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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Second Lien Plan Will Help Homeowners Struggling with Second Mortgages

Second Lien Plan Will Help Homeowners Struggling with Second MortgagesThe Obama administration has a new plan to help homeowners who are struggling to keep up with their second mortgages. It's called the Second Lien Program, and it will be active in about a month. Here's a clip from the Treasury Department website:

"...The Second Lien Program announced today will work in tandem with first lien modifications offered under the Home Affordable Modification Program to deliver a comprehensive affordability solution for struggling borrowers. Second mortgages can create significant challenges in helping borrowers avoid foreclosure, even when a first lien is modified. Up to 50 percent of at-risk mortgages have second liens, and many properties in foreclosure have more than one lien. Under the Second Lien Program, when a Home Affordable Modification is initiated on a first lien, servicers participating in the Second Lien Program will automatically reduce payments on the associated second lien according to a pre-set protocol. Alternatively, servicers will have the option to extinguish the second lien in return for a lump sum payment under a pre-set formula determined by Treasury, allowing servicers to target principal extinguishment to the borrowers where extinguishment is most appropriate..."

And here's some more insight from a Bloomberg article:

"...Mortgage delinquencies increased to a seasonally adjusted 7.88 percent of all loans in the fourth quarter, the highest in records going back to 1972, according to figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington. Loans in foreclosure rose to 3.3 percent, up from 2.04 percent a year earlier.

Obama’s overall plan to reduce foreclosures by modifying mortgages targets as many as 4 million homeowners. As many as half of the participants in the mortgage-modification program may be eligible for the second-lien assistance, administration officials said.

Congressional Action

The administration also intends to urge action by Congress to make Hope for Homeowners easier to use and more accessible, the administration officials said. The program is primarily aimed at borrowers who are “underwater,” owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

No other legislative changes are required for the administration’s revised housing plans to take effect, the officials said.

The new measures may ease mortgage investors’ concerns that the biggest banks and servicers would be tempted to rework too many loans under the program in order to bolster their home- equity portfolios, Laurie Goodman, an analyst at Amherst Securities Group LP in New York, said in a telephone interview.

“Certainly, it appears that the Treasury has listened to first-lien investors,” Goodman said. Today’s announcement “goes a very long way toward addressing their objections,” she said.

Second-Lien Program

The second-lien program should be up and running in about a month, the officials said. They estimated that about 75 percent of all U.S. mortgages are managed by servicers that already have agreed to participate in the government’s modification programs. Servicers are administrators in the relationship between lenders and borrowers.

The mortgage initiative offers subsidies to servicers and lenders, including bond investors, to help lower borrowers’ housing payments to 31 percent of their income. Because modifications are voluntary, the Treasury is offering incentive fees to encourage participation in the program.

The $12,000 in possible incentive fees has several components. Many of the fees are paid over time, as an incentive for borrowers and servicers to strike deals that will last.

When modifying first mortgages, servicers can receive $1,000 up front, and $1,000 per year for three years. If the mortgage being modified is eligible and not yet delinquent, they can also receive $500, for a maximum possible total of $4,500.

Reducing Principle

Then borrowers who make their new payments can get up to $1,000 per year for five years, up to a total of $5,000. This money is paid to the lender or investor who holds the first mortgage, and it reduces the borrower’s principle.

When a second mortgage is also modified, the servicer on that mortgage can get a $500 up-front fee, plus $250 per year for three years, for a maximum possible total of $1,250. The borrower also is eligible for an additional $250 per year for five years, again paid toward the principle on their primary mortgage..."

"...The Treasury announced today that second-mortgage holders will be given a subsidy to reduce the borrower’s interest rates to as low as 1 percent. Alternatively, the lien holder could receive as much as 12 cents on the dollar to retire the debt. There also are incentives in place for first-mortgage holders.

In the case of a sample borrower with a $250,000 interest- only first mortgage with a 6 percent rate, leading to housing expenses equal to 40 percent of the borrower’s income, the government may pay about $2,625 annually to help reduce those payments for five years, according to an Amherst Securities Group report in February.

If that borrower also had a $43,942 second mortgage with an 8.6 percent rate, the government may bear half of the $2,336 annual cost of reducing the payment for five years under the plan announced today, according to data released by the Treasury..."

Even more insight from a recent Associated Press article:

"...During the housing boom, lenders readily gave out "piggyback" second loans that allowed consumers to make small down payments or avoid them entirely. While home prices soared, such mortgages were even extended to borrowers with poor credit scores and people who didn't provide proof of their incomes or assets.

But those loans, which are attached to about half of all troubled mortgages, have been an obstacle to efforts to alleviate the housing crisis. That's because borrowers who are trying to get their primary mortgage modified at a lower monthly payment need the permission of the company holding the second mortgage.

The new plan aims to get rid of that roadblock, administration officials said. "We're offering even more opportunities for borrowers," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a statement.

The new incentives are estimated to help up to 1.5 million borrowers with second mortgages, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said. While data on how many household have been helped by the Obama administration's housing plans are not available, Donovan told reporters there have been "hundreds of thousands of applications."

The administration's second mortgage initiative will be funded out of $50 billion in financial rescue money already allocated. As an incentive to modify second loans at lower interest rates, mortgage companies would get $500 upfront for each modified loan, plus $250 a year for three years as long as the borrower doesn't default.

Similarly, borrowers would get up to $1,000 over five years applied to the principal balance of their primary mortgage, and the government would pick up part of investors' costs as well. Lenders would also be given the ability to remove second mortgages entirely in exchange for larger government payouts.

The administration also plans to give mortgage companies $2,500 payments to entice them to participate in the "Hope for Homeowners" program. It was launched by the government last fall but has so far has been a failure, proving unattractive to banks required to absorb large losses.

It was supposed to allow 400,000 troubled homeowners to swap risky loans for traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with lower rates. Instead only one loan has received final approval, with about 50 more in the works and fewer than 1,000 applications.

The program has been stymied by high fees, complex regulations and a requirement that banks absorb large losses. The Obama administration supports legislation in Congress to ease those restrictions.

Meanwhile, the faltering economy is causing the housing crisis to spread. Nationwide, nearly 804,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice from January through March, up from about 650,000 in the same period a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a foreclosure listing firm..."

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Family Affair: How Economic Crisis Can Truly Hit Home

The state of the nation's economy is a bit enigmatic; on one hand, an 8.5% national unemployment rate still means that there is a 91.5% employment rate, so the economic outlook is obviously not all bad, despite the doom and gloom reported by the media. However, the 8.5% and those who love them are seeing some of the worst economic times facing Americans since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans are tightening their belts, but the 8.5% are losing their shirts, and when they do, many of them have to call on family and friends to help. According to the Wall Street Journal, rising costs are causing many Americans, even those with jobs, to begin moving in with family and friends, even elderly parents, just to keep their heads above water.

I ought to know; I have a sibling living with me for that very reason.

One of my sisters knows the hardships of the economic downturn, and even the dark side of financial despair. Less hours at work and an almost non-existent job market meant that she had to find other ways to make money. She lived alone and was always very independent, so she didn't like asking for help. So unfortunately, like many other Americans facing economic hardship, my sister turned to crime. She had some brushes with the law when she was young, and desperation caused her to be tempted to revert to her old ways. One minute she was living in a nice suburban townhouse, and the next she was calling to cry on my shoulder because she was losing it all. She had even taken advantage of one of our older relatives who allowed her to get a cell phone on her account. In an inside job gone bad, she ordered over 30 phones in 4 months for resale, and ended up on the hook for all of them. She was supposed to get coupons from an employee of the wireless company so that she could make a profit by buying the phones for a reduced price and selling them at close to retail. The employee stiffed her on the coupons, and she couldn't manage to save the money that was supposed to pay for the phones in the first place. So, she racked up a total wireless bill of $12,000 in someone else's name because her world was spiraling out of control. My sister does not do drugs or alcohol, and she does not have a gambling problem. She turned to fraud to pay her rent and buy groceries.

I know that many of you may find it easy to judge her and may even be eager to judge me for taking her into my home. However, the fact of the matter is that it is difficult to say what you won't do when you feel like your back is against the wall and you stand to lose everything that you have worked for. The family member sought legal advice and is working to protect herself, and my sister is going to pay the entire debt. All of it. However, she won't be able to do it alone. The problem was that she could not survive on her own with the income that she was making, so unless I wanted to see her drown, my husband and I had to step in.

For those of you who are still questioning my sanity, know that she is under strict rules living here; she has chores, my husband has to manage her income, and she cannot have a car or any company that we do not approve. We have small children, so she also babysits. Despite what you might think, the situation is actually working out. There were some tense moments and misunderstandings during the first month as we all got adjusted to the new living arrangement, but now that my sister has stopped blaming others for her circumstances, eaten a slice of humble pie, and begun to understand that we are sincerely trying to help her change her life, she has gotten with the program. It's kind of like a drug rehab, except for someone who makes poor financial decisions. It's hard enough surviving with poor decision making skills in a stable economy; when the chips are down, only the strong survive. In the absence of great mental and emotional strength and a resourceful spirit, a declining economy can ruin some of the best of us, so those who already have questionable living skills are just hardship cases just waiting to happen. However, with a little help from our friends (homage to Joe Cocker), even the worst of us can make a turnaround.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A 7.5% APY Certificate of Deposit In This Interest-Rate Environment? Yes, But One Week Only!

Sometimes, junk mail is cool.

I was going through the day's mail, placing the important stuff to one side and shredding the junk. I was just about to destroy a large postcard when I noticed the numbers 7.5 in huge letters on the front of the card. Upon further examination I found that it was an unbelievable offer from a local credit union: 7.5% APY on a one-year certificate of deposit (CD) or a one-year IRA CD!

I know this is hard to believe, so I've attached a scan of the postcard to this blog post. Proof, baby!

According to BankRate.com, the average rate on a 1-year CD is 2.34% APY right now. Not bad really, considering that most banks can borrow money via the Federal Reserve at no more than 0.25%. I understand that other factors influence CD rates, but still: 7.5%? That has to be the best rate in the country! If you can find any better anywhere in the United States, please post a comment below and let us all know.

Of course, the deal comes with some tight restrictions. It's a one-week special from the Freedom Credit Union, which is about a 15 minute walk from my place. They're celebrating their 75TH anniversary (get it? 7.5 APY / 75 years.) The minimum deposit is $500 and the maximum is a disappointingly timid $1,000. If they get 350 new members before the promotional week is up, the offer is rescinded and no one else gets the deal.

A restriction I don't get: if you're between the age of 13 and 25, you can only deposit $250. What's up with that? I'm an old man so it doesn't affect me, but I think this particular dictate is unfair to young, money-savvy savers and investors.

The Freedom Credit Union is easy to join: if you work or live in my local area, you can become a member. I really like credit unions that are easy to join.

Want a piece of the action? Well, if you live in Pennsylvania you may be able to take advantage of this deal. Here are the requirements:

"...Freedom [Credit Union] personal Memberships are for anyone who lives, works, worships, performs volunteer service, or attends school in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties..."

The 7.5% APY promotion runs from April 18 through April 24. Since the offer ends if/when they get 350 new members, better not procrastinate if you want in. I have a feeling some folks are already setting up camp.

And this is why I choose to keep shredding junk mail instead on opting out of receiving it. You never know what kind of shiny nuggets you'll find among the Chinese restaurant menus and supermarket circulars. Yep.

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