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Modification Plan Expanded

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The Bush Administration announced that mortgage lenders have agreed to expand a fast track modification plan from just subprime borrowers who are current on their loans to Alt-A, prime and subprime borrowers who are 90 days past due.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Department of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson announced the expanded plan, dubbed Project Lifeline, at a news conference today.

Unlike the plan announced in December, which provided a framework for servicers to use in modifying loans to subprime borrowers who kept their payments current prior to interest rate resets but could not afford payments following the resets, Project Lifeline will help borrowers in any type of loan who are already facing foreclosure.

Paulson noted the program is not intended to assist borrowers who want to walk away from their loans because of negative equity.

photo of Henry Paulson
Henry Paulson

photo of Floyd Robinson
Floyd Robinson

For borrowers delinquent at least 90 days, the new plan will pause the foreclosure process for up to 30 days while a modification is completed, Bank of America Corp. Consumer Real Estate President Floyd Robinson said at the conference.

“This program is intended for all loans, whether they are subprime, Alt-A or prime, and includes second liens and home equity loans,” stated Robinson, who was speaking on behalf of Countrywide Financial Corp., Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo & Co. — which reportedly represent half of the mortgage market.

Robinson wouldn’t estimate how many borrowers might be benefited by the plan. Robinson said modifications, and potential forgiving of debt, would be determined in each individual case based on local markets.

Jackson noted that since the FHASecure program was announced in September, over 228,000 loan applications have been received by 1,400 lenders. He said more than 5,000 of those borrowers were facing foreclosure on subprime loans.

The HOPE NOW Alliance currently includes 25 subprime servicers representing over 90 percent of the subprime servicer market, Faith Schwartz, executive director of the alliance said at the conference. The organization’s hotline has been fielding 4,000 calls daily helping prevent foreclosures for 870,000 borrowers, including more than 500,000 subprime borrowers. Modifications doubled from the third quarter to the fourth quarter — a trend she expects to continue.

Schwartz noted around 775,000 letters have been mailed to at-risk borrowers during the past three months. During the first month of the program, the group reached 16 percent of borrowers — people who servicers had had no luck previously contacting.

In a question and answer session with the media, Paulson noted that the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a Depression Era program recently proposed by Sen. Christopher Dodd to buy delinquent mortgages, is unnecessary today because unemployment is just 4.9 percent now compared to 25 percent the, defaults are currently 3 percent compared to 50 percent during the Depression, and many more institutions are in place to deal with the problems.

photo of Faith Schwartz
Faith Schwartz

“In terms of subprime and the resets, the worst isn’t over and the worst is just beginning,” Paulson added. “We’ve had housing prices go up for a long period of time and a rate that was unsustainable.

“There needs to be a correction.”

The plan was immediately praised by the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Home Builders.


Investors, Servicers & Regulators Launch Foreclosure Plan
A plan to streamline loan modifications for subprime adjustable-rate borrowers was unveiled today. The framework, designed by investors of mortgage securities, was endorsed by a number of groups and regulators but had mixed support from ratings agencies.

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