Suppose you’re behind on your house payments. You dial the phone number on your most recent mortgage statement, clear the usual hurdles, and finally reach someone who understands your situation and offers to help. You are one of the lucky homeowners who has a cooperative lender. Now what? What can you do to team up with your lender to optimize the outcome? This blog post reveals ten ways you can expedite the process and negotiate an affordable loan modification that enables you to catch up on any missed payments, lower your monthly mortgage payment, and keep your house.
The following 10 tips apply whether you are working directly with your lender or teaming up with an attorney, law firm, or other professional you hired to represent your interest. If you hired professional representation, team up with your representative and defer all correspondence and phone calls from your lender to your representative – don’t communicate with your lender unless your representative specifically advises you otherwise.
1. Come clean – honesty is the best policy
It can be tempting to bend the truth when you are trying to convince a lender to approve a loan modification. Some homeowners are embarrassed by something they did to place their finances in jeopardy – possibly a gambling addiction of substance abuse. Others try to fudge the numbers to make themselves eligible for a loan modification they cannot otherwise qualify for. Even worse, some homeowners lie to their partners or try to conceal the problem until it is too late to do anything about it.
Only by laying all your cards on the table and disclosing the truth can you begin to attend to the root cause of your financial hardship and then develop and implement solutions that put you back on the path to long-term financial health.
2. Understand your lender’s point of view
Regardless of how you ended up in the situation you’re in, blaming the lender or the mortgage broker or loan officer who placed you in your current mortgage does little good, unless you can prove your point in court. Usually, you have a better chance of resolving the problem by understanding your lender’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. So, what is the lender’s point of view?
Lenders lack any emotional attachment to the situation. To them, it all boils down to money. If you can show them that modifying your loan cost them less than a foreclosure and they believe you will honor the terms of the loan modification, they are likely to approve it. If not, then they are likely to reject it.
Keep in mind that some homeowners who don’t need loan modifications are also applying for them. Lenders need to protect their own interests from homeowners who are trying to cheat them out of their profits. As a result, they need to carefully screen out ineligible applicants, which can often make the process much more difficult and frustrating for homeowners who genuinely suffer financial hardship and need a loan modification.
3. Keep a cool head
Understandably, homeowners often become frustrated and angry when seeking assistance from their lender. Unfortunately, anger can result in the following:
- “Accidental” disconnects: The customer service rep you’re speaking with may put you on hold permanently or hang up “accidentally.”
- Lost files: Your file may get “lost” or “misplaced.”
- Rejection: Your lender may decide that you are unreasonable and that foreclosing would be less costly overall.
- A bad offer: Your lender may offer a workout solution that is worse than what you would get had you been nice about it. Or, you may be so exhausted that you agree with the first offer your lender puts on the table rather than negotiating a better deal rationally.
Tip: If you doubt your own ability to remain calm, cool, and collected during the entire process, consider hiring a professional to represent you.
4. Give them what they need
Prior to applying for a loan modification, call your lender or visit its website to obtain an application packet or a list of items you need to submit with your application. Some lenders allow you to apply online, but you usually have to ship or fax supporting documentation separately.
Find out exactly which forms you need to fill out and which documents your lender needs to process your application, and provide everything to your lender or representative in the manner specified. Label everything clearly and legibly with your name and loan number and provide a checklist of all items you’re submitting in your application packet. Arrange the items in the order listed by your lender, so whoever is processing your application does not have to search for items. Include a cover page that in large print lists your name and loan number as well as an items-included list.
5. Ask for what you want
Before discussing the terms of the loan modification with your lender, you should have a fairly clear idea of what you want and need. Answer the following questions for yourself. This will help you field questions from your lender:
- How much do you owe in late or missed payments?
- Can you catch up the missed payments?
- Do you need additional time to catch up on missed payments?
- How much can you realistically afford to pay each month?
- Do you really want to keep your home or would you prefer to sell if you could walk away not owing anything?
State clearly what you want up front. If your lender is unwilling to agree to the terms you need, you’re better off knowing that up front, so you can explore other options. Don’t waffle – it will only lead to misunderstandings and unsatisfactory “solutions.”
6. Let them do their job
While you should track the process of your loan modification application and any negotiations, avoid the temptation to micromanage the process. Knowing the timeline in advance can help you develop realistic expectations of when you will hear back from someone, so you don’t have to keep calling to check progress. Remember, the more time they spend on the phone consoling anxious applicants, the less time they have to review your application and work out a solution.
The lender should have a timeline for just about every step in the process. Your lender can probably even tell you how many days it takes for items you fax in to get to where they need to be. Some lenders have a 4-day delivery period for faxed items. Most timelines are in place because of the volume of requests. Ask how long the steps in the process take. Follow up when timelines near expiration.
7. Get your financial house in order
Most homeowners, even those who can readily afford their monthly house payments, could benefit from reviewing their income and expenses and drawing up a monthly budget. If you don’t have some way of tracking income and expenses with realistic goals in mind, put a tracking system in place today and start developing a budget.
If you have a computer, a personal accounting program, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money can come in very handy. These programs allow you to assign each entry to a specific category, such as groceries, clothing, entertainment, utilities, auto insurance, auto: gas, auto: maintenance; and so on. You can then generate reports showing monthly totals for spending in each category.
If you’re budget challenged, consider hiring an accountant or credit counselor to get you on track. It’s worth the investment.
8. Keep everyone posted of any changes
If anything changes related to your financial situation, be sure to keep your representative or lender (if you’re negotiating the loan modification on your own) in the loop. Withholding information that may affect your eligibility could cause problems.
9. Make sure the lender’s offer is truly affordable
Assuming you qualify for a loan modification, your lender will present you with an offer. Be sure to review the offer carefully and have your attorney look it over – before you sign on the dotted line. Make sure the monthly payment is truly affordable. If the loan modification is unaffordable or makes your budget so tight that you’re only one car repair or medical bill away from defaulting again, head back to the negotiating table to try to work out a better deal. It doesn’t do you or your lender any good to accept an agreement that puts you on the path to repeating this same scenario.
10. Hold up your end of the bargain
By the time you finalize your agreement, you and your lender will have invested a great deal of time and effort in hammering out the details. To ensure long-term success, put some effort into keeping your budget on track. If you are having trouble, consult a credit counselor, who can help hold you accountable for your spending. Budgeting can be tough at first, but it pays huge dividends down the road. Most people who acquire the necessary skills discover that by tweaking their spending priorities they have more than enough to cover their expenses.
The key to success is discipline and commitment. All the effort you spend setting up a plan is of no use if you don’t follow the plan you created. It’s like signing up for a gym membership and then never walking through the doors to work out. Reestablishing your financial health will be work, but the results will be worth the effort. Like that gym membership, you won’t realize results over night, but commitment to the routine will pay off.
Remember, loan modification success is a team effort. Do your part to achieve long-term success.
Ralph R. Roberts, GRI, CRS
Award-Winning REALTOR® and Author
Loan Modification For Dummies (avail. Summer 2009)