Mortgage trouble? Here's help

HUD-approved agencies can explain options; various programs offer relief.

Maybe the mortgage-delinquency notices are just starting to arrive after a missed payment or two. Or maybe foreclosure is starting to look like a distinct possibility.

Conventional wisdom suggests contacting your lender as soon as possible and seeing whether something can be worked out. At the very least, you should open any letters you receive from the lender as soon as they arrive and deal with them.

But if the next step doesn't seem obvious, Patricia Hasson, president of the Consumer Credit Counseling Services of the Delaware Valley in Philadelphia, advises that you contact a housing-counseling agency approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and "set up an appointment to understand your options and develop a plan."

How do you find such an agency? Go to www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/fc, then click on the map for Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

It's one way to avoid getting shaken down for whatever assets you have left. There are scams galore these days designed to take advantage of homeowners desperate to dig themselves out of mortgage trouble.

More than a dozen legitimate (mostly government) programs offer help. If you aren't sure which you might qualify for, here are some to check into:

Pennsylvania/ New Jersey

Making Home Affordable is the federal program designed to save as many as nine million borrowers through mortgage modification or refinancing. Only loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are eligible for the refinancing program. MakingHomeAffordable.gov outlines how to determine whether you are eligible and allows you to link with the list of HUD-approved foreclosure-counseling agencies.

Hope for Homeowners was created by Congress to help those at risk of default and foreclosure refinance into more affordable, sustainable loans. The program, effective until Sept. 30, 2011, refinances mortgages into new 30-year or 40-year fixed-rate loans with lower payments. Information: www.hud.gov/hopeforhomeowners or 1-800-225-5342.

Hope Now joins HUD-approved counseling agencies, mortgage companies, investors, and other mortgage-market participants to provide free foreclosure-prevention assistance. Information: www.hopenow.com; 1-888-995-4673.

Home Equity Conversion Mortgage may help homeowners 62 and older extricate themselves from financial distress. These "reverse mortgages" are insured by the FHA and should be obtained only through FHA-approved lenders. Information: www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hecm/hecmhome.cfm or 1-800-569-4287. Based on HUD guidelines, there is a fee up to $125 for counseling, but it may be waived depending on income.

REO Rental Initiative is a temporary Freddie Mac program for rental properties, under which qualified former owner-occupants and tenants will be offered options to lease properties in which they reside that have been acquired by Freddie Mac because of foreclosure. To qualify for the month-to-month rental option, a property must be in good condition, meet all state laws and local code requirements, and be free of environmental hazards. Information: www.freddiemac.com/avoidforeclosure/rental_initiative.html.

Pennsylvania

Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Initiative offers assistance for owner–occupied homes with mortgages in default or in danger of default. Forty-five agencies statewide offer free counseling services. Information:

www.phfa.org/forms/counseling_agencies/fmci_agencies/fmci.pdf.

Refinance to an Affordable Loan (REAL) offers 30-year fixed rates. Because it combines 100 percent financing with flexible credit underwriting, it may offer relief to homeowners who otherwise might not qualify for mortgage-refinance programs. Information: www.phfa.org/consumers/homeowners/real.aspx; 1-800-822-1174.

Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) offers loans, which must be repaid, to state residents unable to pay their mortgages and facing foreclosure. Information: www.phfa.org/consumers/homeowners/hemap.aspx; 717-780- 3945.

Homeowners' Equity Recovery Opportunity Loan Program (HERO) provides up to 100 percent financing. The state housing-finance agency buys the loan directly from the homeowner's lender, then sets up an affordable repayment agreement. This program has limited funding and is only for those who do not qualify for the REAL program. Information: www.phfa.org/consumers/homeowners/real.aspx; 1-800-822-1174.

Philadelphia

Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, with its SaveYourHomePhilly hotline, provides free counseling assistance for homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments or facing foreclosure; 215-334-4663.

New Jersey

Foreclosure Mediation Program is designed to resolve foreclosure actions by proposing workout and payment arrangements. Free counseling is available through 20 agencies certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Many homeowners also may qualify for free legal assistance. Information: www.NJForeclosureMediation.org; 1-888-989-5277, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) provides up to $20,000 per homeowner to bring mortgages current or to refinance or renegotiate the terms of the mortgage. Homeowners must work with a counseling agency that determines eligibility and makes the resources available. Information: www.state.nj.us/dca/hmfa/consu/owners/map.

Mortgage Stabilization Program was designed to work with banks and help homeowners avoid foreclosure by either refinancing into another mortgage or modifying their existing mortgage to make loan payments affordable. The lender must be willing to write down the value of the mortgage to the current value of the property. Once that happens, the state and the lender each provide a loan to write down the mortgage even further to make the payments affordable. The state's loan will match the lender's loan up to $25,000, both loans to be repaid upon sale of the property. Information: www.state.nj.us/dca/hmfa/foreclosureprevention_resources.pdf; 1-800-446-7467.

Housing Assistance and Recovery Program (HARP) provides financial support to qualified nonprofit and public entities that work with lenders to purchase the mortgages of distressed homeowners. Properties are leased back to the homeowners for up to three years; homeowners receive counseling, job training, credit repair, and budget guidance in hopes they can buy back the homes. Information: www.nj.gov/dca/hmfa/home/foreclosure/programs.html.


Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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