Obama Administration Says Mortgage Modifications Ahead of Goal

foreclosureABC News Photo Illustration
Under the president's loan modification program, if a borrower is deemed in "imminent default," the lender and Uncle Sam will rework the mortgage by lowering interest rates, stretching out the payback term or lowering the principal to reduce the monthly payment to less than a third of the borrower's current income. Moody's estimates 5 million Americans will lose their homes in the next three years, even with a "robust" government modification effort

The Obama administration Thursday announced they have already met their goal of modifying 500,000 mortgage loans by November 1 under the federal housing help plan.

"Today we've reached our goal of a half million trial loan modifications, nearly one month ahead of schedule," Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said this morning as he was joined by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on a conference call with reporters.

The administration set the November 1 goal for the $50 billion program over the summer. The program's long-term goal is to help 3 million to 4 million homeowners in the next three years.

"There is a lot of work left to do," Donovan warned today. "Today's announcement is a good step forward, but we are nowhere near the finish line."

The administration today also released a new monthly report on the performance of the program's loan servicers, revealing that servicers have stepped up their efforts to help homeowners.

As of the end of September, 487,081 trial modifications had been made under the mortgage modification program, up from 360,165 at the end of August, Treasury Department data showed. The program then went over the 500,000 mark in the first week of October. Some 63 servicers have now signed on to participate, up from 47 at the end of August. Servicers have now extended trial plan offers to 24 percent of eligible homeowners, with trial modifications started on 16 percent of them, up from 19 percent and 12 percent, respectively, at the end of August.

"Trial modifications are now being issued at a faster rate than new homeowners are becoming eligible," the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing & Urban Development said in a statement. "Still, the Administration believes that more can and should be done to assist struggling homeowners and to stabilize the housing market."

The September data revealed that a number of high-profile servicers have boosted their efforts. JP Morgan Chase has started the most trial modifications of all servicers, with 117,000 underway, addressing 27 percent of all the servicer's eligible delinquencies.

Bank of America, a poor performer in past reports, raised their trial modifications by 62 percent during September. They have now launched almost 95,000 trial modifications, covering 11 percent of the servicer's eligible loans.

CitiMortgage has 68,000 trial modifications underway, accounting for 33 percent of their total eligible loans, and Wells Fargo has almost 63,000 underway, 20 percent of their total eligible loans.

One servicer has yet to start any trial modifications at all: MorEquity Inc. has 2,244 eligible delinquencies, but they have only extended 11 trial modification offers and have not started modifications on any of them.

You can view the complete data HERE.

As of August, 1 in 7.6 mortgages nationwide were either late with payments or in foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The bad economy and falling real estate prices are behind the rise in foreclosures, and more than one in four U.S. homeowners owe more on their house than it's worth.

The modification program, launched in the spring, has been criticized for its slow start. This summer, as the housing crisis continued and struggling homeowners complained that lenders were not doing enough to help modify loans, Treasury started to publicly shame lenders and loan servicers in an effort to get them to do more.

Treasury's first public report on loan servicer performance, released in August, found that only 15 percent of homeowners eligible for the program had been offered any assistance. Some loan servicers had not offered any loan at all.

The second report, released in September, found that 19 percent of eligible homeowners had been offered loan modifications and the number of participating servicers had increased from 38 to 47, but problems persisted: Bank of America, the servicer with the most eligible loans, had only started modifications on 7 percent of them.

"We've put significant pressure on servicers to ramp up their efforts," Donovan said.

However, many housing advocates have been disappointed with the plan's progress and say that getting a loan modification is still a battle. Most lenders, they say, are still unwilling to reduce the borrowers' principal balance, a key concern in areas like California where prices have dropped dramatically.

"It's not working fast enough and it's not working broadly enough,' said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, based in San Francisco. "There are no obvious consequences to the servicers for not doing what they're supposed to be doing."

This afternoon administration officials will meet with servicers, with a statement expected to be released after the meeting. The administration today will also launch a new attempt to streamline the application process and simplify income documentation and verification requirements, Donovan said.

The administration is also working on a plan to help state and local housing agencies, two officials have told ABC News. The details of the new plan are still being ironed out, officials said, but it could be unveiled soon.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the plan would provide up to $35 billion to help these agencies issue mortgages to low- and moderate-income families. The Treasury Department, in conjunction with government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would buy up to $20 billion of new housing bonds from the state agencies and provide $15 billion in additional funds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.