In earlier blog posts, I've tried to keep up with the various foreclosure prevention programs offered by major mortgage lenders. Every major mortgage lender has some sort of policy in place to handle requests for mortgage modifications. Some polices require that you be at least three months behind on your mortgage -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac among them. Other lenders -- Bank of America and Indy Bank among them -- don't require that you be delinquent. Some lenders will work with you if you are in bankruptcy (FHA-insured mortgage holders among them) while others won't. Unfortunately, there is no standard, across-the-board modification policy.
As statistics mount regarding the lasting effect of modifications, it's clear that many people simply cannot afford their house, even at the level of payment provided for by the modification. In fact, according to information published by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in December 2008, payments actually increase under many modification arrangements and, overall, voluntary mortgage modification programs just don't work for a variety of reasons. A recent article in BusinessWeek makes a persuasive case that the banking industry has made the foreclosure situation worse through its lobbying efforts to stall for time in the hope that home values would recover on their own.
Many consumer-oriented commentators, including NACBA, make the case that Chapter 13 bankruptcy judges should be allowed to modify mortgages on a case-by-case basis. The Heritage Foundation, on the other hand, makes a strong argument against bankruptcy-originated mortgage modifications. While I reject much of the reasoning in the Heritage Foundation article, for reasons stated in a previous post, I don't think Chapter 13 cram-downs alone will provide much of a solution; I do think that allowing cram-downs in Chapter 7 bankruptcy would go far to prevent foreclosures.
In an article published in the New York Times on Friday February 13, Alan Zibel reports that the major mortgage owners have put a hold on foreclosure evictions, pending the much-anticipated announcement of the federal foreclosure mitigation policies. According to Zibel, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America Corp. have all extended non-eviction policies originally put in place shortly before Christmas until sometime in early or mid-March. Or, for some lenders, at least until President Obama announces the new federal policy -- currently expected to take place on Wednesday, February 18th.
Details of the new policy have been hard to come by in advance, except that the program is expected to cost up to 50 billion dollars and will not require that eligible homeowners be behind on their mortgages. One leak has it that the program will involve direct payments by the federal government to effect reduction of mortgage payments to 31% of the homeowners' income. The answers to the big questions -- who will be eligible for these payments and how eligibility will be determined -- are still wrapped in mystery, except that the program is expected to only apply to homeowners who have acted in good faith when acquiring their troubled mortgage. Good luck on that one. Any policy that attempts to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving is bound to create immense resentment among those who are left out. And, at least in some cases, the resentment will be well-founded.