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Excerpts regarding the fed/state plan for principal reductions, from latimes.com:

The most controversial part of the program, and the one most difficult for banks and investors to sign on to, dedicates $790 million to principal reduction. This would write down the value of an estimated 25,135 “underwater” mortgages, which are loans in which homeowners owe more on their properties than what they are worth.

The California plan — as well as programs created by Nevada and Arizona — would pay lenders $1 for every dollar of mortgage debt forgiven. Experts say reducing principal on such underwater loans would go far to reducing foreclosures in the three states because home values have fallen so steeply that homeowners are tempted to walk away from their obligations.

But the financial industry has been reluctant to participate in government-administered programs that would require them to reduce the amount that borrowers owe them.

“If you can’t do the principal write-down, you are limited in what you can do,” said Dan Immergluck, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who studied the different state plans developed with the federal bailout money.

“It is one thing for them to agree not to write down principal when they are being asked to foot the whole bill,” he said, “but when the states are agreeing to match this 50-50, it seems rather ridiculous of the servicers and the investors not to agree to this.”

Out of the three major mortgage servicers — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — only Bank of America has told the state that it will participate in a central part of its Keep Your Home program that would reduce the principal balance of certain troubled mortgages, and even BofA has yet to sign an agreement. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have declined to participate in the principal reduction part of the plan. 

Diane Richardson, director of legislation for the state’s housing finance agency, which created the California plan, said she expects other lenders to follow Bank of America’s lead once the program is underway.

Originally, five states in which home values had dropped more than 20% since 2006 were selected to receive $1.5 billion from the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. The program grew to cover states with high unemployment, which included California, and more federal money was added. California was initially slated to receive $700 million when the Treasury approved the state’s plan in July. Then even more money was added, resulting in a $7.6-billion program involving 18 states and the District of Columbia.

California, which accounts for 21% of the nation’s foreclosure activity, is the largest recipient of the bailout money. Homeowners in the Golden State also remain deeply underwater, according to recent data. In California, 27.9% of homeowners who owned single-family residences were underwater at the end of the third quarter, according to data released Wednesday by real estate information site Zillow.com. In Los Angeles County, 17.4% of borrowers owed more on their mortgages than what their homes were worth.

Getting banks to write down principal has proved difficult through government programs, though some lenders have done it through their own proprietary initiatives. The federal government’s loan modification program, which is also funded by money from TARP, has always allowed loan servicers to forgive principal on troubled mortgages, but has never required them to do so.

Proponents of forgiving principal say this is a serious flaw. They contend that debt forgiveness is the only workable way to address the problem created by underwater loans.

 

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