Obama's Loan Modification Plan: 7 Things You Need to Know

The White House releases fresh details on its plan to save the housing market.


5. Net present value: To determine if a particular mortgage will be modified, the servicer will perform a so-called net present value test. The test compares the expected cash flow that the loan would generate if it is modified with the expected cash flow it would generate if it isn't. If the modified loan is expected to produce more cash flow for the mortgage holder, the servicer is to restructure the loan. Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant and a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official during the Clinton administration, called this component of the plan "clever," arguing that it would work to ensure broad participation. "When you apply the formula, the loans that are modified are the ones that are in the best economic interest of the investors to modify," Glaser says. "The federal subsidy for the payment on the modification…tips the scale toward modification as a better deal for the investor."

6. Second liens: The Obama plan also addresses the issue of second liens—such as home equity loans or home equity lines of credit—by offering incentives to extinguish them. But key details on this component of the plan remained unclear. "Distinguishing the second lien is really important," Green says. "[But] exactly how they are going to convince the second lien holder to do this is not clear to me at all."

7. Will it work? Moody argues that while the plan may reduce foreclosures for primary residences, it could lead to a spike in defaults for another group of homeowners. Although he supports the administration's efforts to focus the initiative on primary residences, Moody notes that "it could be the case that a lot of [real estate speculators] have been just hanging on waiting to see exactly what the details are of this [plan]," Moody says. Now that it's clear the Obama plan leaves speculators out, "we could actually see a spike in foreclosures or at least mortgage defaults among this group."

Glaser, meanwhile, worries that lenders may soon be overwhelmed by inquiries from homeowners looking to participate. "Starting today, millions of borrowers are going to start to call their lenders to see whether or not they are eligible," he said. "And I'm not sure that the financial services industry has the capacity to handle these inquiries."