In a revealing example of what she says the average homeowner faces, a California Congresswoman spent more than two hours on the phone trying, without success, to find someone at the Bank of America who could help a struggling constituent modify his mortgage payments. ABC News "Nightline" cameras were rolling as Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) was repeatedly put on hold for long stretches, disconnected, transferred to extensions that did not work and ultimately switched to a recording which directed her to the bank's website.
"The average American trying to negotiate a loan modification will not be able to get it done," said Waters. "It will be impossible for them to get in touch with the right person, and even if they get in touch with a so-called counselor, they have a cookie cutter kind of direction that they go in."
While the federal government and banks say they're trying to help homeowners avoid foreclosure through various help lines and more, an ABC News investigation has found that the process of reaching out for help can be disorganized and frustrating, hardly consumer friendly, even when a prominent member of Congress is on the line.
To prove her point, Waters agreed to let "Nightline" listen in on her attempts to contact her constituents' lenders on behalf of homeowners with nowhere else to turn.
"Most of the day was spent trying to trace down the right person or the right department to deal with the loan modification," said Waters. "It was awful."
The Beards of Los Angeles are a retired couple who are not even behind on their mortgage payments, but they, like many others, are struggling to keep up. When Waters offered to call Bank of America on their behalf, it turned into a two hour ordeal.
Waters was met first with a recording that many callers have heard before, "all representatives are currently assisting other customers, please hold and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received."
Waters was on hold for ten minutes before an operator finally came to the line. Because the Beards were not behind on payments, just looking for a modification, Waters thought the call would be easy. But it wasn't.
First she was transferred to another department, then put on hold for three more minutes, and then she was disconnected, all while Mr. Beard was listening in.
"That's what I usually get when I call them," he said. "They say they're going to transfer me and when they transfer me, the line goes dead."
Undeterred, Waters called Bank of America again. This time the extension the bank had given her did not work.
So, for a third time, 49 minutes after she first dialed the bank, the congresswoman called the 800 number once again and was greeted with more recordings, more music.
"This is absolutely horrible," she said while holding the line.
On her fourth try, Waters was directed to yet another department, and then transferred to hardship assistance. But when she explained the Beards' situation to the agent in that department, she was told that because they hadn't yet missed a payment, she needed to call the refinancing department.