NEW YORK (MainStreet) – If you’re a homeowner, the White House wants to chop $3,000 off your monthly mortgage payments – even if you’re current on them.
You won’t even have to go through those controversy-courting government-sponsored mortgage providers Fannie Mae (Stock Quote: FNM) or Freddie Mac (Stock Quote: FRE). Most homeowners are probably ready to sign up for such a deal no questions asked, but the analysts who are asking questions aren’t very optimistic.
Overall, President Obama’s “January Surprise” would focus on underwater homeowners – a big problem in the U.S. today. According to real estate website Zillow.com, about 28% of all U.S. homes are officially under water. But millions more own homes that are just above water, keeping them from selling, refinancing, or otherwise adding to the economy.
But passage of the Obama plan is hardly guaranteed. A growing consensus among Wall Street types is that the mortgage plan is “dead on arrival.”
But what if the consensus is wrong, and the plan makes it way to Congress? After all, $3,000 is $3,000 – and that represents a significant chunk of change to consumers and, presumably, to the U.S. economy. That seems to be what President Obama was going after last night.
“Responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “That’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”
Sounds great, but there’s theory and then there’s execution. And it’s the latter that might curb legislators’ enthusiasm for this idea. Here are three reasons why:
1. The plan is too broad. President Obama used the term “responsible homeowners,” which presumably means homeowners who are under water on their homes, but current on their mortgages. But will legislators support a plan to bail out homeowners who are current on their home payments, three years after the recession was officially declared to be over? Here’s the key issue: Whether you’re current on your home payments or not, it’s not the responsibility of taxpayers to bankroll a mortgage payment cut – even if you do owe more on your home than it’s worth. The White House will need to answer that question before approaching Congress with a detailed plan.
2. The FHA might not be up to the job. The Federal Housing Administration would be the refinancing vehicle of choice under the Obama plan, backing all of the refinancing of underwater mortgages. But the FHA only has about $17 billion in capital right now, and faces a capital shortfall of anywhere between $35 and $53 billion. Legislators – especially Republicans – may well wonder if another huge taxpayer-funded bailout is looming down the road if the FHA is to avoid insolvency.
3. There could be a backlash from homeowners not under water, but barely treading water. Again, the plans are sketchy, but so far the target appears to be focused strictly on underwater homeowners who have taken the biggest hit from falling property values. If that’s the line the White House draws in the sand, expect a backlash from consumers who may have home mortgage troubles of their own but don’t qualify for the $3,000 refinancing deal.
The Obama proposal is interesting, but triggers more questions than answers right now. If that remains the status quo, don’t expect the plan to get a warm reception in Congress.
A delinquent or defaulted mortgage will make a huge dent in your credit score, but there are some other commonly held credit ideas that actually don’t hold water. Check out MainStreet’s 8 Common Credit Myths Debunked for details!
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