Troubled borrowers get help outside Obama mortgage plan

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- More troubled homeowners have fallen out of trial mortgage modifications than have received long-term help, a new government report released Monday shows.

But nearly half of these borrowers received alternate help, while only 7% have fallen into foreclosure, according to the latest report on the administration's signature housing-rescue plan, Home Affordable Modification Program, known as HAMP.

Also, trying to bolster the perception of its overall housing rescue efforts, the Obama administration separately debuted a so-called housing scorecard on Monday, which provided various statistics about the market's performance over the past two years.

The HAMP initiative saw a surge of people leave the initiative in May. More than 152,000 have had their trial adjustments cancelled since the program started, mainly because they could not document their income or because they earned too much to qualify for assistance, officials said.

Nearly 430,000 borrowers have had their trials cancelled -- more than one-third of the total started. Servicers place troubled borrowers in trial modifications for several months to verify their income and see whether they can make the lowered payments. More than 70% of the those cancelled this month had been in trial for at least six months.

However, 48.9% of those who had their trials cancelled received alternate modifications, according to data culled from eight servicers. Nearly 10% brought their loans current, while 3.6% landed in bankruptcy and 7% in foreclosure. Some 2.1% have been able to leave their homes through short-sales or similar actions, while 26.1% are still waiting to learn their fate.

"The large majority of those who enter trial mods are still today successfully able to stay in their homes through the range of alternatives that are available to them," said Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Permanent modifications rise

The number of permanent modifications rose to nearly 347,000 in May, up from 299,000 the previous month. Those in permanent modifications pay no more than 31% of their pre-tax monthly income towards their mortgages for five years. Then, their interest rate is fixed at the rate when the permanent modification was initiated.

Some 6,233 of these borrowers have redefaulted, up from 3,663 in April. Administration officials told reporters Monday that it was too soon to predict long-term redefault rates, but so far few people have slipped back into default.

The number of trial modifications started continues to ebb as more servicers require borrowers to document their income before entering the program. Only 30,099 trials were started in May, down from 47,160 a month earlier and nearly 110,000 in December.

Mixed scorecard performance

The administration trumpeted the recovery in the housing market since President Obama took office in January 2009.

After 30 straight months of decline, home prices have leveled off in the past year and expectations are higher, according to the scorecard. Homeowners have regained more than $1 trillion in equity since the first quarter of 2009.

Historically low interest rates have led more than 6 million homeowners to refinance, saving an estimated $150 per month on average. And more than 2.5 million families have purchased a home using the first-time homebuyer tax credit.

Some 2.8 million people received restructured mortgages since April 2009, including 1.2 million borrowers who were placed in temporary HAMP trial modifications.

"The administration's housing policies, combined with actions of the Fed, have lowered mortgage interest rates, helped stabilize home prices and reduced the rate of foreclosures, repairing some of the damage caused by the financial crisis to the financial security of millions and millions of American families," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

But a deeper look at the scorecard shows that dark clouds remain over the housing market.

Completed foreclosures soared to 93,800 in May, up from 65,000 a year earlier, while delinquency rates for borrowers with the best credit history jumped a full point to 5.9% in the first quarter. Borrowers who owe more than their house is worth rose to 11.3 million in the first quarter, up from 10.2 million a year earlier.

The number of vacant homes held off the market rose to 3.6 million in the first quarter, up from 3.5 million a year earlier. The number of mortgages refinanced in the first quarter fell to 1.17 million, from 1.31 million during the same period in 2009. To top of page

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