By Alexandra Andrews
Last week, Christina McGrath of Riverside, Calif., got a loan modification. Now she has some advice for the millions of homeowners out there still seeking one: Call 10 to 15 times a day. Ask for the president’s office. Get informed. Don’t take “no” for an answer.
“The only way I got this was by being a royal bitch,” she says.
The Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable loan modification program was launched on March 3 with the goal of helping up to 4 million homeowners avoid foreclosure. Under the program, the government offers incentive payments to loan servicers to reduce eligible homeowners’ mortgage payments to 31 percent of their monthly income. Most of the top loan servicers have signed up to participate, which means they’re obligated to offer all qualifying borrowers a modification with the government’s terms unless an existing contract with the owner of the loan bars them from doing so.
Servicers have offered more than 100,000 Making Home Affordable loan modifications so far, according to the Treasury Department. But a rapidly rising rate of foreclosures threatens to outpace these efforts. As is, servicers can barely keep up with the torrent of calls from homeowners seeking modifications, housing experts and borrowers tell ProPublica. And as the backlog piles up, homeowners and housing counselors are citing delays, confusion and other more serious hurdles to taking advantage of the administration’s plan.
McGrath says the loan modification she ultimately got after “three months of hell” wasn’t even through the government’s program, but the terms are similar.
Amber Nadwodney, a Chase customer from Hoffman Estates, Ill., says that after her paperwork was misplaced twice, she was told she’d have to wait three to four months before being contacted again. Tom Kelly, a spokesman, says Chase is trying as hard as it can to keep up with the demand. “It’s a challenge to do it as quickly as we’d like to,” he says.
Chase takes 8,000 to 10,000 calls every day about the administration’s program, according to a May 14 Treasury Department press release (PDF). Kelly says the company has more than 3,000 employees working on loan modifications, and it hires hundreds more each month.
“The system is clearly overwhelmed. Servicers are overwhelmed,” says Ray Neirinckx, the coordinator of Rhode Island’s Office of Homeownership and a foreclosure-prevention advocate. He notes, however, that the crush of interested homeowners is a sign that the program is well-designed.