The U.S. government has spent $190 billion to shore up the companies since they were taken into federal conservatorship in 2008 after their investments in risky loans soured. DeMarco said adding to the firms’ costs would be a violation of his legal responsibility to restore them to financial health.
Using principal forbearance instead of forgiveness so far has been better for taxpayers, DeMarco said. Forbearance reduces monthly payments while requiring borrowers to pay back the full amount of the loan when they sell the house.
“If the borrower is successful on the modification, allows them to stay in their house and they stay in their house and start making mortgage payments, the taxpayer gets to share in the upside of that borrower’s success,” DeMarco said in the Bloomberg Television interview. “If we forgive the principal up front and the borrower is successful, that upside all goes to the borrower and is not shared with the taxpayer.”There is another way to allow taxpayers to get the upside of borrowers' success--replace the debt they owe with a shared equity arrangement. The taxpayer may be better off with principal forbearance for houses that are 10 percent underwater, because through amortization people can get themselves right-side up in a relatively short time (particularly if they can get a refinance at a low rate of interest).
But for places like Las Vegas and the Central Valley of California, where many people are 40-70 percent underwater, it is hard to see how default and large losses aren't inevitable. A debt-equity swap would allow people to move freely, which aligning incentives between lenders and borrowers.