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New program will allow some On-Time Borrowers to Leave Homes & Mortgages

imageFor some homeowners, March 1, 2013 will be Liberation Day. That’s when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will start allowing some homeowners who have been stuck in their homes—unable to move because they owe more than the property is worth—to walk away from their homes and mortgages

The new rules for deed-in-lieu of transactions apply to people who are current or less than 90 days late on their mortgage payments. To the extent that the change makes it easier for people to move—to take a new job, shift locations following the death of a spouse or caregiver, or if they become ill and can no longer afford the house payment—it should help the economic recovery. The change also will benefit military personnel who are relocated.

Previous foreclosure-prevention programs were designed to help only borrowers on the verge of losing their homes, in effect penalizing those who kept paying.

To be eligible to turn over the house keys, homeowners must be making payments of at least 55 percent of their monthly income for the house and must be able to document a “hardship” that requires a move, such as a spouse’s death. The home must be clean and not damaged. Homeowners may also have to surrender as much as 20 percent of personal assets, excluding retirement accounts, to partially meet the loan’s unpaid balance, depending on the borrower’s financial situation. The program does not affect second mortgages. Mortgage servicers can offer up to $6,000 for second-lien holders to release borrowers from the loans, but there’s no requirement that the holders agree. This could limit participation.

What is the process for a Deed-in-Lieu?

To qualify for a DIL, you will work with your mortgage company to complete the eligibility process, such as determining the value of the property and how much you still owe as well as reviewing your current hardship. If approved, you will need to vacate the property (unless we agree to lease the property back to you), and you may be required to sign standard pre-closing documents as well as attend the closing.

Additionally, you will need to leave the home—both inside and outside—in good condition, free of interior and exterior trash, debris or damage, and all personal belongings must be removed. In some cases, you may be eligible to receive relocation assistance to use toward your moving expenses and to make the transition to new housing easier.

A DIL usually takes around 90 days to complete, but this could be shorter or longer or depending upon your specific situation.

The new programs are separate from the government’s Making Home Affordable foreclosure-prevention efforts that require homeowners to be in or near default. The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs don’t require borrowers to be turned down for a modification before applying, as does the Treasury-run Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative program, or Hafa.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may require repayment of some of the shortfall between the value of the home and the mortgage balance — if the borrowers have the means. Homeowners who apply for deed-in-lieu transactions may be asked to make cash contributions of up to 20 percent of their financial reserves, excluding retirement accounts, according to the guidelines.

Or, they may be asked to sign a promissory note for future no-interest repayments. The amount and terms can be negotiated, according to the servicer guidelines.

Two weeks ago, Congress extended a law that grants tax-free status to the forgiven portions of mortgages, which normally would be considered income for the borrower.

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