Mortgage modifications well below target: Americans need more help says NY Times 300,000 foreclosure filings for third month in a row — 92,858 homes repossessed in July, 2010

“As repossessed homes are put up for sale, house prices are likely to fall further. As prices fall, more borrowers end up “underwater”–they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s a big risk factor for default.

Moody’s Economy.com estimates that 1.9 million homes will be lost this year, down only slightly from 2 million in 2009.

So far only 398,198 loans have been permanently modified, and only $321 million of the $30.1 billion allocated to the home modification program has thus far been spent.

Part of the problem is poor administration. Homeowners, who apply to their bank or mortgage service company, complain about confusing procedures and lost paperwork. Banks have complained of frequent rule changes from the government.

Another big problem is that many lenders, whose participation in the program is voluntary, have been reluctant to aggressively rework bad loans. Reducing a loan’s principal balance–rather than lowering interest levels or extending pay out periods–is often the chance of keeping underwater borrowers in their homes. Banks have been loath to accept the bigger losses that come with lowering principal. Fearing that banks will drop out of the program altogether, the Treasury has not pushed them hard enough.”

The August 20, 2010 NY Times OpEd piece proposes that the use of the states to give money directly to temporarily unemployed or under-employed individual homeowners to make mortgage payments through the Hardest Hit program (part of HAMP, which is part of TARP), through about which 4.1 billion has thus far been disbursed, may be a better route than the loan modification programs emphasized thus far to date.

Ideas for Action: Don’t expect to modify yourself out of a bad situation. You will never see a mortgage loan principal balance deduction. If you don’t mind a temporarily lower payment but still remaining underwater on your home, then I suppose a mortgage modification is not so bad. You might want to consider a “lien strip” through Chapter 13 bankruptcy if you have a second mortgage and if the value of the home is less than the amount owed on the first mortgage.

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