News Column

Feds Launch Web Site to Help Homeowners

March 19, 2009

Rob, housing help, fed program, Make Home Affordable

The Obama Administration's Make Home Affordable program is meant to provide relief to millions of struggling homeowners, but determining who qualifies is a complex matter.

To simplify it, the federal government launched a Web site Thursday that enables people to fill out an online form and learn what, if anything, they are entitled to.

Created jointly by The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), not only allows homeowners determine if they are eligible, but also helps those who do calculate the amount by which their monthly mortgage payments will be reduced.

"The tools offered on this site will help American families access the help they need even faster," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

First announced in February, the Making Home Affordable program became available to people on March 4. Administration officials say it will assist as many as 9 million homeowners, preventing roughly 4 million of them from foreclosure. The $75 billion initiative applies only to mortgages made on or before Jan. 1, 2009, and runs through 2012.

The effort aims to have at-risk homeowners spending no more than 31 percent of their gross monthly income on housing. As it is, many are spending between 40 and 50 percent.

Borrowers are only allowed to have their loans modified once, and the bill excludes mortgages for homes worth more than $729,750.

Meanwhile, the federal government has been working with lenders to make sure they understand the new rules.

The program requires lenders to assess whether easing the financial burden on struggling families -- with help from the government -- would be less costly than foreclosing a home. If so, lenders would be required to do so. If not, then the lenders could still make the mortgage modifications voluntarily.

Since early March, Treasury representatives have trained about 2,500 mortgage professionals on the new guidelines. A wide array of servicers from banks to small lenders have agreed to participate. Among them is JP Morgan Chase is taking a proactive approach to initiate loan modifications for eligible homeowners, according to the administration.

Features of include:

- Extensive information about the Administration's Making Home Affordable plan
- Self assessment tools to allow borrowers to determine if they are eligible for the program
- A calculator feature that allows homeowners to estimate the reduction to their monthly mortgage payment that they might stand to realize under the plan
- Resources to find free, HUD-approved counseling services for borrowers who have additional questions
- A checklist to ensure homeowners collect all the documents they need before calling their servicers

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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