Called the Home Ownership Stability Initiative the heart of Obama’s plan really is the loan modification. As we have all heard, some homeowners are facing payments jumping thousands of dollars a month as adjustable loans readjust. Many homeowners are paying 50% or 60% or more of their income in mortgage payments while the value of their proerties is tumbling.
This plan aims to modify loans for those who qualify at 31% of income. Notice, that just like refinances, modifications require income. That’s the first qualification: income sufficient to pay the modified mortgage.
Until now, banks have been reluctant to offer loan modifications to homeowners who, whatever struggles they were having, remained current on their mortgages. Most banks refused outright to help such borrowers. This plan changes that and makes loan mods available to those who are current in their home loans as well as those who are behind in their payments.
This is important because it allows those who have not missed a payment to maintain their credit. As we all know, often a few dings on the credit and a missed mortgage payment is a major ding, have a cascade effect. Credit card companies find out and jump up rates on credit card debt. It becomes much harder to get any credit at a decent rate, etc.
Let’s say, for instance, that the borrower is paying 43% of his income for his mortgage. He applies for a loan mod and the lender brings the payment down to 38% of his income. Then, the government [Freddie and Fannie] and the lender bring the loan down by equal contributions [3.5% and 3.5%] to 31% of the borrower’s income. That mod stays in place for 5 years. At the end of that time, the rate would be gradually increased to the rate at the time of the loan mod.
Also, and this is important, the government would reinburse the lenders who agree to bring down the principal. Bringing down the principal: all underwater borrowers’ dream and their lenders’ nightmare. Until now, it’s been the rare lender who would touch that principal.
Now, lenders have incentives. If they modify a current loan,servicers receive $500 and lenders [investors] $1500. Borrowers have incentives, too. Every year a borrower stays current in the new mod, he receives $1,000 for up to 5 years. This is clear incentive to help those “good” borrowers who have made tremendous efforts to pay their mortgages during this current crisis and by dint of great sacrifice maintain their credit. Obama’s plan clearly tries to help these people while at least partially answering the persistent critique that responsible homeowners received no help while the irresponsible were being bailed out. Obama’s plan specifically says speculators or flippers cannot particpate.
This, of course, brings up another issue: small investors who own rental properties, especially single family homes or condos, are suffering, too, but seem to be eliminated from this program. Apparently, that is the case except for rental property that was originally a principal residence. So, if you are renting out the condo or 2-bedroom house you bought as your first home before you bought your current residence, then you may be able to participate.
Final details of this plan are supposed to be released this week. The Treasury Department says it will issue clear guidelines for all lenders to follow in doing loan modifications. That would be a relief. At the moment, it’s a free-for-all out there. Some lenders are very cooperative; others refuse to do anything. There’s no doubt we need to do something even if it means helping those who have not, shall we say, been the most prudent in their financial choices. If we don’t the fallout is just too terrible to contemplate.