Updated: November 6, 2012 6:23AM
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. Sadly, thousands more never call for help.
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, 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. (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. (makinghomeaffordable.gov, 888-995-HOPE)
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.
The Illinois Hardest Hit Fund also offers much-needed payment assistance to homeowners who’ve lost their jobs and are behind on their payments. (illinoishardesthit.org, 1-855-873-7405) Also, 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.
If you’ve already lost your home, you may still qualify for relief. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — the main federal bank regulator — is reviewing documents from thousands of foreclosures. Homeowners identified as suffering harm are eligible for compensation. To request a review of your foreclosure paperwork, call the OCC at 888-952-9105. 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) If you live in the Chicago area, check out www.wellsfargo.com/citylift for info about Wells’ down-payment assistance grant program, worth up to $15,000.)
One final piece of advice: Stay in contact with the bank that handles your payments. 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 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; CitiGroup: 866-272-4749.
It is essential that 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 is the attorney general of Illinois.