Obama Administration HAMP Loan Modification Program Falling Short

Dennis Norman

The Treasury Department Plans to Spend $50 Billion on HAMP…Is it Going to “help keep “3 to 4 million Americans in their homes” as Promised Though?

Last week Herbert M. Allison, Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as to “Is the Home Affordable Modification Program Preserving Homeownership?”.

Early in his testimony Allison states that, at the time the HAMP program was announced, President Obama said the program would “enable as many as 3 to 4 million homeowners to modify the terms of the mortgages”. Allison goes on to say that now that we are one year into the program that “HAMP is on track to have actual trial modifications for up to 3 to 4 million homeowners by 2012.” Hmm…am I missing something, or did the President’s message get watered down here? When HAMP was announced and there was all the talk by the administration of modifying loans for 3 to 4 million Americans to “keep them in their homes” I assumed that they meant for Americans to keep their homes longer than an extra month or two which would be the hoped for outcome of borrower’s receiving a permanent loan modification. Unfortunately now it looks like, based upon Allison’s testimony, the administration is changing their postion now and are now saying the 3-4 Million people they referred to includes not only the people that actually receive a permanent loan modification (so far only 12 percent of the people that were offered a trial modification) but all of the people that received a trial modification (lower payment for 3 months) and even those people that were offered a trial modification but didn’t take it. It appears to me the benefit of the HAMP program has been greatly overstated; the benefit of HAMP appears to have over-promised and under-delivered.

Later, in his testimony, Allison says that HAMP was “designed to keep eligible homeowners in their homes with long term affordable mortgages” which seems like a contradiction to me. Based upon his earlier statement it seems a large part of the plan is just to offer a borrower a temporary short-term modification and call it a success.

Here are the facts and figures from the testimony:
  • Since HAMP began 1.4 million people have been offered a loan modification for a trial period of 3 months
    • As of the end of February, 1.1 million people that were offered a trial period (78.5 percent), have entered the trial modification.
    • As of the end of February, 822,000 (58.7 percent of those offered a trial and 74.7 percent of the people that entered into the trial phase) people had been in the trial phase of the modification process for more than three months and could be eligible for conversion to a permanent loan modification subject to “submitting all necessary documents, remaining current on payments and meeting other technical requirements”. (The number of people of the 822,000 that completed the trial but failed to receive a permanent modification due to one of more of the aforementioend conditions was not given but would be an interesting stat to see).
    • As of the end of February 170,000 people have received a permanent loan modification (12.1 percent of the total number of people offered a trial, 15.5 percent of the total people that entered a trial and 20.7 percent of the total people that completed the trial)
    • As of the end of February 92,000 more borrowers have been approved for a permanent modification but have not yet received it. Assuming those borrowers can comply with the conditions mentioned above that will bring the total permanent loan modifications up to 262,000 or 18.7 percent of the total people offered a trial and 32 percent of those people that completed the trial period.
  • Allison stated that, even those borrowers receiving a permanent loan modification, “a significant number will redefault.”
  • Allison states “In fact, we designed our program specifically to protect the taxpayer.” Hey, I thought the purpose was to keep 3 – 4 Million Americans in their homes??
  • For those borrowers that have received a permanent loan modification, the median payment reduction has been around $500 per month.

Is this really helping the borrower?

While I don’t want to take away from the significance of someone being able to keep their home, from what I see I question whether or not HAMP is really doing that. The numbers appear to be more window dressing than anything. To count the offer of a 3 month reduction, or even the trial period itself, as a success I think is wrong..in fact, for the homeowner in that situation it may be down-right cruel and just dragging out their agony. I have heard stories of many borrowers that got their hopes up only to end up back in the same spot a couple of months down the road.

There are some stats that, if I can figure out how to get them, would be interesting such as; the percentage of people that complete the trial period and then fail to obtain a permanent modification for not meeting the conditions discussed above and, as time moves on, the percentage of people that, 6 months or so after receiving a modification, are still able to keep up with their payments.

What is the cost of HAMP?

According to the testimony,the Treasury has set aside $50 Billion in TARP funds for HAMP and they plan on “using the full $50 Billion budget.”

Now lets do a little cost/benefit analyis. For the sake of my analysis we will need to make some assumptions. Below are my assumptions:

  • Let’s give the program the benefit of the doubt and assume that by the time the program ends 4,000,000 borrowers have been offered a trial loan modification.
  • Even though currently only 12.1 percent of the people offered a trial have received a permanent modification, I’m going to use 18.7 percent for the projection of the number of people that receive a permanent loan modification as that is what the number would be if all the people currently approved actually get a modification (I think I’m being generous). Based upon this, by the end of the program 748,000 borrowers will have received a permanent loan modification.

Based upon my assumptions above, if this program ends up costing $50 Billion as indicated and 748,000 borrowers receive a permanent modification, then it works out to costing $66,844 per borrower for the program. The big question is, does this actually “fix” the problem for these folks and are they truly able to stay in their homes or will it do nothing more than delay the inevitable and give these borrowers a few extra months before they find themselves facing the loss of their home again?

Ask me in a couple of years and I’ll have the answer.

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