According to Ken Harney’s column in this past Saturday’s Washington Post, Fannie Mae will now “allow borrowers who face imminent difficulties to request “early workout” loan alterations, even if they have never been late” on payments.  Here’s the gist of it:

Fannie’s policy change has the potential to help thousands of people who are losing jobs or facing layoffs as the recession crunches onward. Most lenders and loan servicers have declined to intervene in mortgage problems until borrowers are 60 to 90 days late. At that point, the lenders may try to work out solutions if possible — through rescheduling of back payments or extending the loan term, among other techniques.

Under Fannie Mae’s revised approach, servicers of the company’s loans nationwide will be required to inform borrowers that if they are “reasonably” certain that changes in their income will cause them to miss mortgage payments, they might qualify for an advance loan modification — before they fall behind.

Borrowers who qualify will enter into a trial period of reduced payments, usually for four months. If they make payments on time during the trial, the modified mortgage terms could then be made permanent.