Don’t spend that $26 dollars all in one place!


Government announces new program to help ‘underwater’ homeowners

The federal government on Monday announced new rules that would allow many more struggling borrowers to refinance their mortgages at today’s ultra-low rates, reducing monthly payments for some homeowners and potentially providing a modest boost to the economy.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, working with the Obama administration, said that up to 1 million “underwater” borrowers might benefit from an expanded program that targets homeowners who owe more than their properties are worth.

But the program might not have a major impact on the economy. There are about 11 million underwater borrowers in the country. And under an illustrative example provided by FHFA, borrowers might reduce their payments by just $26 per month…


Only loans that are guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be eligible. Borrowers must check with their lender or Fannie or Freddie to see whether they are eligible. Borrowers also must be current on their mortgage and not have made a late payment in the past 12 months.

To avoid all fees, borrowers, many of whom have 30-year mortgages, will have to take out a new mortgage of 20 years or less. That will mean that homeowners have fewer years to pay off their total balance, largely offsetting whatever they might be saving by taking advantage of today’s low mortgage rates. The plus side is that borrowers will pay off their mortgages more quickly.

On the other hand, if borrowers pay fees, they will be able to get a 30-year mortgage at the new low rates. That could potentially lead to $200 in savings per month.

Check out the rest from the Washington Post here…

For an even more in depth analyses we go to David Dayen…

So, earlier, I said “what’s not to like.” Here’s what’s not to like. The “reps and warranties” part of this. When you refinance a loan, you’re essentially creating a new mortgage, unlike a loan modification, where you modify the old mortgage. Under the plan, the FHFA will eliminate their ability to force repurchases on these old loans, and they would lower their ability to force repurchases on the new loans created. There will be a “modest fee” associated with relieving these reps and warranties, according to Donovan, which won’t be set until November 15. They will be lower than the current risk-based fees that Fannie and Freddie charge.

What does this mean? A “reps and warranties” case is a case where the loan was originated improperly. When Fannie and Freddie get sold a bad loan like this, they have the right to force it back on the originator. New lenders are reluctant to refinance such loans, because they become liable for the put-back.

What this means is that FHFA will essentially settle on all the loans that get refinanced for a “modest fee,” which we can safely assume will be next to nothing. And we know that a substantial amount of loans, perhaps a majority, were illegally originated during the bubble years. You’re letting the lenders who originated the loans off the hook for that, in exchange for allowing more refis.

Banks will flock to this, because it essentially substitutes bad paper for good. Gene Sperling specifically cited this reps and warranties issue as the major barrier for refis. “We feel that removing the reps and warranties barrier has the potential to unleash competition for housing finance for loans backed by the GSEs,” Sperling said. “Those who are not the original mortgage holder will sit on the sidelines as long as the potential exists for a mortgage that was not originated perfectly to be put back on them.” What he means is that the legal liability for taking on these loans will be removed.

There’s more to this. FHFA is currently in the middle of suing 17 banks over, among other things, reps and warranties. This initiative damages that lawsuit, as I said back in September, because it takes away some of the source material for it. The lawsuit would involve fewer loans, then, and it may tip the balance and hurt FHFA’s ability to proceed with the suit at all.

I’m trying to get a few more answers on this, but the danger is obvious. Banks broke the law and this program helps them get away with it. The fact that Donovan mentioned in passing that this kind of program could be extended to bank-owned loans through the state AG settlement just shows you where this is all headed.

A mass refi plan like this may be worthwhile as stimulus, but as far as the rule of law is concerned it pretty much stinks.