Lenders act to limit US foreclosures
Major lenders embark on a rescue mission to halt the wave of foreclosures sweeping the nation and delaying a housing market recovery.
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The lenders themselves are careful not to overstate what the new projects can achieve. "While these efforts will help cushion the expected rise in foreclosures, we need to be clear that these offerings are not a panacea," said Richard Syron, chief executive of Freddie Mac, as he unveiled the new products at a congressional hearing April 17.Skip to next paragraph
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Even when the economy and the housing market are strong, some borrowers run into financial difficulty because of events such as job loss, divorce, or illness.
Over the past year, two other factors have driven the rise in past-due loans and foreclosure filings.
One is known as "payment shock," when adjustable-rate loans reset sharply upward. Lenders in recent years failed to consider whether the borrowers will be able to afford their loans once initial "teaser" rates adjust, critics charge.
The other is simply that a decade-long housing boom stalled out. Some who bought homes near the market peak – often with no down payment – owe more than the house is now worth. So selling it offers no sure escape route from foreclosure.
But foreclosure is costly for lenders, chewing up tens of thousands of dollars in missing loan payments, home-sale expenses, and property maintenance. If foreclosures are concentrated in a community and drag down home values, that's bad for lenders' business prospects.
Politicians have been prodding lenders to help at-risk homeowners. In congressional hearings, Democrats have bashed the mortgage industry for helping to create the problem. Nonprofit organizations have added to the pressure.
Rita Askew, safe at home
Rita Askew of Evanston, Ill., is one borrower who remains in her red-brick townhouse thanks to help from her lender and community groups.
Her husband, the family breadwinner, had to leave his school-maintenance job for several months last year because of an accident. "I probably would have been selling my house," Mrs. Askew says, if the National Training and Information Center (NTIC) hadn't stepped up for her.
NTIC helped win a loan-modification accord that cut the monthly payment from $1,668 to $1,117. The interest rate dropped from 10.6 percent to 6.0 percent.
Several major lenders, including Ocwen Financial Corp., CitiFinancial, and Select Portfolio Servicing Inc., have agreed to partner with NTIC to negotiate "workout" deals when possible for troubled loans.
But for people who face difficulty paying their mortgages, the choices can narrow quickly if the loans go unpaid for a month or more.
Borrowers can seek a traditional refinance deal with any lender. They can seek temporary forbearance or a loan modification deal. Some can successfully sue the lender, showing that the original loan process violated state or federal laws. Or they can try to sell the home, perhaps talking the lender into accepting proceeds that fall short of the loan balance due.
Housing advocates say to beware of "rescue" scams, outfits that charge big fees and then fail to help people stay in their homes.