Amid Rising Foreclosures, Counseling to the Rescue

Seventy-six percent of homeowners who underwent government-established counseling remained in their homes as of February 2009, according to a congressional report from Neighborworks America. The government’s National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program, originally created in December 2007 to address the subprime foreclosure crisis, said this week it has now counseled 400,000 families facing foreclosure as of month-end March — effectively helping 76% avoid a completed foreclosure. The resounding message for troubled borrowers is still: Seek assistance early, as the chances of avoiding foreclosure are much higher. Of those counseled borrowers whose mortgages were three to four months delinquent at the time of counseling, 27% either had a foreclosure started or completed on their home. However, over twice that volume — 60% — of borrowers with mortgages past four months delinquent at intake experienced a foreclosure proceeding. “This report shows that those that seek counseling early have a better likelihood of not being foreclosed and those that are early have a better chance of getting a payment plan and loan modification,” says Doug Robinson, a spokesman for the NeighborWorks. The report comes at a time of soaring foreclosures. The Mortgage Banker’s Association said in late May, foreclosure activity hit an all-time high in Q109. Of all US mortgages, 3.85% were somewhere in the foreclosure process at the end of Q109, compared to 3.3% at year-end 2008. The report found the largest reason for increasing foreclosures today is loss of income — naturally, as unemployment mounts. Repayment plans are most often still the answer from servicers to homeowners, according to the report. Although, Robinson says loan modifications and principal reductions are actually more effective at keeping people in their homes. In assessing the program’s challenges, Neighborworks found servicers response time to counselors is still somewhat lengthy at about 45-60 days. Write to Kelly Curran.

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