by Gwen Allen
As in any recession, times are hard on everyone, but for some homeowners it may seem almost hopeless. From the loss of a job to higher living costs or the inability to refinance, they are starting to accept foreclosure as an inevitable.
But there is hope, and the best part is, it is free and does not affect your credit. Nonprofit housing counselors, approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are available to all homeowners. They not only offer guidance government’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan in loan modification or refinancing, and financial counseling to help minimize future distress.
“Though helpful in their right, counselors aren’t miracle workers”, said Dale Steichen, a financial counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Elgin Family Service Association (CCCS).
If homeowners wait too long, there may be no way to help save them. Steichen said it takes about 10 months to foreclose, but after just the third missed payment, the mortgage company hires an attorney and additional fees start compounding the problem.
“If they are still in the house there is hope, but ideally I want to see them before it’s broken,” Steichen said. “Once you’re late on payments, you’re running the clock. Most people get an inkling something is wrong before they get behind, either from cut hours at work or they start to get behind on bills; that’s when they should see a counselor.”
Like an ostrich, he said people hide their heads, hoping the problem will go away instead of facing it. But if you’re a homeowner, even if you can afford your payment and pay on time, you could still be at risk, Steichen said.
“Everybody who has a mortgage will be in trouble, because we live in a global economy,” Steichen said. “People are losing jobs and buying less; it comes back to affect everyone. Another problem is that too many people are going into this mortgage crisis with too much debt.”
Either with a counselor or not, the first step in preventing home loss is establishing a plan, and this begins with a budget, he said.
“I recommend looking at your budget first and cutting all your non-essentials, this includes cell phones, eating out and any other entertainment,” Steichen said. “A $200 (monthly) deficit is workable and can be reworked by a budget. It’s about managing the money you have, that’s the key, not making more money.”
If a deficit remains after a budget is set and the nonessentials are cut, then it may be time for a more aggressive plan. Talk with your mortgage company and ask for a loan modification or refinance. If they are unresponsive, Steichen said it is completely acceptable to ask for your loan investor group’s (i.e. Fannie Mae, Fannie Mac, FHA) contact information. While he said the mortgage company has “little to lose”, the loan investor has more at stake and may “squeeze” the mortgage company into cooperation.
“They (the mortgage company) typically will stall them (homeowners) out, and that is where I come in; I can get the refinance or loan modification and help them save their home,” Steichen said. “I will also access a client’s unsecured debt and look at interest rates. I can work with creditors to lower the interest rates so that more money goes to the principal.”
Again, time is crucial. He said the entire process, whether done alone or with a counselor, can take anywhere from three to four months for a refinance or loan modification. So seek help way before the bank serves you with an eviction notice, or the loss will be much greater than lawyer fees; it may cost you your home.
“The biggest problem is that most people don’t know their options and that is what I’m here for,” Steichen said. “Our job is to make homeowners informed.”
For more information, contact CCCS at 1-888-790-2370 or www.fsaelgin.org/cccs.htm.
HUD’s tips to avoid foreclosure
1. Don’t ignore the problem.
The further behind you become, the harder it will be to reinstate your loan and lose your house.
2. Contact your lender as soon as you realize that you have a problem.
Lenders do not want your house, they have options to help.
3. Open and respond to all mail from your lender.
The first notices you receive will offer good information about foreclosure prevention options and ongoing mail may include important notice of pending legal action. Failure to open your notices will not be an excuse in foreclosure court.
4. Know your mortgage rights.
Find your loan documents and read them thoroughly, know what your lender will do if you can’t make your payments. Research foreclosure laws and time frames in your state (as every state is different) by contacting the State Government Housing Office.
5. Understand foreclosure prevention options.
Information about foreclosure prevention (called loss mitigation) options can be found on the Internet at HUD.gov.
6. Contact a HUD-approved housing counselor.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds free or very low cost housing counseling nationwide. Counselors can help you understand your options, organize your finances and represent you in negotiations with your lender if you need this assistance. Find a HUD approved counselor near you or call (800) 569-4287 or TTY (800) 877-8339. 7. Prioritize your spending.
After health care, keeping your house should be your first priority. Review your finances and cut spending in order to make your mortgage payment. Delay payments on credit cards and other “unsecured” debt until you have paid your mortgage.
8. Use your assets.
Use assets such as a second car, jewelry, a whole life insurance policy for cash to help reinstate your loan? Get a second job. These actions demonstrate to your lender that you are willing to make sacrifices to keep your home.
9. Avoid foreclosure prevention companies.
You don’t need to pay fees for foreclosure prevention help-use that money to pay the mortgage instead. Many for-profit companies will contact you promising to negotiate with your lender, but at a significant fee. Contact a HUD approved counselor for free help.
10. Don’t lose your house to foreclosure recovery scams
If any firm claims they can stop your foreclosure immediately and you sign a document to appoint them to act on your behalf, you may be signing over your property and becoming a renter in your own home! Never sign a legal document without reading and understanding all the terms or get help from a professional advice from an attorney, a trusted real estate professional, or a HUD approved counselor.