Proponents of mortgage modifications contend that the cost of even a deep principal reduction still puts the lender ahead of foreclosure, and experience in past real estate downturns would bear that contention out.
So why is this time different? Data from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency show that 55% of mortgage mods redefault within six months. Even more discouraging, the three month re-default rate was higher for loans modified in the second quarter of 2008 than the first.
It is hard to know for certain without digging further into the data. With housing prices down nearly 30% nationwide, and foreclosure costs averaging $50,000, banks could afford significant principal reductions and still come out ahead. However, borrower advocates contend that many mods in fact reduce interest, but unless the principal is cut, the reduction in payments is insufficient to make enough difference with many borrowers. Without mining the data further, it is hard to know where the truth lies.
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