Lisa Madigan: Are you facing foreclosure? Reach for help
HAMP, HARP, HUD … The list of programs and agencies offering help for homeowners facing foreclosure looks a bit like a confusing bowl of alphabet soup.
But with a little help decoding their meaning, these programs could make a world of difference to homeowners.
As Illinois attorney general, tens of thousands of Illinois borrowers have reached out to my office for help navigating the bewildering and frustrating experience of trying to save their homes, but sadly, thousands more never call for help.
Whether they’re frightened, embarrassed or just plain confused (what is a HAMP, anyway?), they think they have to endure this nightmare alone.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Now, there are more resources than ever to help you save your home, lower your mortgage payments, or minimize your losses and move on to a better future. But legitimate help won’t come looking for you. You have to look for it.
At a minimum, you should be aware of these options:
Whether you’re in foreclosure or trying to prevent it, you should call a housing counseling agency certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in your area. Housing counselors can help you understand your options and work with you and your bank to achieve the best outcome. (http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm)
HAMP: The federal Home Affordable Modification Program offers loan modifications and other forms of assistance to homeowners who are employed and behind on their payments. (www.makinghomeaffordable.gov, 888-995-4673)
HARP: If you’re current on your payments but can’t find traditional refinancing because you owe more on your mortgage than your home is worth, the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program may be able to help you refinance into a new loan with more affordable payments. (www.makinghomeaffordable.gov, 888-995-4673)
The Illinois Hardest Hit Fund also offers much-needed payment assistance to homeowners who’ve lost their jobs and are behind on their payments. (www.illinoishardesthit.org, 855-873-7405)
You have other options if your home is already in foreclosure. Legal aid offices offer assistance to eligible homeowners in foreclosure, and courts in many Illinois counties now have mediators available to help homeowners assert their rights in the foreclosure process. Contact your regional legal aid office or county court and ask if they offer assistance for people facing foreclosure.
If you’ve already lost your home, you may still qualify for relief. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — the main federal bank regulator — is reviewing documents from thousands of foreclosures for evidence of bank errors that resulted in financial injury to homeowners. Homeowners identified as suffering harm are eligible for financial compensation (or other assistance). To request a review of your foreclosure paperwork, call the OCC at 888-952-9105. And be sure to submit all your documents by the Dec. 31 deadline.
In addition, African American and Latino homeowners may be eligible for financial restitution as a result of two fair lending lawsuits I recently settled with Countrywide and Wells Fargo. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for information about each settlement.)
One final piece of advice: Stay in contact with the bank that handles your payments (commonly called your servicer). Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with your servicer in the past, but don’t let that discourage you. I recently joined with the Department of Justice and the nation’s five largest servicers in a $25 billion settlement for mistreating homeowners that requires the banks to provide homeowners relief. In Illinois alone, homeowners are estimated to be eligible for more than $1 billion in direct assistance in the form of loan modifications, refinancing and restitution. (Call your servicer at the following toll-free numbers: Bank of America: 877-488-7814; Chase: 866-372-6901; GMAC: 800-766-4622; Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212; and CitiGroup: 866-272-4749.)
The thought of foreclosure is scary enough, and with all these dizzying acronyms, websites and numbers, it may seem even more daunting. That’s why it’s essential you reach out for help. Enlist a legitimate advocate who can speak the banks’ language and who can help start you off on a path toward a better future for you and your family.
Lisa Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, is the Illinois Attorney General.