WASHINGTON -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called on the government Thursday to ramp up efforts to stem soaring home foreclosures, which are feeding into the country's deep economic troubles.
Although a flurry of actions have been taken to ease the housing crisis, foreclosures still remain "too high" with adverse consequences for struggling homeowners, squeezed lenders and the broader economy, Bernanke said.
"More needs to be done," he declared.
Lenders appear to be on track to initiate 2.25 million foreclosures this year, up from an average annual pace of less than 1 million during the pre-crisis period, he said.
To provide additional relief, Bernanke outlined a number of what he called "promising options" to reduce preventable foreclosures.
Under one plan, Bernanke called on Congress to ease the terms of a government program called "Hope for Homeowners," which lets distressed homeowners refinance into more affordable, federally insured mortgages if the lender writes down the amount owed on the mortgage and pays an upfront insurance premium.
Bernanke suggested Congress lower lenders' up-front insurance premium, as well as reducing the interest rate borrowers pay, which presently is quite high, roughly 8%. To bring down this interest rate, Treasury could buy Ginnie Mae securities, which fund the mortgage program, or Congress could decide to subsidize the rate.
Another option would ease the terms of a loan-modification plan put forward by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that seeks to make monthly mortgage payments more affordable. The FDIC put this plan into effect at IndyMac Bank, a large savings and loan that failed earlier this year, and has used it to modify mortgages at other financial institutions.
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