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Government Mortgage Assistance, Resources to Avoid Foreclosure, Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan

At this time the Obama administration is preparing to revel their new approach to help homeowners avoid the loss of their homes in foreclosure.

I’ll use this post to provide new information as it is made available. Here is what I know right now.

The Obama plan calls for:

  • Helping borrowers who owe more than 80% of their home’s value to refinance and reduce their monthly payments.
  • Creating a $75 billion homeowner stability initiative to reduce monthly payments for at-risk borrowers by subsidizing interest rates. The goal would be to bring payments to no more than 31% of a borrower’s income.
  • Providing multiple incentives to servicers to modify loans and to proactively help at-risk borrowers while they are still current in their payments.
  • Creating a $10 billion fund to protect investors and servicers against further home price declines.
  • Requiring all financial institutions receiving government funds to participate in a standardized loan modification program, while seeking to have all federal agencies that own or guarantee loans also apply the guidelines.
  • Allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages during bankruptcy, a measure the financial industry has strongly opposed.
  • Providing more Treasury Department backing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and expanding the number of mortgages the agencies back.

Questions and Answers for Borrowers about the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Borrowers Who Are Current on Their Mortgage Are Asking:

  • What help is available for borrowers who stay current on their mortgage payments but have seen their homes decrease in value?

    Under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, eligible borrowers who stay current on their mortgages but have been unable to refinance to lower their interest rates because their homes have decreased in value, may now have the opportunity to refinance into a 30 or 15 year, fixed rate loan. Through the program, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow the refinancing of mortgage loans that they hold in their portfolios or that they placed in mortgage backed securities.

  • I owe more than my property is worth, do I still qualify to refinance under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan?

    Eligible loans will now include those where the new first mortgage (including any refinancing costs) will not exceed 105% of the current market value of the property. For example, if your property is worth $200,000 but you owe $210,000 or less you may qualify. The current value of your property will be determined after you apply to refinance.

  • How do I know if I am eligible?

    Complete eligibility details will be announced on March 4th when the program starts. The criteria for eligibility will include having sufficient income to make the new payment and an acceptable mortgage payment history. The program is limited to loans held or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

  • I have both a first and a second mortgage. Do I still qualify to refinance under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan?

    As long as the amount due on the first mortgage is less than 105% of the value of the property, borrowers with more than one mortgage may be eligible to refinance under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan. Your eligibility will depend, in part, on agreement by the lender that has your second mortgage to remain in a second position, and on your ability to meet the new payment terms on the first mortgage.

  • Will refinancing lower my payments?

    The objective of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan is to provide creditworthy borrowers who have shown a commitment to paying their mortgage with affordable payments that are sustainable for the life of the loan. Borrowers whose mortgage interest rates are much higher than the current market rate should see an immediate reduction in their payments. Borrowers who are paying interest only, or who have a low introductory rate that will increase in the future, may not see their current payment go down if they refinance to a fixed rate. These borrowers, however, could save a great deal over the life of the loan. When you submit a loan application, your lender will give you a “Good Faith Estimate” that includes your new interest rate, mortgage payment and the amount that you will pay over the life of the loan. Compare this to your current loan terms. If it is not an improvement, a refinancing may not be right for you.

  • What are the interest rate and other terms of this refinance offer?

    The objective of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan is to provide borrowers with a safe loan program with a fixed, affordable payment. All loans refinanced under the plan will have a 30 or 15 year term with a fixed interest rate. The rate will be based on market rates in effect at the time of the refinance and any associated points and fees quoted by the lender. Interest rates may vary across lenders and over time as market rates adjust. The refinanced loans will have no prepayment penalties or balloon notes.

  • Will refinancing reduce the amount that I owe on my loan?

    No. The objective of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan is to help borrowers refinance into safer, more affordable fixed rate loans. Refinancing will not reduce the amount you owe to the first mortgage holder or any other debt you owe. However, by reducing the interest rate, refinancing should save you money by reducing the amount of interest that you repay over the life of the loan.

  • How do I know if my loan is owned or has been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?

    To determine if your loan is owned or has been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and is eligible to be refinanced, you should contact your mortgage lender after March 4, 2009.

  • When can I apply?

    Mortgage lenders will begin accepting applications after the details of the program are announced on March 4, 2009.

  • What should I do in the meantime?

    You should gather the information that you will need to provide to your lender after March 4, when the refinance program becomes available. This includes:

    • information about the gross monthly income of all borrowers, including your most recent pay stubs if you receive them or documentation of income you receive from other sources
    • your most recent income tax return
    • information about any second mortgage on the house
    • payments on each of your credit cards if you are carrying balances from month to month, and
    • payments on other loans such as student loans and car loans.
  • My loan is scheduled for foreclosure soon. What should I do?

    Contact your mortgage servicer or credit counselor. Many mortgage lenders have expressed their intention to postpone foreclosure sales on all mortgages that may qualify for the modification in order to allow sufficient time to evaluate the borrower’s eligibility. We support this effort.

How the Program Works

The Homeowner Stability Initiative has a simple goal: reduce the amount homeowners owe per month to sustainable levels. This program will bring together lenders, servicers, borrowers, and the government, so that all stakeholders share in the cost of ensuring that responsible homeowners can afford their monthly mortgage payments – helping to reach up to 3 to 4 million at-risk borrowers in all segments of the mortgage market, reducing foreclosures, and helping to avoid further downward pressures on overall home prices. The program has several key components:

  • Shared Effort to Reduce Monthly Payments: Treasury will partner with financial institutions to reduce homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments.
    • The lender will have to first reduce interest rates on mortgages to a specified affordability level (specifically, bring down rates so that the borrower’s monthly mortgage payment is no greater than 38% of his or her income).
    • Next, the initiative will match further reductions in interest payments dollar-for-dollar with the lender, down to a 31% debt-to-income ratio for the borrower.
    • To ensure long-term affordability, lenders will keep the modified payments in place for five years. After that point, the interest rate can be gradually stepped-up to the conforming loan rate in place at the time of the modification. Note: Lenders can also bring down monthly payments to these affordability targets through reducing the amount of mortgage principal. The initiative will provide a partial share of the costs of this principal reduction, up to the amount the lender would have received for an interest rate reduction.
  • “Pay for Success” Incentives to Servicers: Servicers will receive an up-front fee of $1,000 for each eligible modification meeting guidelines established under this initiative. Servicers will also receive “pay for success” fees – awarded monthly as long as the borrower stays current on the loan – of up to $1,000 each year for three years.
  • Responsible Modification Incentives: Because loan modifications are more likely to succeed if they are made before a borrower misses a payment, the plan will include an incentive payment of $1,500 to mortgage holders and $500 for servicers for modifications made while a borrower at risk of imminent default is still current.
  • Incentives to Help Borrowers Stay Current: To provide an extra incentive for borrowers to keep paying on time under the modified loan, the initiative will provide a monthly balance reduction payment that goes straight towards reducing the principal balance on the mortgage loan. As long as the borrower stays current on his or her payments, he or she can get up to $1,000 each year for five years.
  • Home Price Decline Reserve Payments: To encourage lenders to modify more mortgages and enable more families to keep their homes, the Administration — together with the FDIC — has developed an innovative partial guarantee initiative. The insurance fund – to be created by the Treasury Department at a size of up to $10 billion – will be designed to discourage lenders from opting to foreclose on mortgages that could be viable now out of fear that home prices will fall even further later on. This initiative provides lenders with the security to undertake more mortgage modifications by assuring that if home price declines are worse than expected, they have reserves to fall back on. Holders of mortgages modified under the program would be provided with an additional insurance payment on each modified loan, linked to declines in the home price index. These payments could be set aside as reserves, providing a partial guarantee in the event that home price declines – and therefore losses in cases of default – are higher than expected.

President Obama’s Speech Today Regarding the Home Foreclosure Crisis

“Here is how my plan works:

First, we will make it possible for an estimated four to five million currently ineligible homeowners who receive their mortgages through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance their mortgages at lower rates.

Today, as a result of declining home values, millions of families are “underwater,” which means they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These families are unable to sell their homes, and unable to refinance them. So in the event of a job loss or another emergency, their options are limited.

Right now, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the institutions that guarantee home loans for millions of middle class families – are generally not permitted to guarantee refinancing for mortgages valued at more than 80 percent of the home’s worth. So families who are underwater – or close to being underwater – cannot turn to these lending institutions for help.

My plan changes that by removing this restriction on Fannie and Freddie so that they can refinance mortgages they already own or guarantee. This will allow millions of families stuck with loans at a higher rate to refinance. And the estimated cost to taxpayers would be roughly zero; while Fannie and Freddie would receive less money in payments, this would be balanced out by a reduction in defaults and foreclosures.

I also want to point out that millions of other households could benefit from historically low interest rates if they refinance, though many don’t know that this opportunity is available to them – an opportunity that could save families hundreds of dollars each month. And the efforts we are taking to stabilize mortgage markets will help these borrowers to secure more affordable terms, too.

Second, we will create new incentives so that lenders work with borrowers to modify the terms of sub-prime loans at risk of default and foreclosure.

Sub-prime loans – loans with high rates and complex terms that often conceal their costs – make up only 12 percent of all mortgages, but account for roughly half of all foreclosures.

Right now, when families with these mortgages seek to modify a loan to avoid this fate, they often find themselves navigating a maze of rules and regulations but rarely finding answers. Some sub-prime lenders are willing to renegotiate; many aren’t. Your ability to restructure your loan depends on where you live, the company that owns or manages your loan, or even the agent who happens to answer the phone on the day you call.

My plan establishes clear guidelines for the entire mortgage industry that will encourage lenders to modify mortgages on primary residences. Any institution that wishes to receive financial assistance from the government, and to modify home mortgages, will have to do so according to these guidelines – which will be in place two weeks from today.

If lenders and homebuyers work together, and the lender agrees to offer rates that the borrower can afford, we’ll make up part of the gap between what the old payments were and what the new payments will be. And under this plan, lenders who participate will be required to reduce those payments to no more than 31 percent of a borrower’s income. This will enable as many as three to four million homeowners to modify the terms of their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

So this part of the plan will require both buyers and lenders to step up and do their part. Lenders will need to lower interest rates and share in the costs of reduced monthly payments in order to prevent another wave of foreclosures. Borrowers will be required to make payments on time in return for this opportunity to reduce those payments.

I also want to be clear that there will be a cost associated with this plan. But by making these investments in foreclosure-prevention today, we will save ourselves the costs of foreclosure tomorrow – costs borne not just by families with troubled loans, but by their neighbors and communities and by our economy as a whole. Given the magnitude of these costs, it is a price well worth paying.

Third, we will take major steps to keep mortgage rates low for millions of middle class families looking to secure new mortgages.

Today, most new home loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee loans and set standards to keep mortgage rates low and to keep mortgage financing available and predictable for middle class families. This function is profoundly important, especially now as we grapple with a crisis that would only worsen if we were to allow further disruptions in our mortgage markets.

Therefore, using the funds already approved by Congress for this purpose, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-backed securities so that there is stability and liquidity in the marketplace. Through its existing authority Treasury will provide up to $200 billion in capital to ensure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can continue to stabilize markets and hold mortgage rates down.

We’re also going to work with Fannie and Freddie on other strategies to bolster the mortgage markets, like working with state housing finance agencies to increase their liquidity. And as we seek to ensure that these institutions continue to perform what is a vital function on behalf of middle class families, we also need to maintain transparency and strong oversight so that they do so in responsible and effective ways.

Fourth, we will pursue a wide range of reforms designed to help families stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure.

My administration will continue to support reforming our bankruptcy rules so that we allow judges to reduce home mortgages on primary residences to their fair market value – as long as borrowers pay their debts under a court-ordered plan. That’s the rule for investors who own two, three, and four homes. It should be the rule for ordinary homeowners too, as an alternative to foreclosure.

In addition, as part of the recovery plan I signed into law yesterday, we are going to award $2 billion in competitive grants to communities that are bringing together stakeholders and testing new and innovative ways to prevent foreclosures. Communities have shown a lot of initiative, taking responsibility for this crisis when many others have not. Supporting these neighborhood efforts is exactly what we should be doing.

Taken together, the provisions of this plan will help us end this crisis and preserve for millions of families their stake in the American Dream. But we must also acknowledge the limits of this plan.

Our housing crisis was born of eroding home values, but also of the erosion of our common values. It was brought about by big banks that traded in risky mortgages in return for profits that were literally too good to be true; by lenders who knowingly took advantage of homebuyers; by homebuyers who knowingly borrowed too much from lenders; by speculators who gambled on rising prices; and by leaders in our nation’s capital who failed to act amidst a deepening crisis.

So solving this crisis will require more than resources – it will require all of us to take responsibility. Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. And all of us must learn to live within our means again.

These are the values that have defined this nation. These are values that have given substance to our faith in the American Dream. And these are the values that we must restore now at this defining moment.

It will not be easy. But if we move forward with purpose and resolve – with a deepened appreciation for how fundamental the American Dream is and how fragile it can be when we fail in our collective responsibilities – then I am confident we will overcome this crisis and once again secure that dream for ourselves and for generations to come.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God bless America.”

Online Resources

For more information about the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, visit the official website.

Government Mortgage Assistance, Resources to Avoid Foreclosure, Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan by

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About Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.

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