Many Americans are hurting. That much is clear from the response to last week's column summarizing some of the government programs put in place to help individuals and families struggling with unemployment, depressed home prices and lousy mortgages.
The column prompted more than a dozen questions from readers wondering how the programs might help them or how they can tap into them. Many of the questions came from individuals who clearly are in dire straits and not sure where to turn.
I can't address every question individually, but here are three questions touching on the most common theme: homeowners who lost jobs and now worry about losing their homes. In many cases, homeowners believed they were getting nowhere when they contacted their lender for help.
C.S., Milwaukee, Wis.: I lost my job of 19 years as of Sept. 2, 2008, and I am still currently unemployed. My husband was laid off from his job just before Thanksgiving, and still has not been called back. We currently have two mortgages on our home. I have contacted my first mortgage holder three times since December, in an attempt to remodify our mortgage. All three times I was told that since I'm current on my mortgage, there's nothing they can do. The last time I spoke to them was earlier this week. I explained our situation again and was told that no program will be available for homeowners who are "under water" until April 15. Do you know if that's accurate? Unless I find a job in the next two weeks, my best guess is that we will be able to make one more mortgage payment, then that's it. So I'm trying to be proactive in getting something done, but no one is willing to work with me at my mortgage company.
D.G., Phenix City, Ala.: Last year my husband lost his job of 17 years. I have managed so far to keep our loans current. But it's getting harder and harder. I have talked to my mortgage company about loan modification, but they say we make too much still. I have surfed the Net repeatedly but I am lost in the sea of ads. Some seem like scams. How do I know which ones are on the up-and-up? Where do I start? I want to get a better rate before I get behind. I had one so-called expert tell me to let my payments get behind so my mortgage company will help, that as long as I make my payments on time, they won't help? Please help!
J.O., Napoleon, Ohio: I called my mortgage holder HFC to see if I qualified to redo my mortgage to get a lower rate through the government program. They said they couldn't help cause they weren't participating in the program. Do they have a choice? Where else can I go, if the banks are lending new dollars?
Answer: Keep calling, I say to all three of you.
The mortgage rescue program launched by the Obama administration on March 4 is just getting off the ground with mortgage lenders and servicers just learning the details now.
C.S., your mortgage company may well be right that help may not be available to you until April 15. I know waiting those few weeks may be difficult for you, but you should not give up before then.