Obama to announce actions on housing, student loans 24 Oct 11

U.S. President Barack Obama announces the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in the briefing room of the White House in Washington October 21, 2011

WASHINGTON | Mon Oct 24, 2011 8:03am EDT

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama this week will announce a series of actions to help the economy that will not require congressional approval, including an initiative to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, according to a White House official.

The actions come as Obama is facing resistance from Republicans to a $447 billion jobs package he has urged Congress to pass.

The first of the initiatives will be unveiled during Obama’s three-day trip to western states beginning Monday.

He will discuss the changes in mortgage rules at a stop in Nevada, which has one of the hardest-hit housing markets in the country.

The Obama administration has been working with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to find ways to make it easier for borrowers to switch to cheaper loans even if they have little to no equity in their homes.

The FHFA intends to loosen the terms of the two-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which helps borrowers who have been making mortgage payments on time but who have not been able to refinance as their home values have dropped.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the changes should boost refinancing because they will let banks avoid the risk of any “buy-back” on a HARP mortgage as long as borrowers have made their last six mortgage payments and they prove that they have a job or another source of passive income.

They are also set to reduce loan fees that Fannie and Freddie charge and waive fees on borrowers that refinance into loans with shorter terms, the Journal said.

Pricing details won’t be published until mid-November, and lenders could begin refinancing loans under the retooled program as soon as December 1, the newspaper reported, citing federal officials. Loans that exceed the current limit of 125 percent of the property’s value won’t be able to participate until early next year, the report said.

In Denver Wednesday, Obama will announce a student loan initiative.

“The only way we can truly attack our economic challenges is with bold, bipartisan action in Congress,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told The New York Times.

“The president will continue to pressure Congressional Republicans to put country before party and pass the American Jobs Act, but he believes we cannot wait, so he will act where they won’t.”