WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A government report on Thursday showed that banks granted fewer stressed homeowners a permanent break on their monthly mortgage payments in July than in June and singled out two big banks for poor performance.
Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase Bank "remain in need of substantial improvement" in implementing the Making Home Affordable Program and will have financial incentives withheld until they shape up, the report from the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments said.
The report showed that 28,328 homeowners received permanently lower monthly mortgages from banks in July, down from 31,620 who were able to negotiate lower payments in June.
The program provides financial incentives to servicers that are intended to help borrowers rework their mortgages and avoid having them foreclosed.
So far, it has produced 675,447 still-active permanent loan modifications since it was started in late 2009, fewer than the administration's goal of helping up to four million people.
A total of 791,399 loan modifications were started but a total of 115,952 were canceled for various reasons.
The report said the government continues to try to get mortgage servicers to provide better and more effective service to struggling homeowners and said "the continued fragility of the housing market" underscores the need to do so.
It looked at the servicers' records during the second quarter in contacting homeowners who qualify for help as well as how efficiently they assessed their cases and managed them once an effort at negotiation was under way.
Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase got harsh assessments.
"Both servicers were subject to withholding of financial incentives under the program based on results from the first quarter and will continue to have their incentives withheld until their performance improves," the report said.
The loan modification program was started in response to the housing downturn that coincided with the 2007-09 financial crisis and that has never really let up.
Many people have found themselves unable to keep up mortgage payments because jobs remain scarce in a weak economy while others now are "under water" because falling home prices mean their home loans exceed the value of the properties.