The proposed housing reform package may offer some bail-outs for those who have experienced losses as a result of the downturn in the housing market, but it may not offer enough help for average families trying to get out from under overwhelming mortgages, especially if those families are trying to divorce and complete settlement negotiations. The Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008
, a bipartisan bill proposed by Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)
and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
is intended to head off the nation’s housing crisis. However, divorce financial analysts question whether it goes far enough to help families avoid foreclosure, especially divorcing couples trying to hammer out settlements.
The bill has yet to face a vote in the U.S. Senate. After that, a similar bill must make it through the U.S. House of Representatives. Some highlights of the Senate bill:
- A $7,000 tax break, spread over two years, to homeowners who buy homes in or near foreclosure.
- A tax credit for homebuilders who have experienced financial losses during the past two years.
- A total of $100 million allocated to debt counseling to aid families in avoiding foreclosure.
- Tax-free revenue bonds to help families refinance their mortgages.
But that might not be enough, said Stacy Francis, a certified divorce financial analyst and president of Francis Financial,
in New York City. “It’s a great bill in the sense that it is moving in the right direction,” Francis said. “I have to say, though, I don’t think it goes far enough to remove the pressures that couples are facing like high mortgage payments and oppressive taxes.”
Divorce is one of the greatest triggers of foreclosure, Francis said, so many of the families in dire financial straits may be those who are also trying to navigate divorce settlements. “It helps them give them the tools so they don’t necessarily have to forclose,” Francis said. “Sadly, it doesn’t do enough.”
She said that one of the elements of the bill that was denied was modifying mortgages to allow for lower payments. She said that the provision was removed to avoid mortgage lenders’ responses of tightening standards for granting mortgages, but the caution seems misplaced in light of the fact that the lenders are already increasing their requirements. “The days of the 100 percent financing... those days are gone,” Francis said. SOME ASSISTANCE IN PROPOSED BILL
Some of the most positive elements of the proposed bill for divorcing couples are the tax deductions for new property taxes because they will offer help after the negotiations are completed and the spouses are setting out on their own, Francis said. The same is true for the tax breaks for those who have bought foreclosed properties, she said, if those buyers are coming out of a divorce.
Another positive allocation is to providing debt counseling services to those facing foreclosure, Francis said. Divorcing couples whose homes may be near foreclosure can use the counseling to learn how to spend their money more wisely and to reprioritize where their money is going, Francis said. “I think anyone going through divorce, and anyone in general, can have better clarity about their expenses.”