What kind of help is available to seniors who are facing foreclosure? My 76-year-old mother has fallen behind on her house payments and is very concerned about losing her home.
-- Worried Daughter
With more and more Americans carrying mortgage debt into their retirement years, the foreclosure rates among financially strapped seniors has become a big problem. Here are some things you can do to help your mom.
If your mom has fallen behind on her mortgage payments, or if she has already received a letter or phone call about missed payments, your first step is to contact the lender immediately to explain her situation and see if she can work out a payment plan.
Be prepared to provide her financial information, such as her monthly income and expenses.
You also need to talk to a foreclosure avoidance counselor. These are HUD-approved, trained counselors that provide free advice and will help you and your mom understand the law and her options, and organize her finances.
They can also represent her in negotiations with her lender if you need them to.
To find a government-approved housing counseling agency in your area visit findaforeclosurecounselor.org, or call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation’s HOPE Hotline at 888-995-4673.
Another helpful resource you should know about, and one your counselor can help you explore, is the Making Home Affordable program.
Created by the Obama Administration in 2009, this program offers struggling homeowners the opportunity to modify or refinance their mortgage to make their monthly payments more affordable.
It also includes the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program for those who are interested in a short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.
To learn more about these programs and their eligibility requirements see makinghomeaffordable.gov.
If your mom has some equity built up in her house, another option worth considering is a reverse mortgage. This lets seniors (age 62 and older) borrow money against their home which can be used to eliminate their mortgage payments, and it doesn’t have to be paid back as long as they live there. Reverse mortgages have also gotten better in recent months as many lenders have reduced or waived up-front origination or servicing fees making them a much better deal for borrowers.
But, be aware that reverse mortgages are complex and they aren’t right for everyone.
To learn more, or to contact a reverse mortgage counselor visit hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hecm/hecmhome.cfm or call 800-569-4287.
Watch For Scams
You and your mom also need to be aware of the many foreclosure and loan modification scams that are out there today. These are con artists that reach out to foreclosure victims via letter, phone call or email, or they may advertise their services on television, radio or in the newspaper, claiming they can stop your mom’s foreclosure or can negotiate a loan modification for her – if she pays them a fee first. Or, they may try to get her to sign documents for a rescue loan that actually surrenders the title of her house. Never sign anything or hand over any money unless you run it by your HUD counselor first. You can learn more about foreclosure scams at loanscamalert.org.
Savvy Tip: Make sure your mom is not missing out on any financial assistance programs. The National Council on Aging’s benefitscheckup.org website contains a database of more than 2,000 federal, state and local programs that can help seniors in need. The site will help you locate programs that your mom may be eligible for and will show you how to apply.
Jim Miller, a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book, can be reached at Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.