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Mortgage Refinance Help is On the Way - New Revisions to HARP

Written By:
October 25, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Homeowners received some good news on Monday that refinancing their home may have gotten a littler easier.

Stringent lending standards have presented numerous challenges to homeowners who are underwater in their mortgage or do not meet the current loan standards. However on Monday, the White House announced that the Obama administration backed Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) will take steps to lower interest rates and reduced monthly payments.

President Obama said, "Right now, some underwater homeowners have no choice but to refinance with their original lender - which some lenders refuse to do."

"These changes will encourage other lenders to compete for their business by offering better terms and rates, and eligible homeowners to shop around for the best ones," he continued.

According to mortgage and foreclosure tracking agency CoreLogic, this revision could help approximately 20 million homeowners. The change would lower borrower’s interest rate by 1%, which would save around $24 billion in loan payments.

The Obama administration believes that the average borrower could save approximately $2,500 per year, however some economists have projected only a $312 yearly savings.

Broken down, Obama’s new mortgage refinance program, part of the “We Can’t Wait” campaign includes:

  • The elimination of appraisal requirements--no matter how far underwater you are in your home, you may still qualify for refinancing
  • Eased underwriting requirements--small errors on your credit report will no longer disqualify you from a mortgage loan
  • You must be six months current on your payments--borrowers who have stopped making payments or were told by their lender to stop making payments will not qualify for this program
  • Fees may be waived for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers who take a mortgage of 20 years or less
  • The new program should be open to approximately 1 million homeowners --people who possibly couldn’t refinance in the past may qualify today

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac plan to reveal complete plan details on November 15 with a revised program rolling out as early as December 1. The program should have no negative impact on taxpayer expenses.

Who Will The New Plan Help? The Experts Weigh In

Karen Dynan, VP/Economic Studies at the Brookings Institute says that the new plan is a step in the right direction.

“It’s certainly going to be a constructive step in terms of supporting the economy,” she says. She adds that the other important point is that it’s not a free lunch. Homeowners are going to save on their mortgage payments but there’s another side of that transaction. Investors and lenders, people who fund the mortgages, are going to suffer by getting a lower return.

She continues by saying, “The problems that need to be fixed have changed over time and the policy hasn’t kept pace with what the problems are. The other problem is that things turned out to be more complicated than people anticipated.”

Housing analyst Edward Pinto believes that the new program would have the biggest impact on borrowers who owe less than their mortgage, even though the White House says that the plan is targeted toward underwater homeowners.

"I think it's important not to get expectations up too high," Pinto said. He explained that while nearly one million borrowers sought help from HARP over the past two years, only 100,000 were borrowers who owed more than what their home was worth.

The Obama administration says that while they understand the criticism, they are doing everything they can to save the housing market.

In a Twitter-run town hall meeting in July, Obama said, “The continuing decline in the housing market is something that hasn’t bottomed out as quickly as we expected.”

He said that the administration’s previous programs were not enough. “And so we’re going back to the drawing board.”

Obama added that at this point no federal program could automatically solve the housing crisis and that, “some folks just bought more home than they could afford and probably they’re going to be better off renting.”

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary agrees and said, “Unfortunately there is no silver bullet, there is no simple fundamental restructuring that will wipe away the damage done by the bursting of the housing bubble. But there are measures that we can take that can help homeowners.”





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