Friday, March 13, 2009

Will the Making Home Affordable Program help Burbank home owners?

The Obama administration has given us some new details on its $275 billion plan to help stem the tide of foreclosures nationwide. It’s offering many incentives to investors, lenders etc. to entice them into modifying distressed mortgages to keep Americans in their homes. The steep fall in home prices is the main reason we’ve had a global financial meltdown, so the administration’s housing plan is vital to ending the deepening economic recession.

The plan is called the “Making Home Affordable Program”, which the administration thinks can help up to 9 million homeowners.

There are two primary goals of this plan:

· First, it offers $200 billion to provide refinancing for some homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth-also referred to as being “underwater” on their mortgages. To qualify, these homeowners-5 million of them by administration estimates-must have their mortgages in the hands of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants that the government seized last September.

Many of these homeowners would like to take advantage of today’s historically low interest rates and refinance but can’t, since the law prohibits refinancing if the current mortgages reflects less than 80% of the homes’ values. These homeowners now can seek to refinance if their mortgages are up to 5% higher than the present-day values of their homes.

This plan will help, but it won’t reach lots of homeowners in places like California and Florida where homes are now worth substantially less than their mortgages.

Because most mortgages are bundled into securities and sold into a secondary market, it’s not easy for homeowners to find out whether Fannie or Freddie owns their loans or whether they’ve been pooled with other loans and sold by an investment bank to other investors.

· The other part of Obama’s plan attacks the problem of affordability. The administration provides another $75 billion in incentives to help prevent foreclosures in cases in which the homeowners, up to 4 million of them, are about to lose their homes. The money comes from the $700 billion bailout fund approved last October.

This part of the plan is extremely complex as it offers many financial incentives to mortgage servicers, who are essentially bill collectors for private investors who own pools of U.S. mortgages. Some incentives stay with the servicers while others flow through to investors.

In exchange for the incentives, a servicer would modify a mortgage so that no more than 38% of a homeowner’s monthly after-tax income was taken by the monthly mortgage payment. The government then would step in and share the cost of reworking that mortgage so that no more than 31% of the borrower’s monthly income was tied up in the payment.

· Any lender that takes new taxpayer bailout money under the administration’s Financial Stability Plan will be required to participate.

· The Obama plan got a strong endorsement Wednesday from the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents many of the largest mortgage lenders. This first step will go far in adopting consistent guidelines for everyone. But, officials confirmed that there’s no standard procedure for lenders under the Fannie and Freddie portion of the plan. It will be up to each lender to determine whether the refinances go through them or whether mortgage brokers and other intermediaries can help homeowners seek refinanced loans under the program.

· Officials were also careful to note that mortgage servicers won’t be able to modify mortgages if the terms of their contracts with the investors who own the pools of mortgages don’t allow it. There is no reliable data on how many of these investors are on the other ends of contracts that prohibit mortgage modifications. That question is important, since many of the weakest loans underwritten during the height of the housing boom, from 2004 to 2006, were sold by now-defunct investment banks to investors abroad, many in Europe.

So who qualifies?

· Your mortgage must predate the start of 2009, you must live in the home and you’ll have to provide proof of income.

· First, are you already behind on payments or even in the foreclosure process? If the answer is no, then ask yourself whether your current mortgage rate is high enough to make it worth your while to refinance to take advantage of today’s low rates for 15-year and 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.

· You must find out who owns your loan. Most mortgages are bundled together and sold into a secondary market, where investors technically own them. If Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac placed your loan into the secondary market, you can contact the company that sends your monthly mortgage statement to discuss the new program. If your mortgage is in the portion of the secondary market where the private sector issued the mortgage-backed securities, you don’t qualify.

· To qualify under the refinance portion of the Obama plan, you can owe up to 5% more than your home is now worth. Thus, many homeowners in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, where home prices have plunged, won’t qualify.

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