Only about 4% get long-term mortgage help
Servicers provide permanent modifications to 31,382 troubled borrowers, according to first report issued by Treasury Department. An equal number have been denied.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Only about 4% of troubled borrowers have received long-term help under the Obama administration's foreclosure prevention program, Treasury officials said Thursday.
A nearly equal number of trial modifications have been denied permanent assistance, the report showed. The reasons include not making monthly payments on time, not submitting all the necessary paperwork and not qualifying for reasons such as insufficient income.
The report, the first comprehensive tally of permanent modifications made, shows that loan servicers have converted 31,382 people from trial adjustments to long-term assistance as of Nov. 30.
But 30,650 people in trial modifications have been denied, according to Treasury officials.
The dearth of permanent modifications has fueled concerns that the $75 billion plan will fall far short of its goal to help up to 4 million delinquent homeowners.
The number of troubled borrowers currently in trial modifications rose to 697,026, up from 650,994, a month earlier.
"Our focus now is on working with servicers, borrowers and organizations to get as many of those eligible homeowners as possible into permanent modifications," said Phyllis Caldwell, chief of Treasury's Homeownership Preservation Office.
Banks and the administration have come under fire in recent months as delinquent borrowers languish in trial modifications. Lawmakers lambasted servicers and Obama officials at a congressional hearing Tuesday for not doing more to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
Last week, the administration announced it was ramping up its oversight of loan servicers' conversion operations, sending in SWAT teams to break up any logjams, and requiring banks to submit updates twice daily on their efforts. Administration officials called financial executives to Washington this week to urge them to quicken the conversion pace.
"We're not satisfied yet with how this program is unfolding," said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herbert Allison at the House Financial Services hearing. "The servicers have a lot of work to do, and we're holding them accountable for their performance."
While the permanent modification figures are disappointing, there is still time for the Obama administration to turn the program around, said Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University. But he would like to see a big increase in the numbers in the next month or two.
"Treasury is aware there is a problem," White said. "We'll see if they are able to do something about it."
Thursday's announcement came hours after a report showed the foreclosure crisis might be mitigating somewhat. Foreclosure filings fell by 8% in November, the fourth consecutive month of declines, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed properties.
Under the president's plan, delinquent borrowers are put into trial modifications for several months to make sure they can handle the new payments and to give them time to submit their financial paperwork. Once the modification becomes permanent, servicers, investors and homeowners are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in incentive payments.
If they qualify for a long-term modification, borrowers can keep making the lower payments for five years, after which time the interest rate is set at the rate at the time of the adjustment, or about 5% today. Borrowers in modifications are saving an average of more than $550 a month.
Loan servicers say they are having trouble getting the necessary documents from borrowers.
Some 375,000 people should be eligible to receive long-term relief by year's end. But only one-third of homeowners who have made at least three trial payments have submitted all the needed forms, Treasury officials have said. Some 20% have not submitted any paperwork. Banks and government agencies have hired outside companies to knock on borrowers' doors to assist them with completing the paperwork.
Homeowners, however, maintain that their financial institutions are constantly losing the paperwork.
Donna Belanus, who just made her fourth trial payment to Wells Fargo, has repeatedly faxed her financial information and hardship letter to her loan servicer after being told her file was incomplete. The Elkhorn, Wis., resident was told a month ago that she'd receive a decision soon, but she's still waiting.
"If you give them everything, they should have an answer," said Belanus, who saw her monthly payments drop nearly $350 under the trial modification. "I don't want to lose my home because they take too long. It's uneasy not knowing what's going to happen."
A Wells Fargo spokesman said Belanus' file is complete and is in the review process. She should be notified of a decision within 45 days.
Once their files are complete, borrowers may be denied long-term help if they don't meet the program's criteria.
At JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), for instance, some 29% of borrowers offered trial plans did not make the required payments and are not eligible for permanent modifications, the bank reported. Another 51% have made the three required payments but have not provided all the needed paperwork.
The bank has launched a program to call borrowers 36 times, reach out by mail 15 times and make at least two home visits to retrieve the required forms.
About 20% have met all the criteria and the majority are expected to be put in long-term modifications soon, the bank said.
So far, some 4,302 borrowers at Chase have received permanent modifications, while another 16,131 have been approved for long-term help. The servicer has offered trial modifications to 199,033 borrowers.
"We continue to work very hard to convert customers from a trial modification to a permanent modification that lowers their monthly payment, but it has been a struggle," said Charlie Scharf, head of retail financial services at Chase.