Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Help for homeowners

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a "new" plan to help home-owners who may be able to benefit from re-financing (see article here). From what I have read, I think the program is good, but I'm not sure how successful it may be.

The program is designed as an aid to homeowners who want to refinance and take advantage of today's lower rates. Nothing that I have read says it will reduce the amount of the loan, only the interest rate. Let's say someone took out a loan on a $300,000 home in 2004 with a rate of 5.5%. If they had chosen a fixed rate, that's a payment of about $1700. If they can refinance to a 4% loan today, that's a payment of about $1430 and leaves $270 in their pocket.

So who loses the $270? Well, the new program is for people whose loans are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mach, so they are obvious losers in the deal. Also, banks may lose as older loans are paid off earlier. However, banks will get some refinance $$ in their pocket as well as a better loan. If the old loan defaulted, banks were sure to lose.

So what is the down-side to the program? Well, refinancing costs money and some of that burden will be paid by the tax payer. I don't think that's a lot of money (compared to loan defaults), so I think this is a good program overall.

Trouble is, it doesn't address the amount owed. In my example above, I assumed the entire $300,000 would be refinanced. In reality, if they were current, they would only owe $262,000 at this point. But the problem comes in that the value of the house may have dropped. The house may only be worth $200,000 now and in that case, they wouldn't be able to refinance. under today's rules, but would be able to under the new rules.

The program looks like it helps out some people in certain circumstances and therefore I have no objection to it. I'm not overly excited, because it doesn't seem like it will affect many people. Maybe the president is trying to tackle the economic issues in small bites rather than a sweeping program that no one can pass.

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