Q: I’m not particularly knowledgeable about many financial ventures, but I want to understand if and how I can help my friend.
My friend has a house and owes more than the house is worth. He took out a second mortgage, ran up his credit cards, and has several liens against the property.
His ex-wife was in bankruptcy before they got together. Now, his home of 34 years might be pulled away from him. He has severe credit problems and he is not old enough for a reverse mortgage.
Are there any programs that might help him save his home? What would happen if I paid him for half of his house?
A: It’s clear from your email that you are a thoughtful and generous person, and your friend is lucky to have you in his life.
However, what you’re proposing could easily destroy your financial stability, so you’ll want to take every precaution to protect yourself.
Start by speaking with a knowledgeable real estate attorney who can help you look much further into your friend’s investments, debts, homeownership problems, etc. It’s great that you want to help, but you don’t what kind of financial quicksand you’re stepping into and you need to make sure you give the right kind of help that doesn’t wind up hurting you. I can’t suggest you help until you have a very clear picture of what your friend is facing financially.
Before you put one dime toward this problem, invite your friend to spend some time with you and your attorney going over everything. Try to figure out why he is in so much debt, how far underwater the house is, and what sort of options and opportunities might exist to help him out.
See if he has any other assets and discuss when and how he might pay back a loan from you, and focus on what kind of deal you can make for your dollars – one that ensures you will get back every cent you invest (because this is an “investment” and not a “gift”), should you decide to do that. If you choose to give your friend a gift to help him out of his problems, that’s your choice. But if you expect repayment, you need to know more and you need to have a discussion about your expectations for repayment in the future.
If your friend can’t – or won’t – share every detail about his finances, including who owns what and who charged up the liabilities he and his ex-wife now owe, then you should offer moral support, point him in the direction of the nearest HUD housing counselor (888-995-HOPE) and keep your dollars in your pocket.
There are programs out there to assist homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments. The Home Affordable Modification Plan (HAMP) by the Obama administration is an effort to assist homeowners, but the plan has fallen short and few homeowners are actually benefiting long-term. Some mortgage lenders have their own plans to help borrowers, and your friend should call his lender first. In addition, if your friend has the stomach for it, he can call his credit card lenders and work out a payment plan with them, but he’d have to stop charging more items on his credit cards.
During these hard times, it’s tempting to use credit cards to bridge one crisis, but unless you know for certain you can pay that credit card off within a month or two, the interest rate charged on most credit cards makes it relatively hard to pay down the debt significantly if you are having financial difficulties.
One last piece of advice, your friend may want to talk to a counselor at Credability.com (formerly Consumer Credit Counseling Center of Greater Atlanta) or another reputable credit counseling center officer to work through the various options that may be available to him.