Praise Where It’s Due

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A small but very welcome glow of sanity from a historically well run Bank.

After acquiring $117.3 billion dollars worth of option adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) in its acquisition of Wachovia last year, banking giant Wells Fargo is now practicing a rare but effective loan modification strategy: the cramdown.

Through September of this year, Wells Fargo has forgiven an average of $46,000 on approximately 43,500 high-risk loans in its portfolio. The typical debt reduction is around 20% of the loan principal, though in rare cases Wells Fargo has cut as much as 30%. Reports put the six-month default rate of loans modified by Wells Fargo at 15-20%, less than half the current rate of 40% suffered by the rest of industry’s extend-and-pretend modifications.

Debt reduction is only one of many tools Wells Fargo is using to aid its distressed borrowers, and is currently not being used as a blanket fix for all underwater homeowners.

My Opinion: While this is a national story and certainly only a very small slice of the current problem pie, a mortgage lender taking into account the need for principal reduction is a big acknowledgement that the underwater state of many homeowners’ mortgages require this type of treatment. This is something other lenders and Congress need to understand when considering the mortgage quandary. Continuing to “kick the can down the road” with “extend and pretend” modifications will do nothing to solve the massive negative equity problem. The fact that the small glimmers of hope — in the form of cramdowns — are coming from a lender and not the regulators really speaks to the hands-tied, head-buried-in-the-sand mentality which must be overcome if we are to move ahead with a recovery.

Re: Wells Fargo Cuts as Much as 30 Percent in Principal from the Wall Street Journal

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