June 16, 2008

9 Hurdles for a Borrower to Negotiate a Loan Modification

With the increase in pending foreclosures and mortgage defaults, many borrowers are feeling squeezed and are looking for relief from their lenders. The following checklist may be be helpful in approaching a lender about a loan modification:

1. A loan modification is may be available to a borrower who was unable to make regular payments for several months due to exigent circumstances such as an illness, the loss of a job, or a divorce, but who has now solved that problem. The lender will want to see a "hardship letter" and detailed financial information that demonstrates the borrower can resume regular payments on modified terms. The modified terms may include a lower, fixed interest rate with the delinquent amounts added on to the principal of the loan. In a few cases, the borrower may persuade the lender to "write down" (decrease) the principal balance.

2. If a borrower is delinquent, the lender will probably require a "good faith" payment of a substantial part of the delinquency when the loan modification is consummated. A borrower who has put their mortgage payments in the bank while trying to work out a loan modification has a much better chance of success than a borrower with no money to put on the table.

3. The borrower will have to get past the financial institution's collection department and to a person is a position of authority in the loss mitigation department to negotiate a loan modification. This is one area where a lawyer can be helpful.

4. When a borrower is trying to convince the lender that he or she can now make payments on new terms, the lender will want to see historical financial information. If the borrower provides information that contradicts their original loan application, the borrower may be unwittingly creating a record that will give rise to an action for mortgage fraud. (See my January 14, 2007 post.)

5. If a non-lawyer offers to perform the services described above and asks for the payment of their fees in advance completing the services, ask them if they are licensed by the State of California and, if so, how they are licensed. Can the consultant demonstrate to you that they are exempt from the laws regulating "Foreclosure Consultants"? If not, can they demonstrate to you that they are providing the disclosures and documents required of Foreclosure Consultants. (See my January 30, 2007 post.)

6. If the borrower has more than one loan secured by their property, it will probably be necessary for all lenders to agree to the terms of the loan modification before it is finalized. If the modification of the first trust deed loan puts the holder of the second trust deed at greater risk of a default under the first deed of trust, the holder of the first will lose its priority without the consent of the holder of the second to the modification agreement.

7. It will take months, not days, to negotiate a loan modification with a lender, so start as soon as possible after you go into default. Once the borrower is served with a Notice of Default to commence a non-judicial foreclosure, he or she should begin the process of contacting the lender about a loan modification -- do not wait until you receive a Notice of Trustee's Sale.

8. Keep all your loan records well organized, including all communications with the lender about the loan.

9. Consult your CPA or tax adviser to determine if the modified loan will result in any adverse income tax consequences.

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