Wednesday, June 2, 2010

BofA Begins Principal Reduction on Delinquent, Underwater Mortgages

CNBC's Diana Olick:
This morning executives at Bank of America rolled out their new "Principal Reduction Enhancement" program, which is an earned principal forgiveness plan for borrowers behind on their mortgages and whose loans are at least 20 percent underwater in value.

The plan is in conjunction with the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, but the government's principal reduction plan isn't in place yet.

What makes BofA's plan so proactive is that it employs, "a principal reduction as the first step toward reaching HAMP’s affordable payment target of 31 percent of household income when modifying certain NHRP-eligible mortgages — ahead of lowering the interest rate and extending the term."

On the conference call to announce the program this morning, BofA's credit loss mitigation executive, Jack Schakett, said the amount of strategic defaulters (those who can pay their loans but opt not to) are "more than we have ever experienced before." He went on to say, "there is a huge incentive for customers to walk away because getting free rent and waiting out foreclosure can be very appealing to customers."

Schakett says the foreclosure process is still taking 13 to 14 months (and by my estimates that's an optimistic assessment), and so there's over a year of free rent. While the banks are trying to improve the time, they're just not there yet.

31 percent of foreclosures in March were deemed to be "strategic default" by researchers at University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

That's up from 22 percent in March of 2009.

We already know that mortgage walkaways are more prevalent among borrowers whose neighbors or friends have done the same thing.

We also learn from those same researchers that the likelihood of walking away increases by 23 percent when homeowners learn that a neighbor got some principal forgiveness...
And some details on the program from the Housing Wire:

The bank will attempt a principal reduction as the first step in the servicer waterfall to reach the 31% debt-to-income ratio target – the amount of the borrower monthly income that goes toward the mortgage. Loans eligible for the NHRP include subprime, pay-option adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) and prime-quality two-year hybrid ARMs originated by Countrywide before Jan. 1, 2009. The amount of principal owed must exceed the property value by 20%, and the loan must be delinquent by 60 or more days.

Through the five-year NHRP, BofA sets up an interest-free forbearance account for the amount of principal owed above the current value of the home. For instance, if the borrower owes $250,000 on a home worth $200,000 and qualifies for the program, BofA will set up a separate account of $50,000 that will sit alone without collecting interest while the borrower makes payments on the $200,000 at the current market interest rate. There are no required payments on the $50,000 non-interest bearing mortgage account.

For the first three years of the NHRP, BofA reduces the separate account – the $50,000 in the example above – by 20% each year if the borrower remains current. Meaning after three years, $30,000 would be forgiven in the example. If, by then, house prices have gone up and the borrower is once again at a 100% loan-to-value ratio, BofA will no longer reduce the principal. If the borrower remains above 100% LTV, BofA will continue reducing payments for an additional two years.

BofA will not reduce the principal on the non-interest bearing mortgage account if the sum of both mortgages achieves 100% LTV....

Schakett added that of the BofA borrowers currently moving through the HAMP process, 45% had an LTV of more than 120%.

“Our tests have shown that many homeowners who are severely underwater on their mortgages will respond positively to a modification offer that includes reduction of their principal balance, increasing the rates of acceptance of HAMP trial modification offers, conversion to permanent modifications and long-term success of the homeowner,” Schakett said.

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