Banks must do more to help troubled homeowners

Banks and other companies that collect mortgage payments from homeowners will have to do more to help homeowners who are having financial problems to avoid foreclosure, under new rules issued by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Currently, there are no national standards for what financial institutions have to do if a borrower falls behind on payments.

The new rules, which take effect next year, say that banks and loan servicers must evaluate borrowers under all possible financial-help programs permitted by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and private investors. They cannot simply steer borrowers to whatever program is most financially beneficial to the lender.

The rules also say that a lender can’t start the foreclosure process on a home unless a borrower has missed payments for four months. Within 15 days of a second missed payment, the lender must provide a notice explaining alternatives to foreclosure and offering information on housing counseling. And a foreclosure can’t be completed if the owner submits an application for an aid program more than 37 days before the home is scheduled to be repossessed.

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