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TheStreet Open House

The Presidential Debates and the Housing Question

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I have written often about how important the housing market is to the economy and how the U.S. needs a mortgage modification program that helps all Americans.

It appears that the president still wants to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes, but some Americans who are current but underwater on their mortgages continue to be ignored.

During the Bush/Obama years there has been an alphabet soup of mortgage programs, but not one offers a uniform solution to the mortgage issues that continue to plague homeowners on Main Street.

Here's a summary of six of the mortgage modification programs:

Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP): Under this plan you must be current on your mortgage, Fannie Mae (FNMA) or Freddie Mac (FMCC) must own or have guaranteed the loan, and the mortgage has to have been signed before June 2009.

HARP does not require a new appraisal, but most likely your refinance rate will be greater than the weekly posted 30-year rate mortgage set by Freddie Mac. This rate is currently at a record low of 3.40%. If your servicing bank does not participant in this program, you may be out of luck.

Refinancing With the Federal Housing Administration (FHA): Under this plan, if you are underwater on your mortgage and current on payments, and the loan is not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be able to get a lower mortgage rate though the FHA. If you have a mortgage that was insured by the FHA before June 2009, and you are in arrears on payments for the past year, you may also qualify. However, like HARP, your servicing bank may not agree to these terms.

Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): This plan was conceived to help a homeowner who is behind on mortgage payments on a loan issued before 2009. To qualify you need to prove a financial hardship, and that you have the financial ability to make payments on a modified mortgage. You will be required to provide fresh financial documents such as tax returns. HAMP is a voluntary program for servicing banks, but if you clear these hurdles you could save more than $500 a month. Note that HAMP has a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013.

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