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Obama’s bailout plan should help protect taxpayers

More reforms needed to protect Americans struggling with high cost mortgages and credit card debt

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama’s Revamping of Bailout Plan Should Help Protect Taxpayers

More Reforms Needed to Help Americans Struggling
with High Cost Mortgage and Credit Card Debt

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Obama Administration today laid out the principles of a revamped bailout plan that will place more emphasis on transparency and accountability as the government seeks to restore stability and growth to our nation’s financial crisis, an approach welcomed by Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

In describing a public-private investment fund to buy the toxic assets of banks, as well as a program to enable more credit to flow to consumers, Treasury Secretary Geithner emphasized that the Administration would ensure that every tax dollar would go to economic revitalization and lending.

The Secretary did not lay out specific plans for addressing the mortgage foreclosure problem, suggesting that the Administration would announce a comprehensive plan of action in the weeks ahead. This will be most welcome as more reforms are needed to ensure millions of Americans with unfair mortgages don’t lose their homes, according to Consumers Union

“Unfair mortgage lending is at the heart of the record wave of foreclosures hitting the country, which triggered our current financial crisis,” said Pam Banks, Policy Counsel for Consumers Union. “We need a plan that will provide critical relief to Americans struggling to keep up with high mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure. President Obama should work with Congress to enact mortgage reforms to assist Americans facing foreclosure and drowning in debt.”

In a fact sheet on the Financial Stability Plan put out today by the Treasury Department, the government suggested that they would commit $50 billion to buy up troubled mortgages and modify them in an effort to prevent foreclosures. Consumers Union urges the Obama Administration to require all lenders who get government funds to modify mortgages for homeowners so they can afford to keep their homes over the long term. If the current foreclosure trend continues as expected, $50 billion may not be enough to effectively address the foreclosure crisis.

In addition, Consumers Union urges President Obama and Congress to enact other reforms to prevent foreclosures, including:

• Imposing a six month moratorium on foreclosures until effective, wide-scale loan modification programs are in effect.
• Giving bankruptcy judges the power to reduce the amount owed on a mortgage loan to the current value of the house.
• Providing permanent statutory authority to incent loan servicers to modify terms and loan balances.
• Require lenders to modify mortgages so that monthly payments are no more than 38 percent of a borrower’s income, and allow flexibility for borrowers who have lost their jobs, lost a second income, or suffer other economic hardship.

Consumers Union is working for strong reforms to address unfair mortgage lending practices. To learn more, see: http://www.consumersunion.org/mortgage.html

The Treasury Department also announced that it will provide $20 billion in bailout funds to back up a Federal Reserve Board “credit facility” program to purchase up to $200 billion in “non-mortgage asset backed paper” – including securitized credit card debt. Consumers Union urged the Obama Administration to make sure that all credit card debt purchased through the Term Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) meets standards for fairness and truthfulness, including the new consumer protections adopted by the Federal Reserve Board in December. Those protections are not scheduled to go into effect until July 2010.

“Before the federal government buys credit card backed securities, there should be an end to retroactive rate increases and high gotcha fees,” said Banks. “Let’s make sure taxpayer money which makes consumer credit available does it in a way that doesn’t harm the consumers.”

Pam Banks – 202-462-6262
Norma Garcia – 415-431-6747

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