Lenders offer broader mortgage plan

February 11, 2008 7:05:57 PM PST
With mortgage defaults surging and politicians urging the industry to do more, six lenders agreed to widen their effort to help borrowers of all loans - not just subprime.

The plan, called Project Lifeline, is to be announced Tuesday by the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a person familiar with the plan said Monday evening, confirming earlier news reports and speaking on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been made public.

The plan will allow seriously overdue homeowners to suspend foreclosures for 30 days while lenders try to work out more affordable loans are worked out.

On a pilot basis, the plan will involve six of the largest mortgage lenders, in hopes that more lenders will sign on. The participants are Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Countrywide Financial Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

All six are involved in Hope Now, a Bush administration organized effort to freeze rates on some high-cost subprime mortgages for five years to aid borrowers whose teaser rates are jumping sharply higher. Since then, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has urged lenders to expand that effort to cover struggling homeowners with conventional mortgages.

The new plan applies to seriously delinquent homeowners, those whose mortgages are 90 days or more past due.

The Hope Now alliance, which includes lenders, investors and nonprofit groups, said last week that it helped nearly 8 percent of subprime borrowers in the second half of 2007 - more than its original estimate.

The group said it helped 545,000 subprime borrowers with spotty credit in the second half of last year, compared with its January estimate of 370,000. That works out to 7.7 percent of 7.1 million subprime loans outstanding as of September 2007.

Among the subprime borrowers aided, 150,000 were helped through permanent-loan modifications, such as lower interest rates, while 395,000 negotiated repayment plans, which often involve a borrower getting back on track even after missing a few payments.

Consumer groups, however, point out that many borrowers still can't keep up, even after loan workouts. They say many of the borrowers in the Hope Now effort have negotiated short-term loan modifications or repayment plans, which often involve a borrower getting back on track after missing a few payments. A full-fledged refinancing at a lower rate is preferable, they say.