Saturday, March 20, 2010

What are the mechanics of the decision to modify?

Whether you are applying directly to your lender or claiming eligibility under HAMP, the practical decisions are all to be made by the lender. You do whatever you can to set out your side of the proposed bargain with a clear set of accounts showing money in and money out. The need is to demonstrate a guaranteed slice of your monthly income that can be devoted to paying a reduced instalment. So list everything you are obliged to pay to keep body and soul together, from food to utilities to transport to health insurance, and so on. Without the modification, this is going to be negative, i.e. on paper, you are spending more than you earn. The "trick" is to show enough to cover a modified instalment, perhaps with a tiny slice of money left over for the inevitable emergencies. If the modified instalment you prove can be paid is enough to keep the lender less unhappy, the modification will be agreed on a trial basis. But if the minimum instalment the lender requires will leave you in negative territory, your offer to modify will be rejected. Why reject a good faith offer? Because people who have to juggle monthly payments to fit into the available money almost always default again. Your income must cover all outgoings.

If the modification is agreed in principle, it moves on to a formal trial basis. In theory, this is a three-month trial, but the reality is that the lenders usually drag their feet and are very slow to convert the trial into a permanent modification. This ought not to affect you. After all, you are paying the agreed amount. But there is a problem. Until the modification is made permanent, the lender will report you to the credit rating agencies as still delinquent. This is grossly unfair. You are paying what is agreed. But, as the law stands, the unpaid balance each month will be reported as late. Thus, the longer the trial period is allowed to drift the worse your credit score will become. This requires action. You should contact the three major agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, and ask that details of the trial be added to your credit file. That way, even though your score will continue to decline (that is a computer algorithm that stops for no-one), all other lenders will be able to see what is going on.

So what is happening during the trial other than you proving your ability to pay the reduced instalments on time? The answer is slightly disheartening. It is always in the lender's interest to collect as much money from you as possible on your mortgage. But, while you stay in default, the lender is entitled to foreclose at any time. If the lender judges it will make more money by foreclosing rather than accepting the reduced payments over the rest of the term, it will always foreclose. It is simply collecting as much cash from you as possible before triggering your eviction. No-one said the home loans industry had to work fairly, and it does not. The only time the lender will accept a permanent modification is when the accounts clearly show more profit in keeping the mortgage alive. While the housing market remains depressed, the odds are in your favor. But if resale prices start to rise, the odds will swing against you.


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