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Buyers Tips

Home Foreclosure Prevention

The possibility of losing your home because you can't make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. If you are having trouble making your payments, contact your loan servicer to discuss your options as early as you can. Most loan servicers are willing to work with customers they believe are acting in good faith, and those who call them early on. The longer you wait to call, the fewer options you will have. After you've missed three or four payments and your loan is in default, most loan servicers won't accept a partial payment of what you owe. They will start foreclosure unless you can come up with the money to cover all your missed payments, plus any late fees.

Contacting Your Loan Servicer:

Before you have any conversation with your loan servicer, prepare. Record your income and expenses, and calculate the equity in your home. To calculate the equity, estimate the market value less the balance of your first and any second mortgage or home equity loan. Then, write down the answers to the following questions:

-What happened to make you miss your mortgage payment(s)? Do you have any documents to back up your explanation for falling behind? How have you tried to resolve the problem?

-Is your problem temporary, long-term, or permanent? What changes in your situation do you see in the short term, and in the long term?

-What other financial issues may be stopping you from getting back on track with your mortgage?

-What would you like to see happen? Do you want to keep the home? What type of payment arrangement would be feasible for you?

Know Your Options:

Consider discussing the following foreclosure prevention options with your loan servicer:

Reinstatement: You pay the loan servicer the entire past-due amount, plus any late fees or penalties, by a date you both agree to. This option may be appropriate if your problem paying your mortgage is temporary.

Repayment plan: Your servicer gives you a fixed amount of time to repay the amount you are behind by adding a portion of what is past due to your regular payment. This option may be appropriate if you've missed only a small number of payments.

Forbearance: Your mortgage payments are reduced or suspended for a period you and your servicer agree to. At the end of that time, you resume making your regular payments as well as a lump sum payment or additional partial payments for a number of months to bring the loan current. Forbearance may be an option if your income is reduced temporarily (for example, you are on disability leave from a job, and you expect to go back to your full time position shortly). Forbearance isn't going to help you if you're in a home you can't afford.

Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications can include lowering the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income.

Before you ask for forbearance or a loan modification, be prepared to show that you are making a good-faith effort to pay your mortgage. For example, if you can show that you've reduced other expenses, your loan servicer may be more likely to negotiate with you.

Selling your home: Depending on the real estate market in your area, selling your home may provide the funds you need to pay off your current mortgage debt in full.

Bankruptcy: Personal bankruptcy generally is considered the debt management option of last resort because the results are long-lasting and far-reaching. A bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, and can make it difficult to obtain credit, buy another home, get life insurance, or sometimes, even get a job. Still, it is a legal procedure that can offer a fresh start for people who can't satisfy their debts.

Throughout the Foreclosure Prevention Process:

Keep notes of all your communications with the servicer, including date and time of contact, the nature of the contact (face-to-face, by phone, email, fax or postal mail), the name of the representative, and the outcome.
Follow up any oral requests you make with a letter to the servicer. Send your letter by certified mail, "return receipt requested," so you can document what the servicer received. Keep copies of your letter and any enclosures.
Meet all deadlines the servicer gives you.
Stay in your home during the process, since you may not qualify for certain types of assistance if you move out. Renting your home will change it from a primary residence to an investment property. Most likely, it will disqualify you for any additional "workout" assistance from the servicer. If you choose this route, be sure the rental income is enough to help you get and keep your loan current.

Be Alert to Scams:

Scam artists follow the headlines, and know there are homeowners falling behind in their mortgage payments or at risk for foreclosure. Their pitches may sound like a way for you to get out from under, but their intentions are as far away from honorable as they can be. They mean to take your money. Among the predatory scams that have been reported are:

The foreclosure prevention specialist: The "specialist" really is a phony counselor who charges outrageous fees in exchange for making a few phone calls or completing some paperwork that a homeowner could easily do for himself. None of the actions results in saving the home. This scam gives homeowners a false sense of hope, delays them from seeking qualified help, and exposes their personal financial information to a fraudster.

The lease/buy back:
Homeowners are deceived into signing over the deed to their home to a scam artist who tells them they will be able to remain in the house as a renter and eventually buy it back. Usually, the terms of this scheme are so demanding that the buy-back becomes impossible, the homeowner gets evicted, and the "rescuer" walks off with most or all of the equity.

The bait-and-switch:
Homeowners think they are signing documents to bring the mortgage current. Instead, they are signing over the deed to their home. Homeowners usually don't know they've been scammed until they get an eviction notice.

For more information, visit, www.ftc.gov and www.mymoney.gov.

SOURCE: Federal Trade Commission, (www.ftc.gov)

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