New Proposal to Help Homeowners Refinance...But Will It Ever Get Off The Ground?
Published On February 3rd, 2012

The Obama administration has proposed a national refinance plan in an effort to stimulate the housing market by helping those homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, or owe more on their loan than what the home is currently worth. Based on the proposal, the program would be available to responsible mortgage borrowers…and could save them up to $3,000 a year if they were to partake in the program.

However – and this is very important – the plan is currently just a proposal and would have to be passed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

President Obama first introduced the plan at his State of the Union Address on January 24th and stated just recently that this is a “make-or-break” moment for the middle class. The President said the program will cut through the red tape with no hidden fees.

There are, however, certain stipulations within the President’s proposal. The candidates would have to be current on their mortgages for the past six months and could only have one missed payment in the six months prior to that. The candidate would have to have a credit score of at least 580. The loans would be backed into Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans and would come from loans that are privately held, and would expand on the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) that is currently open to loans that are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In addition, the loans would have to be 30-year conforming loans or loans that fall between $271,050 to $729,250, and the residence must be owner occupied.

The White House would also want lenders to take a “haircut” for those homeowners who are deep underwater. Homeowners that are deep underwater could be more susceptible to foreclosure or to just “walk away” from their commitment to repay the debt.

Here’s an example of what the plan might mean to a homeowner, if the proposed plan were to be approved. On a $200,000 loan that is currently at 6%, the borrower would receive an interest rate of about 4.25%, which could amount to a savings of $216 a month on a 30-year mortgage. There would also be an option to move into a 20-year mortgage and – although the payments would not be lowered – it would provide an incentive to build equity and to pay off the loan in a shorter amount of time.

But before you get too excited or start making any plans, we have to remember that this is just a proposed idea at this time.

As with every new bill introduced to Congress, there could be pushback for the plan, which is expected to cost as much as $5 Billion to $10 Billion. The President said that the new plan would not add to the deficit; instead, the funds would come from a fee placed on large financial institutions. This has already gotten negative comments from Republicans in Congress. The White House said that other options to pay for the program would be considered.

This isn’t the first time that Capitol Hill has tried to combat the problems of underwater mortgages in the past few years and they have not been too successful. One big question is will the banks and servicers go along with the plan if it were to get through Congress.

In addition, the loans will be backed into FHA loans. But, FHA is on very shaky ground right now and is in no better shape financially than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Some experts even think that FHA may need a bailout in the near future.

The last thing this Congress wants to do right now is to pass yet another stimulus bill, so many pundits see the proposal as “Dead on Arrival.”

In conclusion, an assortment of programs have been introduced to help struggling homeowners, and they have only had limited success. In order for this plan to get off the ground, it will need to be a joint effort by the White House, the lender, the servicer and the consumer… a feat that is always difficult to achieve when there are many moving targets and several different agencies involved.

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