Fannie and Freddie to Announce Mass Loan Modification Program

From the Wall Street Journal:

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and U.S. officials are expected to announce plans Tuesday to speed up the modification of hundreds of thousands of loans held by the housing finance giants, marking the latest effort to try and prevent more foreclosures, people familiar with the matter said.

The announcement could mark the government’s most assertive use of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help homeowners since the companies were taken over in September.

The streamlined effort will target certain loans that are 90 days or more past due, these people said. The program will aim to bring the ratio of mortgage payments for these homeowners to 38% of their income by modifying interest rates and in some cases forgiving portions of principal debt, these people said.

Borrowers would have to provide a statement or affidavit showing that they have encountered some sort of hardship that has impacted their ability to pay their mortgage. It would only apply to loans made on or before Jan. 1, 2008, and borrowers will be disqualified if they file for bankruptcy. The homes must be owner-occupied and escrows for real estate taxes and insurance must already be set up.

U.S. government officials plan to encourage big banks that hold loans in their portfolios to take similar streamlined modification measures.

The announcement is expected to come at a press conference at 2 p.m. at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which temporarily has Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship because of their shaky financial condition.

Spokespeople for the companies, the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency weren’t immediately available for comment.

Servicers are expected to be paid $800 for a successful modification and loan investors are expected to reimburse servicers for certain fees associated with the modification. There will be a 90-day trial period, and if borrowers successfully make payments for those 90 days the modification will be formally approved. 

This is the beginning of massive government intervention to try and slow foreclosures. On a positive side, Fannie and Freddie could provide a template for servicers to follow which may help homeowners receive a “yes” or “no” answer faster.  On the down side, this may also slow the recover of the housing market, prolonging the decline of home prices. Currently 40% of loan modifications re-default. This may also further erode investor confidence in residential mortgage backed securities, the impact being even tighter underwriting guidelines than what we’re now experiencing.

I’d like to see provisions in there regarding proof that the homeowner did not commit fraud when receiving the original loan, and proof that the homeowner has the ability to re-pay the modified loan.  But these things take time to ascertain.

Update from Calculated Risk:

Here is the press release from the FHFA. Note that this does not include principal reduction as a solution to create an affordable payment, and is limited to: “extending the term, reducing the interest rate, and forbearing interest”.

This is intended to help “thousands” (a drop in the bucket unless it is several hundred thousand), and seems to encourage homeowners to stop making payments until they are 90 days late.

Loan Modifications

This is Part Three of a series of articles on the foreclosure process.
This article does not constitute legal advice.
Foreclosure laws vary from state to state.

Homeowners in financial distress should always hire legal counsel. Call your local state bar association for a referral.  Reduced or free legal aid may be available in some states. Ask for a referral from the state bar association or through a LOCAL HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agency.

Loan modifications are becoming quite fashionable at the moment.  With underwriting guidelines continuing to tighten, some folks facing financial distress and possibly foreclosure may not qualify for a refinance at the retail level, meaning, going back to the bank, credit union, or mortage broker that helped the first time around.

At the present time, loan modification salespeople are completely unregulated.  This means a person can be working at Taco Time in the morning and selling loan modifications in the afternoon.  This is similar to the situation with unregulated loan originators during the real estate bubble run-up.  Advertisements that say, “Earn Six Figures. No Experience Necessary” are now making the rounds in the mortgage lending community. (Don’t believe me? Go to craigslist jobs and do a search under “loan modifications.” Current ads are saying: Make $15,000/month and Make $5,000/day). For the consumer, this means you are once again in the one-down position and it brings me great unhappiness to tell you that at this time you cannot and should not trust your loan modification salesperson.  This problem stems from the unfortunate situation LOs face as their six figure income dried up during the subprime meltdown but their desire for a six figure lifestyle is still around.  This is a systemic problem that our government regulators seems uninterested in addressing at this time. I’m predicting mass government intervention in foreclosures anyways. Perhaps the government is not worried about loan mod salesmen because they’re going to whack them with a big ugly stick quite soon.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with loan modification salesmen. The author of this blog post is of the opinion that consumers should be extremely wary of salemen asking for an upfront fee, even if they are claiming that all or most will be refunded if the modification should fail to be approved.

A loan modification is a good choice for a consumer whose financial distress is such that they are currently unable to pay their mortgage, prefer to stay in the home and not sell (I’m assuming owner occupied property), WILL be able to pay if the loan were modified at a lower interest rate or longer term, and the homeowner is able to fully document income and assets. The idea here is that it’s in everybody’s best interest to keep the homeowner paying the mortgage, even if it means lower bank earnings. (For other options, see part 2 of this series.)

Common loan modification terms include fixing the interest rate at a lower amount for a short period of time.  3 years, 5 years, 3 years with a gradual, stepped-up interest rate after the third year, longer amortization times such as amortizing the loan over 40 years instead of 30, are very common. Voluntary, principal balance haircuts offered by your bank are not common at this time, unless you are working with an attorney or an aggressive, pit-bull non-profit housing counseling agency. Before you think that a loan mod is the answer, take a long time to consider how much interest you’ll be paying over the life of that 40 year loan.  If you’re thinking “I can just refinance later” there are many people who now have a foreclosure in their recent past, who were given that same sales pitch in 2006.

Past Predatory Lending
If you were a victim of predatory lending, your attorney can use the evidence to extract better terms for your loan modification.  FIND YOUR ORIGINAL LOAN DOCUMENTS from the last time you refinanced or purchased the home: The original disclosures and then the final disclosures you recieved when you signed papers during escrow. If you cannot find them, call any local title insurance company. Give them your address. Ask them to pull the last deed recorded against your property. On that deed, the title company’s order number will be hand-written in the margin.  Call that title company, ask them to pull your file, and to tell you who the escrow company was that handled your file.  If your escrow company went out of business, your state department of financial institutions will have information on where those files are now.

State or Federal Law Violations
If your loan originator violated any state or federal laws when originating your loan, an attorney will be able to spot this information, which becomes extremely valuable when hammering on your lender to offer you the best loan mod terms, or to even bring action that will slow down the foreclosure process, buying you more time.

Loan modification salesmen do nothing except collect a finders fee for finding and delivering you to the people who really do the work.  The loan mod company will ask you to assemble a wide variety of documents similar to when you applied for the mortgage loan.  Unless you went “stated income” the first time around.  This time it will be different.  Common documentation required includes two years of tax returns, two to six months worth of bank statements, 2 years of w-2s, paystubs for the last 4 months, a list of assets and liabilities, and a household budget showing the amount of money you CAN afford to pay on a monthly basis. The most important things lenders must analyze are 1) determining that the homeowner has zero assets/money in the bank and; 2) the homeowner’s ability to pay the modified payment.  There will be a worksheet to complete in which you will lay out your monthly budget.  This is the tricky part. You’ll have to prove that you cannot qualify to repay your current mortgage but that there is enough income coming in to qualify for a modified loan.

Legal Counsel
All loan modification candidates should retain their own, LOCAL legal counsel.  Loan Mod salesmen will tell you that attorneys will cost thousands and thousands of dollars. In one letter, the salesman is saying that attorneys will charge tens of thousands of dollars.  Wow. I’m scared now.  I’m so scared that I polled a handful of local attorneys and found that loan modification charges range anywhere from $1500 to $2500 depending on how many liens there are against the home.  In contrast, loan mod salesmen are charging anywhere from $3500 to $5000 UP FRONT and they use “a pool of attorneys” in god-knows what state. If you can’t do the math on that, then it’s time for you to think about renting.

Questions to ask a loan modification salesmen
1) What is your fee and how is it split between you, the loan mod company, and the attorney?
Failure to answer this question in a swift and forthright fashion is a big giant red flag.
2) What will YOU be doing for the fee you earn?
Listen to the answer very carefully.
3) What will the loan modification company be doing for their portion of the fee?
This question will typically be answered like this “They process the paperwork.”  Now repeat question 2.
4) May I talk directly with the attorney?
If the answer is no, find a local attorney.

Finding a local attorney
Use your favorite search engine to find your local state or county Bar Association.  Look for their “Attorney Referral Service” and seek out a real estate attorney or a consumer protection attorney. Make an appointment with a local attorney that you can talk to face to face. Trust me on this. Interview at least two if not three local attorneys. All may have a varying range of fees. Compare them with the loan mod salesmen’s fee.

Selecting a licensed loan originator to help you
In some states, it is not even possible for a loan originator or a Realtor to collect a fee for loan modification services. In Washington State and elsewhere, loan originators who work for a mortgage broker owe fiduciary duties to their clients. They are able to charge a fee-for-service (provided the fee is disclosed prior to the work being performed.)  Loan originators who are still left in the business as of this writing, are generally likely to be somewhat more competent than Taco Time/Loan Mod salesman.  But I am making an overgeneralization. A licensed LO has at the very least a nominal background in computing debt-to-income ratios and gathering documents. At this time, there are approximately zero loan orignators who have accumulated some experience performing loan modifications.  This is because nobody needed one up until about the year 2008…..the industry just refinanced you over and over again. If you select an LO who owes you higher duties, you are more likely to select someone who is conscientious of these higher duties because if you are not well-served, the LO now holds higher liability.  Fiduciary duties means that LO MUST put their client’s interests above their own interest in making a buck. They must set aside self-interest and work on behalf of you.  Hiring a loan originator to do the paperwork-gathering seems reasonable.  The loan originator MUST hand off your file at some point to an attorney.  Consumers, please demand that the attorney be local.  A fiduciary may not engage in secret fee-splitting deals. The fiduciary owes the highest degree of honesty and good faith to the consumer.  The LO/fiduciary has a duty to answer you honestly about how much of the fee goes to the LO and how much will go to the attorney.  A good scenario is to hire the LO/fiduciary to do the nominal processing work, for which you would pay a nominal “paperwork processing” fee and then pay your local attorney separately.

Working with Non-Profits
A HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agency can help homeowners obtain a loan modification at no cost. 

Lenders charge zero to perform a loan modification.  If you’re an adventerous type that does not need hand-holding, call your lender direct in order to begin your loan modification.  I still advise hiring a local attorney to review the lender’s loan mod paperwork with you.

Currently, 40 to 50 percent of all loan modifications are re-defaulting.  This is astronomically high and will translate into higher bank losses and lost time for the homeowner to begin rebuilding his or her credit rating. This means some folks may simply need to re-enter the housing market as a renter. In part 4 of this series, we will discuss what it means to start rebuilding after foreclosure and in part five we’ll tackle what is surely ahead: massive government intervention.

Part one: Foreclosure; Losing the American Dream
Part two: Options for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure
Part three: Loan Modifications
Part four: Government Intervention in Foreclosure
Part five: Foreclosure; Letting Go and Rebuilding

What should a loan modification look like?

I just wrote this long comment on Jillayne’s post, and decided it needed to be a post of its own.  This loan mod returns the risk premium that was not effective at controlling risk.  It didn’t work…give it back. It also makes the lender partly responsible for approving short term income on a long term basis.  It does not involve ANY loss to the lender below the face amount of the notes, and gives them some interest, and saves the homestead.  I think it includes all aspects of consideration for a loan mod, but finding staff competent to come up with loan mods in a short period of time, is not realistic.

What we do know is that the higher risk premium rates, did not cover the risk.

Let’s take an example and see how it plays out, and propose a loan mod.

Family qualified for their current home based on $80,000 a year. $60,000 was salary and $20,000 was two years of consistent bonus or overtime. That was considered conservative lending guidelines “two years of proven history on bonus or overtime

Options for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

This is Part Two of a series of articles on the foreclosure process.
This article does not constitute legal advice.
Foreclosure laws vary from state to state.

Homeowners in financial distress should always hire legal counsel. Call your local state bar association for a referral.  Reduced or free legal aid may be available in some states. Ask for a referral from the state bar association or through a LOCAL HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agency.

For homeowners who are facing financial hardship, denial is a warm, safe comfortable place to stay, where tough decisions can’t hurt and the decision-making process is put off one day at a time.  There is FREE help available from your local state non-profit agencies.

Local, HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agecies received 1.5 million dollars from Washington State when Gov. Gregoire signed SB 6272. State agencies are already whining that they are “overwhelmed”. Hmmm. How much of that 1.5 million dollars was spent hiring and training competent counselors and how much went into executive salaries, high paid consultants and task force meetings?  There are plenty of out-of-work mortgage production people who are (at this point) probably willing to work at non-profit agencies. Put them to work.  Perhaps I am in denial as to the extent of the problem at our state agencies. If so, agencies: please enlighten me and RCG readers.  If the problems are with the banks and their ability to handle the calls, that doesn’t mean we throw more money at the state agencies.  In part five of this series, I will ponder about massive government intervention. For now, we’re left dealing with the problems at hand.

If you are a homeowner reading this article, that means you’re starting to come out of denial.  Maybe a friend or relative forwarded this to you.  Welcome to  How are you? Don’t say “fine” through tears or clenched teeth.  Not so good, right?  Okay then. Is your financial distress temporary or long term?  THIS is perhaps the most important question you’ll need to answer. This is going to require that you get real with where you are in life.  Long term, permanent financial distress situations are going open up options that might be different for a homeowner who has a short term financial distress problem.  Let’s try to break things down even more.  Long Term: You’ve been laid off and have been unable to find work at your former pay level for along time and you have third party confirmation that the chances of being able to reach that pay level again are very low. Short Term: You’ve been laid off and have been unable to find work at your former pay level but your prospects are good or you’ve recently been re-hired at a similar pay level.

If you are payment or two behind, which may happen with temporary financial distress, your lender will be thrilled beyond your wildest expectations to accept the total amount owed in a lump sum.  Reinstatement often happens simultaneously with a forbearance agreement.

Forbearance Agreement
Your lender agrees to reduce or suspend your payments for a short period of time.  These two options are good for people whose financial distress situations are temporary.

Repayment Plan
Your lender helps you get “caught up” by allowing you to take missed payments and tack them on to your existing payment each month until you are caught up.

If your financial distress is long term and will permanently affect your ability to continue making your payments:

Consider Selling
With home values going down, if you do have some equity remaining in your home, you may be better off selling NOW rather than waiting until next year when scads of REOs (already foreclosed-upon homes that the lenders must dispose of) will continue to hit the market, driving inventory up and home values down.  If you owe more on your home than what the home can be sold for in today’s market, you have probably already heard of the term Short Sales.  In this case, the lender is asked to reduce the pricipal balance and allow the loan to be paid off in order to facilitate a sale.  Most lenders are not radically motivated to approve short sales unless foreclosure is imminent.  This author does not recommend that you stop making your mortgage payment in order to force the bank to approve your short sale. All homeowners in financial distress should have an attorney holding their hand the entire time.  If you have assets, you do not qualify for a short sale. Short sales are reserved for homeowners with NO MONEY and you will be asked to provide proof that you have no money.  If you have money, this is a different kind of transaction. It’s called “Making Your Downpayment in Arrears” and you’ll be asked to bring that money at closing.  Don’t ask anyone to help you hide your assets. Doing so may constitute mortgage fraud which is now a class B felony in Washington State. I could go on and on about short sales. If you need more education in this area, we’ve covered the topic in these RCG articles:

Short Sales
Question From Today’s Short Sale Class
Should You Buy a Short Sale Property?
Is a Short Sale a Bargain?
Why Do Banks Take So Long to Approve a Short Sale?

Maybe you would prefer not to sell. Consider taking on a tenant or moving out into more affordable living quarters and renting out your home.

Refinancing is a tough road for homeowners in financial distress. On the one hand, they have been hit by some kind of financial hardship and this typically affects their credit score, which means lender’s rates and fees will be higher.  In addition, tightening underwriting guidelines is something banks do in order to help stop the rising tide of foreclosures. People who hold mortgage loans today might not be able to re-qualify for that same loan if they had to requalify under today’s guidelines.  Income and assets must be fully documented. Find a licensed, local mortgage lender with FHA-approval to see if you might qualify for an FHA loan.  For people who made the conscious decision to state their income higher than reality are out of luck, unless they can prove that they were coached to do so by their lender.  Consult a local attorney for further guidance.  Since refinancing might only be yesterday’s dream for some, Loan Modifications are all the rage in my spam bin. We’ll cover Loan Mods in Part Three.

While doing research for this blog post, I stumbled upon even more money that went from our state government’s rainy day fund, into a state fund to help low to moderate income Washington State homeowners in foreclosure refinance into new loans through the Wash State Housing Finance Commission.  Read more here. I sent an inquiry asking the WSHFC how many WA State Homeowners have been helped this far by this new law and they said, emphasis mine:

Dear Ms. Schlicke:

Thank you for your interest in the Smart Homeownership Choices Program. To date, we have not made a loan to a prospective applicant.  The good news is that when we have talked to the delinquent homebuyers, it seems they have not been able to make contact with their lenders to discuss foreclosure options.  So, we have been able to facilitate getting them to the right person for loan modifications, etc.  There have also been homeowners who have not been pleased with the fact that the assistance is in the form of a loan and not a grant.  They believe the government should be giving them the money to save their home. While we cannot respond positively to these folks, we do send them to one of our homeownership counseling partners to help them with other options that   might be available.

If you know someone who might benefit from the program, please feel free to give them my contact information.

Dee Taylor
Director, Homeownership Division
Washington State Housing Finance Commission
1000 Second Avenue, Suite 2700
Seattle, WA 98104-1046
(206) 287-4414

Part one: Foreclosure; Losing the American Dream
Part two: Options for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure
Part three: Loan Modifications
Part four: Government Intervention in Foreclosure
Part five: Foreclosure; Letting Go and Rebuilding

Are you ready for FEMA Mortgage?

Congress and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson are working this weekend to hash out details of the proposed $700,000,000,000 bailout during this amazing time in American history.  My brother-in-law is an adjuster for FEMA, spending months away from his home evaluating damaged property across the country.   FEMA Mortgage could be created to essentially do the same thing.

Now that Uncle Sam will be buying bad mortgages, they could utilize FEMA mortgage adjusters to evaluate the borrowers current situation:

  • Can they afford their mortgage payment? 
  • Is this a situation worth modifying their existing loan?
  • Was income over-stated or not verified with the mortgage?
  • Was the property purchased as owner occupied and it’s now an investment property? 
  • Are there signs of mortgage fraud?

Home owners in trouble who have financial ability to stay in their home, would have the opportunity to re-qualify at either a lower rate and/or reduced loan amount with a silent second that would be called due if the home owner sold the property within a certain period of time (similar to State bond programs).   This would be available to home owners who were having difficulty due to an ARM adjusting or perhaps a financial set back that is now resolved (such as temporary loss of employment).    Loan modifications with Uncle Sam owned mortgages would be streamlined, very low cost  and legit.

Home owners who could not re-qualify based on their actual income, may have the opportunity to rent a property at a payment they can afford.  Having property occupied as a rental is better than abandoned–for that home and for the neighborhood.   Perhaps Uncle Sam will start FEMA Property Management…they can even re-use some of the trailers they bought for Huricane Katrina.  

If fraud was used on a mortgage now owned by Uncle Sam, the FEMA Loan Adjuster would determine if it was caused by the borrower or loan originator and proper actions would be taken.

A plan such as this, could provide jobs for out of work Loan Originators (of course they would have to pass the National Licensing requirements) and employ Real Estate Agents, builders and contractors, too.   FEMA Adjusters could also determine which foreclosed properties, owned by Uncle Sam, need repair before it can be resold at a higher value or if they should just be sold “as is”.

Your thoughts?

Predatory Upfront Loan Modification Fees

I’m troubled by a trend that I’m seeing.  Recently I’ve noticed that mortgage brokers/loan originators have become interested in learning about loss mitigation techniques. When I ask why, they say that they’re hearing there’s good money to be made doing loan modifications.  What? Wait a second. I thought loan modifications were done by the lender for free.

More and more spam is popping up in my spam bin advertising loan modification services, offered by loan originators so I decided to call one of these LOs today after sending an email late last night asking for more information and receiving no reply. 

This particular person goes by the title of “mortgage planner.”  On her website, she advertises a wide variety of mortgage products including the pay option ARM and the hybrid ARM (are those even available anymore?) but there’s nothing on her website about loan modifications. None of the staff bios show any experience in doing loan modifications. Here’s what I found out.  The upfront fee charged to the homeowner is $3500.  But the LO assures me that all the work is handled by attorneys, she says.  The borrower’s up front fee is placed into escrow.  If a request for loan modification is accepted by the lender for loss mitigation (statistics were offered that 93% of loans are being modified) the full fee is due.  If the loan does not get modified, $2,000 is refunded and the remaining $1500 is not.  I asked the LO why a homeowner wouldn’t just work directly with an attorney.  She said that she works with a network of attorneys with a high loan mod approval rate and homeowners are always free to hire their own attorney and not work with her.

I asked her how much of the $3500 goes to the attorney and how much of it she gets to keep.  Her response was, “why are you asking me that?” To which I replied, “because if the attorney is doing all the work, then I’m wondering how much of that fee is going to you.”  She said “Well I work with the clients. I put a package together and follow up with the lender.” I said, “but a few minutes ago you mentioned that everything is handled by attorneys.”  Of course at this point the conversation has turned a tad bit adversarial and she starts to probe deeper into my true intentions. My intentions are only to get closer to what’s really going on here. I need to know if this sort of gig is something that is a viable alternative for Realtors to know about when counseling homeowners in financial distress.  My intentions are to be able to help other loan originators evaluate whether receiving a referral fee on a loan modification is going to get them into trouble.  If I were to guess, I’d say that the LO earned $2,000 for a successful loan mod and the remaining $1500 went to the attorney. There are forums out there confirming my guess.

In some states, including Washington State, Mortgage Brokers and their LOs now owe fiduciary duties to consumers.  Fiduciary comes from the Latin word fiducia, meaning “trust.