For some homeowners, March 1 will be Liberation Day. That’s when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will start allowing some homeowners who have been stuck in their homes—unable to move because they owe more than the property is worth—to relinquish the houses and cancel their debt.
The new rules (PDF) for deed-in-lieu transactions apply to people who are current or less than 90 days late on their mortgage payments. To the extent that the change makes it easier for people to move—to take a new job, shift locations following the death of a spouse or caregiver, or if they become ill and can no longer afford the house payment—it should help the economic recovery. The change also will benefit military personnel who are relocated.
To be eligible to turn over the house keys, homeowners must be making payments of at least 55 percent of their monthly income for the house and must be able to document a “hardship” that requires a move, such as a spouse’s death. The home must be clean and not damaged. Homeowners may also have to surrender as much as 20 percent of personal assets, excluding retirement accounts, to partially meet the loan’s unpaid balance, depending on the borrower’s financial situation. The program does not affect second mortgages. Mortgage servicers can offer up to $6,000 for second-lien holders to release borrowers from the loans, but there’s no requirement that the holders agree. This could limit participation.
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