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Mortgage servicers suggest aid plan for jobless

By Tami Luhby, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Mortgage Bankers Association proposed a forbearance program Wednesday aimed at helping the unemployed pay their mortgages for up to nine months.

Under the proposal, loan servicers would reduce eligible borrowers' monthly payments to no more than 31% of their household income for up to nine months. Unlike a modification, however, the arrears would be tacked onto the end of the mortgage.

As part of the proposal, the association has asked the Treasury Department to provide loans to some servicers to cover payments to the mortgages' investors.

While many servicers already have forbearance programs, their resources are being strained by the rising ranks of the jobless. Also, some smaller servicers can't afford to implement forbearance programs, an association spokesman said.

Treasury officials, who met with the group last week, have not made yet a determination, a spokeswoman said.

The association spokesman said he does not know when the proposal would be implemented since it depends in large part on Treasury approving the lending initiative.

The trade group's goal is to address the growing number of people who are falling behind on their mortgages because they've lost their jobs.

"Borrowers with such a precipitous drop in income can't qualify for most loan modification programs, so we are looking for ways to allow those borrowers to keep their homes while they look for another job," said John Courson, the association's chief executive.

Once borrowers find new employment, they will be considered for a long-term modification under the Obama administration's foreclosure prevention program.

Most consumer advocates, however, do not think forbearance plans are an answer to the foreclosure crisis. Most delinquent borrowers need more help than just a temporary reduction of their payments.

Also, it's unlikely that borrowers will find new jobs in nine months in this tough economy, said Kathleen Engel, a law professor at Suffolk University in Boston who specializes in foreclosures. She said the program would need to last at least two to three years to be effective.

The association unveiled its proposal the same day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that he's concerned about the weak state of the job market. And the White House's top economic adviser has said she expects unemployment to remain around 10% for the rest of this year and remain high in coming years.

Engel suggests the government provide loans directly to the distressed borrowers to help them meet their obligations while unemployed.

"So far, we haven't seen a lot of help going to the borrowers," she said.

The Obama administration last week announced a $1.5 billion initiative to help borrowers who are unemployed or owe more than their homes are worth. The program funnels the funds to five state housing finance agencies and charges them with coming up with programs to help these homeowners. To top of page


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