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Asesores, Consejeros Ayudan a Propietarios de Casa a Evitar el Proceso de Ejecución Hipotecaria: 3

Lenders, Counselors Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure: Part 3

by Monica Steinisch

Housing counselors provide one-on-one default, predefault help.

Housing counseling agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide default or delinquency counseling are another source of help for borrowers already behind on payments and those who believe they may miss a payment soon.

Contact a counselor first if you haven't missed a loan payment but foresee having payment problems soon. This is because many housing counseling agencies also are nonprofit credit counseling services. They can look at your entire financial picture and point out ways to increase income, reduce expenses, or improve your cash flow. In some cases, a counselor can enroll you in an agency-administered debt management plan that could reduce your monthly payments to other creditors, which may be just what it takes to keep you current on your loan without ever having to contact the lender. If you already have spoken to the lender and arranged a repayment plan, a debt-management plan may give you some breathing room in your budget.

If you have already missed a mortgage payment, you should contact the lender first, and then contact a counselor. In addition to helping you prepare for a discussion about workout options with your lender, a counselor can help you weigh your options when you can't, or don't want to, keep the property. For example, if you do not have enough time and equity to sell the house and pay off your debt before the foreclosure, you may have to consider more complex methods of avoiding foreclosure.

Some of your alternatives, such as a "short sale" or a "deed-in-lieu" (of foreclosure), carry potential consequences, such as damage to your credit report, a tax liability (if the lender forgives any of your debt that amount may be treated as income), a deficiency judgment (for any amount due that the lender does not receive), or loss of equity. One of these may be the best solution for you, and a counselor can help you sort through the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Of course, any borrower who feels uncomfortable talking directly with the lender should skip that step and go straight to a HUD-approved housing counseling agency for help, even if he or she already has missed a payment.

Harper, whose agency counsels thousands of homeowners each year about how to prevent foreclosure, sees firsthand how a housing counselor, as a disinterested third party, can help lenders and borrowers succeed.

"I think counselors can help dispel the myths [about lenders and foreclosure], and certainly they are more likely to engage the family to work with them because the embarrassment issue isn't present," says Harper. Embarrassment was cited by some participants in the Freddie Mac/Roper survey as one of the reasons they didn't contact their lender.

"As counselors, we aren't asking for money, and that alone separates us from the lender."

If you haven't received a letter from your lender referring you to a HUD-approved housing counseling agency, you can find one yourself on the HUD Web site or by calling 800-569-4287 (800-877-8339/TDD). Be sure the agency you choose provides mortgage delinquency and default counseling (as opposed to, say, only home-buyer education). Housing and credit counseling services are usually free or low cost.

Given that even borrowers with the best intentions can experience a setback, it's crucial that all homeowners understand their options and responsibilities for keeping their home if they run into payment problems. Housing counseling and lender programs can offer real and effective solutions for avoiding foreclosure in what you might consider a hopeless situation.

Published 7-18-2011



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