New Tax Relief And Refinancing Cited As Help For Struggling Homeowners


Saturday, September 1st 2007, 3:55 pm
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ New tax relief and the ability to refinance adjustable rate mortgages could help many Americans who are in danger of losing their homes, President Bush said Saturday.

The president devoted his weekly radio address to a modest set of proposals he announced Friday to deal with an alarming rise in mortgage defaults, which has contributed to turbulent financial markets.

``The mortgage industry is going through a period of adjustment,'' Bush said. ``And some Americans are worried about the impact this is having on their ability to make their monthly mortgage payments.''

Foreclosure and late payments have spiked, especially for so-called subprime borrowers with blemished credit histories or low incomes. Higher interest rates and weak home values have made it impossible for some to pay or to keep up with their monthly mortgage payments. Some overstretched homeowners can't afford to refinance or even sell their homes.

Mortgage foreclosures and late payments are expected to worsen. Some 2 million adjustable rate mortgages are to reset to higher rates this year and next. Steep penalties for prepaying mortgages have added to some homeowners' headaches.

Bush's proposals would make it easier for borrowers currently holding adjustable rate mortgages to refinance using the resources of the Federal Housing Administration, a Depression-era agency created to help low- and moderate-income Americans afford homes.

An estimated 60,000 homeowners who have fallen behind on their payments because their mortgages have reset would be able to refinance with FHA-insured loans. That marks a significant change because now FHA does not insure refinanced loans from borrowers who are currently delinquent.

To qualify for the new program, being called FHA Secure, a borrower must prove that the original loan was being repaid until it reset to a higher rate and must have 3 percent equity in the home. The FHA does not supply the mortgage loan but it guarantees loans extended by banks and other lenders.

FHA officials said another 20,000 people would be helped by a new type of risk-based pricing for its loan guarantees that will allow lower-income mortgage holders to qualify by paying slightly higher rates.

As another part of his mortgage package, Bush said he would support legislation currently pending in Congress that would temporarily change tax law to let homeowners avoid paying taxes on forgiven debt in loans that are being restructured by financial institutions. Bush also urged Congress to modernize and improve the FHA so more homeowners could qualify for the mortgage insurance provided by the agency.

Bush emphasized that his actions are not aimed at bailing out home buyers who made bad decisions.

``It is not the government's job to bail out speculators, or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford,'' he said. ``We'll continue to work hard to keep our housing market strong.''

The president's proposals follow a number of measures that have already been introduced in Congress to deal with the mortgage lending crisis. Many Democrats said they welcomed Bush's ideas, but felt they did not go far enough and should be modified to help more people.