Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Loan Modifications: HARP & Principal Reduction Alternative = Denied

Yesterday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which administers both Fannie & Freddie, issued a statement that HARP modifications will not include principal reductions. To review the statement, click here.

The Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA) is a program under the Making Home Affordable umbrella designed for assisting homeowners whose home values are less than the amount they owe on their mortgages. PRA was launched in 2010 for loan-to-value ratios above 115%, in which principal forgiveness was the first step in the modification process to lower the loan payment, before reducing the interest rate or extending the term.

According to FHFA, PRA "would not make a meaningful improvement in reducing foreclosures in a cost effective way for taxpayers". In fact, FHFA was concerned with the moral hazard that PRA would cause in furthering strategic default by borrowers who sought to obtain a principal reduction.

To read the Acting Director, Edward J. DeMarco's letter to Congress explaining this announcement, click here.

It appears that this announcement will kill most principal reductions offered by non-GSEs (not Fannie / Freddie loans) as well. The analysis is thorough and Fannie / Freddie have always set the benchmark for the mortgage industry. The takeaway from this announcement is that modifications are going to focus on reducing interest rate and extending the loan term as opposed to reducing principal, which was the way the programs worked prior to the implementation of the PRA option in 2010. To be clear, the reason that the 2010 program was just analyzed by FHFA is that Fannie & Freddie were only recently requested to follow a program utilized by non-GSEs. Yet, this announcement has given lenders an iron wall to hide behind should they also not wish to follow the program, but they were following the program anyway because they were worried about having a public relations backlash.

Do you think that principal reduction should be part of helping struggling homeowners? Or better yet, as Mr. DeMarco's letter states do you think that principal reduction will create more artificial struggling homeowners? I guess we will never know if the chicken or the egg came first when it comes to principal reduction.