Saturday, August 28, 2010

Distressed Homeowners Get HELP!

If you cannot afford your current financial commitments it may be time to get professional help. Below are some guidelines and resources: 

The loss of their home's value has caught many people off guard. Even folks with good jobs and modest 80% LTV (loan amount to home value) now find their value may have dropped 20% or more in the last two or three years. As mortgage professionals, we have many resources, but we are not magicians! Fortunately, the same guidelines that lenders apply to mortgage lending (which we must know backwards and forwards) also apply to your new situation, although they are applied differently - you'll see how below. It is extremely and painfully obvious to banks that many homeowners simply would not now qualify for the same loan they now hold. Your mortgage balance represents their interest in your property -- which may now be greater than what the collateral (your home) is worth. So essentially you and your bank are both in trouble.

So what do you do?
Well for starters, (and I know this is boring and insulting), it really helps to sit down with your family budget and look at what you are now spending for basics, including your house, insurance, taxes, maintenance, cars, car insurance, food, health insurance. utilities, food...all the necessities.  I can't tell you how many people have returned this form to me completely blank. Many of us live in denial about what our lifestyles are actually costing us. So get this: it's important and the starting point of your financial recovery.

This simple two page form Budget Form is available from the Washington Department of Financial Institutions. This same form is used by the Loan Modification agents and HUD Counseling Agencies to assess your situation. The exercise takes 20 minutes tops. If you find this hard to do perhaps there is something amiss in your relationship with money. Gather the relevant bills and just do it.

After you have completed the form: Divide your Expenses by your Income like so:

Distressed Example: Expenses $3,000 per month divided by Income of $5000 per month
             = .60 = Debt to Income Ratio of 60%

At 60% DTI you are well over what is considered a safe lending limit according to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac and FHA guidelines. The lending limits today allow DTI of 41-45% depending on the loan type. For some earners with very low expenses and good assets, they may be qualified for up to 55% DTI. The Loan Modification HAMP/MHA guidelines top out around 31% DTI. Translated:

Lending Example: Expenses $3,000 per month divided by Income of $7000 per month
             = .428 = Debt to Income Ratio of 42.8% (under 45% limit--this is considered 'safe')

Modification Example: Expenses $3,000 per month divided by Income of $9650 per month
            = .31 = Debt to Income Ratio of 31.%

In these examples above I used the same expenses to show how much more income is required to get into the 'safe zone'. In other words, something has to give. Either you make more money, or your expenses must be reduced. Since the largest item on most people's budget is their mortgage, that specific payment may be adjusted or conversely, your income may have to increase to sustain your current lifestyle.

What is possible depends entirely on you and your situation.
If you are over the DTI of 31% as outlined above, then you may be advised apply for a Loan Modification. A hardship situation is required to qualify for the government relief programs, HAMP or MHA. A hardship is defined as any event that has impacted your ability to meet your financial obligations outside your control including: loss of job, divorce, death of spouse, medical event, increased responsibilities (child or elderly care), disability, natural disaster, and a host of other ills that may have befallen your household.

If you find yourself in debt due to your own excess or poor judgement then legal help may be required. A combination approach may be called for if you have more than one cause.

Where to Start:
You will be told by all the public infomercials to call your bank first. Don't waste your breath and time on hold. The fact is not many banks are bothering to do much more than say they will help and stall you for a few months before saying no, sorry we can't help you. All the while you are sinking deeper in debt. Yes --they are supposed to help and no -- they aren't very good at it.

If you are already facing foreclosure you may seek first the Free HUD Counselors in Washington or you may seek professional help. First, share your Budget Form with your accountant or a family friend and put some ideas on the table.

Call a FREE HUD Counselor for starters: 1-888-995-4673.

I will say I have spoken with several HUD counselors and some are well trained and helpful. The only problem with their 'advice' if you can call it that is that once they determine you 'have a case' they will send you back to your lender to fend for yourself. If you are not very far behind, say less than 90 days in your mortgage payments- your bank may be able to help. Just don't count on it.

What you can count on is a long drawn out process. If you are more than 90 days behind on your payments and you have received a Notice of Default, your case has fallen into the 'loss mitigation department'. These are specialists working through a backlog of distressed cases on behalf of the lender. Just remember, they represent the bank and not you. In fact, they really don't want to speak with you at all. They simply cannot handle your angst and get their job done.

If you feel you need outside help, below are some resources:

Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project: If you cannot afford a lawyer, this project is a partnership with the Washington State Bar and the Northwest Justice Project: 1-877-894-4663

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency http://www.occ.treas.gov/customer.htm
Homeowners may register complaints regarding their national banks here for investigation. 

Congressional Representatives Your elected officials need to hear from you and may offer resources and assistance at both state and federal level http://www.congress.org

Washington State Department of Financial Institutions Hotline:
Homeowners may register complaints about state banks and modification agents as well as tips on how to proceed if you are facing foreclosure: http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/homeownership/foreclosure_help.htm

Please note: It is best to seek the services of professionals with a demonstrated track record and expertise in their specific fields. We refer to trusted local colleagues in the areas of debt restructuring, bankruptcy law, accounting, loan modification, short sale negotiation, real estate sales and credit restoration. Our primary business is mortgage financing.

To your future prosperity!

© 2010 susan templeton
*Susan Templeton is not a loan modification advocate