On Wednesday, February 18, President Obama unveiled his administration’s latest attempt to stabilize prices in the housing market and help stop the rising tide of foreclosures. Will this plan be any better than the half-dozen that the Bush administration passed? With a $275 billion price tag, we should expect the foreclosure problem to be resolved, but this latest bailout act seems to be just another way to avoid helping homeowners.
As with the FHA Hope for Homeowners Act, Obama’s newest plan is simply out of the financial reach of many homeowners. The requirements are quite strict, which should have been no surprise when the president announced a longer list of people who would not be helped by the plan than who would receive assistance. But taking hundreds of billions of dollars away from homeowners, employers, and everyone else to avoid helping people will not promote economic recovery.
As the government spreads pain and misery around the economy, redistributing poverty from the banks to the rest of us, homeowners may not want to put too much hope in this latest plan. But for those interested in having another government-sponsored program to stop foreclosure, the following is a list some of the requirements to qualify for the plan.
To qualify for a foreclosure refinance loan from the government at a fixed rate of around 4-5% for 15-30 years fixed, all of the following requirements must be met:
- The loan must be a conforming loan under Fannie Mae and Freddie mac guidelines.
- The mortgage must be owned by either of the Government Sponsored Enterprises, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
- Alternatively, the loan may have been sold by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in a mortgage security.
- The homeowners are not currently behind on payments or have a history of on-time payments.
- The homeowners must continue to pay any second mortgage on the property even after the refinance.
- The first mortgage on the house must not be more than 5% of the fair market value of the property, or it must be written down to that amount. For example, if the house is worth $100,000, the first mortgage may not be more than $105,000.
Looking at this list of requirements, it will become apparent that many, many homeowners will not qualify for this program with current housing market declines. Borrowers with 80/20 loans whose home values have fallen under the amount due on the first mortgage will have to keep paying on the second mortgage, as well as either pay down the first or have the bank agree to reduce the balance due.
And this program is voluntary for banks who have not received federal bailout money from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). While most of the big banks have received funds, many smaller regional banks have not — and these banks may not be willing to write down the value of their loans by 10-20%. Writing down the value of bad mortgage securities is what has caused so many paper losses on bank balance sheets already; it is inconceivable that many struggling banks will want to admit to even more.
There is also a second part of the bailout plan that may allow homeowners to qualify for a government-guaranteed mortgage modification program. This involves the bank modifying the loan to be within 38% of the borrowers’ gross income and the government stepping in with money to help reduce the payment to 31%. The requirements for this part of the plan are the following:
- The mortgage must be conforming under Fannie and Freddie guidelines — jumbo loans are not permitted.
- This program must be done on a principal residence — investment homes, second homes, or vacation properties do not qualify.
- The homeowners must be in danger of default on the loan or have already defaulted. In danger of default can be a mortgage where the payment is more than 31% of the borrowers’ gross (before tax) income.
- The lender must be willing to modify the mortgage to reduce the homeowners’ monthly payment to 38% of their gross income or less.
While the new bailout program gives banks more incentives to negotiate with borrowers, it may not give enough to convince banks to change their normal business practices and dedicate more resources to helping homeowners. As mentioned above, participation is voluntary, except for banks that have received TARP money and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are under government conservatorship.
Does the plan go too far? Some critics point out that using taxpayer money to bail out failing banks or failing individual borrowers will only create more moral hazard in the future. Once debts are paid back or discharged and banks loosen up lending, there will be a strong incentive to reinflate a housing bubble, especially in the presence of low interest rate targets set by the government. A new bubble and collapse will send all of the same players back for more government bailouts.
Or does the plan not go far enough? Other critics point out that this is not nearly enough money that the government is taking away from taxpayers to bail out the housing market. Property values fall for everyone in areas hard hit by foreclosure, so it is in everyone’s best interest to do whatever it takes to prevent more foreclosures, or so the argument goes.
In either case, the full details of the plan will be released on March 4th, which gives all of us a week to contemplate how the government’s latest bailout plan will save the housing market. Unfortunately, previous plans have failed to assist many borrowers, and this plan seems to offer little in the way of really novel proposals. For most homeowners facing foreclosure, it will probably be best to keep looking at other options, in addition to considering receiving mortgage assistance from the federal government.
The ForeclosureFish website has been created to provide homeowners in danger of losing their properties with relevant and importantforeclosure help and advice. The site describes various methods that may be used to save a home, such as foreclosure loans, mortgage modification, filing bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or 13), and more. Visit the site to read more about how to save a home, what options may be applicable in your situation, and how to recover afterwards:http://www.foreclosurefish.com/
- How Do I Know If My Mortgage Loan Is Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac? (thinkup.waldenu.edu)
- You: Who wins if foreclosures halted? (menafn.com)
- Bankers Bristle at ‘Robin Hood’ Theories (businessweek.com)
- Fed up Fannie and Freddie eye new workout firms (reuters.com)
- Hey, Here’s an Idea: Work with the actual homeowner! (zillow.com)
- Qualified? Home lenders saying not so fast (msnbc.msn.com)
- The Fannie-Freddie-Bankster Conspiracy (lewrockwell.com)
- Federal Auditor Says Obama’s Anti-Foreclosure Effort Risks ‘Generating Public Anger And Mistrust’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Fannie, Freddie want servicers to assume risk -source (reuters.com)
- Differences Between Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae & Rules (brighthub.com)