Mortgage relief coming for disaster victims

home damage sandy
Owners of homes like this one in Westbury, N.Y. may qualify for mortgage relief.

Relief is coming to homeowners hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, as government agencies and major lenders roll out plans to offer them breaks on mortgage payments and other types of financial assistance.

Earlier this week, Freddie Mac (FMCC)and Fannie Mae (FNMA) told the companies that service their loans that they can offer assistance to borrowers whose homes were damaged, or who lost income as a result of the storm.

Some borrowers with loans backed by Freddie Mac will be able to delay their mortgage payments for up to one year, according to spokeswoman Tracy Mooney.

Freddie's servicers can offer forbearance of up to 90 days on the basis of nothing more than a phone call from the homeowner. For help beyond that time frame, borrowers will have to document their losses with insurance claims, photos of damage, contractor's bills or other proof.

Fannie, meanwhile, will suspend or reduce homeowners' payments for up to 90 days if the storm has affected their ability to make payments or caused their property to lose value. And services can grant borrowers additional time after evaluating their individual situations.

The two mortgage giants, which back about 70% of all U.S. home loans, also offered up other types of assistance, including waiving late fees, postponing foreclosures for up to 12 months and not reporting late payments to credit bureaus.

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"We understand the disruption that a storm such as Sandy can have on people's lives, and we've made it easy for our servicers to offer relief to those who need it," said Leslie Peeler, senior vice president, for Fannie.

In addition, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan authorized a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures for loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

Superstorm leaves trail of damage
Superstorm leaves trail of damage

Private lenders, like JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citibank (C)and Wells Fargo (BWF), are offering to postpone payments for up to 90 days for customers in impacted areas who seek assistance.

Citibank is also suspending foreclosure sales within federally-designated disaster areas for 90 days and waiving late payment charges for borrowers unable to get mortgage payments in on time.

Wells Fargo advised mortgage customers affected by Sandy to contact the bank immediately to discuss mortgage payment arrangements, or to get assistance with handling property insurance loss claims.

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Additionally, the Small Business Administration has said it will provide loans to both homeowners and renters affected by Sandy; recipients don't have to be small businesses. Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners from the SBA to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible up to $40,000 to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed personal property.

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It's difficult to calculate how many borrowers will take advantage of these relief efforts, said Andrew Wilson, a spokesman for Fannie Mae. Eqecat, an insurance risk researcher, estimates that Sandy caused up to $50 billion in economic damage and $20 billion in insured losses. There are more than 893,000 mortgages backed by Fannie or Freddie in New Jersey alone, and nearly 10% of those, 83,000, are in some stage of delinquency. Many of those are presumably in need of relief.

There are an additional 212,000 homes with FHA-insured mortgages in Tri-State areas that have been declared disaster zones, which are eligible for assistance if they sustained damage.

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