Tuesday, March 23, 2010

HAMP applicants tanned and juiced

by Bill McBride on 3/23/2010 01:23:00 PM

CR Note: The following is from long time reader Shnaps. Shnaps has been working in the mortgage industry in various capacities "since people were extending the antennas on their mobile phones". Shnaps currently serves in a key role related to HAMP at one of the largest non-prime mortgage servicers in the Nation.

Shnaps writes:

One aspect of the Making Home Affordable loan modification program known as ‘HAMP’ is almost always taken for granted in its wide reporting – that the borrowers in fact need ‘help’. Moreover, it is generally taken for granted that those seeking modification under HAMP simply cannot afford their monthly mortgage payment. It is assumed that they have made great sacrifices, assumed they have already cut back drastically on discretionary expenses, assumed that they have already gone over their monthly budgets with a fine-toothed comb to eliminate all but the most necessary expenditures in an effort to keep their home. So prepare to be shocked – shocked! – as I share with you that I have seen first-hand that this assumption is oftentimes greatly, seriously flawed.

Let me begin with a word to the wise for HAMP applicants: unless you believe Snooki is now in charge of approving HAMP applications, it might be a good idea to cut back a bit on some of the creature comforts to which you have become accustomed at least a month before submitting your HAMP modification application.

Allow me to explain. The guidelines for servicers participating in HAMP stipulate that the borrower must submit a “hardship affidavit”. This, ostensibly, is to serve as their sworn testimony that they have been driven into default due to some particular hardship they encountered, and despite making every possible sacrifice, they can no longer “maintain payment on the mortgage and cover basic living expenses at the same time". (see HAMP Directive)

To demonstrate this, applicants are required to submit recent paystubs and bank statements. The statements are to help further corroborate the income they report (lest they forget to include all of their paystubs) and also to demonstrate that their monthly expenses are as described on their application. Which is to say that they have already ‘cut back to the bone’ and STILL are unable to make ends meet.

So how do these look in practice? The very first ‘HAMPlication’ that your correspondent pulled up recently showed a wanton disregard for minimizing spending. On the contrary, it looked like “cutting back” for this applicant does not involve such Draconian cuts as eliminating:

• visits to the tanning salon
• the nail spa
• some kind of gourmet produce market (have you seen the price of arugula?)
• various liquor stores
• A DirecTV bill that must involve some serious premium programming or pay-per-view events (or both?).
• And over $1,700 in retail purchases, including: Best Buy, Baby Gap, Brookstone, Old Navy, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Macy’s, Pac Sun, Urban Behavior, Sears, Staples, and Footlocker.

And that was just in one month! They were seeking to reduce a $1,880 mortgage payment that had just gotten to be a real cramp to their ability to keep a roof over their heads.

I’d like to say this is the exception, but it’s much closer to the norm. Many people who request HAMP modifications submit bank statements that demonstrate little if any “belt-tightening” going on.

Somehow, we now expect the same people who asked for ‘liar’s loans’ to be truthful on when it comes to ‘hardship affidavits’?