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Financing

What Is a Loan Modification? Can It Help Homeowners in Trouble?

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what is a loan modification (KLH49)

What is a loan modification? Consider it a lifeline for homeowners in trouble.

If you've been hit with financial hardships that hamper your ability to pay the mortgage, there are options other than foreclosure or selling your home. One is to get a loan modification, which sounds like exactly what it is: an agreement with your lender to change the terms of your loan.

Loans can be modified in various ways. For instance, the lender may lower the interest rate; extend the length of the loan; or allow a homeowner to skip payments until he's found a new job, adding those missed payments to the principal to pay later. The terms all depend on the homeowner's specific circumstances, but the goal is ultimately the same: to provide financial relief for homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage.

So why would lenders agree to take less money? According to mortgage expert Tom Pasqualini of Hudson United, it's a way to keep your business rather than losing you as you refinance with another lender at a lower interest rate. Keep in mind, not everyone will qualify for a loan modification. Pasqualini puts the odds conservatively at 50-50 -- but you'll never know until you ask.

How to get a loan modification

If you think you might need a loan modification, "you need to start the process quickly -- as soon as you realize there might be a problem," says Adela Z. Ulloa, whose law office specializes in mortgage loan modifications.

To get a loan modification, you'll need to apply through your current mortgage lender, and you can start by filling out a Request for Mortgage Assistance form. Your lender will probably require the following documents:

  • Your monthly mortgage statement
  • Information about any other mortgages on your home
  • For salaried employees or hourly wage earners, two recent pay stubs that reflect year-to-date income
  • For self-employed homeowners, your most recent signed and dated quarterly or year-to-date profit and loss statement
  • Documentation of additional income received from other sources (tips, commissions, bonuses, housing allowances, overtime, etc.)
  • Documentation of any benefits received (Social Security, disability, death benefits, pension, public assistance, or adoption assistance, etc.)
  • Two most recent bank statements
  • A utility bill showing your name and property address
  • Your two most recent federal tax returns
  • A letter describing the circumstances causing your hardship

 

Where to go for guidance

If this sounds complicated, don't panic -- there are plenty of professionals out there who are willing to help walk you through the process; you may have heard or seen ads for such services. But use caution when selecting one; according to Ulloa, it's a red flag if the firm guarantees a modification and asks for payment before it assesses your eligibility.

One trustworthy place to get more guidance? The counseling experts at the HUD-approved housing counseling agency, who you can reach by calling 888-995-HOPE (4673) or visiting HUD.gov.

Another good place to go? The government's Home Affordable Modification Program, part of the government's Making Home Affordable Program, which encourages lenders to offer more loan modifications by giving them grants, subsidies, and other financial incentives. So far, HAMP has helped more than 2.2 million homeowners modify their loans. (The HAMP program is slated to expire by Dec. 31, 2016. So act fast if you want to learn more.)

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Watch: What Your Mortgage Broker Wishes You Knew