RISMEDIA, May 27, 2008-(MCT)-Mortgage broker Joe Adamaitis spends much of his time in Florida, where foreclosure is almost an epidemic. But the story that sticks out in his mind is that of a Manchester, NH woman who called him one day looking for advice.
The subprime lender who issued her mortgage had gone out of business and the woman’s adjustable interest rate had jumped to 10 percent — well beyond what she could comfortably afford.
Eventually, the woman was able to negotiate down to a 5 percent fixed rate, which dropped her monthly mortgage payment by nearly $1,000. But the story is not entirely triumphant. It took nine months of phone calls, written pleas to her congressmen and a formal complaint with the New Hampshire Banking Department before the woman finally caught the ear of someone at the lender’s office.
If she had given up after the first phone call, the house probably would belong to the bank.
“It really is all about persistence,” said Adamaitis, president of Direct Mortgage Services, which has an office in Bedford. “Half of the battle is just getting someone to listen because these people are hearing it every day.”
Whether you haven’t paid the mortgage in two months or have never missed a payment but are worried about making ends meet in a tough economy, there are steps you can take to keep your home out of foreclosure.
The resources available vary depending on your situation — someone who is anticipating trouble has more options than someone who is seriously delinquent, but experts agree the absolute worst thing you can do is nothing at all.
– Call your lender
Calling your lender should always be the first step, whether you’re behind on the mortgage or just concerned that you won’t be able to make the payments a month or two down the road when your adjustable interest rate goes up.
“Do not avoid your creditors,” Dick Lavoie, vice president of marketing for Triangle Credit Union in Nashua, said. “In this economy, they will work with you.”
There are no guarantees, but it’s possible to work out a deal that lowers your interest rate, converts a risky adjustable rate mortgage to a predictable fixed rate plan, or allows you to pay only interest during a period of financial hardship, Lavoie said.
Keep in mind: the “lender” you should call is usually not the bank. It’s the loan servicing company that sends you a monthly bill.
Adamaitis said the hard reality is this: It sometimes takes being persistent to the point of being rude if the first or second person you speak with doesn’t want to help. Lenders can be reluctant to talk to people before a loan is 90 days past due, he said — and by then the situation is dire.
“You have to get past the first clerk, the second clerk, to the supervisor,” Adamaitis said.
Adamaitis also suggests calculating how much you can afford to pay on a monthly basis before calling the lender, so you can offer the amount as an alternative payment plan.
For a specific list of names and phone numbers of people to call at each lending institution that serves New Hampshire, call the New Hampshire Banking Department hotline.
– Call a mortgage or credit counselor
If you’re not having any luck with the lender, try an agency that has a little more pull.
Mortgage counselors know exactly who to call within the lender’s office, and often have developed a relationship with the person authorized to help you.
Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Nashua offers free mortgage counseling. A counselor will review your current mortgage and income, and try to work out a deal with your lender to save your home.
The agency hosts free clinics about twice a month for people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure, but also schedules appointments for anyone who cannot attend during those hours.
Some lenders are more responsive to a call from a mortgage counselor than a homeowner, according to Mary Febonio, homeownership director for Neighborhood Housing Services.
But Febonio stressed that mortgage counselors are there to act as a guide, not do all the work for you. They will review the letter of hardship you write and tell you where to send it, but they won’t write it for you, she said.
“Don’t bury your head in the sand,” Febonio said. “This is your house, your problem . . . people have to take responsibility.”
If your situation is not as urgent — maybe you’re just struggling to make mortgage payments but haven’t missed one — call Consumer Credit Counseling of New Hampshire and Vermont. The nonprofit can help you reprioritize a budget to comfortably make mortgage payments or prepare for an increase in variable mortgage interests rates.
Consumer Credit Counseling has an office in Nashua, but you’ll have to call the main office in Concord to make an appointment.
– Find a new lender
If your lender refuses to work with you, try to find a company that will.
“If the bank is not talking, look for another,” Richard Arcand, spokesperson for the New Hampshire Banking Department, said.
But be warned: this is not an easy thing to do. Banks have tightened credit restrictions in the wake of the subprime crisis, and are not likely to buy your loan if you have bad credit or are behind on payments.
Arcand said this option works best for people who are making mortgage payments now but are facing an adjustable rate increase that will make the payments unaffordable.
This spring and summer, an estimated 2 million Americans will see an adjustable rate increase.
Arcand said you can try calling banks and other lending institutions on your own to find a new lender, or you can call the Mortgage Relief Fund.
Five banks in New England have joined forces and committed $125 million to help homeowners with adjustable rate mortgages get a fixed rate.
To be eligible for the program, your house must be worth more than you owe, and your payments should have been made mostly on time.
– Hire a lawyer
This option is for people who have tried all of the above with no success. It’s going to cost some extra money but could potentially save your home.
“I would recommend hiring an attorney if you truly wish to stay in your home,” said Adamaitis, who writes a financial advice column that is not published in The Telegraph. “Many people going into foreclosure are turning to attorneys who are finding some success with the dismissal of foreclosure status. It doesn’t happen everywhere, however there has been success.”
Even if foreclosure is eminent and it’s too late to save your home, it also may be a good idea to call a lawyer.
Arcand suggests calling a free service called New Hampshire Legal Assistance for guidance if you’ve exhausted all other options.
“It way down the list of options,” Arcand said. “But a lawyer may be able to buy them more time or help you through the foreclosure process.”
Where to call for help
–New Hampshire Banking Department hotline, 1-800-437-5991, provides help understanding the terms of your mortgage and lists people to call within specific lending institutions.
–The Homeownership Preservation Foundation HOPE helpline, 1-888-995-4673, connects you to a local nonprofit mortgage counselor.
–Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Nashua, 882-2077, provides free mortgage counseling to people in Nashua and the surrounding towns. The nonprofit also runs free mortgage help clinics about twice a month. The next is May 29 at 6 p.m. at the 63 Temple St. office.
Appointments are not required.
–Consumer Credit Counseling Service of New Hampshire and Vermont, 1-800-327-6778. Call this number to make an appointment in Nashua. Or try online credit counseling at www.cccsnh-vt.org.
–Mortgage Relief Fund, www.mortgagerelieffund.com, helps people who are in good standing with their current mortgage save money by getting out of adjustable rate loans and into fixed rate plans. For more information call one of the following participants: Citizens Bank, Sovereign Bank, TD Banknorth, Webster Bank or Bank of America.
–New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, 472-8623, offers homeownership workshops throughout the state and provides low-income housing assistance.
–New Hampshire Legal Assistance, 1-800-562-3174.
Copyright © 2008, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.