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What Exactly Is Washington Doing With Your Housing Options?

Keeping up with Congress may seem boring, but homeowners may want to start paying attention as plans that could save them thousands of dollars each year are frequently under consideration.

As homeowners watch their home interest rates slowly start to climb, they may grow frustrated that they missed the opportunity to save a few thousand dollars each year by refinancing while the rates were so low. The complicated and stringent application process, however, prevented many homeowners from taking advantage of the great time to refinance.

Congress is considering passing a law that would make refinancing much simpler so that homeowners can take advantage of the low rates before they shoot back up.

Millions of homeowners have already jumped on earlier versions of this policy known as HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program). The first version actually came into effect in 2009 when the housing market was in absolute turmoil and lawmakers wanted to help struggling homeowners. The law approved refinancing for people with a loan-to-value ratio higher than 80 percent.

HARP 2.0 launched in 2011 making it even easier for homeowners to be eligible for HARP by shifting its requirements and allowing people to refinance even if they owed more than the home’s value.

If Congress approves and President Obama signs HARP 3.0 into law, for the first time, homeowners who do not have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages may become HARP eligible and those who have already refinanced under a previous HARP loan may be allowed to do so again.

Eligibility for HARP 3.0 would also extend to applicants who established their mortgages after May 31, 2009, the cut-off date for exiting HARP eligibility.

President Obama has recently been making public pushes for HARP 3.0 and advocating for easier ways for homeowners to refinance.

Congress is currently in recess, meaning no legislative action will resume on the issue until they return in September. Upon their return, however, both chambers are slated to consider the Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act of 2013 that would put HARP 3.0 on its path to new law.

Homeowners who are interested in staying on top of this legislative process can track it online through the Library of Congress, Thomas.loc.gov. The bill name must be entered in the search bar “Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act of 2013” and both bills, the House bill (H.R.736) and the Senate bill (S.249) will appear with a clear tracking progress.

Another important piece of policy related to homeownership floating around Capitol Hill this year is the Protecting American Taxpayers and Homeowners Act, often referred to as the PATH Act.

The PATH Act would give consumers more options while deciding which mortgage product is most appropriate for them. However, the bill is somewhat more controversial as it would also significantly wind down financial government enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Opponents to the bill claim it would end 30-year fixed mortgages and cause a rise in interest rates. People who support the bill refute those claims and insist that the PATH Act would prevent an increase in barriers to homeownership for both creditworthy and disadvantaged borrowers.

The PATH Act can also be tracked on Thomas.loc.gov. It is the House’s approach to overhaul the housing finance system. The Senate, on the other hand, will chip away at the system with smaller pieces of legislation that includes reshaping the Federal Housing Administration. The Senate Banking Committee will resume their efforts when they return from recess.

Congressional action is rarely swift and painless. Such bills may take months of debate and likely end up never seeing the light of day. However, it is still important to know what your representatives are up to. If homeowners find their best interest are not being represented by their elected officials, they can take action by writing letters or voting for a different candidate in the next election.

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