In the wake of the Great Recession and the damage done to the real estate market, many homeowners have an underwater mortgage or facing foreclosure. The government has set up programs intended to help, but unfortunately many scammers have also jumped on the bandwagon.
According to the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF), an independent national nonprofit that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure, mortgage foreclosure scams are up nearly 60 percent this year. This surge coincides with the federal government’s newly launched programs.
“Regretfully, every new government initiative spawns a slew of foreclosure avoidance scams, often from the same cast of characters doing business under various names to avoid easy detection and identification,” warned Colleen Hernandez, CEO of HPF, in a press release.
“Most of these scams involve individuals supposedly offering mortgage foreclosure avoidance assistance that trained HPF counselors provide at no cost. Sadly, with most scams, no meaningful services are ever provided,” Hernandez said.
So how do you know when you’re dealing with the real thing? I recently provided a list of loan scam red flags, and now I’m also providing a list of the government programs, and their official sites, below. It is important to note that homeowners can get access to all of these programs directly, without paying a third party for the information.
Making Home Affordable (MHA) programs
HARP: The Home Affordable Refinance Program is designed for underwater mortgage homeowners who are current on their payments but who wish to refinance based on the current value of their home. Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac must own the mortgage, and the current loan-to-value (LTV) ratio must be more than 80 percent.
Find out if Fannie Mae owns your loan.
Find out if Freddie Mac owns your loan.
HAMP: The Home Affordable Modification Program is available to employed homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments. To be eligible, you must have a mortgage payment that is more than 31 percent of your monthly gross (pre-tax) income, and you must be delinquent or in danger of falling behind on mortgage payments.
UP: If you are unemployed, the Home Affordable Unemployment Program may be able to reduce your mortgage payments to 31 percent of your income or suspend them entirely for 12 months.
PRA: MHA’s Principal Reduction Alternative is designed to help homeowners who are upside down on their loans. To be eligible, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac cannot own your loan, and your home must be worth significantly less than what you’re paying on it.
To see the full list of programs and requirements, visit the Making Home Affordable official site.
Independent Foreclosure Review
The Independent Foreclosure Review was commissioned by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The program allows homeowners who were foreclosed on to request a review of the process. To be eligible, the foreclosure action must have taken place on the primary residence between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2010, and a participating lender must have serviced the loan.
Homeowners can complete or download the review form directly on the Independent Foreclosure Review site. If a third party is asking you for money to assist you in the process, it’s probably a scam.
To see the full list of requirements and list of participating lenders, visit the Independent Foreclosure Review official site.
Help With My Bank
Having trouble dealing with your bank? You don’t have to pay someone else to get things done—you can get them moving yourself. Through HelpWithMyBank.gov, the OCC gives you resources to file a complaint against your national bank online and to get answers about everything from mortgages to bank record-keeping.
If you’d prefer to have a third-party advocate to your bank on your behalf, check out HUD.gov for a list of HUD-approved counselors in your area.
Ilyce R. Glink is the author of several books, including 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In!. She blogs about money and real estate at ThinkGlink.com and at the Home Equity blog for CBS MoneyWatch.