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Can 'Project Lifeline' help troubled homeowners or will it flatline?

  • Story Highlights
  • Major banks: "Lifeline" to give homeowners chance to work with lenders
  • Program would give some people 30-day moratorium on foreclosure
  • Critics argue program falls short, doesn't reach enough people
  • Many people may not be eligible for "Project Lifeline" benefits
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By Mallory Simon
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(CNN) -- A new program to help delinquent mortgage borrowers stave off foreclosure doesn't really help much, according to some experts.

As details about the program, which was announced Tuesday, become more clear, some question whether eligibility requirements make it a lifeline that falls flat.

"Project Lifeline" is spearheaded by Bank of America, Citigroup, Countrywide, J.P. Morgan, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo which account for 50 percent of the mortgage servicing market.

The banks created the program with the goal of giving homeowners time to work with lenders on an alternative solution to foreclosure.

"The program will give homeowners a little breathing room to allow lenders try and work something out," Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance expert said.

But, the Center for Responsible lending criticized the program saying in a statement that it comes with a "rope that is too short," referring to the 30-day moratorium on foreclosures proposed by the program.

"This is a small step that isn't likely to make a significant difference for the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who are at risk of losing their home," the statement said.

The program is unique in that unlike previous government programs, the benefits won't be confined to borrowers with adjustable rate mortgages.

Willis said the program may offer hope to those behind on their payments, but that does not assure that loans will be adjusted and in some cases may just "delay the inevitable."

There are restrictions on eligibility, which may slim the number of people who will benefit from the program.

Anyone who is currently bankrupt, who hasn't missed more than three months of payment and whose foreclosure date is less than 30 days away will not be eligible for the program, officials said. Homeowners who bought a property that was vacant or a home as an investment will also not be eligible for the program.

Willis said concerns about the program might stem from the result of the Hope Now Alliance, which all six banks are members, which fell flat when it only led to loan modifications for 10,000 people.

"I think people are frustrated and they want to see a bigger fix," she said. "Will the return that we've seen for Hope Now be the same for this? That would not be impressive."

Those who are eligible for the program will receive a notice from one of the six banks in the mail with instructions on contacting their mortgage servicing company.

In the mean time, Willis encourages those facing foreclosure to be proactive and contact their lenders or providers or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if they have counselors who work in their city, town or region.

"Part of the problem here is that people who are in trouble with their mortgages are often loathe to call their lenders to ask what can be done," Willis said. "I know it's embarrassing but you can either save face or you can save your house."

Willis said "Project Lifeline" is part of the "patchwork of solutions" including President Bush's decision to freeze interest rates which aim to solve the housing crisis.

"The hope is these plans can ease the pain for people in trouble with their mortgage and bring people in trouble back from the brink," she said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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