JPMorgan, Citigroup halting foreclosures

By: By ALAN ZIBEL, AP Real Estate Writer
By: By ALAN ZIBEL, AP Real Estate Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. are halting home foreclosures while the Obama administration develops its plans to help the U.S. housing market.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said the New York company plans to halt new foreclosures for owner-occupied home loans through March 6. Dimon made the pledge in a letter to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who released it on Friday.

Citigroup's foreclosure moratorium applies to all "Citi owned first mortgage loans that are the principal residence of the customer as well as all loans Citi services where we have reached an understanding with the investor" until President Barack Obama's administration has finalized the details of the loan modification program or March 12, whichever is earlier, according to a company release. New York-based Citi's action expands on a similar effort that it started in November.

Frank earlier this week called on the mortgage industry to enact such broad foreclosure moratoriums.

The administration is working on a plan to spend $50 billion on foreclosure prevention and establish national standards for modifying home loans.

"We stand ready to work with you to put the appropriate processes in place, including a national modification standard, to reduce the incidence of foreclosure and to encourage long-term, sustainable home mortgages," Dimon wrote.

Government-controlled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suspended foreclosure sales during the winter holidays and have halted evictions from foreclosed properties until next month. And earlier this week, John Reich, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, urged the more than 800 thrift institutions nationwide to do the same.

Meanwhile, the administration is considering spending taxpayer dollars to cut monthly payments for homeowners on the verge of foreclosure.

Still, deciding who would qualify would be a challenge, especially as foreclosures continue to soar. More than 274,000 U.S. households received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

The administration also is expected to back a push in Congress - but opposed by the mortgage industry - to let bankruptcy judges alter the terms of primary home loans. Earlier this week, Obama said it "makes no sense" that judges are not allowed to do so. The mortgage industry argues that this prohibition allows lenders to charge lower rates.


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