Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More On Modfications - The Borrowers' Hidden Costs

Mortgage Modification, as stated in earlier posts, can mean anything from allowing a late payment without a fee attached to it, or reducing interest and principal substantially. Unfortunately, most are closer to the deferred penalty than a true modification of terms which will allow the borrower to keep their home.

In today's USA Today, there is a brief analysis of the business of mortgage modifications. The article "Many mortgage modifications push payments higher" by Stephanie Armour, recites the history of 2 borrowers, but details the problems with the program.

The MHA (Obama) program concentrates on lowering payments. This is accomplished by lowering the interest rate, and, if necessary, extending the term of the loan to 40 years, so that the payment of principal, interest, taxes and insurance, is no more than 31% of the borrowers gross income each month. HOWEVER, the amount of principal owed can actually increase substantially in the process. Per USA Today's quote of government studies "Of loans modified from Jan. 1, 2008, through March 31, 2009, monthly payments increased on 27 percent and were left unchanged on an additional 27.5 percent, according to a recent report by banking regulators." Dismal? Yes! The light might be that the new program, MHA, will do better.

For a borrower that has fallen 6 months behind with his/her $1,500/month payment, accumulated interest, penalties, late fees and other costs, such as legal and inspections, all get added to the amount ultimately owed by the homeowner. In this example, that translates to a minimum of $14,000 added to the amount owed. This in turn would normally increase the monthly payments so a balance has to be reached, generally by adjusting the rate.

NOTHING IS FREE as we all know. Many of these mods (common slang now for mortgage loan modifications) are fixed for only 5 years, and can then adjust. The mod itself creates a new Adjustable RateMortgage ("ARM"). Is this just postponing the inevitable foreclosure? Maybe so - but at least there is a chance for the borrower (who can find new/additional employment, and can clean up his/her credit score, and can make every payment on time) to keep the house by a refinance at the 5 year adjustment period.

Other issues with modifications. There are a number of agencies, well-intended, which help borrowers at risk for foreclosure, to get a modification. The thought there is that by postponing the foreclosure at least the borrower has an opportunity to keep the house. One of the problems here is that many of these agencies are ill-equipped to go toe-to-toe with a mortgage company, be it the servicer or the actual lender. To many of the agencies, any modification is better than none - right? MAYBE!! If the agency is funded by getting modifications done, it can turn into a numbers game. A modification completed is one towards the quota for funding. Keep in mind that a modification can be simply delaying 2 or 3 payments until the end of the loan, or even creating a balloon payment at the end of the term of the loan.

Well, some may say, at least the borrower kept the house for a few more years. Well, I say, "SO WHAT"? The modification should give the borrower a real shot at keeping her/his home for as long as she/he wants.

Recapping, we have a federal program that was put into place for loan mods - fixes - to allow homeowners, who are facing imminent foreclosure or who will be falling behind over the next several months because of a job cut or an UPWARD MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE ADJUSTMENT, to keep their homes. The program allows the mortgage industry, company by company to participate or not. There is only one standard program and that is the Making Home Affordable ("MHA") plan.

Lenders can opt to modify any way they would like to, and are doing so, especially to those borrowers who do not qualify for MHA. The modification may be detrimental to the borrower in the long term but who cares? CreditSights, which is a firm that tracks such matters, states that of the more than 1/2 million mods this year, 90% have resulted in higher principal balances. Good? Bad? It would seem that just adding back interest and fees to a delinquent loan is not good. It seems and is counter-intuitive, and counter to success. It is a short term fix - a band-aid.

HERESY but perhaps there are those who would be better-off losing the house that is a constant struggle to pay for, month after month, year after year. Maybe some homeowners would be better-off losing a house, regrouping and getting finances straight, renting for a few years and saving money each month for a down payment on a house that is affordable.

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq, September, 2009

1 comment:

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