New Federal Guidelines Hope to Increase Home Modifications

April 20, 2010

In response to many criticisms of its Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the Obama Administration recently announced significant changes intended to speed the modification process and clarify eligibility. Under the new guidelines, mortgage lenders must pursue early intervention to determine borrower eligibility under HAMP, and may not refer any loan to foreclosure until the borrower has been determined ineligible for the program. New timeframes have also been implemented and homeowners can expect a modification decision within 30 days.

The new HAMP guidelines require participating lenders to use principal reduction as a primary means of reducing borrowers’ payments where loans are more than 115 percent of the current home value. Borrowers that are current on their mortgages may qualify for refinancing at a low interest, fixed rate loan insured by the FHA, provided that the lender agrees to reduce the principal for the total combined debt to no more than 115 percent of the home’s value. This provision is meant to encourage lenders to reduce principle for those property owners with negative home equity.

Another important change is a clarification that debtors in bankruptcy must be considered for HAMP. A request for consideration for a modification while in bankruptcy may be made by the debtor, the debtor’s attorney, or by the bankruptcy trustee. This provides a yet another tool for the bankruptcy attorney to save a home mortgage from foreclosure and negotiate terms that the debtor can afford.

To qualify for a loan modification under HAMP, the borrower must:
• Be the owner-occupant of a one- to four-unit home;
• Have an unpaid principal balance that is equal to or less than $729,750 for a single-unit home (other limits apply for multi-unit homes);
• Have a first lien mortgage that was originated on or before January 1, 2009;
• Have a monthly mortgage payment (including taxes, insurance, and home owners association dues) greater than 31% of your monthly gross (pre-tax) income; and
• Have a mortgage payment that is not affordable due to a financial hardship that can be documented.

The combination of a bankruptcy and a HAMP loan modification may help some borrowers save their homes and stabilize their family finances. If you are in financial trouble, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and discuss your options. Don’t be a victim of debt! Take control today.

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