A Peek At The Mortgage Relief Plan

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President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are expected to detail Thursday the government plan to help certain homeowners in danger of foreclosure.

A few of these specifics were leaked Wednesday, and Early Show financial adviser Ray Martin got wind of them.

Many of those losing their homes to foreclosure have adjustable, "sub-prime" mortgages. Martin says they couldn't really afford to own a home when they got their loans, and they can't make their payments once rates adjust upward.

The implications have been far-reaching, for homeowners, the housing industry and the economy, and the government is stepping in to lend a helping hand.

Paulson made it clear in a speech on Monday that the only people who will be helped are those who can currently afford their mortgages, but won't be able to when their interest rates increase.

The government proposes to "freeze" these homeowners' rates at their current, affordable levels.

Martin has learned that the freeze would be effective for five years, with loans originated Jan. 1, 2005 - July 31, 2007 and re-setting Jan. 1, 2008 - July 31, 2010

Sources also shared information with him on two other parts of the government's plan:

  • Fast track to refinance: Although Martin doesn't know the details on this, the general idea is that the government will make it easier to refinance home loans that are in trouble. Financial advisers have been telling people whose mortgage rates are about to rise that they should refinance into a fixed-rate loan. However, many sub-prime mortgage holders have been unable to refinance because they don't meet the financial qualifications OR, thanks to falling home prices, they now owe more than their homes are worth. Martin believes the government will ease qualifications or eliminate the need for an appraisal during the refinancing processes, to make it easier and faster for homeowners to obtain a new and improved mortgage.
  • States help refinance: We all know state and local governments sell bonds and use the money to build schools or roads. Well, it sounds to Martin as if the government will now allow states to sell bonds to raise money to run refinance programs for homeowners in their state. Essentially, this move gives homeowners yet another source of funding for refinancing their sub-prime loans into more conventional ones.

    Obviously, Martin points out, many of the details of the government's proposal are still unknown. But it's interesting to note that much of the information that got around on Wednesday deals with helping sub-prime borrowers refinance. That makes a lot of sense to Martin, who says it's not good for anyone involved -- homeowners, lenders, or investors -- if a home goes into foreclosure.

    Refinancing has the potential to turn an unaffordable, unstable home loan into an affordable, reliable one. The idea of freezing mortgage rates has gotten lots of press but, as Martin points out, that usually just puts off the inevitable: Although it's possible for people to change their lives and incomes, odds are many folks who can't afford a rate increase now won't be able to afford one in five years.


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    The big question for many people today is whether the plan would help them.

    Martin says they don't have to wait and find out. They can check out a group called Hope Now (www.hopenow.com). It's an alliance of counselors, loan servicers, investors, and other mortgage market participants. It was established by Washington in October with the goal of helping struggling homeowners. Give it a call and counselors will talk to you about your financial situation, look up your loan, and let you know in about 20 minutes which options you may have to foreclosure. Martin suspects that Hope Now will play a key role in the new relief plan.

    Certainly, after Thursday afternoon's announcement, Hope Now will have all the details and be able to tell you if the plan helps you and, if not, what else you can do.

    Here's a startling statistic: fifty percent of homeowners who filed for foreclosure didn't discuss possible alternatives with their lender. Martin's message: In one way or another, there is an excellent chance you don't have to be foreclosed on. So look into it, and find a way to escape the sub-prime mortgage mess.