Sunday, November 27, 2011

Details of refinancing eligibility trickling in

Many Arizona homeowners underwater with their mortgages are anxiously awaiting more information on how they can lower their interest rates and payments through the expansion of the government's Housing Affordable Refinance Program.

But details on the program have been delayed. Information on which homeowners are eligible and how to apply was supposed to be released by now but will likely come out next week. However, government mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have begun providing lenders information on how to handle the expansion of HARP. Only homeowners with loans held by those entities are eligible to refinance, no matter how much more they owe on their home than its actually worth.

From the new information sent to lenders, it's now clear not all borrowers with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages are eligible. A loan-to-value ratio of 105 percent is still in effect for borrowers with mortgages that have longer terms than 30 years or adjustable-rate mortgages with terms of five years or higher.

While some borrowers can start applying to refinance as soon as Dec. 1., others with loan-to-value ratios above 125 percent will have to wait until at least February of next year.

Some questions and answers:

Q: Phoenix-area homeowner Marla Griggs knows she's not eligible for the refinancing program but is coming up on the end of the five-year point of her option-adjustable mortgage. The loan is not owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and she wants to know her options for keeping her home by refinancing and lowering her payment.

"Many people are not eligible for this program. Why can't it be applied to all mortgages?" she asks.

A: The federal government hasn't been able to make privately owned lenders readily participate in its programs, including loan modifications, to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. When U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan talked to The Arizona Republic a few weeks ago, he was well-aware that the refinancing program wouldn't help everyone. He said the government has to do what it can do to help the most homeowners now, and then hope the plans will catch on with lenders.

Jay Luber of Phoenix-based Galaxy Lending said early instructions from Fannie and Freddie show it won't be until March when the refinancing programs to help many metro Phoenix borrowers will likely be available.

Sorry, Marla, that doesn't help you. But housing advocates say to call Arizona's foreclosure hotline at 877-448-1211.

Q: Bruce Robinson asks, "What about all of us poor souls out here with FHA (insured) mortgages? We represent a huge portion of the outstanding mortgage market, and yet I read nothing indicating that the administration is doing anything for us.

"FHA's existing 'Streamline' refinance program is nothing more than a hollow promise. First, the fees are incredible, with FHA requiring a whole new up-front guarantee fee. Then, FHA is charging monthly 'mortgage insurance,' which is more than double that which is charged on most existing loans. Many mainstream national mortgage lenders appear to be simply avoiding 'Streamline' since it is so disadvantageous to most FHA borrowers."

A: I am hearing the same issues from many FHA borrowers. But mortgage brokers are beginning to report more success with the streamlines, partially due to more government focus on the program. The big issue is you have to stay in your home several years after the streamline for the additional fees to make sense. Donovan mentioned that some changes could be made to the FHA program, as well. I will write about those as soon as information is available.

by Catherine Reagor The Arizona Republic Nov. 26, 2011 12:00 AM

Details of refinancing eligibility trickling in

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