Lots of women know their hair stylist almost as well as they know their closest friends. That’s why we don’t dread haircuts the way men do – we actually look forward to the 1-2 hours when a friendly person will make us beautiful with the added bonus of a good heart-to-heart. No staring glumly at the mirror until it’s done for us! Topics of conversation in a hair salon run from love life to clothes, movies to food, and of course, my personal favorite, money.
So without further ado, please meet my hair stylist, Trudy. She’s 40-ish, a single-mom (of a 13 year old daughter), a homeowner, a fashionista, and, as you can tell from this photo, irrepressibly vivacious.
On my last visit, we got into a chat about money because Trudy had just completed a loan modification and was more than happy to share the details with me. I was very interested because I knew banks were considering loan modifications, but hadn’t heard of anyone actually getting one.
Trudy’s story is typical of many American homeowners who were enticed by loans that “magically” made debts disappear and lowered mortgage payments.
Here’s what happened. Trudy bought a condominium in Hercules, California in 2003. She paid $248,000. She put $50,000 down and took out a 30 year fixed rate loan for $202,000.
She was thrilled to become a homeowner and excited by the prospect of home price appreciation.
When a Refi is a No-No
Fast forward a couple of years later. Her condo had appreciated but so had her credit card debt. Enticed by all the refinance offers that came in the mail daily, she decided to investigate. Not fully understanding what she was getting into, Trudy refinanced her loan to one that offered a myriad of payment choices, better known as an “option-ARM.” The lowest payment option caused the loan to negatively amortize – which means the deferred interest is added to the outstanding loan balance – the exact opposite of a fixed amortizing loan where part of every single loan payment reduces the mortgage balance.
Like many other homeowners before and after her, Trudy chose this option in order to improve her cash flow and at the same time pay off her $30,000 in credit card debt. It’s understandable why this would seem like a good idea, but unless you truly understand what you’re getting into, the ramifications can be devastating.
By the time she applied for the loan modification in December of 2008, her deferred interest had grown to $22,000, her loan was now $260,000 and the interest rate was 7.11%.
All hell broke loose in September 2008. Trudy received child support from her ex, which helped make ends meet. But he was a mortgage salesperson and with the fall-out from the credit crisis his income was slashed by $80,000 a year. He was able to get the court to reduce his child support from $1200.00 a month to $180.00 a month. Ouch!
Trudy notified her mortgage company in October that she wasn’t able to make her payment. She had few options. Her loan balance was larger than her home value (also known as being “under-water”) so selling wasn’t an option. She knew foreclosure was next and starting thinking about moving in with friends or family to regroup.
She found out about loan modifications and applied with her lender. She was turned down in January – the lender cited “information contained in her credit report.”
With a Little Help From Her Lender, Trudy Pulls Through
Then, as fortune would have it, President Obama’s mortgage relief program “Making Home Affordable” was launched in March. Trudy re-applied and this time she was successful. She received a letter of agreement on April 10 from her lender. Here are the new terms: 1. The lender agreed to reduce her loan balance by $53,442.4 to $208,402.44. 2. A new payment and interest schedule starts with a 2% interest rate and gradually increases (.75) per year to 6.5%. 3. Interest only payments are valid, but the borrower can choose to make a fully amortizing payment.
After hearing Trudy’s story, I did a little sleuthing to get some updates on the Obama administration’s $50 Billion mortgage relief program. Turns out that Trudy was lucky. So far, the results have been disappointing, as lenders were not cooperating. But there are signs that this is changing.
Lenders have sent out offers to reduce monthly payments to around 19% of 3 million eligible borrowers’ – – this is up from 15% at the end of July. Here’s the story>>
In the end, Trudy’s persistent and irrepressible self saved the day. She’s learned a lot of lessons from this…one of which is to always read the fine print and to better manage her use of credit cards.
You can find Trudy at the beauty salon at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, 510-843-3000 or at Altogether Different in Corte Madera, 510-334-5401.