Tips, Hints & Suggestions
1. Do not believe anything they tell you.
Seriously. If you're one of those people who still believes corporations operate in the best interest of their customers, that professionalism and ethics and the desire to do good work exist in big business, this process will eat you alive. It's time to wise up. Large corporations exist to line the pockets of the shareholders and top management and everyone else, especially customers and mid- to low-level employees, exists only to serve that end. In the current (to my mind unsustainable) corporate culture, customers and workers are completely expendible. No matter how long you've done business with your lender, do not expect any corporate loyalty. They do not care. They only want your money (and, in this case, your house.)
If you have a predisposition to believe and trust authority figures, fight it. You must go into this process fully expecting that every single person you talk to has one goal - to string you along paying your mortgage until every resource is exhausted and then to take your house. All the stuff they say about "preserving home ownership" is just marketing. They don't believe it; neither should you.
Especially DO NOT believe if anyone tells you that you have to be delinquent on your mortgage to be considered for a HAMP modification. This is a big lie. They tell homeowners who are current to miss three payments and then apply for modification. What a three-month delinquency actually does is trigger the servicers' foreclosure mechanism. (Pretty blatant, huh? Should be illegal!)
Mortgage Crisis - Stop Paying, and We'll "HELP" You
2. Write Down Everything!
Starting from your very first contact with your mortgage servicer, write down every detail of every conversation, keep every email, file every letter. Get organized from the very start and plan for a long haul - it takes many months or even years to see this through. Get a big notebook and log every single phone call you make - date, time, whom did you talk to and what were the details of the conversation. Log every call you get asking you to send more documents or just to tell you the review is still going on. Log every email or letter you get, even the ones that seem to have no relevance to your situation. (I got one the other day telling me about special credit counseling for members of the armed services. I am not and never have been in the military. No idea what that's about. It's in my "WTF" file.)
3. Ask Questions
In the beginning of the process you'll only get to talk to customer service phone queue people and you'll never get the same one twice. It won't take long before you realize that they all give you different answers to your questions. Use that! Ask the same question often enough and write down the answers and pretty soon you might be able to piece together some actual information. With only a couple of exceptions, I have found the phone queue folks to be extremely polite and many even seem to really want to be helpful. The problem is, they don't have any authority and they don't always have very accurate information. And, after a few months drag on and the "notes" about your review stretch for pages and pages, there's no way they can familiarize themselves with your situation just by skimming the latest entries. But, when you get a nice one who is willing to talk, ask and listen and take notes. Sometimes what they say can be important. For example, it was by listening to customer service folks that I learned that some of the forms you submit in the beginning of the process have to be re-submitted every 30 days (that's not printed on the forms and my loan servicer, Wells Fargo, doesn't provide that information anywhere on its website.)
3a. Be Nice!
On the topic of customer service queue people, I suggest you make a resolution at the beginning of the process to always be calm and polite when you speak with them. I guarantee at some point you'll want to scream and rant at one, but don't do it. They have no decision-making authority, they have no real information and they apparently operate within a very rigid set of rules (they aren't allowed to give out phone numbers or email addresses, they can't transfer your call to anyone up the corporate ladder). They're powerless and clueless and they're on the front lines dealing with the anger and frustration of the people their bosses are jerking around. It's not their fault, so be nice. And realize that likely, with just a keystroke or two, your entire electronic file could just disappear. So don't piss them off.
4. Keep copies of everything.
Be sure to keep a copy - either electronic or hard copy - of every single piece of paper you send in. First, you'll be asked to submit the same forms again and again and you'll want to ensure the information is consistent. And you might be able to just update the date and send a copy if the information hasn't changed. Also, if you read the complaint sites, you'll see that one of the biggest reasons the lenders like to give for turning people down seems to be some version of "we didn't get the necessary paperwork." I myself have gotten two bogus rejection letters saying I didn't qualify because I didn't send in the necessary forms within a specific deadline. That leads to my next suggestion ...
5. Submit all information by certified mail.
A Mistake That Stole Christmas? A Foreclosure Story
Even though you'll be asked over and over again to fax your paperwork, do not do it. You'll have no way to prove it was recieved and they'll say they didn't get it. Do not send information by regular mail. Again, you have no proof of delivery and they'll just say it never got there. Only send information by some method that provides you proof of delivery. U.S. Postal Service Certified Mail will provide a receipt showing when you sent the information and provide a tracking number so you can confirm online when it was delivered, where it was delivered and who signed for it. Once I started using this method, I never again heard "we didn't get your paperwork." That's part of the scam that you can circumvent.
Be aware that just because the paperwork gets to the building where it needs to go, it's not necessarily "in the system." Wells Fargo's practice seems to be that mailroom personnel scan each document into an electronic system that makes it available to everyone who accesses an individual customer's "notes." It seems that process takes 24-48 hours. And if you send two-sided documents, sometimes only the front side gets scanned.
If you absolutely must fax forms, ask whether you can take them to a branch of your loan servicer. I found out well into my review that if I had wanted to fax forms, I could have taken them to any Wells Fargo Bank branch and they would have done it for free. (That's one of the tidbits I got from chatting with a phone queue person.)