Principal Forgiveness, Still The Best Way To Limit U.S. Mortgage Redefaults, Is Becoming More Prevalent

In June of last year, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services contended that principal forgiveness was more likely to keep U.S. mortgage borrowers current than more commonly used modification tools (see “The Best Way to Limit U.S. Mortgage Redefaults May Be Principal Forgiveness,” June 15, 2012). Data gathered since then not only support this view but also demonstrate servicers’ growing adoption of this form of loss mitigation.

As of February of this year, more than 1.5 million homeowners have received a permanent modification through the U.S. federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Since the publication of our June 2012 article, there have been more than 400,000 additional modifications on outstanding mortgages (as of March 2013). This translates to roughly a 22% rate of growth in the number of modifications on an additional $2.4 billion in mortgage debt.

Under the HAMP Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA) program, which provides monetary incentives to servicers that reduce principal, borrowers have received approximately $9.6 billion in principal forgiveness as of March 2013. Interestingly, servicers have ramped up their use of principal forgiveness on loans that don’t necessarily qualify for PRA assistance. Indeed, among the top five servicers for non-agency loans, we’ve noted that principal forgiveness, as a percentage of average modifications performed on a monthly basis, has increased by about 200% since the latter half of 2011 (see Chart 1). We attribute part of this to the $25 billion settlement in February 2012 with 49 state attorneys general and these same five servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo). In fact, although principal reduction remains the least common type of loan modification among servicers, the percentage of non-agency modified loans that have received principal forgiveness has increased by 3% since June 2012 . Since 2009, servicers have forgiven principal on approximately $45 billion of outstanding non-agency mortgages.*

Click here to read S&P’s full report.

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