowers stay in their homes and kept that supply of distressed properties on the market somewhat limited.”

I disagree with Herb Blecher. I see little advantage stretching this mess out for a decade, and that is what the government seems hell-bent on doing. Everyone wants the government to “do something”. Unfortunately tax credits stimulated the production of new homes, ultimately adding to inventory. Prices need to fall to levels where there is genuine demand.

The short-term rise in the Case-Shiller home price index and the CoreLogic HPI was a mirage that will soon vanish in the reality of an inventory of 8 million homes that must eventually hit the market.

Lost Decade

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

After reaching bottom, prices will gain at the historic annual pace of 3 percent, requiring more than 10 years to return to their peak, he said.

Home Price Pressures

Last Bubble Not Reblown

After the bottom is found, remember the axiom: the last bubble is not reblown for decades. Look at the Nasdaq, still off more than 50% from a decade ago.

The odds home prices return to their peak in 10 years is close to zero. Houses in bubble areas may never return to peak levels in existing owner’s lifetimes. Zandi is way overoptimistic in his assessment of 3% annual appreciation after the bottom is found.

Price Stagnation 

I expect small nominal increases after housing bottoms, but negative appreciation in real terms as inflation picks up in the second half of the decade. Yes, deflation will eventually end. Alternatively the US goes in and out of deflation for a decade (depending on how much the Fed and Congress acts to prevent a much needed bottom). Either way, look for price stagnation in one form or another.

Thus, if you have come to the conclusion there is no good reason to hold on to a deeply underwater home, nor any reason to rush into a home purchase at this time, you have reached the right conclusions.

Hyperinflation? Please be serious.

When Will Housing Bottom?

Flashback October 25, 2007: When Will Housing Bottom?

On the basis of mortgage rate resets and a consumer led recession I mentioned a possible bottom in the 2011-2012 timeframe. See Housing – The Worst Is Yet To Come for more details.

Let’s take a look at housing from another perspective: new home sales historic averages and housing from 1963 to present.

New Home Sales 1963 – Present

New home sales reached a cyclical high in 2004-2005 approximately 50-60% higher than previous peaks.This happened in spite of a slowdown in population growth and household formation as compared to the 1960-1980 timeframe.

From 1997-1998 and 2001-2002 to the recent peak, the average sales level was 1.1 million units, or 45-50% higher than the 40 year average. This translates to an average of 300,000-400,000 excess homes for nearly a decade, and arguably as many as 3-4 million excess homes.

Such excess inventory may require as many as 5-7 years at recessionary average sales to absorb this inventory.

Cycle Excesses Greatest In History

The excesses of the current cycle have never been greater in history. The odds are strong that we have seen secular as opposed to cyclical peaks in housing starts and new single family home construction. With that in mind it is highly unlikely we merely return to the trend. If history repeats, and there is every reason it will, we are going to undercut those long term trendlines.

There will be additional pressures a few years down the road when empty nesters and retired boomers start looking to downsize. Who will be buying those McMansions? Immigration also comes into play. If immigration policies and protectionism get excessively restrictive, that can also lengthen the decline.

Finally, note that the current boom has lasted well over twice as long as any other. If the bust lasts twice as long as any other, 2012 just might be a rather optimist target for a bottom.

When I wrote that in 2007, most thought I was off my rocker. Now, based on inventory, I may have been far too optimistic.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com See the above article for additional charts

Beazer Homes Warns on Orders

The Wall Street Journal reports Beazer Homes Warns of Order Miss

Beazer Homes USA Inc. said Wednesday it might miss order expectations for its fiscal-fourth quarter, as it also cut estimates for the year’s land and development spending, reflecting the sector’s weakness following the expiration of home-buyer tax credits.

Last month, Beazer reported that its fiscal third-quarter loss was little changed because of a prior-year gain, while it reported a 73% surge in closings as buyers raced to qualify for the tax credit. Orders fell 33%.

Inventory Soars

Bloomberg reports U.S. Home Prices Face Three-Year Drop as Supply Gains

The slide in U.S. home prices may have another three years to go as sellers add as many as 12 million more properties to the market.

Shadow inventory — the supply of homes in default or foreclosure that may be offered for sale — is preventing prices from bottoming after a 28 percent plunge from 2006, according to analysts from Moody’s Analytics Inc., Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Plc. Those properties are in addition to houses that are vacant or that may soon be put on the market by owners.

“Whether it’s the sidelined, shadow or current inventory, the issue is there’s more supply than demand,” said Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. “Once you reach a bottom, it will take three or four years for prices to begin to rise 1 or 2 percent a year.”

Sales of new and existing homes fell to the lowest levels on record in July as a federal tax credit for buyers expired and U.S.

Rising supply threatens to undermine government efforts to boost the housing market as homebuyers wait for better deals. Further price declines are necessary for a sustainable rebound as a stimulus-driven recovery falters, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm

There were 4 million homes listed with brokers for sale as of July. It would take a record 12.5 months for those properties to be sold at that month’s sales pace, according to the Chicago-based Realtors group [National Association of Realtors].

“The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market,” said Shapiro, who predicts prices may fall another 10 percent to 15 percent. “Right now, buyers know it hasn’t hit bottom, so they’re sitting on the sidelines.”

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

Douglas Duncan, chief economist for Washington-based Fannie Mae, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview last week that 7 million U.S. homes are vacant or in the foreclosure process. Morgan Stanley’s Chang said the number of bank-owned and foreclosure-bound homes that have yet to hit the market is closer to 8 million.

Defaulted mortgages as of July took an average 469 days to reach foreclosure, up from 319 days in January 2009. That’s an indication lenders — with the help of the government loan modification programs — are delaying resolutions and preventing the market from flooding with distressed properties, said Herb Blecher, senior vice president for analytics at LPS.

“The efforts to date have been worthwhile,” Blecher said in a telephone interview from Denver. “They both helped borrowers stay in their homes and kept that supply of distressed properties on the market somewhat limited.”

I disagree with Herb Blecher. I see little advantage stretching this mess out for a decade, and that is what the government seems hell-bent on doing. Everyone wants the government to “do something”. Unfortunately tax credits stimulated the production of new homes, ultimately adding to inventory. Prices need to fall to levels where there is genuine demand.

The short-term rise in the Case-Shiller home price index and the CoreLogic HPI was a mirage that will soon vanish in the reality of an inventory of 8 million homes that must eventually hit the market.

Lost Decade

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

After reaching bottom, prices will gain at the historic annual pace of 3 percent, requiring more than 10 years to return to their peak, he said.

 Home Price Pressures

Last Bubble Not Reblown

After the bottom is found, remember the axiom: the last bubble is not reblown for decades. Look at the Nasdaq, still off more than 50% from a decade ago.

The odds home prices return to their peak in 10 years is close to zero. Houses in bubble areas may never return to peak levels in existing owner’s lifetimes. Zandi is way overoptimistic in his assessment of 3% annual appreciation after the bottom is found.

Price Stagnation 

I expect small nominal increases after housing bottoms, but negative appreciation in real terms as inflation picks up in the second half of the decade. Yes, deflation will eventually end. Alternatively the US goes in and out of deflation for a decade (depending on how much the Fed and Congress acts to prevent a much needed bottom). Either way, look for price stagnation in one form or another.

Thus, if you have come to the conclusion there is no good reason to hold on to a deeply underwater home, nor any reason to rush into a home purchase at this time, you have reached the right conclusions.

Hyperinflation? Please be serious.

When Will Housing Bottom?

Flashback October 25, 2007: When Will Housing Bottom?

On the basis of mortgage rate resets and a consumer led recession I mentioned a possible bottom in the 2011-2012 timeframe. See Housing – The Worst Is Yet To Come for more details.

Let’s take a look at housing from another perspective: new home sales historic averages and housing from 1963 to present.

New Home Sales 1963 – Present

New home sales reached a cyclical high in 2004-2005 approximately 50-60% higher than previous peaks.This happened in spite of a slowdown in population growth and household formation as compared to the 1960-1980 timeframe.

From 1997-1998 and 2001-2002 to the recent peak, the average sales level was 1.1 million units, or 45-50% higher than the 40 year average. This translates to an average of 300,000-400,000 excess homes for nearly a decade, and arguably as many as 3-4 million excess homes.

Such excess inventory may require as many as 5-7 years at recessionary average sales to absorb this inventory.

Cycle Excesses Greatest In History

The excesses of the current cycle have never been greater in history. The odds are strong that we have seen secular as opposed to cyclical peaks in housing starts and new single family home construction. With that in mind it is highly unlikely we merely return to the trend. If history repeats, and there is every reason it will, we are going to undercut those long term trendlines.

There will be additional pressures a few years down the road when empty nesters and retired boomers start looking to downsize. Who will be buying those McMansions? Immigration also comes into play. If immigration policies and protectionism get excessively restrictive, that can also lengthen the decline.

Finally, note that the current boom has lasted well over twice as long as any other. If the bust lasts twice as long as any other, 2012 just might be a rather optimist target for a bottom.

When I wrote that in 2007, most thought I was off my rocker. Now, based on inventory, I may have been far too optimistic.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Risks of walking away from mortgage debt, by Michele Lerner, Bankrate.com


Some homeowners underwater on their home loan — meaning they owe more on the mortgage than the home’s current value — are turning to “strategic defaults” in which they simply walk away from mortgage debt.

But financial experts warn the cost of skipping out on mortgage debt can be high.

The American Bankers Association recently warned homeowners about the consequences of strategic default, including the possibility of the bank obtaining a judgment to pursue the homeowner’s assets, such as bank accounts, cars and investments.

Wrecked credit

A foreclosure — regardless of whether it is because of a strategic default or other circumstances — also has a negative impact on a consumer’s credit score.

“A foreclosure is one of the stronger predictors of future credit risk,” says Craig Watts, public affairs director of FICO.

Foreclosures remain on a credit report for seven years, with the impact gradually lessening over time.

“For someone who has a foreclosure on (his or) her credit report, (his or) her FICO score can generally begin to recover after a couple of years, assuming the consumer stays current with (his or) her payments on all (his or) her other credit accounts,” Watts says.

Watts says the impact of a foreclosure on a credit score depends on other factors in the borrower’s credit history. The ABA says a foreclosure drops a FICO score by 100 to 400 points.

Difficulty getting new mortgage

In addition, a voluntary foreclosure can impact a homeowner’s ability to qualify for a new mortgage for years to come.

Peter Fredman, a Berkeley, Calif., consumer attorney, says Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not approve a mortgage within four years after foreclosure, while the ABA says it can take three to seven years to qualify for a new mortgage.

In addition, mortgage giant Fannie Mae recently announced a tough new sanction on people who deliberately default on their mortgages. Such borrowers will be ineligible for a new Fannie-backed mortgage for seven years after the date of foreclosure.

Other consequences

Tax liability is another potential danger of defaulting. Although the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (extended through 2012) offers widespread protection from federal taxes following a foreclosure, state taxes still may be due on unpaid debt.

A lender can also pursue the remaining debt from an unpaid loan by obtaining a deficiency judgment against the delinquent borrower, or may work with a collection agency to recoup losses.

And of course, ethical questions surround strategic defaults. A survey by Trulia.com and RealtyTrac found that 59 percent of homeowners would not consider defaulting no matter how much their mortgage was underwater, although another 41 percent of homeowners said they would consider a default.

Less risky in some states

Despite the potential negative consequences of a strategic default, the move is less risky in some states than others.

“The first question for anyone considering a strategic default is whether the homeowners will be liable for the debt anyway,” says Fredman. “Each state has different rules.”

Non-recourse laws protect homeowners in some states. When a borrower defaults in one of these states, the lender can take the home through a foreclosure but has no right to any other borrower assets. (Home equity loans are not eligible for this protection unless they were used as part of the home purchase.)

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 11 states are “non-recourse” states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

“In California, we have some of the best anti-deficiency rules around, so banks can foreclose on the home but cannot get any other judgment to claim additional assets,” Fredman says.

In some areas, lenders are so overwhelmed with defaulting customers that homeowners can live in their homes for free for months or even a year or more before the foreclosure is complete.

The average length of time from default to eviction is 400 days in California, Fredman says.

Price of freedom

The potential consequences of strategic default cannot deter some homeowners from taking the plunge, says Frank Pallotta, executive vice president and managing director of the Loan Value Group in Rumson, N.J.

“While everyone understands the credit score impact of a strategic default, most borrowers don’t seem to care,” Pallotta says. “They think a 200-point hit on their credit score cannot offset the benefit of living for as long as 18 months rent- and mortgage-free. They see strategic default as a form of financial freedom, especially if they live in a non-recourse state and know someone who has done this.”

Fredman — who developed the “Should I Pay or Should I Go” Web calculator to help consumers evaluate the wisdom of a strategic default — says homeowners considering a strategic default should research state regulations about loan defaults and tax laws. Even non-recourse states have various laws that can impact defaulting borrowers, he says.

“I also think everyone should consult an attorney and probably an accountant, too, because the relative cost of these professionals is not nearly as high as the potential cost of making a mistake,” he says

The U.S. Needs a New and Improved New Deal, by MARK THOMA, The Fiscal Times


 

This recession has been particularly unkind to labor markets, and indications are that a full recovery of employment is still years away. But even after the recession finally ends, worrisome structural trends that were present before the recession began will continue to cause considerable uncertainty for working class households.

The rapid pace of structural change in recent years due to technological innovation and globalization has increased the risk of worker displacement in a wide variety of industries.  Additional factors such as the decline in employer support for health care, the decline in employer-provided pensions, threats to Social Security, stagnant wages, and highly flexible labor markets compound the uncertainty.

 

The social contract of bygone days has faded
in the face of globalization and other pressures.

There was a time when employers provided employment, health and retirement security in return for employee loyalty, but the social contract of bygone days has faded in the face of globalization and other pressures.

President Obama, Congress and most Americans are very focused on the problems arising from the current recession, and that’s understandable. But the structural issues that are generating so much additional uncertainty for working-class households should not be ignored. 

A New New Deal
What the country needs is a “new and improved new deal” that reduces the risks associated with structural change, and does a better job of preventing and easing cyclical downturns. The original New Deal,  shaped by the experience of the Great Depression, was designed to overcome problems associated with large cyclical fluctuations in the economy. The “three Rs”  that served as its guiding principles – relief, recovery and reform – reflected this emphasis. We also see the focus on cyclical problems in the development of monetary and fiscal policy tools as countercyclical stabilization devices, and in the automatic stabilizers that have been built into the economy.

Both monetary and fiscal policy have helped to ease the cyclical downturn we are experiencing, but as our present experience makes all too clear, we can do better. Part of a new and improved new deal should focus on doing more to prevent problems before they occur and limiting the damage when cyclical downturns do occur despite our efforts. There’s little doubt that inadequate regulation by monetary authorities before the most recent financial crisis allowed problems to occur, and fiscal policy in particular could have been used more effectively to offset the downturn.

But the core of a new and improved new deal should be to ease the uncertainties associated with structural change. On average, technology and globalization make us all better off, but the distribution of the costs and benefits from this type of change does not guarantee that every individual will be a net beneficiary.

If you are one of the people who loses a job or has skills made obsolete because oftechnology or globalization, the change does not work in your favor. We often rely upon the idea that the winners could fully compensate the losers and still have something left over, and then use this to justify support for these kinds of policies. But it’s rare for this compensation to actually take place. Hence, it’s understandable why some groups are not so supportive of unbridled structural change.

“Flexicurity”
Maintaining flexibility is the key to responding to shocks that hit the economy – the faster we can adjust efficiently the better – but this flexibility is also a big source of uncertainty for labor markets. So how do we balance the desire for flexibility with the desire for security? That is, how do we achieve “flexicurity?” 

Taking steps to reduce the costs of changing jobs is a start. More government help matching workers and jobs along the lines that have been so successful in Denmark would be beneficial, as would enhanced portability for health insurance, tax credits for workers willing to relocate, effective job retraining programs, wage insurance, and unemployment compensation linked to industry or region-specific conditions. Anything that reduces the cost of changing jobs without unduly inhibiting the desire to look for employment would help.

More generally, the insecurity that working class households face could be reduced by enhancing Social Security to compensate for the loss of employer-based retirement programs, by making health care truly universal, by improving support for childcare – expanding preschool has multiple benefits – and through other social programs recognizing that workers have responsibilities that go beyond the workplace. Implementation of international labor and environmental standards wouldn’t hurt either. The fact that multinational corporations have rendered traditional national borders obsolete makes country-by-country approaches to many problems, including this one, difficult, if not impossible. Coordinated responses across countries are needed, but those types of policies are unlikely in the immediate future.

The various shades of populist revolt we are seeing are due, at least in part, to worries about the future. Working class households want and need more security. If we want to maintain a flexible and dynamic economy that can make the transitions necessary to remain competitive in a world economy, but still be compassionate toward those who end up paying the costs of that flexibility, we need to enhance our social protections so that the adjustment costs are more equitably distributed.

As members of Congress reconvene, I would like to see them address our present problems through another round of stimulus directed specifically at job creation. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope that Congress will do much along these lines. But it’s still possible for Congress to do something important for workers by beginning work on reducing the uncertainty associated with structural change. Concerns about how to pay for new initiatives will make progress difficult, but workers will benefit greatly if Congress and the administration somehow manage to ease the uncertainties that arise from our need to remain competitive in an ever-changing global environment.