The incentives of mortgage servicers: myths and realities
As foreclosure initiations have soared over the past couple of years, many have questioned whether mortgage servicers have the right incentives to work out troubled subprime mortgages so that borrowers can avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes. Some critics claim that because servicers, unlike investors, do not bear the losses associated with foreclosure, they have little incentive to modify troubled loans by reducing interest rates or principal, or by extending the term. Our analysis suggests that while servicers have substantially improved borrower outreach and increased loss mitigation efforts, some foreclosures still occur where both borrower and investor would benefit if such an outcome were avoided. We discuss servicers’ incentives and the obstacles to working out delinquent mortgages. We find that loss mitigation is costly for servicers, in large part because servicers currently lack adequate staff and technology; unfortunately, servicers have few financial incentives to expand capacity. Two additional factors appear to be damping workouts of nonprime loans, the group that has seen the largest increase in delinquencies. First, affordable solutions are more difficult to achieve for borrowers with these loans than for those with prime mortgages. Second, these loans are generally funded by private-label mortgage backed securities, for which investors provide little or no guidance to servicers about what modifications are appropriate. More generally, investors are wary that modifications might turn out to be unsuccessful, thus delaying and increasing ultimate losses. Given the significant deadweight losses incorporated in recent quarters’ loss rates of 50 percent or more, we present options for further improving servicer performance. We discuss supporting further industry efforts to expand borrower outreach and establish servicing guidelines, educating investors, paying servicers fees for appropriate loan workouts, and improving measures of servicer performance.
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