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.

National Mortgage Settlement: The five largest banks in the mortgage market paid a $25 billion settlement due to their reckless foreclose procedures during the financial crisis. These settlement monies were earmarked to help homeowners lower mortgage rates, approve a short sale or reduce principal for underwater homeowners. This plan helps only homeowners who are in arrears on payments, not underwater homeowners who are current on payments. The deadline is Dec. 31, 2013.

New Short-Sale Rules from Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac: This is another program that only applies to mortgages guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie. If you can prove a hardship, a home can be sold below the mortgage principal even if you have been making all payments. This new program takes effect on Nov. 1, 2012 and covers more than 4.5 million Fannie & Freddie underwater mortgages, of which 80% are current. A short-sale allows the homeowner to sell below the mortgage principal and move out debt free.

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA): This program applies to homeowners who are behind on their mortgages and looking to sell. A HAFA short-sale erases the debt and puts $3,000 in your pocket to move out. You will need to prove hardship and have your mortgage signed before 2009.

Renting Instead of Foreclosure: Some banks are offering to buy your home instead of foreclosure and allows the owner to stay in the home by paying the rent to the bank. Sounds great, but you lose control of the home. If the bank sells your home to someone else, you risk eviction.

Keep in mind that I summarized these programs to the best of my ability. There are other iterations of these programs. My main concern is that there is not a simple plan for all Americans. I do not like the stipulations about the date you signed your mortgage. For HARP and FHA, it's before June 2009. For FHA and HAFA, it's before 2009. I signed my last mortgage in June 2009, and that's a big ouch!

On July 13, I wrote about my personal experience in trying to refinance my mortgage in Refinancing? Would Be Nice if It Weren't Impossible. This article explains the difficulty many homeowners have in getting an advertised deal.

I am sure that if President Obama is asked about these programs he will offer plenty of statistics about how many homeowners have been helped. But what about homeowners who signed mortgages after 2009 and June 2009? The economy has certainly hurt homeowners who bought over the past three years.

I hope that Gov. Romney will say that he has a plan to help all homeowners and that he will provide a basic outline for his program.

Back on Aug. 30 I wrote " An Economic Policy Blueprint for a President Romney," in which I suggested an economic recovery plan targeted at Main Street.

Such a program should provide direct help to all homeowners who are current on their mortgage. It would have no red tape and no date stipulations. By fixing the housing and mortgage markets, jobs will be created on Main Street, which is the heart of the U.S. economy.

In my opinion, President Obama owns the Bush stimulus programs. He used similar stimulus measures, appointed Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary and kept Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chief. Thus the programs in place since the end of 2007 continued. Keep in mind that Gov. Romney said that if he were elected president, he would replace Bernanke as Fed chairman.

The president needs to make the simple statement to justify his economic policy such as this: "The stock market is a leading indicator for economic growth, and stocks are up more than 70% since I was inaugurated. This is a clear sign that the slow and steady growth we have seen going into this election, will accelerate over the next four years."

Gov. Romney needs to focus on the middle class and have a solid plan to help Main Street, which was abandoned by both President Bush and President Obama as Wall Street was bailed out.

Our economic problems began on Main Street, and it's time to take targeted action to fix the housing market and simplify the mortgage process. Take the debate about the middle class from President Obama.

A simple mortgage modification for all homeowners will help stimulate the Main Street economy and create many construction jobs across the U.S. Have a specific plan to repair Main Street, and become the 45th president of the U.S.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Richard Suttmeier has an engineering degree from Georgia Tech and a master of science from Brooklyn Poly. He began his career in the financial services industry in 1972 trading U.S. Treasury securities in the primary dealer community. In 1981 he formed the Government Bond Department at LF Rothschild and helped establish that firm as a primary dealer in 1986. Richard began writing market research in 1984 and held positions as market strategist at firms such as Smith Barney, William R Hough, Joseph Stevens, and Rightside Advisors. He joined in 2008 producing newsletters covering the U.S. capital markets, and a universe of more than 7,000 stocks. Richard employs a "buy and trade" investment strategy and can be reached at

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