Redefault Risk After the Mortgage Crisis


A tower filled with shredded U.S. currency in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Paul Calem et al. of the Phillie Fed posted Redefault Risk in the Aftermath of the Mortgage Crisis: Why Did Modifications Improve More Than Self-Cures? The abstract reads,

This paper examines the redefault rate of mortgages that were selected for modification during 2008–2011, compared with that of similarly situated self-cured mortgages during the same period. We find that while the performance of both modified and self-cured loans improved dramatically over this period, the decline in the redefault rate for modified loans was substantially larger, and we attribute this difference to a few key factors. First, the repayment terms provided by modifications became increasingly generous, including the more frequent offering of principal reduction, resulting in greater financial relief to borrowers. Second, the later modifications also benefited from improving economic conditions — modification became more effective as unemployment rates declined and home prices recovered. Third, we find that the difference in redefault rate improvement between modified loans and self-cured loans is not fully explained by observable risk and economic variables. We attribute this residual difference to the servicers’ learning process — so-called learning by doing. Early in the mortgage crisis, many servicers had limited experience selecting the best borrowers for modification. As modification activity increased, lenders became more adept at screening borrowers for modification eligibility and in selecting appropriate modification terms.

The big question, of course, is what does this all tell us about preparing for the next crisis? That crisis, no doubt, won’t be a repeat of the last one. But it will likely rhyme with it enough — falling home prices, increasing defaults — that we can draw some lessons. One is that we did not use principal reductions fast enough to make a big difference in how the crisis played out. There were a lot of reason for this, some legit and some not. But if it is good public policy overall, we should set up mechanisms to deploy principal reduction early in the next crisis so that we do not need to navigate all of the arguments about moral hazard while knee deep in it.

Loan Mods Amidst Rising Interest Rates

photo by Chris Butterworth

The Urban Institute’s Laurie Goodman et al. have posted Government Loan Modifications: What Happens When Interest Rates Rise?. This brief is another product of the newly formed Mortgage Servicing Collaborative. This brief

examines the current loan modification product suite for government loans insured or guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). When a delinquent borrower with a government loan obtains a modification, the mortgage rate is typically reset to the prevailing market rate, which can be higher or lower than the original note rate. When the market rate is below the original rate, providing payment reduction becomes inherently easier and less expensive for the investor. Conversely, when market rates are above the note rate, providing payment reduction becomes more expensive and challenging, making it more difficult to cure the delinquency. This can result in more redefaults and foreclosures, larger losses for government insurers, and greater distress for borrowers, communities, and neighborhoods. In addition, most government mortgage borrowers are first-time homebuyers and minorities, who tend to have limited incomes and savings, making loan modifications all the more important. (1)

Given the recent upward trend in interest rates, this is more than a theoretical exercise. And indeed, the brief “explains why FHA, VA, and USDA borrowers who fall behind on their payments are unlikely to receive adequate payment relief when the market interest rate is higher than the original note rate. ” (3)

The brief outlines some options that could increase payment relief for those borrowers, including deploying a 40-year extended term and principal forbearance to reduce the monthly mortgage payment. The brief acknowledges that there are barriers to implementing the options it has identified but it also proposes ways to overcome those barriers.

As I had stated previously, the Mortgage Servicing Collaborative is providing sorely needed guidance through some of the darker corners of the mortgage market. This brief sheds some welcome light on an obscured problem that may cause trouble in the years to come.

HAMP-ered Foreclosure Prevention


The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) released a report, Treasury’s Opportunity to Increase HAMP’s Effectiveness by Reaching More Homeowners in States Underserved by HAMP. The Introduction opens,

TARP’s signature foreclosure prevention program, the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”), has struggled to reach the expected number of homeowners Treasury envisioned for the program. According to Treasury, TARP’s housing support programs were intended to “help bring relief to responsible homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments, while preventing neighborhoods and communities from suffering the negative spillover effects of foreclosure.” Treasury announced that HAMP itself aimed “to help as many as three to four million financially struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying loans to a level that is affordable for borrowers now and sustainable over the long term,.” The only long-term sustainable help provided through HAMP is a permanent mortgage modification, which become effective after the homeowner successfully completes a trial period plan. Through December 31, 2014, according to Treasury data, 1,514,687 homeowners have been able to get into a more affordable permanent HAMP modification (of which, 452,322 homeowners, or 29%, subsequently redefaulted on their HAMP modifications), while there have been 6,165,544 foreclosures nationwide over the same period based on CoreLogic data.” (1, footnotes omitted)

There is a lot of soul searching in this report about why HAMP has been so ineffective and the report offers tweaks to the program to improve it. But perhaps the problem is structural — a program like HAMP was never really in a position to make a bigger impact on the foreclosure crisis.

When compared to the federal government’s intervention during the Great Depression, HAMP seems too modest. President Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation bought out mortgages from banks in bulk and then refinanced them on more attractive terms than the private sector offered. HAMP, on the other hand, has trouble getting homeowners to apply to the program in the first place.

Bottom line: HAMP is too retail and what we needed and need is something that could be done wholesale.


Foreclosure Prevention: The Real McCoy

Patricia McCoy has posted Barriers to Foreclosure Prevention During the Financial Crisis (also on SSRN). In the early 2000s, Pat was one of the first legal scholars to identify predatory behaviors in the secondary mortgage market. These behaviors resulted in homeowners being saddled with expensive loans that they had trouble paying off. As many unaffordable mortgages work themselves through the system, Pat has now turned her attention to the other end of the life cycle of many an abusive mortgage — foreclosure.

The article opens,

Since housing prices fell nationwide in 2007, triggering the financial crisis, the U.S. housing market has struggled to dispose of the huge ensuing inventory of foreclosed homes. In January 2013, 1.47 million homes were listed for sale. Another 2.3 million homes that were not yet on the market—the so-called “shadow inventory”—were in foreclosure, held as real estate owned or encumbered by seriously delinquent loans. Discouragingly, the size of the shadow inventory has not changed significantly since January 2009.

Reducing the shadow inventory is key to stabilizing home prices. One way to trim it is to accelerate the sale of foreclosed homes, thereby increasing the outflow on the back-end. Another way is to prevent homes from entering the shadow inventory to begin with, through loss mitigation methods designed to keep struggling borrowers in their homes. Not all distressed borrowers can avoid losing their homes, but in appropriate cases—where modifications can increase investors’ return compared to foreclosure and the borrowers can afford the new payments—loan modifications can be a winning proposition for all. (725)

The article then evaluates the various theories that are meant to explain the barriers to the loan modification and determines “that servicer compensation together with the high cost of loan workouts, accounting standards, and junior liens are the biggest impediments to efficient levels of loan modifications.” (726) It identifies “three pressing reasons to care about what the real barriers to foreclosure prevention are. First, foreclosures that could have been avoided inflict enormous, needless losses on borrowers, investors, and society at large. Second, overcoming artificial barriers to foreclosure prevention will result in loan modifications with higher rates of success. Finally, knowing what to fix is necessary to identify the right policy solution.” (726)

It seems to me that the federal government dealt with foreclosures much more effectively in the Great Depression, with the creation of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. In our crisis, we have muddled through and have failed to systematically deal with the foreclosure crisis. McCoy’s article does a real service in identifying what we have done wrong this time around. No doubt, we will have another foreclosure crisis at some point in our future. It is worth our while to identify the impediments to effective foreclosure prevention strategies so we can act more effectively when the time comes.