A new federal mortgage plan "won’t solve the housing bust,” said Rick Newman in Seeking Alpha, but “some beleaguered homeowners will finally be eligible for a tiny slice of the government’s huge bailout fund.” Starting Dec. 15, certain qualified non-bankrupt homeowners at least 90 days behind in their mortgage for a home they occupy will be eligible to renegotiate their payments to no more than 38 percent of household income.

The plan covers mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Liz Moyer in Forbes online, but large banks have joined in the effort—out of “self-preservation.” For the government, as well as lenders, stopping the rash of foreclosures and steady slide in housing prices is “the holy grail of all of its big plans to prop up the ailing banking system.”

Modifying mortgages will help, but it’s “just a band-aid,” said Dean Foust in BusinessWeek online. Average housing prices, by some measures, “still need to drop another 15 to 20 percent” nationwide. The government can’t stop the “free-fall in housing,” but maybe the “secret goal” of its plan is just to cushion the fall so it doesn’t “take the broader economy down in the process.”

Another problem with the federal plan is that it only covers delinquent homeowners, said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. In that sense, the private banks are more forward-looking. Citigroup is actively looking to keep the 90 percent of homeowners current on their payments in the game, and other banks are less-publicly willing to play ball, too. Don’t be afraid to ask.