Questions and Answers About HARP

What Is HARP?

HARP was started in April 2009. It goes by several names. The government calls it HARP, as in Home Affordable Refinance Program.

The program is also known as Making Home Affordable, the Obama Refi, A Better Bargain For U.S. Homeowners, DU Refi Plus, and Relief Refinance.

In order to be eligible for the HARP refinance program:

  1. Your loan must be backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  2. Your current mortgage must have a note date of no later than May 31, 2009

If you meet these two criteria, you may be HARP-eligible. If your mortgage is an FHA, USDA, VA or a jumbo mortgage, you are not HARP-eligible.

HARP : Questions and Answers

Is “HARP” the same thing as the government’s “Making Home Affordable” program?

Yes, the names HARP and Making Home Affordable are interchangeable.

If my mortgage is held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, am I instantly-eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program?

No. There is a series of criteria. Having your mortgage held by Fannie or Freddie is just a pre-qualifier.

My lender won’t do HARP. Can I use HARP with another lender?

Yes. You can do HARP with any participating mortgage lender. This is a major change from the original HARP. The government is trying to get as many people access to the program.

I have a jumbo mortgage. Can I use HARP 2.0?

No, HARP 2.0 is not meant for jumbo mortgages. It’s for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac only.

I have an interest only mortgage. Can I use HARP 2.0?

If your current mortgage is interest only, you may be able to use HARP. If your interest only mortgage is a conforming loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you should be HARP-eligible. Otherwise, your loan may be an Alt-A or sub-prime mortgage, in which case you will not be HARP 2-eligible.

I have a balloon mortgage. Can I use HARP 2.0?

If your current mortgage is a balloon mortgage, you may be able to use HARP. It depends on whether your loan is conforming, and whether it’s backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Does HARP work the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac?

Yes, for the most part, the program is the same with Fannie Mae as with Freddie Mac. There are some small differences, but they affect just a tiny, tiny portion of the general population. For everyone else, the guidelines work the same.

Am I eligible for the Home Affordable Refinance Program if I’m behind on my mortgage?

No. You must be current on your mortgage to refinance via HARP.

I’ve been told by my bank that I’m not eligible for HARP. I think my bank is wrong. Can I get a second opinion?

If you’ve been turned down for HARP but believe that you’re eligible, you can apply with a different bank and see what happens. Different banks are using different variations of the program. The changes are subtle, but they’re enough to cause some people to get denied who should otherwise have been approved.

My lender denied my HARP mortgage because my LTV is too high. What do I do?

Different banks are using different variations of the program. The edits are subtle, but they’re enough to cause some people to get denied who should otherwise have been approved. If you’ve been turned down for HARP 2.0, just try with a different bank

My lender denied my HARP mortgage because credit scores are too low. What do I do?

Different banks are using different variations of the program. The edits are subtle, but they’re enough to cause some people to get denied who should otherwise have been approved. If you’ve been turned down for HARP 2.0, just try with a different bank. 

Will the Home Affordable Refinance Program help me avoid foreclosure?

No. The Home Affordable Refinance Program is not designed to delay, or stop, foreclosures. It’s meant to give homeowners who are current on their mortgages, and who have lost home equity, a chance to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates.

What are the minimum requirements to be HARP-eligible?

First, your home loan must be paid on-time for the prior 6 months, and at least 11 of the most recent 12 months. Second, your mortgage must have a note date of no later than May 31, 2009. And, third, you may not have used the program before — only one HARP refinance per mortgage is allowed.

My home is not underwater. Can I still use HARP 2.0?

Yes, you can use HARP even if you’re not “underwater”.

Will HARP 2.0 “forgive” my mortgage balance?

No, HARP does not forgive your mortgage balance, nor does it reduce your principal owed. HARP refinances your current loan balance only. It is the same as any other refinance.

My mortgage note date is shortly after the HARP deadline of May 31, 2009. Can I get a waiver or exception?

No, there are no “date exceptions” for HARP. If your note date is not on, or before, May 31, 2009, you cannot use the program.

Is there a loan-to-value restriction for HARP?

No. All homes — regardless of how far underwater they are — are eligible for HARP.

I am really far underwater on my mortgage. Can I use HARP?

Yes, you can use HARP even if you’re really far underwater on your mortgage. There is no loan-to-value restriction under the HARP mortgage program so long as your new mortgage is a fixed rate loan with a term of 30 years or fewer. If you use HARP to refinance into an adjustable-rate mortgage, your loan-to-value is capped at 105%.

You keep saying LTV doesn’t matter, but my bank turned me down for HARP because my loan-to-value was too high.

That’s normal, actually. Not every bank will underwrite HARP loans to the letter of the guidelines. Loans with high LTVs can be risky to a bank. Therefore, some banks will limit their business to loans under 125% loan-to-value, for example. Remember — just because one bank turned you down doesn’t mean that every bank will. Apply somewhere else to get a second option.

My home is gaining value as the housing market improves. Will this hurt my ability to use HARP to refinance my home?

In general, no. As your home increases in value, its loan to-value decreases. So long as your loan-to-value remains above 80 percent, you should remain HARP-eligible. In the event your home’s loan-to-value falls below 80%, you may have difficulty finding lenders to refinance your home. As always, remember to shop around. If the first bank you ask says no, it doesn’t mean that all banks will say no, too.

If I refinance with HARP using an ARM, do I still get “unlimited LTV”?

No, if you use an ARM for HARP 2.0, you are limited to 105% loan-to-value. Only fixed rate loans get the unlimited LTV treatment.

Why does my bank say I’m limited to 105% LTV with my HARP refinance? I want a fixed-rate loan.

Not all banks are honoring the HARP 2.0 mortgage guidelines as they are written and one common “edit” is to change the maximum allowable LTV. You may want to get a HARP rate quote from another bank — one that won’t restrict your loan size.

Why does my bank say I’m limited to 125% LTV with my HARP refinance? I want a fixed-rate loan.

Not all banks are honoring the HARP 2.0 mortgage guidelines as they are written and one common “edit” is to change the maximum allowable LTV. You may want to get a HARP rate quote from another bank — one that won’t restrict your loan size.

Will my home require an appraisal with the HARP mortgage program?

Sort of. Although your home’s value doesn’t matter for the HARP mortgage program, lenders will run what’s called an “automated valuation model” (AVM) on your home. If the value meets reliability standards, no physical appraisal will be required. However, your lender may choose to commission a physical appraisal anyway — just to make sure your home is “standing”.

I have an FHA mortgage. Can I use the HARP 2.0 program?

No, you cannot use the HARP 2.0 program for an FHA loan. If your current mortgage is backed by the FHA, and your home is underwater, use the FHA Streamline Refinance program.

I have a USDA mortgage. Can I use the HARP 2.0 program?

No, you cannot use the HARP 2.0 program for a USDA loan. If your current mortgage is backed by the USDA, and your home is underwater, use the USDA Streamline Refinance program.

I have a VA mortgage. Can I use the HARP 2.0 program?

No, you cannot use the HARP 2.0 program for a VA loan. If your current mortgage is backed by the VA, and your home is underwater, use the VA IRRRL program.

Does Ginnie Mae participate in the HARP Refinance program?

No, Ginnie Mae does not participate in the HARP Refinance program. Ginnie Mae is associated with FHA mortgages — not conventional ones. HARP 2 is for conventional mortgages only.

Do I have to HARP refinance with my current mortgage lender?

No, you can do a HARP refinance with any participating mortgage lender.

So, I can use any mortgage lender for my HARP Refinance?

Yes. With the Home Affordable Refinance Program, you can refinance with any participating HARP lender.

My current bank says that they’re the only ones who can do my HARP Refinance. Is that true?

No, that’s not true. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. There are very few instances in which a HARP applicant will be precluded from shopping for the best rate. It’s doubtful that your situation is one of them.

My bank says I can’t get a HARP loan unless I work with them. Is that true?

Except in rare cases, no. With HARP, you can work with any participating lender in the country. And there are a lot of them.

Can I refinance my HARP mortgage into a shorter term? I want a 15-year fixed rate mortgage — not a 30-year.

Yes, you can shorten your loan term via HARP. You must still qualify for the mortgage based on payments, though. If the “payment shock” of switching to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage is deemed too steep, your lender may not approve the loan. Be sure to ask.

I put down 20% when I bought my home. My home is now underwater. If I refinance with HARP, will I have to pay mortgage insurance now?

No, you won’t need to pay mortgage insurance. If your current loan doesn’t require PMI, your new loan won’t require it, either.

I pay PMI now. Will my PMI payments go up with a new HARP refinance?

No, your private mortgage insurance payments will not increase. However, the “transfer” of your mortgage insurance policy may require an extra step. Remind your lender that you’re paying PMI to help the refinance process move more smoothly.

My bank says I can’t refinance with HARP 2.0 because I have PMI. Is that true?

No, it’s not true. You can refinance via HARP 2.0 even if your current mortgage has private mortgage insurance.

My current mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI). Can I refinance via HARP?

Yes, you can refinance your mortgage via HARP 2.0 if your current loan has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI). It’s your loan officer’s responsibility to make sure that your new mortgage carries, at minimum, the same amount of coverage.

You’re saying I can refinance with LPMI but my bank says I can’t. Who is right?

With respect to LPMI, different banks have different rules for HARP. There are banks closing HARP loans with lender-paid mortgage insurance attached. That’s a fact. If your bank won’t do loans with LPMI, find one that will.

How do I choose my PMI “coverage” when I refinance a HARP loan that has LPMI?

Your loan officer will know what to do. Just make sure you disclose that your mortgage has LPMI at the time of application so your loan officer knows what to do. Otherwise, your loan could be delayed in processing.

How do I know if my mortgage has Lender-Paid Mortgage Insurance (LPMI)?

To find out if your mortgage has lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), locate your loan paperwork from closing. There should be a clear disclosure that states that your mortgage features LPMI, and the terms should be clearly labeled for you.

I don’t see an LPMI disclosure in my closing package but I think that I have it. How do I know if my mortgage has LPMI?

If there is no LPMI disclosure, first check if your first mortgage’s loan-to-value exceeded 80% at the time of closing. If it did, look to see if you are paying monthly mortgage insurance. If you are not paying monthly PMI, you’re likely carrying LPMI.

I was turned down for HARP because the bank says I have mortgage insurance. I think they’re wrong.

There are different types of private mortgage insurance and not all kinds are paid monthly. One such example is lender-paid mortgage insurance for which your lender pays PMI on your behalf each month. You don’t see the payments made, but you still have PMI. There are banks that will HARP-refinance loans with LPMI. If you bank says no, ask another bank and you may get a different answer.

What’s the bottom line with HARP refinances and mortgage insurance?

With HARP, regardless of whether you have borrower-paid mortgage insurance (BPMI) or lender-paid mortgage insurance (LPMI), a refinance is possible. The key is that the new loan has mortgage insurance coverage at least equal to the mortgage insurance coverage on your current mortgage.

What if my lender won’t give me a HARP refinance because I have mortgage insurance?

If your lender tells you that you can’t have a HARP 2.0 loan because you have mortgage insurance, find a new lender. There are plenty that of banks that can — and want to — help you.
hat’s the biggest mortgage I can get with a HARP refinance?

HARP refinances are limited to your area’s conforming loan limits. In most cities, the conforming loan limit is $417,000. However, there are some cities in which conforming loan limits are as high at $625,500.

Can I do a cash-out refinances with HARP?

No, the HARP mortgage program doesn’t allow cash out refinance. Only rate-and-term refinances are allowable.

Can I refinance a second/vacation home with HARP?

Yes, you can refinance an second/vacation property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.

Can I refinance an investment/rental property with HARP?

Yes, you can refinance an investment/rental property with HARP, even if the home was once your primary residence. You can refinance a home on which you’re an “accidental landlord”. The loan must meet typical program eligibility standards.

I rent out my old home. Is it HARP-eligible even though it’s an investment property now?

Yes, you can use the HARP Refinance program for your former residence — even if there’s a renter there now.

How long do I have to stay in my house if I use HARP on my primary residence?

There is no specific time frame for which you’re required to stay in your home if you use HARP 2.0. Just like any other mortgage, if you plan to stay in your home post-closing, it’s your primary residence. If you plan to turn it into a rental, it’s an investment property.

Are condominiums eligible for HARP refinancing?

Yes, condominiums can be financed on the HARP refinance program. Warrantability standards still apply.

Can I consolidate mortgages with a HARP refinance?

No, you cannot consolidate multiple mortgages with the HARP refinance program. It’s for first liens only. All subordinate/junior liens must be resubordinated to the new first mortgage.

Is there a HARP program for second mortgages? My second mortgage is at a high rate and I want to refinance it.

No, the Home Affordable Refinance Program is for first mortgages only. Second mortgages cannot be refinanced via HARP, nor can they be consolidated into a first mortgage.

What happens to my second mortgage when I refinance my first mortgage using HARP 2.0?

HARP 2.0 is meant for first liens only. Second liens are meant to subordinate. You’ll get to replace your first mortgage and your second mortgage will remain as-is. Just be sure to mention your second mortgage at the time of application so your lender knows to order the subordination for you.

My second mortgage company won’t let me refinance my first mortgage via HARP. Can they do that?

With the HARP refinance program, second liens are meant to subordinate. Second lien holders know this, however, not all second lien holders will agree to it. This is against the spirit of the program, but second lien holders are within their rights to deny the refinance.

My second mortgage isn’t backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Is that a problem?

No, it doesn’t matter if your second mortgage isn’t backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Second mortgages are ignored as part of HARP. They can’t be refinanced, and they can’t be consolidated. Second mortgages are a non-factor in HARP 2.0.

I have an 80/10/10 mortgage. Can I use HARP 2.0?

Yes, if you have an 80/10/10 mortgage, you can use HARP so long as you meet the program’s basic eligibility requirements. You cannot combine your two mortgages, however. Nor can you take cash out.

I have an 80/20 mortgage. Can I use HARP 2.0?

Yes, if you have an 80/20 mortgage, you can use HARP so long as you meet the program’s basic eligibility requirements. You cannot combine your two mortgages, however. Nor can you take cash out.

Can I “roll up” my closing costs with a HARP refinance?

Yes, mortgage balances can be increased to cover closing costs in addition to other monies due at closing such as escrow reserves, accrued daily interest, and a small amount of cash.  In no cases may loan sizes exceed the local conforming loan limits, however. In most U.S. markets, this limit is $417,000. In certain high-cost areas, including Orange County, California and Fairfax, Virginia, for example, the limit ranges as high as $625,500.

I am unemployed and without income. Am I HARP-eligible?

Yes, you do not need to be employed to use the HARP mortgage program. Applicants do not need to be “requalified” unless their new principal + interest payment increases by more than 20%. If the new payment increases by less than 20%, or falls, there is no requalification necessary.

My lender is asking for income verification. How do I prove income for a HARP loan?

HARP mortgages are underwritten like most other mortgages. When income verification is required, you’ll often be asked to provide 2 years of W-2 statements, the two most recent years of federal tax returns, and a recent paystub.

I cannot verify income for my HARP loan. What are my options?

HARP does require verification of income, but some lenders may require it anyway. If you cannot (or will not) verify income with your lender, you may show 12 months of PITI in reserves as a substitute for actual verifiable income. PITI stands for Principal, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance. In short, if you can show that you have 12 months of housing payments “saved up”, HARP will treat those reserves as “income”.

What is the maximum income that a HARP applicant is allowed?

The HARP refinance program has no maximum income limits. You cannot “earn too much” to qualify.

So, I can’t earn too much money to use HARP 2.0?

No, there are no income restrictions for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). A similar-sounding program, though — Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) does have income limitations. Many people confuse the two.

I used HAMP with my current lender. Can I use HARP now?

If you’ve used the HAMP program with your current lender to modify your mortgage, you may not be HARP-eligible. It depends on the terms of your modification. Ask your current servicer if you’re HARP-eligible.

I am now divorced. I want to remove my ex-spouse from the mortgage. Can I do that with HARP?

Yes. With HARP, a borrower on the mortgage can be removed via a refinance so long as that person is also removed from the deed; and has no ownership interest in the home.

Is there a minimum credit score to use the HARP?

No, there is no minimum credit score requirement with the HARP mortgage program, per se. However, you must qualify for the mortgage based on traditional underwriting standards.

Do I have to refinance my mortgage with my current lender?

No, you can do a HARP refinance with any participating lender you want. 

My current lender tells me that if I want to do a HARP refinance, I have to go through him. Is that true?

No, it’s not true. You are allowed to do a HARP refinance with any HARP-participating lender.

My bank called me for a HARP refinance. The rate seems high. Should I shop around?

Yes, it’s always a good idea to shop for the best combination of mortgage rates and loan fees. However, be sure to shop with reputable lenders that have experience underwriting and approving HARP mortgages. HARP 2.0 is a new refinance program and not many banks have expertise with them. You don’t want to have your loan approval fall apart because your lender failed to underwrite to HARP mortgage standards.

Where can I get the lowest rates on HARP loans?

The HARP refinance is just like any other mortgage — you’ll want to shop around for the best rates and service. However, because HARP is a “specialty loan”, you may want to limit your shopping with reputable lenders that know how to specifically handle HARP loans.

What are the costs to refinance via HARP?

Closing costs for HARP refinances should be no different than for any other mortgage. You may pay points, you may pay closing costs, you may pay neither. How your mortgage rate and loan fees are structured is between you and your loan officer. You can even opt for a zero-cost HARP refinance. Ask your loan officer about it.

What does the term “DU Refi Plus” mean?

“DU Refi Plus” is the brand name Fannie Mae assigned to its particular flavor of the HARP mortgage program. “DU” stands for Desktop Underwriter. It’s a software program that simulates mortgage underwriting. “Refi Plus” is a gimmicky-sounding term that could have been anything. The name has been trademarked, however.

What does the term “Relief Refinance” mean?

“Relief Refinance” is the Freddie Mac equivalent of DU Refi+.

I have a 40-year mortgage. Can I use HARP?

Yes, if you have a 40-year mortgage, you can use HARP. You must make sure that you mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, though, and that you meet all other eligibility requirements.

My lender says it’s not set up for Freddie Mac. How do I do a HARP loan?

Not every bank is participating in the HARP 2.0 program. If you’ve been told that your bank can’t or won’t help you, just try with a different bank. There are many banks that are participating in the program.

Check out my HARP information page, click here.

Author: Lester Bleich, NYS Licensed MLO, NMLS #152252

My name is Lester Bleich. I am a New York State Licensed Mortgage Loan Originator, NMLS #152252. As a mortgage finance specialist since 1987, I have been privileged to have helped well over 1000 homeowners with their home mortgage financing.

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