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Countrywide helps subprime borrowers

Countrywide Financial Corp., under pressure to help stem growing home loan defaults, says it will expand programs to help borrowers manage their mortgage payments regardless of the type of subprime loan they have or whether they have already fallen behind on payments.

Full details of the initiative, the result of a pact with the national community advocacy group, were to be disclosed Monday. Initial plans to disclose the deal were postponed last month after Calabasas-based Countrywide agreed to be acquired by Bank of America Corp. for $4.1 billion in stock.

Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender and home loan servicer, has sought to address the growing number of defaults on its books by modifying loan terms, working out long-term repayment plans and other actions. The company said last month it helped more than 81,000 borrowers keep their mortgage payments manageable in 2007.

The company also was among the lenders who agreed to a Bush administration-proposed agreement to freeze rates on some subprime mortgages for five years.

Those efforts focused on borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages that were still being paid but set to adjust to higher monthly payments.

The latest initiative, brokered with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, calls for Countrywide to try to manage payment plans for borrowers that are already behind in payments, regardless of which type of subprime loan they have.

“Through this partnership, Countrywide and ACORN have agreed to a set of home retention standards to help borrowers who are in various situations of financial difficulty to establish suitable repayment plans or other solutions,” Steve Bailey, Countrywide’s senior managing director of loan administration, said in a prepared statement.

Some 6.96 percent of the 9 million loans in Countrywide’s servicing portfolio were delinquent as of Dec. 31, up from 5.02 percent in December 2006.

About 1.04 percent of the mortgage loans, or 93,961, were pending foreclosure, up from 0.65 percent.

Under the latest plan, borrowers with subprime hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages, which typically were issued with a low “teaser” interest rate and then adjust higher after two or three years, could be offered the option of refinancing into a lower prime rate loan, or have their initial interest rate frozen for five years.

Homeowners with fixed-rate subprime loans who have fallen behind on payments could be offered short-term repayment plans, loan modifications or other adjustments, including having their interest rate frozen or adding their overdue balances to their principal loan amount.

Despite the efforts to modify loans for some borrowers, some consumer groups argue the mortgage industry hasn’t done enough, noting many borrowers continue to fall behind on payments.

Maude Hurd, national president of ACORN, however, praised Countrywide’s latest initiative.

“We hope others in the mortgage servicing industry will adopt similar practices,” Hurd said in a statement.