Kara McGuire writes about all things related to personal finance. Follow our coupon clipping, retirement saving, bargain hunting, budget mama as she saves, spends and searches for ways to keep more money in her wallet – and yours.
Laura Carroll, their St. Paul foreclosure counselor, left me a message saying that they have been approved for a permanent loan modification that makes the payment affordable enough so they can continue to live in the house they've owned for decades.
The program is a partnership between the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, which supports foreclosure prevention counselors in the state, and Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage giant. Two St. Paul-based Fannie Mae employees will act as single points of contact for foreclosure counselors working with homeowners who have Fannie Mae loans. The program also created a standardized process for collecting the necessary paperwork.
The claim was that the new process would provide homeowners with an answer about their mortgage within weeks, not months.
And I was as skeptical as could be.
After all of the stories about botched mortgage modifications and the heart-wrenching phone calls I've received from dozens of exasperated homeowners stuck in loan modification purgatory, I doubted that this program would be any different.
But I've heard from housing counselors, including the straight-shooting Dan Williams with LSS Financial Counseling in Duluth, that it is "actually working amazingly well."
What makes this program so successful where other modification programs have failed? Julie Gugin, executive director of the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, said having two Fannie Mae employees located in the center's St. Paul office is "critical."
So why aren't the mortgage servicers mirroring this system, hiring a single point of contact and opening an office in every city around the country? A place where a family can take its inches-thick folder full of paperwork and meet with someone face-to-face?
Gugin says she's heard rumblings of other loan modification programs moving to a single point of contact model. "But we haven't experienced it being implemented," she said.
Don't get me wrong. This is great news for the Singletons and the other families who have been granted relief from unaffordable payments (I have a call into Fannie Mae to find out how many families have been helped by this program and how many have received permanent loan modifications. Stay tuned). I'm glad that years into this crisis the industry has stumbled upon a workable model.
But the number of people who are eligible for this program is a drop in the bucket when you think about the out-of-luck homeowners who don't have Fannie Mae loans, can't qualify for a modification for one reason or another, or have already lost their homes. Gugin says Fannie Mae is an investor in 30 percent of Minnesota mortgages.
I keep thinking back to what Prentiss Cox, a University of Minnesota law professor and former assistant attorney general, told me back in May: "Nothing will change until we have transparent, clear rules for who gets modifications and we have transparent, enforceable systems for making sure that the modification decisions were properly made and communicated.''
One more thing. Right after the story ran, Nobie's daughter called asking for a copy of the article. She said she was surprised that the couple agreed to be interviewed because they are typically private, quiet people. But I'm glad they shared their story, so that other families in the state struggling to pay their mortgage are aware that the program exists.
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