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More than 3 million homeowners had refinanced their mortgages through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) as of November, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

Mel Watt, the new director of the FHFA, says this represents an important milestone for the program, which was launched in 2009 to help homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments.

"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," Watt says in a release, referring to a new awareness campaign the FHFA recently launched to boost HARP participation rates.

Due mainly to rising interest rates, HARP participation rates have fallen far short of government expectations. Initially, the FHFA had forecast that 4 million to 5 million borrowers would take advantage of the program, however, problems with the program, combined with rising interest rates, resulted in lower participation than had been anticipated.

In response, the FHFA, along with government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and other industry stakeholders, identified several issues that were deterring homeowners from using the program, including the fact that loans with loan-to-value (LTV) ratios greater than 125% were not eligible for HARP refinances and that the program's short duration (approximately 15 months) was discouraging lenders from participating.

After soliciting feedback from stakeholders, many of the problems with HARP were addressed, compromises were made and in October 2011, a re-branded program, "HARP 2.0," was launched. Changes included removing the 125% LTV ceiling and extending the duration of the program to Dec. 31, 2015.

Following that last round of changes, participation increased. The FHFA reports that the number of HARP refinances completed in 2012 almost equaled the total number of refinances completed in the previous three years.

The FHFA recently launched a nationwide campaign to educate eligible homeowners to encourage greater participation. The campaign includes a new website, www.HARP.gov, and public service announcements that are airing in targeted markets. In addition, the FHFA hired HGTV personality and Power Broker star Mike Aubrey to help raise awareness about the program.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Inspector General has identified additional barriers to HARP participation and a new round of modifications to the program has been proposed; however, the so-called "HARP 3.0" program is yet to be approved and codified.

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