Government-sponsored mortgage purchaser Fannie Mae is trying to encourage distressed homeowners to find alternatives to foreclosure by banning those who walk away from getting new loans for seven years.
Troubled borrowers who do not try in good faith to work out a deal, but have the capacity to pay, are targeted by the policy announced Wednesday.
"Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting," said Terence Edwards, executive vice president for credit portfolio management.
A strategic default occurs when a homeowner stops making payments on a mortgage despite being able to do so. It has become increasingly common in communities where housing values fell sharply and homeowners are "underwater," or owe more than their houses are worth.
Fannie Mae said that in locations where the law allows, it also plans to take legal action to recoup outstanding mortgage debt from borrowers who strategically default. The company plans to instruct its servicers to monitor delinquent loans facing foreclosure and recommend cases to pursue for such judgments.
A spokesman for Freddie Mac, the other government-sponsored mortgage buyer, could not immediately say if it will institute a similar policy. Freddie Mac's current policy requires at least a five-year wait.
Fannie and Freddie were created by Congress to buy mortgages from lenders and package them into bonds that are resold to investors. Together, they own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That's about half of all mortgages.
In announcing the new policy, Fannie Mae said homeowners who make a good faith effort to resolve their situation with their mortgage services, and those who have extenuating circumstances, will be eligible for new loans in a shorter time period, but did not detail how long the wait might be.
In afternoon trading, Fannie Mae shares fell 2.1 percent to 41 cents. Fannie Mae shares were unchanged at 48 cents. Both companies plan to delist their shares from the New York Stock Exchange because they don't meet listing requirements that they remain above $1 per share.
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