Q: I have been unemployed since July, 2010. I’m now a full-time student and a home owner from Rhode Island.

I recently received a letter from some legal company out in California, stating they could drastically reduce the payments on my mortgage. I was skeptical of this, but somewhat intrigued.

I happened to respond to this particular solicitation because I was hoping to hear about some possible options for me that would allow me to lower my payments. Since I’m not behind on my mortgage payments, I assumed I could not get help. But I’ve been hearing a lot about how the unemployed and those who are underwater with their mortgage are now getting assistance from their mortgage companies so I figured it was worth the shot.

I called the legal company and the guy who answered the phone asked a few questions. He then stated he would return my call and see if I qualified for any type of program (which I supposedly did), as he stated there were many out there.

To be fair, he did mention that I would be able to do this on my own for free, but they had the experience to negotiate with the banks and for this they charge $3,000. The fee is non-refundable with no guarantee that they’ll be able to accomplish anything for me.

Since I’m already in a financial mess, I decided not to move forward with them and to investigate on my own a possible loan modification.

My bank has been great so far and now I’m wondering if a third party would be the right way to move with this process in order to obtain a proper loan modification.

What’s your take on these third party companies and what can I do to get the right type of information to get the help I really need? Although I’ve been keeping up with my mortgage payments, I am about to exhaust all of my retirement funds, which were small to begin with, and I’m not sure what will have to happen next.

Any direction you can point me in would be very much appreciated.

A: Here’s my first piece of advice: Take a pass on any third party company that wants to charge you $3,000 up front to do a loan modification but will guarantee nothing.

You might as well just burn the money. These folks can’t generally help you get a loan modification any more than you can help yourself.

As for your status, I can see someone arguing that you’re not really unemployed. You’re a full-time student and as such, you likely don’t qualify for any of the programs out there.

What you should do is try to do is continue to work with your mortgage company to see if there is some sort of adjustment to the rate or your payment they can make. The goal is to get your payment to something that’s reasonable.

One area of concern is that because you’re unemployed, you may not qualify for government assistance. Getting even a part-time job would help you qualify.

Continue to stay on top of your lender and I hope you can work something out. It’s good to hear that your lender seems to be working with you to find a solution, however it seems very few borrowers are actually getting the help they need – and the number of folks who need help is huge.