Many Struggling Homeowners Still Not Getting Help

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Most people at risk of home foreclosure aren't getting any kind of help, according to a group of state prosecutors and banking regulators. The mortgage industry has pledged to work with homeowners falling behind on their payments, but often borrowers and lenders never connect.


Six of the nation's top mortgage lenders have joined the Bush administration in another effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. It's called Project Lifeline. If you are behind on your mortgage payments, foreclosure can be put off now by 40 days. That may give you time to work out new lending terms. And the program even applies to homeowners with conventional loans, not just people who took out high risk loans. The plan comes at a moment when most borrowers in trouble are still not getting help.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD: In many cases, lenders themselves save money if they can avoid costly foreclosures, so there's been pressure on them to modify high-interest loans for people who could afford more reasonable interest rates.

Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa heads up the group that's been gathering data from the nation's largest mortgage companies. He says there are two major challenges right now. First, making sure that the borrower and lender actually talk to each other.

ARNOLD: Half of the loans that go through foreclosure there's been no contact. We've been working on that. The industry's been working on that. And the non-profit groups are starting to play a very important role.

And the other is the disconnect within the companies themselves.

ARNOLD: Basically, these companies have debt collectors on staff, not people trained to do complicated loan workouts. The Mortgage Bankers Association says companies are adding resources, but Miller says some aren't staffing up enough. The group of prosecutors will be making monthly reports to try to pressure the industry to do more.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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White House Unveils Home Mortgage Plan

White House Officials unveiled a plan on Tuesday aimed at helping at-risk borrowers avoid mortgage foreclosure.

The initiative, dubbed Project Lifeline, was announced by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. For qualified homeowners, it will put the foreclosure process on hold for 30 days.

"Project Lifeline is a valuable response, literally a lifeline, for people on the brink of the final steps in foreclosure," Jackson, said at a joint news conference.

Paulson said the plan was just one of a number of approaches the administration was pursuing.

The program was put together by six of the largest financial institutions, which service nearly 50 percent of the nation's mortgages. The participants are Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Countrywide Financial Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Washington Mutual Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The lenders say they will contact homeowners who are 90 or more days overdue on their monthly mortgage payments and give them the opportunity to put the foreclosure process on hold for one month while terms of their payments can be re-worked to make them more affordable.



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