More than two dozen loan servicers that collect payments on most U.S. mortgages have agreed to adopt guidelines that are intended to expedite the process of working with troubled borrowers to prevent foreclosures.

The new HOPE NOW guidelines state that loan servicers should inform homeowners within 45 days whether their application for a workout — such as a repayment plan, loan modification or short sale — has been accepted or denied.

Servicers also agreed to re-subordinate second-lien loans if their position will not be worsened by a refinance or workout — potentially removing a major obstacle to preventing foreclosures in cases where borrowers have "piggyback" second loans. HOPE NOW servicers will also attempt to contact homeowners with subprime adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) and other homeowners with ARMs that have a probable risk of default 120 days in advance of reset.

The Bush administration helped organize the HOPE NOW coalition of loan servicers, and has cited its efforts in opposing a proposal to expand FHA loan guarantee programs to help more troubled borrowers refinance (see story).

State banking regulators have questioned the effectiveness of the lending industry’s loss mitigation efforts, saying only one in four troubled borrowers were being diverted from the foreclosure process at the beginning of the year. A recent report by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency raised questions about the number of borrowers helped by HOPE NOW loan servicers, and called for more consistent reporting of workout efforts (see story).

"I supported the HOPE NOW program when it came out and I continue to think it is worth trying, but it is now clear that much more aggressive action is needed and reinforces the need for legislation to expand the FHA program to help refinance at-risk borrowers into viable mortgages," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a statement after the release of the OCC report. Frank supports a $300 billion expansion of FHA loan guarantee programs to refinance mortgages for owner-occupied home when lenders agree to write-down principal and pay fees, limiting their recovery to 85 percent of a property’s currently assessed value.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 2.2 million borrowers with alt-A or subprime loans will face foreclosure proceedings between Oct. 1, 2008 and Sept. 30, 2011. Frank’s proposal would allow about 400,000 borrowers with loans worth $68 billion to refinance, CBO estimated, at an estimated cost of $680 million.  

Asked if the new HOPE NOW guidelines were a response to pressure from regulators and lawmakers, Steve Bartlett, chief executive officer of the Financial Services Roundtable said the move was prompted by "the size of the problem," which he said was getting larger. "The size of problem requires a much different and bigger solution," Bartlett said in a conference call with reporters.

The 27 lenders agreeing to follow the new HOPE NOW guidelines were Acqura Loan Services, Assurant Inc., Aurora Loan Services, Avelo Mortgage LLC, Bank of America, Carrington Mortgage Services, Chase, Citigroup Inc., Countrywide Financial Corp., EMC Mortgage Corp., First Horizon Home Loans and First Tennessee Home Loans, GMAC ResCap, Home Loan Services Inc., HomEq Servicing, HSBC Finance, Indymac Bank, LandAmerica Financial Group Inc./LoanCare Servicing Center, Litton Loan Servicing, National City Mortgage Corp., Nationstar Mortgage LLC, Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, Option One Mortgage Corp., Saxon Mortgage Services, SunTrust Mortgage Inc., Washington Mutual Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Wilshire Credit Corp.

For more information visit The Homeownership Preservation Foundation’s HOPE Hotline (888) 995-4673 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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