WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is increasing pressure on mortgage servicers to put more borrowers into permanent loan modifications in a bid to bolster its $75 billion foreclosure-prevention plan.
Participating mortgage servicers will be required to submit plans about how they will decide whether a loan will graduate to a permanent modification, the Treasury Department said Monday.
Treasury officials and Fannie Mae personnel will also be assigned to monitor servicers' progress on these plans daily. Servicers that fail to meet program guidelines could face fines or sanctions, Treasury said.
So far, more than 650,000 borrowers have been given trial modifications under the program, which relies on hefty incentives to spur mortgage servicers to change loan terms for strapped borrowers. But only a small fraction have graduated to a permanent modification, raising doubts about the program's ability to combat soaring foreclosures.
Critics, including the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, have argued the program isn't suited to tackle the problems driving foreclosures — surging unemployment and a wave of resets on complex mortgages that are difficult to modify.
They say the Obama administration's program is geared toward people with adjustable-rate mortgages who can't afford higher reset rates. These types of borrowers were prevalent in the early stages of the foreclosure wave.
"Today's crisis is different," Jaret Seiberg of Washington Research Group wrote in a note to clients. "People are defaulting on their mortgage because the unemployment rate is above 10% and the underemployment rate is nearly 20%."
Under the Obama program, borrowers must make three monthly payments and submit documentation to receive a permanent modification. The requirements are proving to be high hurdles for borrowers and mortgage servicers alike. Already, Treasury has granted borrowers more time to submit their paperwork.
Meanwhile, successfully completing the trial period and filing all documentation is no guarantee borrowers will receive a permanent modification. A change to a borrower's financial situation, such as lost income, can make them ineligible, for example.
Treasury said Monday that roughly 375,000 borrowers with trail modifications are scheduled to convert to permanent modifications by the end of the year. It will begin in December to report data on the number of trial modifications that have converted to permanent modifications.
Treasury announced a new post to oversee the effort to push more borrowers over the finish line. Phyllis Caldwell will serve as the new Chief of Homeownership Preservation within Treasury.
The administration said it had retooled the program's Web site, www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov, to make it easier for borrowers to submit the necessary paperwork. It also plans to publicize the program more aggressively to state and local governments.