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Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush's Subprime Plan

by Tanta on 8/31/2007 01:14:00 PM

Color me underwhelmed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the key components of the plan are:

Among the moves will be an administrative change to allow the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages for low- and middle-income borrowers, to guarantee loans for delinquent borrowers. The change is intended to help borrowers who are at least 90 days behind in payments but still living in their homes avoid foreclosure; the guarantees help homeowners by allowing them to refinance at more favorable rates.

Mr. Bush also will ask Congress to suspend, for a limited period, an Internal Revenue Service provision that penalizes borrowers who refinance the terms of their mortgage to reduce the size of the loan or who lose their homes to foreclosure. And he will announce an initiative, to be led jointly by the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments, to identify people who are in danger of defaulting over the next two years and work with lenders, insurers and others to develop more favorable loan products for those borrowers.
What this looks like to me:

1. Immediate FHA assistance for people who are already 90 days down. Does this mean "up to 90 days down," "at least 90 days down," or what? Waiting to offer refi assistance until borrowers are in the foreclosure process isn't likely to make them want to go find the friendly neighborhood loan officer to do an FHA refinance. And by then, they've got a big chunk of past-due payments (not to mention possibly a prepayment penalty) to roll into the new loan. However,

2. We can't offer more proactive assistance to those who look like they're ready to default but haven't gotten there yet, because apparently after all this time we still need some more task forces. I'm guessing that we're still working on how the "more favorable rates" become available when the FHA insurance premium has to be raised and investors aren't exactly crushing each other in the rush to buy these loans.

3. But if you've already lost your home to foreclosure or short sale, you might get a tax break. This will "keep people in their homes" by making it less expensive for them to give up their homes. Or something.

My view? FHA will be an important part of the process of trying to save as many subprime borrowers who want to keep their homes as we can save. Surprise. FHA is the traditional home of "disaster relief." But this is a bigger disaster than FHA can absorb.

The rest of Bush's plan seems to involve arm-twisting with lenders and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's already going on all over the place as we write here, and has been for some time. But our fearless leader has used the Friday before a long holiday weekend to make a big "market moving" announcement about it. There's news for you.