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U.S. to expand home loan aid

associated press

The government will let more borrowers qualify for a new, $300-billion program that lets troubled homeowners swap risky loans for more affordable ones, a Bush administration official said Wednesday.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston announced changes that aim to expand participation in the new Hope for Homeowners program.

Launched Oct. 1, the program is off to a slow start, with the government receiving just 111 applications during the first month.

Lenders blamed drawbacks to the program’s original design for their lack of participation. Among their complaints: Lenders were required to forgive large portions of defaulting loans and forfeit future equity to the government. Another provision left homeowners owing the federal government half the value that their home gains years down the road.

Under the new rules, lenders would be allowed to take a smaller loss. New loans can be made for 96.5% of the home’s value, rather than the previous level of 90%.

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“Few lenders have actually signed up, and few borrowers have submitted applications,” Preston said.

“Clearly, meaningful changes are needed.”

The new guidelines apply only to borrowers who are spending as much as 31% of their pretax income on their home loans. Borrowers who are spending a larger share of their incomes are required to have at least 10% in home equity.

Preston also said that lenders who hold home equity loans or other second mortgages must not block the transaction and will receive “an immediate payment” and a share of any eventual appreciation in return for doing so.

Also, lenders will be allowed to create new 40-year mortgages, going beyond the traditional 30-year term, which will lower the borrowers’ monthly payments but cost them more in interest over the life of the loan.

The HUD secretary’s remarks came a day after top lawmakers threw their support behind another proposal to use $24 billion in government funds to help more struggling borrowers.


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