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Florida leads country in homeowners eligible for HARP refinancing

Florida leads the nation in the number of homeowners eligible to refinance under a popular federal program, and a lot of them are here in the Tampa Bay area.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, nearly 11,000 bay area homeowners could still take advantage of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, commonly called HARP, before it expires at the end of next year.

Almost half of those are in Hillsborough County, which ranks ninth among all U.S. counties in the number of eligible homeowners.

The program is aimed at helping those who have so little equity in their homes that it can be difficult to find a lender willing to refinance. But if you are current on your payments and have a mortgage that originated before May 31, 2009, and is guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, relief could be on the way.

"There has been a concerted push to get the word out and draw the attention of these homeowners who qualify," said Stefanie Johnson, a housing agency spokesperson.

In addition to sending emissaries to Miami and to six other cities, the agency started several Twitter campaigns, including #HARPfacts, and has mailed information about the program to homeowners.

Through HARP, borrowers can get a lower interest rate, a shorter loan term or change from an adjustable to fixed-rate mortgage. Savings can be as much as $200 a month.

The housing agency launched HARP in 2009 when many homeowners who had bought or refinanced at the peak of the bubble saw their values plunge as the market crashed. Since then, the program has undergone major changes to simplify the application process and encourage more lenders and borrowers to participate.

Among the changes: Appraisals are no longer needed in most cases, and less documentation is required to verify incomes. Loan-to-value caps were abolished, so borrowers can refinance regardless of how far underwater they are on their mortgages.

More than 3.3 million homeowners nationwide have refinanced through HARP, and another 429,000 are eligible. Florida leads the way with 58,518 eligible owners, far more than runners-up Michigan and Ohio.

Among metro areas, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area ranks seventh with 10,707 eligible homeowners; Hillsborough County alone has 4,268.

HARP refinancing is available for second homes and one-to-four unit investment properties as well as for owner-occupied homes. Participating lenders include big banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Before contacting the lender, though, homeowners can go to harp.gov to determine if their loans are owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — if not, there's no point in proceeding. The website gives more detailed information on eligibility criteria and how to apply.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin @smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Florida leads country in homeowners eligible for HARP refinancing 11/16/15 [Last modified: Monday, November 16, 2015 7:39pm]
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