Pitchrate | Seeking a Hardship Mortgage? Get ready for a Game of Musical Chairs.

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Steve Alten

Steve Alten is a NY Times and international best-selling author of 16 novels, including the MEG series, about Megalodon, the 70-foot prehistoric Great White shark. MEG was just greenlit as a major motion picture by Warner Bros. Alten is also founder and director of Adopt-An-Author, a nationwide free...

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06/16/2015 12:43pm
Seeking a Hardship Mortgage? Get ready for a Game of Musical Chairs.

Seeking a Hardship Mortgage? Get ready for a Game of Musical Chairs.
by Steve Alten
Being a full-time author often requires that one live book deal to book deal. Having published fifteen novels in seventeen years I can’t complain, but when an unexpected medical emergency struck in 2012, it set our household back two years.
Following the 2007-08 bailout, banks are required to offer consumers who qualify hardship mortgages at a much lower rate. Our rate was high so we decided to apply in January. We were assigned a Homeowner Support Specialist at Citibank who sent us an application and a request for the requisite tax returns, bank statements, a list of our monthly bills, and an explanation as to why we needed a better interest rate than the 4.76% we were now “enjoying.” The HSS gave us 30 days to send him the documents requested. He also said that it would help our case if we ceased paying our mortgage.
With more bills than money at the end of each month you didn’t have to ask me twice – provided the bank wouldn’t start foreclosure proceedings. I was assured that the process of hardship assistance would circumvent that from happening. I sent every requested document within four days and waited.
A month later (February) we heard back from our HSS, who had another list of requested documents along with some bizarre inquiries about my non-profit reading program to questions involving my mother-in-law’s trailer in Arkansas. I responded to these questions within two days.
March came with a new set of demands for information, including bank statements from my 21 year old daughter, who is a full-time student.
April rolled in with an identical list of demands that we had answered back in February and March. Frustrated, I called Citibank, demanding to speak with a supervisor. The supervisor interpreted the underwriter’s request in a completely different language and assigned an “Executive Response Specialist.”
In May, the new ERS asked for new documents on behalf of “the Underwriter,” a mysterious entity cloaked behind a curtain of secrecy like Oz, the great and powerful. When I told her that the last specialist advised us not to pay our mortgage back in January, she said, “he probably shouldn’t have said that. Could you catch up now?”
Five mortgage payments in a lump sum? What else do you need? The broomstick of the Wicked Witch?
I paid the June mortgage, then received more document requests, including the last thirty days of my wife’s pay stubs (something provided months earlier) and a hardship affidavit (provided back in January only under a different form). Then I received an email from Citibank informing me we had been assigned yet another Homeowner Support Specialist… number three, if you’re keeping score at home. When I emailed him the pay stubs, the email bounced. Calling Citibank, I learned that HSS #3 was actually created by a glitch in the system and I was still attached to the Executive Response Specialist. The ERS called me and said she was sending the new documents to Oz, the great and powerful Underwriter, but yes… he might ask for additional information.
I’m betting the farm I don’t own but that he’ll be requesting info about that he will.
Is my experience unique? I suspect not. The overall impression I’ve been left with is that just because the banks were forced to help homeowners experiencing hardship doesn’t mean they have to make the process easy. Eventually, most applicants probably become fed up with jumping through seemingly endless hoops and quit.
Too Big to Fail – meet Too Stubborn to Quit.

Steve Alten is the NY Times bestselling author of 15 fictional thrillers, including the recently released VOSTOK and a comedy, DOG TRAINING THE AMERICAN MALE (written under L.A. Knight) Alten is also founder and director of Adopt-An-Author, a nationwide free reading program for reluctant teen readers with over 10,000 registered teachers involved. More info at www.SteveAlten.com and www.AdoptAnAuthor.com


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