U.S. consumer watchdog proposes lifeline of sorts for struggling mortgage borrowers By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workers install roof trusses onto a new house in Colorado

By Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. consumer watchdog on Monday issued a proposal to allow homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic to have an opportunity to be thoroughly evaluated before mortgage firms initiate foreclosure.

The proposed rule changes by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which are subject to public consultation before they can be adopted, would give borrowers more time to settle their mortgage payments with servicers by establishing an emergency, pre-foreclosure review period for COVID-19-related disruptions until Dec. 31, 2021, the agency said in a statement.

The proposal would also temporarily permit mortgage servicers to offer certain loan modifications to borrowers experiencing a hardship related to the pandemic. The agency also seeks public consultation on amendments to lender obligations around early intervention and reasonable diligence ahead of evicting homeowners who default.

Servicers play a critical role in the mortgage-finance ecosystem, receiving payments from borrowers and passing them on to investors, tax authorities and insurers.

“Millions of families are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure in the coming months, even as the country opens back up,” CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio said on Monday.

“Our proposal is aimed at allowing servicers to get borrowers into affordable payments faster, while establishing some additional guard rails to ensure the modifications are consumer friendly,” he told reporters.

The agency found that as of February, there were nearly 3 million homeowners behind on their mortgages, with an estimated 2.1 million mortgages in forbearance and at least 90 days delinquent. If current trends continue there may be 1.7 million such loans in September 2021, the agency said.

The CFPB said the measure would ensure servicers and borrowers have the tools and time to work together to prevent avoidable foreclosures as existing emergency protections for homeowners begin to expire later this year.

Last week, the CFPB issued an enforcement bulletin to warn mortgage servicers that the consumer watchdog would closely monitor how servicers engage with borrowers.

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