Mortgage-relief programs continue to confuse, frustrate some Oklahomans
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Monday, May 07, 2012
3/11/13 at 1:55 PM
Editor's note: The Money Crunch is an occasional series on how people and families are struggling in the post-recession economy.
Mike Wise has accepted that soon he will be forced to pack up his Sand Springs home of eight years and find somewhere else to live.
"The reality right now is I'm going to lose my house," Wise said.
The Tulsa World featured Wise in an early February story about homeowners facing foreclosure after hitting hard financial times, as the state announced an $18.6 million settlement for Oklahoma homeowners who were victims of "unfair and deceptive practices" by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and GMAC during the mortgage and foreclosure crisis.
Chase filed paperwork on April 27 in Tulsa County Court to begin the foreclosure process on Wise's home.
He hasn't applied for the Oklahoma program or any federal relief, and attempts to modify his mortgage through Chase have only ended in frustration and confusion.
"Honestly, the government doesn't seem to care," he said. "You don't know who to ask or where to turn to."
Wise lost his job in April 2009 and sought mortgage relief as he looked for work. He worked as many as three jobs at one point just to make ends meet.
Wise said he contacted Chase as soon as he lost his job and told them he wanted to pay as much as he could scrape together toward his monthly payment. He sent in $900 toward the $1,300 payment for three months. But Chase customer service agents told him he couldn't qualify for mortgage modification unless he stopped making payments altogether, he said.
He applied for modification, and it took several months to get an answer. When he did, Chase offered him a forbearance plan that was $13 a month more than his old monthly payment.
After about a year, he found a new job he loves, as a residential youth worker for a nonprofit - but it pays less than his previous career. He still can't afford a mortgage payment of more than $1,300, he said.
Greg Hassell, a spokesman for Chase bank, said each case is different, but in some cases where homeowners haven't made payments for several months or years, the unpaid principal can result in a higher payment after mortgage modification.
"It helps the customer because the customer was able to not pay their monthly payment for several years while going through the tough time - but yet they're still able to keep their home," Hassell said. "And when the situation improves, you pick up your mortgage payment again."
In many cases, Chase is simply the mortgage servicing company or has to abide by federal rules that govern HAMP funding, he said.
Most recently, Wise said he was told his income of $11.50 per hour prevents him from qualifying for additional assistance.
"I make too much money to qualify for help, but I can't afford my mortgage," he said.
And he's too far behind on the payments to catch up.
"I begged them: Can I just pay something?" he said. "They told me to hold off on payments, every month. I was told that making any payments would kick me out of the mortgage modification program."
His home is not scheduled for the sheriff's auction yet, but Wise is not optimistic about getting help.
"The irritating thing is that I've paid my taxes and had a job since I was 16 years old," he said. "Now I'm in a hard spot and can't get any help."
Apply early for Oklahoma's restitution fund
Oklahomans applying for the state's mortgage foreclosure restitution fund should start the process as early as possible, the Attorney General's Office said.
The deadline to apply is Sept. 13
"This is not a thing where you can probably start on Sept. 12 and get your application completed in time," spokeswoman Diane Clay said. "You don't want to wait until the last minute and miss the deadline just because you don't have the documents you need."
After opting Oklahoma out of a national settlement, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt helped negotiate an $18.6 million agreement in February for compensatory damages for Oklahoma homeowners who were victims of "unfair and deceptive practices" by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and GMAC during the mortgage and foreclosure crisis.
Oklahomans who think they were subjected to unfair and unlawful practices during the foreclosure process can apply for compensation at tulsaworld.com/relief or by calling 405-521-2029.
The state is developing an index to determine how much Oklahoma residents can be compensated for damages through the program if they've been harmed by unfair lending practices. As of last week, the AG's Office had received 135 applications.
Homeowners who aren't sure if they qualify for the program are encouraged to call the office and answer some basic questions to see if they may benefit from the relief. Only Oklahoma residents are eligible, and the home in question must be the primary residence.
"At this point, we're waiting until we have all the applications to start handing out compensation checks," Clay said. "But we do know it will be more than the $2,000 that other states are offering."
Pruitt's office wanted to offer homeowners "compensation that was meaningful," she said.
"You're talking about people who may have lost their homes already," Clay said. "Two thousand dollars just didn't seem adequate for that."
Applying for Oklahoma's relief program does not prevent homeowners from applying for federal programs designed to help homeowners who are underwater or behind on their payments, Clay said.
For information on the refinancing and mortgage reduction options provided by the federal settlement, Oklahomans whose mortgages are with the banks involved in the settlement should call the following toll-free numbers:
Bank of America: 877-488-7814
JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901
Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212
Couple bake their way out of home foreclosure
There's a happy ending to the story of a Broken Arrow family who fought foreclosure in Feburary by baking hundreds of carrot cakes.
Mike Douthitt and his wife, Kim, faced financial hardship after taking in their three grandchildren and racking up legal bills in the ensuing custody battle. They fell about seven months behind on mortgage payments while waiting to see if they qualified for a modification program.
They decided to bake their way out of financial trouble, selling Kim's homemade carrot cakes to more than 500 neighbors, church friends and readers who learned about their story in the Tulsa World. They saved their home and have continued baking cakes to help with the added expense of raising three grandchildren.
"We worked our tails off," Mike Douthitt said. "We were just completely and totally awestruck by the response."
The Douthitts are grateful so many people were willing to buy cakes to help them avoid foreclosure. Now they take orders through a Facebook page ( tulsaworld.com/24karatkakes) and bake about 20 cakes a month to help keep their finances in shape, he said.
Original Print Headline: Mortgage struggles continue
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Mike Wise, shown at his home in February, is still struggling with Chase over a mortgage-relief program. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World file
Kim Douthitt ices a carrot cake at Christ Church Episcopal in February. Kim and her husband, Mike, sold cakes to help save their home after getting behind on mortgage payments. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World file
Scott Pruitt: The state attorney general helped negotiate an $18.6 million agreement in February for compensatory damages for Oklahoma homeowners who were victims of "unfair and deceptive practices."