The following Article is Courtesy of Bankrate.com a great resource for financial inquiries.
By Marcie Geffner • Bankrate.com
Homeowners who can't afford their mortgage payments can get a better deal from their lender. But the process is complicated and potentially onerous, and concessions are offered only to borrowers who earn neither too much nor too little income to meet the lender's guidelines.
"If they can afford to pay, they should pay. If they can't afford to pay, we need to make sure they have a fighting chance to make the new payments and pay back the loan over the long term," says Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for J.P. Morgan Chase, which also owns the Washington Mutual, or WaMu, and EMC brands.
Payment must be affordable, but also pay off
See details of the mortgage modification policies for each institution:
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Some lenders also require proof that the borrower has suffered a severe financial hardship, such as a prolonged illness, disability, temporary unemployment, divorce or death of a spouse. Borrowers may be required to write and sign a "hardship letter" that explains their situation, says Jumana Bauwens, a representative of Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide Home Loans earlier this year.
Loan modifications generally aim to achieve two specific and potentially contradictory goals, which are to:
The types of modifications that may be offered vary from one lender to the next, but the most common are:
Though many homeowners may want their lender to write off part of their mortgage, especially if their home has declined in value, this type of modification, known as "principal reduction" or "forgiveness of debt," is offered rarely, if at all. That's because lenders:
"The reality is that loan modification programs are about preventing unnecessary foreclosures. They are not about creating great investment opportunities. In most cases, in helping someone to stay in their home, we are worsening that house as an investment opportunity," says Evan Wagner, a spokesman for IndyMac Federal Bank in
How the loan modification process works
The best way to get started on a loan modification is to pick up the telephone and call the number on your monthly mortgage statement. Some lenders also accept requests via e-mail or through an online application, though the telephone is usually the preferred means of contact.
It's important to be honest about your finances because inaccurate information that can't be documented will delay the process and could preclude a loan modification that otherwise would have been offered to you, or raise false hopes that won't pan out, Wagner explains.
"There is no upside to giving us bad income or expense information," he says.
Some borrowers will receive a loan modification offer, subject to verification of income, by the end of that first conversation. Others will need to wait for the lender to review their situation before they receive an offer or will be told their request has been denied.
The length of time the process will take depends on myriad factors that include:
"We try to have a streamlined process so we can do it as expeditiously as we can," says Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Citigroup.
Not all lenders have adopted a streamlined process. And if your situation doesn't meet the guidelines, the lender can still apply a customized process to your circumstances. Even if you don't think you'll qualify, it's still a good idea to call your lender and discuss your situation. You may be surprised to learn that you could qualify now even if you were told no in the past, Wagner says.
Lenders also have begun to send out ready-to-accept offers and "invitations to apply" to certain groups of borrowers in an effort to focus on those who are most likely to qualify. Typically, these letters are sent to borrowers who have made one or more late payments or who are deemed to be at high risk of delinquency because they have a subprime or payment-option mortgage or live in a state that has experienced severe economic distress.
"We are reaching out to customers through calls, written correspondence,
If you haven't received a letter, you should contact your lender.
"If you don't get a letter, it doesn't mean you don't qualify," Bauwens says.
If you feel too nervous or uncomfortable to contact your lender, you can call a nonprofit mortgage counseling agency that's certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. To find a HUD-certified counselor in your area, call HUD's interactive voice-response system at (800) 569-4287. You can also meet with a counselor in person at a public outreach event. Bring your financial information with you, and be prepared to wait because some of these events have attracted large crowds of people, according to local news reports.
If you decide to contact a foreclosure rescue specialist, be aware that many of these companies are scams and others don't offer any services that you can't accomplish on your own or obtain through a nonprofit agency at no cost to you.
"There is no reason to pay any upfront fee to a for-profit service when you can call the loan servicer or a nonprofit, HUD-approved agency," Bauwens says.
Be advised also that loan servicers won't reimburse any fees you pay to these types of companies. Instead, Kelly warns, the fee "will come out of your pocket."
-- Posted: Dec. 11, 2008