Refinance Your Mortgage No Matter How Far Underwater It Is

One million more homeowners have just become eligible for refinancing at the current very low interest rates. Until now, the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has been limited to homeowners with mortgages of no more than 125% of the value of their homes. By way of example, for a home currently worth $200,000, the mortgage could be no more than $250,000. Now that 125% limitation has been eliminated, allowing homeowners more deeply underwater to qualify for HARP refinancing. So some people who have not been able to take advantage of the low interest rates will be able to do so and get the resulting lower monthly mortgage payments. This change should especially help homeowners in those parts of the country hardest hit by reduced home values, where a large percentage of homeowners have been cut off from being able to use HARP.

To qualify under the revised refinancing:

1. You must have a mortgage owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which include about half of all U.S. home mortgages. You can find out whether yours is by looking that up online at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or calling 800-7FANNIE or 800-FREDDIE (8 am to 8 pm ET for both numbers).

2. Your mortgage must have belonged to either of these two institutions by no later than May 31, 2009.

3. You cannot have been late on any of the mortgage payments during the last 6 months or on more than one payment in the last 12 months.

4. You can’t have already refinanced through HARP.

The program continues to be voluntary for the mortgage lenders, so there are additional incentives for them. Lenders have been accused of being extremely picky about income documentation and home valuation under HARP, apparently fearing that they would have to buy-back the new mortgages being sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. So the new changes eliminate most of that risk. As a result, the application process should be much easier and less expensive for borrowers.

Detailed rules are expected by the middle of November, with lenders ready to implement the revamped program starting around December 1.