Refinance while Underwater? HARP Expanded to Reach More Borrowers

A ray of hope has just been offered to some homeowners with properties that are seriously upside down, according to the California Association of Realtors.

In order to help a broader range of distressed homeowners and offer relief to the housing market, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced on Oct. 24 that the mortgage relief program HARP — the Home Affordable Refinance Program — has just been expanded.

Per FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have helped approximately 9 million families refinance into a lower cost or more sustainable mortgage product, approximately 10 percent of those via HARP. HARP is unique in that it is the only refinance program that enables borrowers who owe more than their home is worth to take advantage of lower interest rates and other refinancing benefits.

One of the biggest hurdles for borrowers who are current on their home loans and are considering refinance is the fact that the equity on their house is too low to qualify for a refinance. Until now, Fannie Me and Freddie Mac would only allow fixed-rate mortgages if the borrower’s property stays under 125 percent loan-to-value.  This requirement prevented many upside-down borrowers from refinancing to take advantage of the current low interest rates that they desperately need.  The enhanced HARP guideline lifted that restriction.

Other HARP program enhancements effectively reduced certain fees associated with the refinance as well as eliminated the need for a new property appraisal if the FHFA has a reliable automated valuation model estimate.  Both allowed cash strapped borrowers the ability to refinance without the steep fees a refinance might require.  The HARP program, schedule to expire at the end of 2011 has now been extended until the end of 2013.  New federal guidelines for the HARP changes should be released to mortgage lenders and servicers by Nov. 15.

According to the California Association of Realtors, the basic eligibility requirements for an enhanced HARP loan are as follows:

  • Existing mortgage loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  Borrowers can check whether they have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan by going to http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/get-assistance/loan-look-up/Pages/default.aspx.
  • Existing mortgage loan must have been sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before June 1, 2009.
  • Existing mortgage loan cannot have been refinanced under HARP previously (except for Fannie Mae loans refinanced between March and May 2009).
  • Current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be more than 80%.
  • Existing mortgage loan must be current, with no late payments in the past six months, and no more than one late payment in the past 12 months.

Words of Caution:  Remember my previous blog about SCAMs – Too Good To be True, Then Beware? There are a lot of scammers out there to take advantage of distressed homeowners at their most vulunable stage.  Before engaging services that promise to modify your loans or save your home from being foreclosed on, make sure you check out the FTC Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule that outlaws advanced fees and false claims and requires clear disclosures from the servicers.

More Information About HARP:

More information about HARP is available from FHFA.

Other Resources for Distressed Homeowners:

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