Foreclosure: It's not a subject anyone really wants to think about until it's absolutely necessary. And that can be a big part of the problem.
Especially in the wake of losing a job — a situation arguably more unsettling for workers in their 50s and early 60s than any other group — the tendency can be to put off concerns, such as how to make up for falling a month or two behind on the mortgage, if they're not right there looming on the doorstep. And so can begin the slippery slope to delinquency (being 90 or more days overdue) and ultimately loss of the home.
When it comes to the risk of foreclosure, Ben Franklin's famous aphorism was never truer: An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Addressing concerns about foreclosure before the actual legal process commences or very early in that process makes things much easier than trying to "cure" foreclosure later on.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the AARP Foundation Housing Solutions Center is all about.
Since the very earliest stages of the economic crisis, members of the AARP Foundation Housing Impact Team have fielded calls, letters and emails from older homeowners concerned about falling behind on their mortgages or even facing the imminent threat of foreclosure. Adopting a grassroots-type approach, team members would put these homeowners in touch with local sources of help. This turned out to be less than an ideal arrangement, as the quality and even the availability of assistance varies widely from community to community across the country.
The notion of assembling a group of vetted, HUD-certified counselors to offer consistent advice via a nationwide toll-free line (855-850-2525) made a lot of sense. And it also made sense to supplement that person-to-person support with educational materials, podcasts and other resources available online. So the Housing Solutions Center was put in place late in 2012, offering free, in-depth foreclosure-prevention advice to 50+ homeowners tailored to their individual situations. Because foreclosures are a particular concern in Hispanic communities, the service was made available in Spanish as well.
The potential benefits are hard to argue with. Counselors used by the Housing Solutions Center have helped more than 60 percent of their clients avoid foreclosure after at least a year. Callers might be surprised by how many options are available to them, from mortgage modifications to specially arranged repayment plans — solutions they'd be hard-pressed to find on their own. And when foreclosure is inevitable, counselors can help ensure the best possible outcome, even facilitating communication with the lender — something homeowners in jeopardy often avoid when trying to deal with the situation on their own.
But perhaps the most important aspect of the Housing Solutions Center is its emphasis on taking steps early on. Indeed, based on data showing that unemployment and underemployment are the chief catalysts of mortgage crises, counselors advise a call to the Housing Solutions Center whenever your income takes a turn for the worse, even if there seems to be no immediate threat to your ability to keep up with housing payments. It's a bit like remembering to change the smoke detector batteries whenever you adjust for daylight savings time: If you're applying for unemployment, giving the Housing Solutions Center a call might very well be your next best step to lessen the financial burden of tough times.
Also of interest: Beware of mortage relief scams!