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Foreclosures Are Often In Lenders' Best Interest

Nearly a third of the borrowers who miss two payments are able to self-cure without help from their lender, according to the Boston Fed study. Separately, Moody's Economy.com, a research firm, estimated that about a fifth of those who miss three payments will self-cure.

When Adrian Jones fell behind on the mortgage payments for her Dallas home earlier this year, her lender asked her to cut other expenses. Jones said she eliminated movies and coffee breaks. She turned to family members for loans. When that failed to raise enough, she sold her second car.

"It hurt, but it also made sense. The debt was my responsibility," Jones said.

But six months later, after catching up on the mortgage, Jones is again feeling pinched after her hours as an office assistant at an architecture firm were cut. This time, she's not sure she can fix the problem herself.

"I am going to try, obviously," she said. "But it is getting harder and harder."

Like Jones, those who are most determined to meet their obligations are often unlikely candidates for loan modifications.

"These are the people who will get a second job, borrow from their family to keep up," explained Paul S. Willen, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and an author of its report. ". . . From a cold-blooded profit-maximizing standpoint, these are the people the banks will help the least."

Lenders also worry that borrowers may re-default even after receiving a loan modification. This only delays foreclosure, which can be costly to the lender because housing prices are falling throughout the country and the home's condition may deteriorate if the owner isn't maintaining it. In some cases, lenders lose twice as much foreclosing on a home as they did two years ago, said Laurie Goodman, senior managing director at Amherst Securities.

American Home Mortgage Services, based in Texas, was willing to modify Edward Partain's mortgage on his Tennessee home last April after business at his beauty salon slowed and a divorce stretched his budget. But after months of negotiating with his lender, Partain said he was surprised to learn that it would only lower his payments by $90 a month, instead of the $250 decrease he expected.

"At $250, I would have had a chance, but after they added in late fees and payments, I couldn't do it," he said.

Partain soon fell behind on his payments again and went back to American Home Mortgage Services seeking a more affordable payment. Partain said he was told that he was ineligible for another modification because it had been less than a year since his last. A foreclosure sale was scheduled for late July.

After American Home Mortgage Services was contacted by The Washington Post about the case, the company said Partain would be considered for the federal foreclosure-prevention program and it delayed the sale by three months. Partain is relieved but anxious about the details.


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