More than 3 million mortgages have now been refinanced through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), a milestone the once-beleaguered federal program reached in November.

Nearly 40,000 mortgages were refinanced through HARP in November, according to figures released today by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), bringing the total number of home loans refinanced through the program to 3.028 million.

"Three million HARP refinances is an important accomplishment and represents real help to families and communities still struggling as a result of the mortgage crisis," said FHFA Director Mel Watt. "We are continuing our efforts to make sure that those who can take advantage of this program have the information they need to do so."

Accounts for 1 in 4 refinances

HARP accounted for nearly a quarter of all mortgages refinanced in November, with the majority of those loans being significantly underwater, with a debt-to-income ratio of greater than 125 percent. That represents a markedly higher level of underwater mortgages compared to the rest of the year; for the first 11 months of 2013, underwater mortgages of all types (debt-to-income ratios of greater than 105 percent) accounted for just 40 percent of HARP refinances.

HARP refinancing has fallen off sharply in recent months, along with mortgage refinancing in general, after mortgage rates began to rise off their all-time lows last spring. The FHFA reports that only 85,000 mortgages were refinanced through HARP during October and November of last fall, down from 200,000 during the previous quarter and an average of nearly 300,000 in each of the four quarters preceding that.

Long-term goal still in doubt

Designed to enable homeowners with low- or negative equity mortgages to refinance their loans to more favorable terms, particularly lower interest rates, the program struggled during the early going after it was launched in April 2009. However, refinancing under the program surged after the guidelines were relaxed, with nearly two-thirds of the program's total refinance volume coming in the last two years.

As it now stands, it's uncertain whether HARP will reach its original goal of enabling 4-5 million homeowners to refinance their mortgages by the time the program expires by the end of 2015. A long- proposed expansion of the program to include mortgages other than those backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, as currently required, would likely produce another surge but prospects for such an expansion are unclear.

Published on February 10, 2014