Every day, at least 1 person comes into my office complaining that they have made all of their payments under a trial loan modification, but there has been no permanent modification. According to the latest numbers, only 4% of all trial modifications under HAMP have become permanent. The Treasury indicated in December, 2009 that it would start fining lenders for failing to complete loan modifications, but we have seen little improvement yet.
Borrowers are told a host of explanations as to why there has been no permanent loan modification on their loan including missing paperwork, the loan is with a negotiator or simply that the loan modification takes time. While all of these explanations may be true, the result is that borrowers throughout the country are left in limbo not knowing whether they should try to stay or make preparations for leaving the home. To make matters worse, most borrowers know that the loan modification documentation signed by them warns that foreclosure may be immediately resumed from the point at which it was suspended if this trial modification plan terminates and no new notice of default, notice of intent to accelerate, or similar notice is required. What should they do?
In order to reduce some of their anxiety, I ask them to work through a simple 3 step process to see if any loan modification really makes any sense for them.
Step 1- What are the terms of the loan modification being offered? There are many types of loan modification/forbearances being offered by lenders. However, the one most helpful to borrowers is HAMP which stands for Home Affordable Modification Program. Lenders are not required to participate in this plan. However, the biggest lenders including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, Citibank and American Home Mortgage Servicing are participating. The program lowers the interest rate to 2% for years 1-5 and increases the interest rate over the next 3 years until it is fixed in year 8 at approximately 4.5% -5.0% for the remaining term of the loan or in some instances extending the loan term to a 40 year loan. If the trial period is not for a HAMP loan modification, you should immediately contact the lender and apply for HAMP loan modification.
Step 2- Can you pay off the principal balance? A good rule of thumb is that a borrower can payoff 2-2.5 times their gross household income in a home loan over the course of their working life and go on vacation and have a child or two. Therefore, if a family’s average gross household income is $100,000, they should not have a home loan which exceeds $250,000. This is assuming a 30 year fixed loan. If a borrower has less than 30 years remaining work time, the amount should be reduced accordingly. If you determine that you are never going to “own” this property, is this the best use of your money? If you didn’t have this huge mortgage payment plus property taxes, insurance and maintenance, could you be putting away more money into retirement or maybe saving for a home you could actually “own.”
Step 3- Is the loan modification payment less than I would pay in rent? Assuming, the above calculation shows that you will not be able to pay off the balance of the loan over the course of your remaining work career, is the loan modification payment still less than I would pay in rent? Depending on where you live, the loan modification payment may still be less than rent you would pay in your immediate area.
Loan Modifications are difficult. Most of these loans were made with little or no documentation and now the lenders seem to be requiring full loan documentation at the beginning, middle and whenever they feel like it until they decide a loan modification is granted or denied. If you are in a forever trial modification, I urge to continue a dialogue with the lender seeing if any new programs have become available which may help you. In 2010, we expect lenders with the assistance of the federal government to roll out additional loan modification programs. I recommend calling the lender at least once a week. Continue to ask if there is anything new available. A 4% permanent loan modification rate is not good, but if it improves, you do not want to miss the modification which may allow to retain your home.
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© 2011 Joan M. Grimes. Grimesbklaw.com