Reality vs. Partisan Pundits. No Contest

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The Administrations well meant efforts to make it possible for many homeowners to avoid foreclosure has stirred up a hornet’s nest among some media commentators.

The Plan described at http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/ uses up to $75 billion to provide incentives to holders of FANIE MAE and FREDDY MAC loans to work with Borrowers to refinance, or modify existing problem loans, rather than simply go ahead and foreclose.

This is a classic version of the glass ½ full, or ½ empty. Typically, in our current exclusively partisan media, the answer is dictated solely by political affiliation regardless of the facts.

This is unfortunate because there are legitimate reasons for supporting, opposing, or, better still, improving the current process.

One the one hand it is a legitimate effort to try to help Joe Public get through a situation brought about by failures in our economic systems. Given the Trillions of dollars being ploughed back to the very people who caused this situation, the $75 Billion allocated to this program is peanuts.

On the other hand there is a valid argument to be made that subsidizing refinances, or modifying problem loans, is simply putting off an inevitable final default. This can often hurt the very people it purports to help by having them use up scarce funds in a doomed attempt to save an impossible situation, rather than simply give the property back to the Lender and getting  on with life.

The December report on the status of this program provides ample ammunition for both schools of thought, and the regulators have shifted emphasis to try to deal with the problems showing up.

The summary shows that 728,000 loan modifications are already in the required trial phase. Unfortunately only 31,382 have completed that phase and have become permanent, saving homeowners an average of $550 per month. The low rate at which Trials become Permanent  is a serious problem raising concerns that a significant number of these modifications are simply allowing the Banks to delay acknowledging the number of bad loans on their books and to avoid taking the losses on to their Balance Sheets.

If that is true then the inevitable result will be a longer period of foreclosed properties coming to market as these failed modifications fall apart.

As with most things there is not a simple answer, but on balance I come down on the side of giving the program a fair shot. This is based mostly on my view that given the countless billions we have poured into supporting the financial institutions that caused the problems,  a little effort to give similar assistance to the victims is not unreasonable.

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