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Fannie Mae to penalize homeowners who walk away

Government-sponsored mortgage purchaser Fannie Mae is trying to encourage distressed homeowners to find alternatives to foreclosure by banning those who walk away from getting new loans for seven years.

Troubled borrowers who do not try in good faith to work out a deal but have the capacity to pay are targeted by the policy announced Wednesday.

"Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities, and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting," said Terence Edwards, executive vice president for credit portfolio management.

A strategic default occurs when a homeowner stops making mortgage payments despite being able to do so. It has become increasingly common in communities where housing values fell sharply and owners are "underwater," or owe more than their homes are worth.

Fannie Mae said that in locations where the law allows, it also plans to take legal action to recoup outstanding mortgage debt from borrowers who strategically default. The company plans to instruct its servicers to monitor delinquent loans facing foreclosure and recommend cases to pursue for judgments.

A spokesman for fellow government-backed mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said its current policy requires at least a five-year wait. But Freddie will "take a close look" at the new Fannie policy, said spokesman Brad German.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That's about half of all mortgages.- AP

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