The Wall Street Journal originally reported on the plan to expand mortgage relief even in the wake of what looks to be positive economic trends in the housing market. The mortgage relief program expansion would allow borrowers who aren't covered by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to participate.
Under the proposal eligible borrowers must be severely underwater, with a loan to value ratio of 125 percent or higher and must be current with their payment. These borrowers would be given current market interest rates, replacing the 6 percent rates they've been unable to refinance out of (because they don't have any equity in the home) and giving them a lower overall monthly payment. The Treasury Department, probably with leftover TARP funds, would pay investors the difference between the old interest rate and the new for five years.
But the American Securitization Forum, which represents investors in residential mortgage backed securities, is balking at the idea, arguing that while underwater borrowers are at greater risk for default it's not clear reducing their monthly payment will change that. It figures $120 billion worth of loan principal would qualify. Taxpayers would kick in $11.5 billion to make up for the reduced interest payments for the first five years and investors would subsequently lose $9.7 billion for the following years.
"The key question from the policy side for both investors and taxpayers is would providing this reduction in monthly interest payments provide any benefit either to the investors or to the public at large by reducing foreclosures? Our answer is we don't think it will appreciably reduce people walking away from their homes," said Tom Deutsch, executive director of ASF.
From its record, it seems unlikely that the Obama Administration would heed investors' concerns. Additionally, taxpayers would be on the hook for almost $12 billion over the next five years. In the context of some of the larger numbers being thrown around in the fiscal cliff deal, this may not seem like a lot. But $12 billion here, $12 billion there, and soon enough, taxpayers are exposed to quite a bit of risk.