It's becoming abundantly clear that Congress' attempt at housing reform isn't just wrong -- it's ultimately little more than grandstanding. Burglars have bigger windows of opportunity to slip through than do the borrowers the plan is ostensibly designed to help. But homeowners who aren't eligible for government aid still have a few solutions available.
The lucky few
Certainly, the tiny proportion of struggling homeowners targeted by the reform-package targets has the feel of a bait-and-switch. At present, you qualify only if you got your mortgage between 2005 and 2007, your rate reset occurs between 2008 and 2010, and your mortgage has been sold.
The message to everyone else? Don't ask Bear Stearns
What the rest of us should do
Yet many people are still suffering financial distress. It's debatable whether subprime mortgage-rate resets are truly causing the wave of foreclosures -- the Boston Federal Reserve has found that job loss is the primary reason for foreclosure. But if you're feeling pressure to make payments, or facing the prospect of losing your house, the politics and debates aren't important. You just want to know what to do.
Here are some things to try to get off the road to foreclosure:
- Call anyway. Maybe the mortgage holder doesn't want to hear from you, but if you're going to miss a payment, call anyway. Smart lenders will actually welcome your call as an attempt to solve a mutual problem. You may be able to arrange a payment plan for any missed payments. This is your single most important step. Call them before they have to call you.
- Forgive and forbear. A lender may agree to delay foreclosure to give you a chance to catch up, perhaps even carrying you for several months or allowing you to make reduced payments. Forbearance can forestall foreclosure.
- Reamortize. See if it's possible to extend your 30-year loan to a 40-year repayment schedule, even rolling any missed payments into the new loan.
- Fix your rate. Fixed-rate mortgages allow for better future budgeting. While falling house values may make a refi difficult, if your area is stable, lenders may be able to put you into a lower, fixed-rate mortgage.
- Sell. The market may not be great, but ruining your credit may be worse for you down the road. You'll carry the stigma of a foreclosure on your credit record longer than the lost pride of selling your home for less than your ideal price.
I believe in getting a big mortgage if you can afford it, and keeping it as long as you can. All the same, there may also be times when going through foreclosure is your only option. Without question, your credit will take a big hit, but you'll still be able to rebuild it over time. In the meantime, renting a place that's more in line with your financial situation is the smart thing to do.
On the other hand, foreclosure isn't necessarily a given. The mortgage mess is a sticky wicket for many people. Yet Wells Fargo
If you don't expect help from the government, don't be discouraged. By taking action on your own, you may be able to solve your own problems, even if you don't have Washington lobbyists behind you.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Fannie Mae, a former Inside Value recommendation. He does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.