With millions of Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, many turn to loan modifications as a way to make their payments more affordable. What many may not know is that the program can damage their credit standing.
For one family, Victor and Patricia Mendez, this situation ruined them financially. The couple was finding it more difficult to make their mortgage payments, but were told by their lender, Chase Bank, that they could not provide a loan modification until the couple defaulted on a payment, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The Mendez family took the bank's advice and were granted a trial modification loan, not realizing that in addition to reporting the default to credit bureaus, Chase reported the trial loan payments as "partial payments," reports the Chronicle.
"We report to the credit bureaus when people don't make their payment or their full required payment," Chase spokesman Tom Kelly told the newspaper.
This caused the Mendez's credit card interest rates to surge from 9 percent to 29 percent, the newspaper said. To add to their problems, Chase sent the family a letter after 10 months of making all trial payments informing them that they had been denied for permanent help and owed the bank $44,000 in past-due amounts and fees, the newspaper reports. The Mendez family is now facing foreclosure and their home will be auctioned this month, reports the Chronicle.
"A lot of people don't understand that by making the payments due on their temporary loan mod they're reported as delinquent immediately," National Consumer Law Center Margot Saunders told the newspaper. "It's a huge misunderstanding."
To better protect their scores, consumers may want to apply for the federal Home Affordable Modification Plan, which may have less damaging effects on their credit, the Chronicle recommends.
HAMP has been successful in helping over 300,000 Americans receive permanent modification loans. The program began with nearly 1.2 million eligible applicants, but many dropped out or refused to complete the necessary paperwork. A recent report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that the number of Americans who obtained a permanent modification increased by 68,000 during the month of March. The federal modification program also plans to incorporate rules that will measure and improve service performance for distressed homeowners.