Foreclosure Fear: What to Do If You're in Trouble

A new look at foreclosure pictures from the foreclosure listing service Realtytrac does not paint a pretty picture: 437,000 homes landed in foreclosure in the first quarter of this year.

There were 120,000 more foreclosures in the first three months of this year than there were during the same time period last year.

Lenders have been under fire for handing out loans to unqualified borrowers, and some community groups around the country are trying to help these homeowners.

One out of five houses in Denver's Montbello neighborhood is in foreclosure, so community activists are out knocking on doors trying to help homeowners before they lose their homes.

"They're now in a situation where nobody'll refinance their loans because they have no equity, payments are skyrocketing, incomes aren't keeping pace and folks are in foreclosure," said Ben Hanna of the nonprofit housing group ACORN.

Evan Elliott lost the home he grew up in after the monthly payment on his adjustable-rate mortgage went up by $600.

"I was ripped off," Elliott said. "They weren't worried about me, they didn't care. And I talked to them and they told me that's what the terms were and there's nothing really I could do about it."

Some Lenders Trying to Help

Elliott is far from alone. In 2006 there were 1.2 million foreclosures nationwide, and this year the number is expected to be even higher. Critics say during the housing boom years, lenders made it too easy for people to get mortgages.

"Borrowers were not required to provide documentation of their income. They paid less in down payments, and they were also allowed to have higher mortgage payments as a percentage of their income," said Zach Gast of the Center for Financial Research and Analysis.

Now some lenders are trying to lend a hand. Countrywide Home Loans has set up a call center where borrowers can ask for assistance if they're in danger of defaulting.

"Foreclosures are bad. We don't make any money off foreclosures, foreclosures are a losing proposition.," said Steve Bailey, an agent for Countrywide.

But even financial analysts remind us that homes are different from other investments.

"The human impact is undeniable," Gast said.

Evan Elliott said, "It kind of made me angry to see my house that I grew up in just taken from me. "

What Should You Do?

Contact your lender for help. One study showed half of borrowers never contact their lenders for help. Many have programs in place to help you.

Restructure your mortgage for a lower interest rate or longer loan.

Ask for a forbearance in which the lender temporarily allows you to make lower monthly payments.

A word of caution, though: Lenders have money set aside for these programs, but it may be a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of need out there.

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