On the heels of the HOPE NOW subprime ARM rate freeze — a program that, like FHASecure before it, seems to be having little impact on the mortgage crisis — Countrywide Financial Corp. said Monday that it had established a wider and more comprehensive set of subprime borrower workout standards in partnership with consumer-activist group ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). In a joint statement, both organizations said the new standards went well beyond the Bush administration-backed HOPE NOW agreement introduced in December. As part of the agreement, Countrywide will introduce new workout programs for borrowers with all types of subprime loans, not just hybrid adjustable rate mortgages with pending rate resets. Further, the agreement addresses home retention options and procedures for borrowers in various stages of mortgage delinquency, and not just borrowers who are current in their payments. Critics have suggested that the original HOPE NOW agreement is too narrow in its scope, and that it would be unlikely to help many troubled subprime borrowers — especially those already delinquent on their payments. The ASF circulated a memorandum last week suggesting as much, and the Countrywide/ACORN partnership illustrates that the nation’s largest servicer isn’t waiting for industry-wide discussion on the issue. “Countrywide and ACORN share the belief that no subprime borrower who has demonstrated the ability and willingness to make payments should face foreclosure,” said Maude Hurd, national president of ACORN. “We hope others in the mortgage servicing industry will adopt similar practices.” The agreement respects investor interests, Countrywide said, by ensuring that investor returns are protected by the workout options offered to borrowers. “Countrywide is eager to work with borrowers, whether they are facing rate resets or some other type of financial difficulty,” said Michael Gross, managing director of loan administration for Countrywide. He said the new workout plan offers “investors in the loans a more attractive alternative than foreclosure.” The lender said that it is currently working with 100,000 additional borrowers in an attempt to find what it called an “affordable workout solution.”

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