Alston & Bird Consumer Finance Blog

loss mitigation

FHA and VA Announce New Loss Mitigation Options

What Happened?

Both the FHA and VA have established new loss mitigation options to provide payment reduction to delinquent borrowers.  On February 21, 2024, the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued a new mortgagee letter (ML 2024-02) which, among other things, establishes the Payment Supplement loss mitigation option for all FHA-insured Title II Single-Family forward mortgage loans (the “Payment Supplement”) and also extends FHA’s COVID-19 Recovery Options through April 30, 2025. The provisions of ML 2024-02 may be implemented starting May 1, 2024 but must be implemented no later than January 1, 2025. The Payment Supplement will bring a borrower’s mortgage current and temporarily reduce their monthly mortgage payment without requiring a modification.

And, on April 10, 2024 , the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) announced the release of its much-anticipated Veterans Affairs Servicing Purchase (“VASP”) program, which is a new, last-resort tool in the VA’s suite of home retention options for eligible veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and surviving spouses with VA-guaranteed home loans who are experiencing severe financial hardship. The VASP program will take effect beginning on May 31, 2024.

Why Does it Matter?

FHA’s Payment Supplement

ML 2024-02 establishes the Payment Supplement as a new loss mitigation option to be added to FHA’s current loss mitigation waterfall. Specifically, if a servicer is unable to achieve the target payment reduction under FHA’s current COVID-19 Recovery Modification option, the mortgage must review the borrower for the Payment Supplement. The Payment Supplement is a loss mitigation option that utilizes Partial Claim funds to bring a delinquent mortgage current and couples it with the subsequent provision of a Monthly Principal Reduction (“MoPR”) that is applied toward the borrower’s principal due each month for a period of 36 months to provide payment relief without having to permanently modify the borrower’s mortgage loan. The maximum MoPR is the lesser of a 25 percent principal and interest reduction for 36 months, or the principal portion of the monthly mortgage payment as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins.

The Payment Supplement will temporarily reduce an eligible borrower’s monthly mortgage payment for a period of three years, without requiring modification of the borrower’s mortgage loan. At the end of the three-year period, the borrower will be responsible for resuming payment of the full monthly principal and interest amount. A borrower is not eligible for a new Payment Supplement until 36 months after the date the borrower previously executed Payment Supplement documents.

To be eligible for the Payment Supplement, servicers must ensure that:

  • that at least three or more full monthly payments are due and unpaid;
  • the mortgage is a fixed rate mortgage;
  • sufficient Partial Claim funds are available to bring the mortgage current and to fund the MoPR;
  • the borrower meets the requirements for loss mitigation during bankruptcy proceedings set forth in Section III.A.2.i.viii of FHA Single-Family Handbook 4000.1;
  • the principal portion of the borrower’s first monthly mortgage payment after the mortgage is brought current will be greater than or equal to a “Minimum MoPR” which must be equal to or greater than 5 percent of the principal and interest portion of the borrower’s monthly mortgage payment, and may not be less than $20.00 per month, as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins;
  • the MoPR does not exceed the lesser of a 25% principal and interest reduction for three years or the principal portion of the monthly mortgage payment as of the date the Payment Supplement period begins; and
  • the borrower indicates they have the ability to make their portion of the monthly mortgage payment after the MoPR is applied (servicers are not required to obtain income documentation from the borrower).

Servicers are responsible for making monthly disbursements of the MoPR from a Payment Supplement Account, which is a separate, non-interest bearing, insured custodial account that holds the balance of the funds paid by FHA for the purpose of implementing the Payment Supplement, and which must segregated from funds associated with the FHA-insured mortgage, including escrow funds, and any funds held in accounts restricted by agreements with Ginnie Mae. Neither the servicer nor the borrower has any discretion in how the Payment Supplement funds are used or applied.

Borrowers will be required to execute a non-interest-bearing Note, Subordinate Mortgage, and a Payment Supplement Agreement, which is a rider to and is incorporated by reference into the Payment Supplement promissory Note, given in favor of HUD, to secure the Partial Claim funds utilized and the amount of the MoPR applied toward the borrower’s principal during the 36-month period. The Note and Subordinate Mortgage do not require repayment until maturity of the mortgage, sale or transfer of the property, payoff of the mortgage, or termination of FHA insurance on the mortgage.

After the Payment Supplement is finalized, servicers must send borrowers written disclosures annually and 60-90 days before the expiration of the Payment Supplement period. ML 2024-02 also sets forth servicers’ obligations if a borrower defaults during the Payment Supplement period.

Contemporaneous with the publication of ML 2024-02, HUD published the following model documents necessary to complete a Payment Supplement: (1) Payment Supplement Promissory Note and Security Instrument, (2) Payment Supplement Agreement Rider, (3) Annual Payment Supplement Disclosure, and (4) Final Payment Supplement Disclosure. However, servicers will need to ensure these model documents comply with applicable state law.

Given that the Payment Supplement only provides temporary relief, it is likely that borrowers will experience “payment shock” at the end of the Payment Supplement period. HUD has indicated that it is aware of this risk and intends to assess this issue on an ongoing basis as borrowers begin to reach the end of their Payment Supplement period to help inform future updates to FHA loss mitigation.

VA’s VASP Program

Effective May 31, 2024, VASP will be added as the final home retention option on the VA Home Retention Waterfall where the VA may elect to purchase a loan from the servicer under an expediated basis after the servicer evaluates the loans and certain criteria are met.  Unlike a traditional VA Purchase, a trial payment period may also be required before VA purchases the loan.

Importantly, a borrower cannot elect to use the VASP program. Rather, servicers must follow the VA’s home retention waterfall to determine the most appropriate home retention option. If the waterfall leads to VASP, then the servicer must determine if certain qualifying loan criteria are met, including:

  • the loan is between 3 to 60-months delinquent on the date the servicer submits to VALERI either the VASP TPP event or VASP with No TPP event;
  • the property is owner-occupied;
  • none of the obligors are in active bankruptcy at the time of the applicable VASP event;
  • the reason for default has been resolved and the borrower has indicated they can resume scheduled payments;
  • the loan is in first-lien position and is not otherwise encumbered by any liens or judgments that would jeopardize VA’s first-lien position;
  • the borrower has made at least six monthly payments on the loan since origination;
  • the borrower is the property’s current legal owner of record; and
  • the borrower and all other obligors agree to the terms of the VASP modification.

After determining that a loan qualifies for VASP, the servicer must determine the appropriate terms that may be offered to the borrower. Until further notice, all VASP loans will be modified at a fixed rate of 2.5% interest, with either a 360-month term or, if this does not realize at least a 20% reduction in the principal and interest payment, a 480-month term. Borrowers who cannot afford to resume monthly payments at the 480-month term are to be evaluated for and offered any appropriate alternatives to foreclosure. A three-payment trial payment plan will be required if (i) the loans is 24 months or more delinquent, or (ii) the principal and interest portion of the monthly payment is not reduced by at least 20%. Borrowers who fail three trial payment plans during a single default episode are no longer eligible for VASP.

Once VA has certified the VASP payment, servicers have 60 days to complete a standard transfer to VA’s contractor, after which the servicer must report the transfer event in VALERI.

Importantly, servicers that fail to properly evaluate the loan in accordance with VA’s requirements may be subject to enforcement action and/or refusal by VA to either temporarily or permanently guarantee or insure any loans made by such servicer and may bar such servicer from servicing or acquiring guaranteed loans. The risk of enforcement is exacerbated by the VASP program’s technical requirements, which may cause operational challenges for servicers.

What Do I Need to Do?

FHA’s Payment Supplement and VA’s VASP programs both have relatively short implementation timelines but will likely require substantial effort to operationalize given their technical requirements.  Therefore, servicers of FHA-insured and/or VA-guaranteed mortgage loans should begin reviewing the requirements of both programs now, as applicable, and ensure that they make any necessary updates to policies, procedures, systems, training, and other controls to ensure compliance with these programs once they take effect. Alston & Bird’s Consumer Financial Services team is well-versed in these programs and is happy to assist with such a review.

Massachusetts Settlement Agreements Highlight AG’s Compliance Expectations

A&B Abstract: In a series of 2019 settlement agreements, the Massachusetts Attorney General has publicly provided insights into her compliance expectations for residential mortgage servicers.  The settlements demonstrate a focus on compliance with the Commonwealth’s Act to Prevent Unlawful and Unnecessary Foreclosures, codified in part as M.G.L. Chapter 244, Section 35B (“Section 35B”) and its unfair and deceptive acts and practices law (the “UDAP law”), found in Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts General Laws.

Section 35B and Chapter 93A Expectations

Section 35B prohibits a creditor (defined to include a servicer) from causing publication of notice of a foreclosure sale upon “certain mortgage loans” unless it has first taken reasonable steps and made a good faith effort to avoid foreclosure.  To be considered to have taken reasonable steps and made a good faith effort to avoid foreclosure, a creditor must have provided a statutorily defined notice (“35B Notice”) at the time a borrower is in default.  Additionally, if certain criteria are met, a creditor must conduct a review to determine whether the borrowers are eligible for a loan modification prior to publishing a notice of foreclosure sale pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 244, Section 14. While the requirements may sound simple, they are complex and difficult to operationalize.

To avoid violations of Section 35B and the UDAP law, the Massachusetts Attorney General expects servicers to:

  • Accurately record, capture or note in the servicing system when borrowers exercise their right to pursue a loan modification under Section 35B by returning the mortgage modification options form (“MMO”), as required by 209 CMR 56.09;
  • Complete a timely review of borrowers’ loan modification applications, as required by Section 35B(c), and avoid causing undue delay in the loan modification review process;
  • Disclose to borrowers the servicer’s determination of the income, debts and obligations and the net present value assessment performed by the servicer in the review of the loan modification, as required by Section 35B(c);
  • Offer modifications, including short-term and interest-only modifications that reflect the borrower’s future ability to repay the modified mortgage loan according to its scheduled payments, as required by Section 35B(b);
  • Not deny loan modification applications on the basis that the borrower did not return sufficient documents to be reviewed, if the servicer did not adequately or timely communicate the requirements to the borrowers or identify when all such documents have in fact been submitted;
  • Provide borrowers with notice of their right to present a counter-offer after being offered a loan modification as part of a Section 35B review, as required by Section 35B(c);
  • Take reasonable steps and make a good faith effort to avoid foreclosure when a borrower requested a loan modification;
  • Not record affidavits pursuant to Section 35B(f) attesting compliance with the requirements of Section 35B where deficiencies exist  in the servicers’ Section 35B loan modification review process, including the failure to identify MMO forms returned by the borrower; and
  • Accurately and timely report accurate borrower response rates under Section 35B to the Massachusetts Division of Banks (“DOB”) as required by 35B(g).

Additional Chapter 93A Expectations

To avoid UDAP concerns, servicers should also:

  • Provide borrowers in default meaningful access to a single point of contact (“SPOC”), such that borrowers can (i) reach a person who can provide information about the modification application, foreclosure status or other account information, and (ii) adequately ensure accessibility to company representatives to ensure borrowers do not encounter connectivity issues, including busy signals, long hold times, and multiple transfers without reaching a live representative;
  • Provide successors-in-interest (“SIIs”) information about what documentation is required to access the account, provide SIIs accurate information as to the availability and requirements related to loss mitigation programs, and adequately note in borrower account files a confirmed SII, such that surviving spouses or other types of SIIs are not required to resubmit death certificates or other documentation, when a servicer already has  such documentation;
  • Proactively  communicate with limited English proficiency (“LEP”) borrowers in their native language to provide information related to the mortgage account, adequately notate in the borrower account files a borrowers LEP status such that LEP borrowers do not have to reestablish their language-access needs with each contact with a servicer, and do not make outgoing calls to previously confirmed LEP borrowers without first engaging reasonably available translation services, such that LEP borrowers (i) encounter an English-speaking representative, (ii) face unexplained holds while translation services are engaged, and (iii) become confused about the nature of the call and disconnect;
  • Allow borrowers to complete short sales by (i) approving, explicitly or implicitly, a listing price in connection with a short sale application only after confirming the loan’s investor would accept an offer received at that price, (ii) not countering or rejecting short sale offers that meet the approved listing price due to a failure to obtain investor proceeds requirements prior to explicitly or implicitly approving the listing price, (iii) having adequate processes to resolve disputes in valuation of a property, and (iv) having a standardized or consistent review process such that borrowers attempting to complete a short sale do not have to relist the property to meet the servicer’s requirements; and
  • For in-flight modifications, ensure that loss mitigation applications initiated by a prior servicer are continued and  identify and honor loan modifications offered by previous servicer.

Takeaway:  

These settlement agreements serve as a reminder that Massachusetts continues to be active in mortgage servicing issues and will use its broad and sometimes nebulous UDAP authority to enforce activities that aren’t specifically regulated under existing law.