“Yes Virginia……………… there is a Predatory Loan Modification.”
For three years, the US has been subjected to all manner of communications from the government, the media, and lenders about loan modifications. For two years, I have, with increasing frequency, been reviewing actual loan modifications granted to borrowers, and loan modification offers. Over the past six months, I have been doing exams with paperwork included about loan modifications. And March 30, I wrote an article about the results of the HAMP loan modifications.
With what I have learned and know, it is time to finally put words to paper (or to the internet) about what is really going on. If attorneys and homeowners are going to fight to save homes, it is time to present to all the facts concerning the loan modifications efforts and offers. Many have seen portions or parts of the whole, but few have actually put it all together. Some have actually used the term Predatory Loan Modification, but they have applied it to companies that were trying to scam homeowners, by offering to negotiate loan modifications for homeowners, but with no real intent. It was those companies that resulted in SB-94 in California being enacted, with a lot of help from the banks, and that put loan modification companies out of business, and stopping large number of attorneys from engaging in loan modification efforts.
Predatory loan modifications come in many disguises and may include the actual offer, or just the negotiations of the loan modification. The purpose of the modification is to whether now or in the future, to cause the borrower to lose the home. It has no other purpose than that. I shall endeavor to explain many different ones, and then I shall offer an insight into where the next “Battle for California” and the rest of the US must take place.
Same Rate – Higher Payment-Taxes IncludedThroughout 2008, this was the most common Predatory Loan Modification. It was seen quite often with Sub-Prime loans, but other loans as well. It is still seen today.
The modification featured an interest rate which was the same as the current rate, but a higher monthly payment. The payment increased because arrearages were packed onto the back of the loan which resulted in the payment increasing. To add insult to injury, taxes were included as well.
The net effect of this “modification” was to induce the borrower to walk away from the home because they knew that the payments could never be made. Those that did accept the modification would end up losing the home anyway, since they could not make the payments.
Forbearance Disguised as a Loan ModificationA common practice used in 2008 and also today is to present a borrower with a letter identifying a “loan modification” offer. The terms of the offer are for a period of time, usually from 4 months to a year, whereby the borrower will usually bring in a lump sum to pay a portion of the arrears, and then over a period of time, make higher monthly payments to “catch up” a portion of the arrears and at the end of the term, bring the loan up to date. The lure of this program is that it implies that successful completion would result in a loan modification.
The fact of the matter is that I have NEVER seen one of these plans result in a successful modification. Once the payments are made, the lender denies the modification and demands the arrearages. When the borrower can’t pay, the lender forecloses. With this program, the borrower has “proven” that he could make the payments, so there is no need to modify, in the minds of the lender.
America’s Servicing Company, aka Wells Fargo, is famous for this program.
Option ARM Loan ModificationThis is a different loan modification that I have seen offered numerous times, often by First Federal of Ca. The client is in an Option ARM mortgage.
First Federal contacts the borrower, offering to modify the loan. The modification will put the borrower into a 30 or 40 year fixed rate mortgage. The problem is that the interest rate will be 5.5%. In fact, they told a friend that 5.5% was the lowest that they could go by law. This was a portfolio loan that they owned.
Review of the loan revealed that at the time of the offer the borrower was in a loan with a 2.45 Margin. With the Index at 1%, this meant that he was paying a 3.45% interest rate. First Federal would modify his loan to 5.5%, over 2% higher than what he was currently paying. Of course, it resulted in the borrower declining the offer.
BTW, under the FDIC program, the borrower could have been offered down to 3%, and not 5.5%. Glad to see First Federal gone, but since OneWest took them over, it will be just as bad.
Lower Rate – Two Year TermThis is a common offer. With it, the interest rate will be lowered for a two year term, and as low as 2%. However, after two years, the modification ceases and the loan program returns to its original terms. Of course, this only delays the inevitable.
World Savings ModificationWorld Savings had a “wonderful” modification program. They would contact a borrower and offer a modification for $299. The offer generally dropped the interest rate by .5%. This lasted for one year. At the end of the year, World would contact the borrower with another modification offer. This offer would cost the borrower $499, and would last a year.
HAMPSurprised to see HAMP in this list? Why should you be? The lenders and Treasury administer the program.
HAMP modifications offer to qualified borrowers a modification of the loan terms. The terms allow for an interest rate as low as 2%, for five years. After the fifth year, the rate will increase by 1% yearly, until it reaches the Freddie Mac rate at the time of the modification. This is usually about 5%. There it stays until the loan is paid off. Other terms are available with the modification, but to keep things simple, I shall not bother with those terms.
Sounds great with this modification, but here is the catch. I recently evaluated the HAMP program and found that the Mean Debt Ratio for all loans as of Feb 2010 was 59.8%. For March, this Debt Ratio was 61.3%. For the non-lending reader, this means the following:
• If a homeowner has a $10,000 per month Gross Income, and he has a great accountant and tax guy, he is in a 33% bracket for Federal and State Taxes, Social Security, Disability and other Deductions.
• After deductions, his income is $6,667 per month, take home pay.
• Subtract out the 61.3% Debt Ratio and he has $537 per month to live on.
• From the $687, he must cover food, fuel, utilities, medical insurance, clothing, phone, cable and other miscellaneous expenses. And, if he has several children, these expenses continue to mount.
Take into consideration now that the Mean Debt Ratio is the midpoint. 50% of all HAMP mods are over that Debt Ratio, and 50% are under. Subprime loans were for the most part a 50% Debt Ratio, and HAMP is approving them at 61.3% and above. Plus, how many are between 50% and 61.3%, we do not know.
The borrowers are going to face a decision relatively early in the payment process. Do they continue to make the loan payment, and end up having to stop making payments on all consumer debt? Or do they abandon the home, and pay consumer debt? Or do they just file bankruptcy and walk away from everything.
The end result is that most if not all of these modifications will likely fail.