The HARP2 program, combined with the $25B bank settlement (providing $20B in loan modifications), will save some underwater mortgages from foreclosure and help long-term market stabilization. However, part of the bank settlement requires banks to adopt standardized (and hopefully more efficient) servicing and foreclosure processing measures. I think better processing, combined with the sheer volume of underwater mortgages is going to keep the short sale floodgates open for quite some time.

According to researchers at CoreLogic, a leading analytics firm, 11.1 million or 22.8 percent of all residential properties in the United States were worth less than the amount their homeowners owed on the mortgages used to purchase them.

The federal government originally rolled out the HARP program in 2009 to help homeowners who were underwater or near underwater. However, the program was recently broadened to reach even more borrowers. Originally, HARP applied to 895,000 underwater borrowers; and now HARP II is expected to help up to double that amount. According to HUD, about 400,000 homeowners have taken advantage of the program since it launched in April 2012…that’s less than 4% of underwater mortgages.

HARP II allows underwater homeowners who are continuing to make payments to refinance their loan. The new program offers a number of advantages over the original HARP loans. First off, there is no loan-to-value or combined loan-to-value restriction on fixed-rate loans with terms of 30 years and under. In other words, it doesn’t matter how upside-down borrowers are on their mortgages. Previously, there was a cap that restricted borrowers who owed more than 125 percent of their home’s current worth from accessing the program. In addition, an appraisal may be waived if a value for the home can be automatically generated, and the borrower only needs to have a 620 FICO score.

There are three main components to qualifying for a HARP II refinance loan. The first requirement is that the loan must be owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Second, the loan must have been sold to Fannie or Freddie before June 1, 2009. Third, a HARP II refinance must benefit borrowers in at least one of four ways:

  • Reduce the loan’s monthly principal and interest payment.
  • Reduce the loan’s interest rate.
  • Reduce the loan’s amortization term.
  • Transition the loan to a more stable type of loan. (i.e. interest-only to fully-amortizing, adjustable-rate to fixed-rate, 30-year to 15-year).

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