January 22, 2010

The Mortgage Loan Modification Scam

Are the Housing Bailouts for Banks or Borrowers?

April 26, 2010

The money that the government spends on a failed [mortgage loan] modification goes to banks, not homeowners. Typically, the government will have substituted an FHA insured mortgage for the original mortgage issued by a bank. This means that when a redefault takes place, the bank will have received most of the principle back on the loan, with the government incurring the loss on the redefault. The net result of this policy is that far more money is likely to be given to banks through the HAMP than to homeowners. - Dean Baker, Money for Failed Modifications Goes to Banks, Not Homeowners, CEPR

What Dean Baker is pointing out is that the HAMP program looks suspiciously like a way for the banks to shed their bad loans and pile them up at the FHA. And since we know that the vast majority of FHA-eligible modifications are redefaulters, the FHA is going to need some serious capital injections via the US taxpayer.

Baker’s statements about the mod programs being for the banks and not for the borrowers jives with what I have been saying about practically all the government housing bailout plans.

Here’s what I said about principal reduction mods:

It is clear that the principal reduction is more about the banks than the homeowners. In reality this is a another backdoor bailout for the banks camouflaged as support for homeowners. It is a way of recapitalizing banks by having the government pony up for the dodgy assets still on their balance sheets which they have not yet written down.
This principal reduction plan is a very direct transfer of income from you the taxpayer to the bank. -It’s unanimous: Propping up underwater mortgages is a bad idea, March 2010

Let’s not forget that non-recourse loans are made into recourse loans under these programs too. So, you don’t need TARP to bail the banks out. And banks aren’t just getting free money via the steep yield curve and zero rates.

Have a nice day.

U.S. Loan Effort is Seen as Adding to Housing Woes

By Peter S. Goodman, New York Times
January 1, 2010

The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.

As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

“The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis,” said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. “We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway.”
Mr. Katari contends that banks have been using temporary loan modifications under the Obama plan as justification to avoid an honest accounting of the mortgage losses still on their books. Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues.
“Then the carpenters can go back to work,” Mr. Katari said. “The roofers can go back to work, and we start building housing again. If this drips out over the next few years, that whole sector of the economy isn’t going to recover.”
The Treasury Department publicly maintains that its program is on track.
“The program is meeting its intended goal of providing immediate relief to homeowners across the country,” a department spokeswoman, Meg Reilly, wrote in an e-mail message.
But behind the scenes, Treasury officials appear to have concluded that growing numbers of delinquent borrowers simply lack enough income to afford their homes and must be eased out.

In late November, with scant public disclosure, the Treasury Department started the Foreclosure Alternatives Program, through which it will encourage arrangements that result in distressed borrowers surrendering their homes. The program will pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow homeowners to sell properties for less than they owe on their mortgages — short sales, in real estate parlance. The government will also pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow delinquent borrowers to hand over their deeds in lieu of foreclosing.

Ms. Reilly, the Treasury spokeswoman, said the foreclosure alternatives program did not represent a new policy.
“We have said from the start that modifications will not be the solution for all homeowners and will not solve the housing crisis alone,” Ms. Reilly said by e-mail. “This has always been a multi-pronged effort.”
Whatever the merits of its plans, the administration has clearly failed to reverse the foreclosure crisis.

In 2008, more than 1.7 million homes were “lost” through foreclosures, short sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosure, according to Moody’s Economy.com. Last year, more than two million homes were lost, and Economy.com expects that this year’s number will swell to 2.4 million.
“I don’t think there’s any way for Treasury to tweak their plan, or to cajole, pressure or entice servicers to do more to address the crisis,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “For some folks, it is doing more harm than good, because ultimately, at the end of the day, they are going back into the foreclosure morass.”
Mr. Zandi argues that the administration needs a new initiative that attacks a primary source of foreclosures: the roughly 15 million American homeowners who are underwater, meaning they owe the bank more than their home is worth.

Increasingly, such borrowers are inclined to walk away and accept foreclosure, rather than continuing to make payments on properties in which they own no equity. A paper by researchers at the Amherst Securities Group suggests that being underwater “is a far more important predictor of defaults than unemployment.”

From its inception, the Obama plan has drawn criticism for failing to compel banks to write down the size of outstanding mortgage balances, which would restore equity for underwater borrowers, giving them greater incentive to make payments. A vast majority of modifications merely decrease monthly payments by lowering the interest rate.

Mr. Zandi proposes that the Treasury Department push banks to write down some loan balances by reimbursing the companies for their losses. He pointedly rejects the notion that government ought to get out of the way and let foreclosures work their way through the market, saying that course risks a surge of foreclosures and declining house prices that could pull the economy back into recession.
“We want to overwhelm this problem,” he said. “If we do go back into recession, it will be very difficult to get out.”
Under the current program, the government provides cash incentives to mortgage companies that lower monthly payments for borrowers facing hardships. The Treasury Department set a goal of three to four million permanent loan modifications by 2012.
“That’s overly optimistic at this stage,” said Richard H. Neiman, the superintendent of banks for New York State and an appointee to the Congressional Oversight Panel, a body created to keep tabs on taxpayer bailout funds. “There’s a great deal of frustration and disappointment.”
As of mid-December, some 759,000 homeowners had received loan modifications on a trial basis typically lasting three to five months. But only about 31,000 had received permanent modifications — a step that requires borrowers to make timely trial payments and submit paperwork verifying their financial situation.

The government has pressured mortgage companies to move faster. Still, it argues that trial modifications are themselves a considerable help.
“Almost three-quarters of a million Americans now are benefiting from modification programs that reduce their monthly payments dramatically, on average $550 a month,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said last month at a hearing before the Congressional Oversight Panel. “That is a meaningful amount of support.”
But mortgage experts and lawyers who represent borrowers facing foreclosure argue that recipients of trial loan modifications often wind up worse off.

In Lakeland, Fla., Jaimie S. Smith, 29, called her mortgage company, then Washington Mutual, in October 2008, when she realized she would get a smaller bonus from her employer, a furniture company, threatening her ability to continue the $1,250 monthly mortgage payments on her three-bedroom house.

In April, Chase, which had taken over Washington Mutual, lowered her payment to $1,033.62 in a trial that was supposed to last three months.

Ms. Smith made all three payments on time and submitted required documents, Chase confirms. She called the bank almost weekly to inquire about a permanent loan modification. Each time, she says, Chase told her to continue making trial payments and await word on a permanent modification.

Then, in October, a startling legal notice arrived in the mail: Chase had foreclosed on her house and sold it at auction for $100. (The purchaser? Chase.)
“I cried,” she said. “I was hysterical. I bawled my eyes out.”
Later that week came another letter from Chase: “Congratulations on qualifying for a Making Home Affordable loan modification!”

When Ms. Smith frantically called the bank to try to overturn the sale, she was told that the house was no longer hers. Chase would not tell her how long she could remain there, she says. She feared the sheriff would show up at her door with eviction papers, or that she would return home to find her belongings piled on the curb. So Ms. Smith anxiously set about looking for a new place to live.

She had been planning to continue an online graduate school program in supply chain management, and she had about $4,000 in borrowed funds to pay tuition. She scrapped her studies and used the money to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment.

Later, she hired a lawyer, who is seeking compensation from Chase. A judge later vacated the sale. Chase is still offering to make her loan modification permanent, but Ms. Smith has already moved out and is conflicted about what to do.
“I could have just walked away,” said Ms. Smith. “If they had said, ‘We can’t work with you,’ I’d have said: ‘What are my options? Short sale?’ None of this would have happened. God knows, I never would have wanted to go through this. I’d still be in grad school. I would not have paid all that money to them. I could have saved that money.”
A Chase spokeswoman, Christine Holevas, confirmed that the bank mistakenly foreclosed on Ms. Smith’s house and sold it at the same time it was extending the loan modification offer.
“There was a systems glitch,” Ms. Holevas said. “We are sorry that an error happened. We’re trying very hard to do what we can to keep folks in their homes. We are dealing with many, many individuals.”
Many borrowers complain they were told by mortgage companies their credit would not be damaged by accepting a loan modification, only to discover otherwise.

In a telephone conference with reporters, Jack Schakett, Bank of America’s credit loss mitigation executive, confirmed that even borrowers who were current before agreeing to loan modifications and who then made timely payments were reported to credit rating agencies as making only partial payments.

The biggest source of concern remains the growing numbers of underwater borrowers — now about one-third of all American homeowners with mortgages, according to Economy.com. The Obama administration clearly grasped the threat as it created its program, yet opted not to focus on writing down loan balances.
“This is a conscious choice we made, not to start with principal reduction,” Mr. Geithner told the Congressional Oversight Panel. “We thought it would be dramatically more expensive for the American taxpayer, harder to justify, create much greater risk of unfairness.”
Mr. Geithner’s explanation did not satisfy the panel’s chairwoman, Elizabeth Warren.
“Are we creating a program in which we’re talking about potentially spending $75 billion to try to modify people into mortgages that will reduce the number of foreclosures in the short term, but just kick the can down the road?” she asked, raising the prospect “that we’ll be looking at an economy with elevated mortgage foreclosures not just for a year or two, but for many years. How do you deal with that problem, Mr. Secretary?”
A good question, Mr. Geithner conceded.
“What to do about it,” he said. “That’s a hard thing.”

Banks Cutting Principal on Some Mortgages: Report

July 2, 2011

Bank of America Corp and JPMorgan Chase & Co have started modifying tens of thousands of mortgages where the banks deem the loans especially risky, even if the borrowers have not asked, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

In some cases, the paper said, the banks are slashing the amount borrowers owe, citing one case in Florida where a woman's principal balance was cut in half.

The paper said the banks are targeting holders of pay option adjustable-rate mortgages, a type of loan where borrowers have the option of skipping some principal and interest payments and having the amount added back onto the loan.

Such "option ARM" loans were seen as especially high risk in the wake of the financial crisis; the two banks collectively still have tens of billions of dollars of such loans in their portfolios.

One law professor quoted by the Times said the banks were behaving in contradictory ways, modifying some loans that should not be and not modifying some loans that should be.

Spokespeople for the two banks were not immediately available to comment.

Nine Months Later, Obama Plan to Help 1.5 Million Struggling Homeowners Yet to Launch
Is Bank of America's loan modification program really helping homeowners?
Record 3 million homeowners plagued by foreclosure
Three reasons home prices are heading lower
Forget the Mortgage, I'm Paying My Credit Card Bill
Amid high unemployment and sliding home prices, a growing number of struggling consumers are doing what was once considered unthinkable: paying their credit card bills instead of their mortgages.
Strategic Defaults and the Foreclosure Crisis
Foreclosure filings were reported on more than 2.8 million properties in 2009, up 21 percent from the previous year and 120 percent from 2007, according to RealtyTrac.
Home Prices Stabilize Further, But More Drops May Be in Store
Home prices in 20 major cities declined 5.3 percent in November 2009 from a year earlier, a significant improvement over the 13.3 annual drop posted in July, according to the most recent S&P/Case-Shiller home price report. The figures, released Tuesday, represent the third month in a row of single-digit declines following 20 consecutive months of double-digit drops. But a number of factors—including the effects of a federal tax credit, still-elevated home inventories, and the prospect of higher mortgage rates—threaten to drag home prices lower from here.
Homeowners Facing Foreclosure Can Stay in Homes for 6 Months If They Turn Over the Deed to Citi
10 foreclosures for every home saved
The Obama administration's mortgage-modification program is not keeping pace with the deluge of foreclosures hitting the market, a government watchdog found. Only 168,708 homeowners have received long-term mortgage modifications under the president's plan, as of February, a small fraction of the 6 million borrowers who are more than 60 days behind on their loans. The president's foreclosure-prevention plan will likely assist only 1 million troubled borrowers, short of the administration's original goal of up to 4 million homeowners. The program is funded with $50 billion in Troubled Assets Relief, or TARP, funds, putting it under the panel's purview.

Updated 4/19/10 (Newest Additions at End of List)

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