Debate Rages Over Loan Forgiveness at Fannie, Freddie
By Diana Olick, CNBC Real Estate Reporter
NEW YORK (CNBC) -- The man at the center of the controversy over writing down mortgage principal on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans isn't wavering. He may be reconsidering previous loss formulas, factoring in new government subsidies for principal write-down, but his opinion seems largely unchanged.
After beginning a speech Tuesday morning about all the so-called "Enterprises" (Fannie and Freddie) have done to help millions of borrowers behind on their mortgage payments, and reminding listeners of his agency's mandate to, "preserve and conserve the assets of the Enterprises," FHFA Acting Director Ed DeMarco took a left turn.
"There is another human element in this story that does not seem to receive much attention," DeMarco continued. "Clearly, many households got over-extended financially. Some accumulated debts they couldn't afford when hours or wages were cut or jobs were lost. Others withdrew equity from their homes as house prices soared. Others bought houses at the peak of the market, often with little money down, perhaps in the belief house prices would continue to climb. Yet there are other Americans who did not do these thing."
That last part really clinches what may eventually be his decision not to allow principal forgiveness, or to do it in an extremely narrow way. Yes, there are all kinds of formulas, and "net present value" analyses that have been and continue to be run. There will be Enterprise gains offset by taxpayer losses, and there will be estimates of operational costs to implement a wide-ranging and necessarily transparent program. But in the end, less than one million borrowers would be helped, and for DeMarco, as for many others, it will come down to fairness and cheating.
"One factor that needs to be considered is the borrower incentive effects. That means, will some percentage of borrowers who are current on their loans, be encouraged to either claim a hardship or actually go delinquent to capture the benefits of principal forgiveness?" asks DeMarco.