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HAMP mods spike at mortgage servicers despite tighter rules

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Mortgage servicers started 40,151 permanent modifications through the government's program in September, the highest monthly amount since May 2010. The Home Affordable Modification Program launched in March 2009. Participating servicers have extended 1.7 million trials and started roughly 856,000 permanent workouts as of September, up from the 816,000 cumulative total the month before. But many different problems haunt the program. When it first launched, servicers rushed borrowers into three-month trials before collecting all of the necessary paperwork. A backlog soon formed. By November 2009, just 31,000 borrowers made it out of the more than 759,000 trials started. The Treasury Department shifted guidelines, requiring servicers to gather all documents before starting a trial and put in place second-look reviews to make sure all decisions during the trial were being made correctly. The backlog began to shrink. In September, the servicers reported 19,800 trials have been active for six months or more without a decision, down from 190,400 in May 2010. Servicers will not meet the original 3 million to 4 million borrowers originally targeted with the program. After redefaults are taken into account, the servicers may end up keeping just over 800,000 borrowers out of foreclosure, according to estimates from the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. SIGTARP continued to press the Treasury to enforce stricter guidelines on the now $29 billion program – down from the original $75 billion – and said in an October report to Congress that it wasn't too late to adopt the changes. The Treasury has kept payments from Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) due to their poor performance in the program. It has since returned the money to Wells because of improvements made. A similar offer is extended to BofA and Chase. HAMP modifications are still outperforming private programs. Roughly 20% of the 125,700 HAMP mods completed in the first quarter of 2010 were 60 or more days delinquent within one year. But more than 34% of the 129,000 private workouts completed in the same quarter went two months without a payment in one year, according to recent data from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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