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RISMEDIA, February 20, 2009-(MCT)-Jodi Pope hadn’t expected the squeeze she and her family were suddenly facing.

As a part-time adult education instructor, she’d been teaching six math sections every semester. That, along with her husband’s full-time teaching salary, kept the family budget in the black each month.

With her son still too young for preschool, she had to limit the teaching to evenings, staying home with Oliver during the day while her husband was at his job. The arrangement worked well for the two recent grad students, who not long ago had bought their first house on Bloomington’s west side.

Then came a semester when only two math sections were available in the time slots she needed. With her pay figured per hour of instruction, her paycheck took a big hit — and the family’s finances stretched. The next semester, everything looked back on track, with Jodi lined up to teach a full load again.

But this time around, not enough students had signed up for the evening slots, and she was back to only two sections.

The budget squeezed even tighter. Gas prices had skyrocketed, and the family’s two older girls still needed to be carted to their activities. Food had to be on the table. Sometimes, there just wasn’t quite enough for the entire monthly $895 mortgage payment.

Those months, they’d send in a partial payment — hoping to eventually catch up.

“Over the course of those semesters, we got into being two and a half to three months behind,” she said.

Then one day, the bank refused to accept any more partials. It wanted the Popes to bring the account up to date — to pay all the arrears or face foreclosure.

The couple didn’t have that kind of money and no means to get it. The foreclosure process had begun.

The Popes scrambled. They found a number for Marilyn Patterson, a certified housing counselor for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on the Web.

They set up an appointment to see her at the city of Bloomington’s Housing and Neighborhood Development department office, where she works. “Marilyn Patterson is amazing — she’s amazing,” Jodi said. “She made a stressful time a lot less stressful.”

She told them what to expect and how to respond. She guided them to seek a “mitigation of loss” packet from the mortgage company, assuring them that every mortgage lender had such a packet, but it was something they’d have to ask for.

She told them to expect to be served official papers by the sheriff’s office and not to panic when they got them.

She helped them fill out the packet-it was in incredibly small type, Jodi remembers, so tiny they even had to use a very fine-point pencil to fit in all the responses. It asked a lot of questions about income and expenses, about what the family’s financial prospects were and why things had gone sour. They had to write a cover letter explaining how their circumstances had changed for the worse with the loss of teaching hours, and how now that their son was old enough for preschool, Jodi was back to a full teaching load.

The crunch was over now, even if the arrears still presented significant problems. They had a good mortgage, with a fixed interest rate of below 5%, and wanted to keep it if possible.

The bank — lenders seldom choose foreclosure if there are other viable options — agreed. It extended the mortgage agreement by three months, tacking the amount the family was behind onto the end of the now 30-year, three-month term of the loan.

It was a trying time, Jodi admits, one she wouldn’t want to repeat. “The hard part was not letting the children know, not letting their security feel threatened,” she said. She can see how others — without the time, the skills and especially the counseling help — could easily drown and lose their homes. “It was a lot of hoops to go through.”

And when they look for their next house? They won’t take the bank’s word on how much they can afford, she said, a mistake they made the first time around. That was just too thin a stretch, she sees now. “They’re looking after their own interest — not that of their customers.”

“That’s the responsibility of the home buyer.”

The bank tells you what it thinks you can pay, she said. “It’s your job to make sure it’s an amount you can pay.”

Copyright © 2009, Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.