Homeowners Seek Alternatives when denied for Federal Mortgage Aid

The taxpayer-funded Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, is the centerpiece of the nation’s foreclosure prevention effort. But it doesn’t work for many people.

For example, Bank of America estimated in April that more than half its 1.44 million delinquent mortgage customers weren’t eligible for HAMP. Wells Fargo says about 80 percent of its roughly 500,000 modifications are non-HAMP. Combined, the two banks serve nearly 40 percent of U.S. mortgages.

HAMP also has seen a surge in homeowners failing the three-month trial period, and a decline in new trial enrollments. Critics blame servicers for the declines, saying they’re doing a poor job and unfairly bouncing people from the program. Servicers acknowledge there were problems, especially early on. They also say homeowners aren’t complying with payment agreements or document requirements.

Whatever the reason, the problem isn’t going away. The number of struggling homeowners nationwide is expected to remain high because job growth remains sluggish and millions of people are out of work. That means alternative modifications are likely to become even more important tools for preventing foreclosure.

There are many reasons property owners can’t qualify for the federal program.

For example, they might have refinanced or bought after HAMP’s Jan. 1, 2009, cutoff. They might not meet income or debt requirements. HAMP modifications, subsidized by taxpayer dollars, also aren’t available for investment property, vacation homes and high-end homes.

In April, Bank of America finalized more than 23,000 HAMP modifications and had more than 210,000 in the pipeline. The Charlotte bank also has been averaging about 13,000 alternative modifications a month this year, said spokesman Dan Frahm. Most are for customers with mortgages issued after the cutoff or above the HAMP limit or on properties that aren’t their principal residence.

“HAMP is at the center of our modification efforts at Bank of America,” Frahm said. “It’s also important to recognize that no one solution or program can address the … issues facing homeowners, who are experiencing hardship as a result of prolonged recessionary impacts.”

President Barack Obama announced the HAMP program in February 2009, well into the financial crisis. Prior to that, lenders and mortgage servicers were already doing modifications so it’s natural there are more of those. Many HAMP applicants also are still working through the slow, cumbersome process.

Servicers participating in HAMP must first consider homeowners for loan aid under that program. If that doesn’t work for customers, servicers can consider them for their own programs.

Goyda said Wells is doing alternative modifications for about 60 percent of customers who reach HAMP’s trial phase but don’t ultimately qualify. About 10 percent find other solutions, and the balance are probably headed for foreclosure.

Of HAMP, he said: “It’s only one part of our overall efforts to help customers find affordability.”

Consumer advocates, while sharply critical of mortgage servicers for poor modification service, generally endorse HAMP’s intent and its standardized approach.

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