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Moral Hazard: Missing Ethics in HAMP Mortgage Modification Program

The 2008 bailout of the American financial industry was based on a law enacted by Congress, Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (TARP).   Under rushed and pressured emergency conditions, Congress passed the legislation with very little understanding of why the economy was crashing.  There was a sense that the housing boom had something to do with the urgent need for a bailout, so provisions were added that required the bailout trickle down to millions of American homeowners who were given suspect mortgages.  The spectacularly failed mortgage modification program now known as HAMP is part of this law.  HAMP was authorized by sections 101 and 109 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which was later amended by 7002 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Because no help was actually extended, most do not realize that the bailout law demanded real relief to the American people not just the financial industry.  To this day, the funds earmarked to help hardest hit families have largely gone unspent.  Programs, presented as a last hope and help, like HAMP, are now being exposed as a way for banks to deplete savings, 401k, and other assets from millions of families.  HAMP leaves families worse off more often than not, owing more, trapped in a home with higher mortgage debt and worse loan terms in the long run.  Sheila Bair, before she stepped down as the chairman of the FDIC, was an outspoken critic of chain of title problems caused by mortgage banking fraud and other foreclosure fraud tactics.  She even called for a Superfund to help American families who have saddled with unsustainable, fraudulent, toxic mortgages.

Bair’s new book, “Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself,” explains that HAMP was intended to cheat borrowers, to string them along and drain their savings and eventually foreclose on their homes.  This truth is even more strongly echoed in Neil Barofsky’s recent book, “Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street.”  In Barofsky’s book, he explains how it dawned on him that the post-bailout goal of the U.S. Treasury was to allow banks to take dwindling wealth of American families while offering false promises of loan modifications all in a continued effort to increase the banks’ health and value.  Barofsky’s realization came to him during a contentious conversation he had with Tim Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, when Geithner expressed satisfaction that HAMP was allowing banks to coast gently down after the financial crisis instead of crashing since the American families “foamed the runway” for the banks.  Later, Geithner blocked attempts to use TARP funds to help families cover legal costs to defend against fraudulent foreclosures.

Often modifications do more harm than good.  Many programs are actually designed that way.  Please do not sign another contract with the same financial industry players that caused so much misery without having a lawyer on your side, protecting your interests.

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