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lucky13 womanI have been too busy to update my blog in many, many moons. I feel badly about that, but allow me now to remedy that, because today was a huge landmark day–indeed an awesome day–in the story of my life.

Back in October of 2012, my mortgage servicer Homeward Residential basically entrapped me with the Home Affordable Unemployed Program (HAUP) forebearance program.  I managed to pay my full original mortgage amount within the grace period during the first month of this federal program, to save my credit from being dinged. But Homeward rejected my check because “my loan was in a special status.” I paid it again immediately and wrote to them explaining that I had paid on time, but they had rejected my check, so in the future, they must stop rejecting my full mortgage payment if I’m able to make it. I was told before accepting the HAUP terms that I could pay as much as I wanted every month. I requested that they credit me the $36.60 late fee.

I received a letter in the mail merely reiterating back to me the situation I had already spelled out, without any mention of accepting my checks in the future or crediting me the late fee. Just…no help at all. Apparently, once I had accepted HAUP, I had signed up for full-scale destruction of my excellent credit, monthly late fees, and more! The absolute worst part? The twice-weekly collection calls from “robo-callers” denigrating me in Indian accents with insults about how “I entered an agreement when I obtained a mortgage” and “this is an attempt to collect a debt.” I couldn’t screen these robo-calls because I had canceled the $10/month Caller ID service on my phone to cut back on expenses. Every time I answered the phone, I spent twenty minutes confirming my personal identification, and explaining where in their system the robo-caller would see that I’m on a federal program called HAUP, and no, I don’t actually owe them money and would they please stop calling me!? (No, they wouldn’t stop, they informed me, “until I came current on the loan.”)

I put aside as much money as I could every month over the next six months to enable repayment of the $8400 that Homeward estimated I would have to pay at the end of the six-month forbearance program. Mostly I just paid down my debt, knowing I could tap it again to save my home if I had to. And I tried to avoid answering the phone.

“One and a half more years,” I told myself, until my son graduated from his high school and I could move somewhere warmer and less expensive.

Six Months of Hating HAUP

Here’s what happened next and over the next six months:

  • The “late payment” subsequently appeared on my credit, as it did every month, even though I pre-paid the $5/month set forth in my payment agreement. This brought my FICO score from a 793/850 (excellent) to a low of 632 in December 2012 (not good). But I expected this.
  • To add insult to injury, Homeward socked me with “collection fees” to pay for the privilege of being harassed.
  • Homeward added $500 in fees for “property inspections” that never occurred, and late charges.
  • Instead of $8400 at the end of the program in April 2013, Homeward claimed “Past Due Amounts DUE IMMEDIATELY” of $10,800. The statement added up. It seemed correct. The mistake seemed to be in their earlier estimation of what I would owe at the end of the HAUP period. Oh, they were just kidding! I owed much more!
  • Near the end of the six-month HAUP forebearance plan, Homeward Residential sold my mortgage to another mortgage servicer, which effectively eliminated any option to dispute the charges.
  • My unemployment benefits ended unexpectedly when Congress shortened the federal extension Tier. Without proof of “unemployment benefits”, I didn’t qualify for an extension of the HAUP program.

This was all horrible, no good, very bad news.

The Good News

  • The good news is, I found more work. Here’s the meat of the matter: Because my unemployment benefits were so low (based on a two-month stint of employment in 2010), I never stopped for a minute looking for a job, and selling my stuff on eBay, and looking for ways to get by. I didn’t find a full-time salaried position with benefits that would replace more than about 50% of my pre-recession income. What I did find was more freelance work. Gradually over the past 1.5 years, the infrequent science-and-technology writing and editing assignments grew into a bit of regular recurring contract work, and those contracts grew into recommendations for more work, which grew to another contract, and now I’m hopefully negotiating another.
  • Over several months while the new mortgage servicer, OCWEN, reviewed all their new mortgages, my inflated Past Due Amount grew, but only by my original monthly mortgage amount. OCWEN respected the intent of the HAUP program even though it had technically expired. They did not begin foreclosure proceedings. Collection calls stopped.
  • OCWEN informed me that without unemployment benefits, I couldn’t continue in the HAUP program. They would consider me for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), they said, but I was wary. I’d been rejected four times in that program for insufficient income.

Nevertheless, I applied in March 2013 for HAMP. AGAIN. Sometime in April, an OCWEN rep told me, “You don’t qualify for HAMP. You make too much money.” I almost spit at him, “I knew it!” until the second part of that sentence kicked in. “Wait. What? I make too much?”

“Yes,” he said apologetically. “But you may qualify for in-house refinancing.”

Sure enough, at the end of May, I qualified based on my income (a self-reported “Profit and Loss” spreadsheet for three pretty-atypical but good-looking months) for a new mortgage with OCWEN. They rolled all that extra nonsense money I owed (grr…which I had no power to dispute) into a new mortgage, with no closing costs or money down. Sure, the new mortgage came with an annual percentage interest rate 1/2% higher than it used to be, and my monthly payment increased by about $100, but it’s better than foreclosure. I looked into other mortgages, but other banks required $8000 down, and here was my chance to maybe catch up! NO MONEY DOWN!

And yesterday, I signed the agreement, and requested that my bank wire my first payment on the new mortgage.

Today, OCWEN told me I’m all set. They have received my agreement, the wire has been received, and I can pretend none of this ever happened.

More good news:

  • My credit score started upward again in April when OCWEN bought my mortgage and stopped reporting me as delinquent. The rest of my loans and credit cards are in great shape, of course, so that helps. I’ve been told by a used-car dealer friend that even at its lowest point, my credit score would have still been too high to justify the type of buy-here/pay-here loan his lot offered. Surprisingly, as my credit dived, I began to receive more daily credit-card offers in the mail than ever! The credit card companies love to give money to people to whom they can charge interest and late fees!
  • My debt is paid down. I still don’t have much if any disposable income to speak of, but I believe I can keep my house until my son graduates high school in … less than a year! My mantra has become “Less than a Year! Less than a Year!”

The best news of all is something my friends and family already know. I now have a special someone in my life, besides my son and my great support network of family and friends. I met this “someone wonderful” years ago around town when he was unavailable. About a year ago, I saw him out and about and he was, luckily for me, available. And interested! While he has some means to have possibly “saved me” or at least helped me in unhealthy rescuer fashion, setting us up for rocky interdependence, I said no. I *do* let him pay for “dates” where ever we go, and travel, which he loves (and who doesn’t!?), but as much as he is generous, I am convinced that my happy ending depends on *me* saving *myself.* I believe in Cinderella being a co-ruler with the Handsome Prince, not another dependent on his tax return. We’ve been very happy, had a lot of fun, and have many more fun things planned together. Including moving someplace warmer and cheaper. Together.

But that’s a whole ‘nother blog.