Last winter, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco helped a Dayton, Ohio, housekeeper catch up on her mortgage payments and utility bills, find food assistance and get her property taxes lowered.
But how does a Northern California-based counseling agency know whom to call to get local help for a struggling homeowner living halfway across the country? By tapping into a national database of community resources operated by MortgageKeeper Referral Services Inc.
Created six years ago by a college professor and a housing policy wonk with extensive experience in foreclosure intervention strategies, MortgageKeeper's database is rich with 6,000 resources nationwide that can help financially strapped borrowers dig out from under their problems — if borrowers only knew about them.
The resources are out there for the asking, says MortgageKeeper President Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey, but for any number of reasons, people in need can't find them or don't try. Sometimes people are too afraid of losing their homes to con artists to seek help.
Enter MortgageKeeper, which connects distressed owners with reputable, fully qualified and totally vetted community services in all 50 states, but with a major focus on the 80 metro areas that account for roughly 90% of all foreclosures.
"Our database gets answers to homeowners fast, getting to the root cause of their loan delinquency," says Gorey, who has spent nearly two decades in housing policy research. "Hopefully, the end result is owners who have both their financial and personal needs met so they can stay in their homes."
In July alone, the Downers Grove, Ill., company made more than 75,000 referrals, its highest usage ever. That's about 2,500 people a day who were connected "directly and discreetly" to someone willing not just to listen to their stories but also to help them overcome their difficulties.
The only problem: Consumers can't reach MortgageKeeper directly. They have to go through the company that services their mortgage or a housing counseling agency.
Not all loan servicers or counseling agencies are affiliated with MortgageKeeper. But Gorey and her partner, Michael Collins, an assistant professor of consumer finance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who has studied consumers in the marketplace for more than 10 years, recently signed Saxon Mortgage Services Inc. as a client.
Saxon, a top-25 mortgage servicer, according to National Mortgage News, joins a list of companies that also includes Ocwen Financial Corp., which claims to be the country's largest administrator of subprime mortgages.
Lenders' participation in MortgageKeeper isn't totally altruistic. After all, a typical foreclosure results in a $50,000 hit to a lender's bottom line. Borrowers who have help solving their issues are more likely to remain or become current on their house payments and avoid foreclosure altogether.
But if your servicer isn't a MortgageKeeper participant, you can still get through by contacting one of several counseling agencies.
Besides Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco, which, contrary to its name, is national in scope, company clients include Money Management International, CredAbility and the Homeownership Preservation Foundation's hot line at (888) 995-HOPE, each a law-abiding consumer counseling agency.
MortgageKeeper's up-to-date, real-time community resources are embedded into its clients' borrower-dedicated Web pages. Once you are there, you simply type in your ZIP Code and the service categories that interest you, and up pops a list of service descriptions and the relevant contact information.
MortgageKeeper has a list of up to 20 categories, everything from food assistance to job training to help with prescription drugs. Clients pick the ones they deem most pertinent based on their experience with borrower defaults. Saxon, for example, offers 12 categories.
In July, more folks who accessed the MortgageKeeper database asked for help with their utilities and with food than anything else. Employment, housing and credit counseling also were of big interest. And for the first time, help with rental housing was a top-five resource referral.
"There are a lot of nonprofits and government agencies that want to help with financial and personal challenges," Gorey says. "Many times, they are located right in their neighborhoods, but people are just not aware of them. Our database gets answers in seconds from a list of exhaustively researched, best-in-class agencies."
Distributed by Universal Uclick for United Features Syndicate.