Government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could start returning money to taxpayers by 2014, according to the latest forecast by the firms' regulator.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two companies, said Thursday the two companies have fared "substantially better" than expected over the past year.
Both Fannie and Freddie are required to pay 10 percent dividends on the government money they receive. Fewer foreclosures and delays in foreclosure processing because of a yearlong government investigation into mortgage lending practices have reduced their projected losses.
The government has already spent $169 billion to bail out the two companies. It will cost taxpayers at least $51 billion more to support the mortgage companies through 2014, and as much as $142 billion in the most extreme case.
Fannie and Freddie buy home loans from banks and other lenders. They package them into bonds with a guarantee against default and sell them to investors around the world. When property values drop, homeowners default _ either because they are unable to afford the payments or because they owe more than the property is worth. Because of the guarantees, Fannie and Freddie must pay for the losses.
Fannie Mae, based in Washington, and Freddie Mac, based in McLean, Va., own or guarantee about half of all mortgages in the U.S., or nearly 31 million home loans worth more than $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they backed nearly 90 percent of new mortgages over the past year.