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Many Struggling Homeowners Still Not Getting Help

STEVEN INSKEEP, Host:

Six of the nation's top mortgage lenders have joined the Bush administration in another effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. It's called Project Lifeline. If you are behind on your mortgage payments, foreclosure can be put off now by 40 days. That may give you time to work out new lending terms. And the program even applies to homeowners with conventional loans, not just people who took out high risk loans. The plan comes at a moment when most borrowers in trouble are still not getting help.

NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD: In many cases, lenders themselves save money if they can avoid costly foreclosures, so there's been pressure on them to modify high-interest loans for people who could afford more reasonable interest rates.

Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa heads up the group that's been gathering data from the nation's largest mortgage companies. He says there are two major challenges right now. First, making sure that the borrower and lender actually talk to each other.

ARNOLD: Half of the loans that go through foreclosure there's been no contact. We've been working on that. The industry's been working on that. And the non-profit groups are starting to play a very important role.

And the other is the disconnect within the companies themselves.

ARNOLD: Basically, these companies have debt collectors on staff, not people trained to do complicated loan workouts. The Mortgage Bankers Association says companies are adding resources, but Miller says some aren't staffing up enough. The group of prosecutors will be making monthly reports to try to pressure the industry to do more.

Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.