5 On Your Side

'Almost too good to be true' program lowers mortgage payments

Posted July 19, 2012 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 20, 2012 10:42 a.m. EDT

— Homeowner Chandra Rigda says her 2,400-square-foot house on a cul-de-sac is great, but "it's just a matter of making it more affordable." Rigda has spent the past several years trying, and failing, to refinance her home mortgage to take advantage of low interest rates. 

"Watching rates drop, (my) gut was just, you know, having all those gut pains knowing that everybody else was paying less than we are," she said.

Rigda called lender after lender, more than a dozen times, and the conversations were always similar. After asking the lenders to help her, they said, "Nope, you've got PMI (private mortgage insurance). Nope, you're underwater (and owe more than your home is worth)," she recalled.

Rigda's mortgage was about $250,000, but the current market value of her home is about $203,000. The family finally got a break when a friend told them about a little-known federal program called the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP.

"(I) made the call, and as soon as he said yes, he could do something, I almost fell on the floor from relief," Rigda said with a laugh.

The federal government created HARP and recently revamped it to make more people eligible. It's designed to help those who have done everything right, including paying their mortgage on time, but just can't get a lender to refinance because they owe more on their home than it is worth.

Brian Grubbs owns Raleigh Mortgage Group and says, unlike traditional refinancing options, HARP does not require an appraisal.

"The major obstacle we're having right now is appraised value. If this program didn't exist, probably nearly 30 percent of the customers that I have in process right now, I wouldn't be able to help, " Grubbs said, adding that his office is the busiest it has ever been. "(The program) seems almost too good to be true. It really does."

Grubbs says HARP loosens the reins. In addition to no appraisal, homeowners can finance more than their home is worth, so it doesn't matter if the value of their home has dropped way below what they paid. Also, there's more flexibility regarding debts in relation to income. Homeowners can even use HARP to refinance a second home or an investment property.

"It's just a program for people that have done the right thing and are paying their bills on time but for one reason or another weren't able to refinance," Grubbs said.

As for what's required, a homeowner must have taken out a loan before June 2009, the past six months of payments must be current and the loan has to be backed by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

"We had no idea all this time that we even had one of those mortgages, had no clue," Rigda said, adding that she can't believe how much she is saving. "(My mortgage) was over $2,000 a month. Now, we're looking at $1,600 a month. (A) $422.50 difference between the old mortgage payment and the current mortgage payment. It's awesome."

Grubbs says homeowners owe it to themselves to figure out how much money they can save. 

To find out if you qualify, contact any mortgage broker and ask if they participate in the HARP 2.0 program.