Congress created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to, among other things, preserve homeownership and protect home values. In March 2009, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) announced the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) as its cornerstone effort to achieve these goals. This report examines (1) the extent to which HAMP servicers have treated borrowers consistently and (2) the actions that Treasury has taken to address the challenges of trial modification conversions, negative equity, redefaults, and program stability. GAO obtained information from 10 servicers that account for 71 percent of HAMP funds and spoke with Treasury, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac officials.
While one of Treasury’s stated goals for HAMP was to standardize the loan modification process across the servicing industry, GAO found inconsistencies in how servicers were treating borrowers under HAMP that could lead to inequitable treatment of similarly situated borrowers. First, because Treasury did not issue guidelines for soliciting borrowers for HAMP until a year after announcing the program, servicers notified borrowers about HAMP anywhere from 31 days to more than 60 days after a delinquency. Many borrowers also complained that they did not receive timely responses to their HAMP applications and had difficulty obtaining information about the program. Treasury has recently issued guidelines on borrower communications, and plans to monitor compliance with the guidelines. Second, Treasury has emphasized the importance of reaching borrowers before they are delinquent but has not issued guidelines for determining when borrowers are in imminent danger of default. As a result, the 10 servicers that GAO contacted reported 7 different sets of criteria for determining imminent default. Third, while Treasury required servicers to have internal quality assurance procedures to ensure compliance with HAMP requirements, Treasury did not specify how loan files should be sampled for review or what the reviews should contain. As a result, some servicers did not review trial modifications or HAMP denials as part of their quality assurance procedures. Fourth, Treasury has not specified which HAMP complaints should be tracked, and several servicers track only certain types of complaints. Fifth, Treasury has not clearly informed borrowers that the HOPE Hotline can be used to raise concerns about servicers’ handling of HAMP loan modifications and to challenge potentially incorrect denials, likely limiting the number of borrowers who have used the hotline for these purposes. Finally, Treasury does not have clear consequences for servicers that do not comply with program requirements, potentially leading to inconsistencies in how instances of noncompliance are handled.
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