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BofA: Mortgage Walkaways Have Huge Incentive

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Foreclosed Home

This morning executives at Bank of America rolled out their new "Principal Reduction Enhancement" program, which is an earned principal forgiveness plan for borrowers behind on their mortgages and whose loans are at least 20 percent underwater in value.

The plan is in conjunction with the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, but the government's principal reduction plan isn't in place yet.

What makes BofA's plan so proactive is that it employs, "a principal reduction as the first step toward reaching HAMP’s affordable payment target of 31 percent of household income when modifying certain NHRP-eligible mortgages — ahead of lowering the interest rate and extending the term."

Why are they getting more aggressive on modifications?

Because more borrowers are walking away. Yes, I know we've talked about this forever on this blog and on CNBC, and the New York Times did a piece yesterday on it, and 60 Minutes did a piece on it a few weeks ago. The fact of the matter is it's getting worse, and B of A execs are acknowledging that openly.

On the conference call to announce the program this morning, BofA's credit loss mitigation executive, Jack Schakett, said the amount of strategic defaulters (those who can pay their loans but opt not to) are "more than we have ever experienced before." He went on to say, "there is a huge incentive for customers to walk away because getting free rent and waiting out foreclosure can be very appealing to customers."

Schakett says the foreclosure process is still taking 13 to 14 months (and by my estimates that's an optimistic assessment), and so there's over a year of free rent. While the banks are trying to improve the time, they're just not there yet.

31 percent of foreclosures in March were deemed to be "strategic default" by researchers at University of Chicago and Northwestern University.

That's up from 22 percent in March of 2009.

We already know that mortgage walkaways are more prevalent among borrowers whose neighbors or friends have done the same thing.

We also learn from those same researchers that the likelihood of walking away increases by 23 percent when homeowners learn that a neighbor got some principal forgiveness.

I'll let you all argue that one.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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