Oct 08, 2008

Will the HOPE for Homeowners Act Save Your Home?

Effective October 1, 2008, the federal HOPE for Homeowners Act was created to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Homeowners who qualify may be able to refinance their currently unaffordable variable rate mortgages into affordable 30-year fixed rate mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), provided their lenders agree to accept the terms of this new program.

For the program to work, lenders must be willing to accept buyouts of their loans that will provide the lender with 90% or less of the current appraised value of the home. For instance, if an appraisal shows that your home is worth $200,000, your lender would have to agree to cash you out at $180,000, regardless of what you owe on the mortgage.

Not only the primary lenders, but also the holders of second or third mortgages, will have to sign off on the deal -- and there's nothing forcing them to do so. In truth, people with second and third mortgages will have trouble qualifying for a new mortgage under this program.

If you eventually hope to make some money off your home, this program is probably not for you. Homeowners who receive refinancing under the HOPE for Homeowners program will be required to share a portion of any future appreciation in home value with the federal government. In other words, if you sell or refinance your home, you may have to send some of the profits to the feds. The amount will range from 100% to 50%, depending on when the property is sold or refinanced. And if there was an additional mortgage holder in the business, he or she may also be entitled to a share of the appreciation.

Not everyone will qualify for refinancing under this program. Basically, you must be at risk of foreclosure under regulations being developed by a new regulatory agency. You will have to document your income, and it must be adequate to make the new loan affordable under standards set out in the National Housing Act. You have to be living in the house you are seeking to refinance and you can't own any other real estate. Finally, you must certify that you haven't intentionally defaulted on your mortgage or any other debt, and that you didn't furnish false information when you obtained the mortgage you seek to refinance.

To find out more about this program and whether you qualify for it, you should seek assistance from a free, HUD-certified nonprofit housing counselor. For a list of these counselors, see HUD's website at www.hud.gov (click on "Avoid Foreclosure", under the "Homes" column) or call 1-800-569-4287. You can also call 1-888-995 HOPE.

To learn more about the HOPE for Homeowners Act, see Nolo's article Mortgage Refinancing to Avoid Foreclosure: The HOPE for Homeowners Act.