Oct 13, 2011 — -- Few phrases sound as good to millions of homeowners as "mortgage modification," but those words can mean different things to different banks as Michele Varney of Alton, N.H. learned.
Varney fell behind on her mortgage payments after taking time off work to care for her dying grandmother.
She said she was struggling to make just more than $2,200 in monthly payments when a Bank of America representative gave her what seemed like wonderful news. She was approved for a mortgage modification that would reduce her payments by $1,000 a month.
However, Varney soon learned that it was all too good to be true. After 22 months of making her modified payments, the bank informed her she had an unpaid, overdue debt and threatened to foreclose.
"I'm very angry that I could be losing our home," Varney said. "It's not our fault. Bank of America continues to basically terrorize us by threatening to take away our home when really they should just be fixing the errors that they made."
ABC News' Bringing America Back team put her in touch with Bruce Boguslav, the Executive Director of HSI Trust - HomeSavers, a last resort for homeowners who are in desperate situations.
"What we see are the hardworking, honest folks that would literally sell a car, raid their pension, work three jobs, pretty much do anything within reason to make their mortgage payments," said Boguslav.
Bringing America Back is about shining a light on who is helping turn things around for the better and bringing heat on to who is not.
After assessing Varneys' situation, Boguslav said that bank collection agents often use the words "mortgage modification" but may only be offering short-term solutions.
"They use words in the conversation that sound like they're helping them permanently," said Boguslav. "In reality, they're allowed them to temporarily pay less, which is not a modification."
In such situations homeowners end up paying a portion of what they owe on their mortgage monthly. Doing that is much more damaging in the long run because homeowners are charged late fees and interest for the portions left unpaid each month.
After declining a request for an interview, Bank of America sent ABC News the following letter comment: "We did not live up to the expectations that the Varney's had of us and for that we apologize."
After weeks of working with Bank of America, Boguslav was able to give Varney some good news. The bank agreed to give her a real trial mortgage modification and cancel the foreclosure on her home.
Varney's new interest rate is 2 percent and payments on her reduced mortgage start Nov. 1.
"I want to thank you for all the work you've done on this," Varney said. "I don't know what we would have done if ABC News hadn't helped us and you stepping in and taking care of all of this for us."