Will the Chase Financial Interview help to get a loan modification?

April 29, 2010, 6:39 pm: Natalia Carrillo Chase Home Finance (800) 848-9380 transferred me to Bailey, a Loss Mitigation Solicitor. I asked Bailey if she was an attorney and she laughed and said no, even though she was called a Loss Mitigation Solicitor, she was just in the call center and she was going to “help me out”. She asked for a few minutes to “read the file” and then told me that after the financial interview she would e-mail the negotiator and things would move along. I asked if there was a financial interview form I could complete and submit and if not, might I get a copy of the completed financial interview. The answer was no. With that, Bailey asked what my monthly salary was; she wanted net, not gross, so I was a bit surprised and unprepared but still able to produce the monthly net for my W-2 earnings by quickly checking my bank account online. Next she wanted my net monthly 1099 pay; that was not so easy because who really knows what their net will be after taxes? I don’t know how much I’ll make on a freelance basis so I can’t determine the net. I had to estimate. Not good.

Next Bailey asked how much the mortgage, taxes and insurance were (Was this a test? The taxes and insurance are escrowed and Chase knows the numbers). Bailey then asked about secondary loans and/or home equity lines (I have none); credit card debt (I have none); college tuition and/or student loans (I have none).

Bailey went on to ask about utilities. At this point I was especially grateful to Doris B. at the CCCSDV for the time spent going over my budget on a monthly basis. I had at the ready my documents from our January 5, 2010 credit counseling session and they proved invaluable. To prepare for my meeting with Doris back in January, I’d had a friend create a yearly spreadsheet of my expenses, so in our meeting it had been a relatively easy task to break out monthly averages for all expenses and properly account for every penny. That was the very same worksheet I’d reviewed and updated in preparation for this financial interview and I clung to it like a life raft.

No one should ever enter into a Chase financial interview without knowing all of the answers in advance and to the penny. Had I estimated off the top of my head or answered on the fly as Natalia had suggested the day before, it could have been disastrous.

Bailey didn’t probe for anything. She just wanted a number for utilities. It was incumbent on me to mention gas, electric, water and sewer, and if I’d missed something, it would not have been counted. It’s easy to overlook or underestimate smaller bills, and with a winter like we just had, I needed to revise the numbers to address greater gas and electric consumption, something I’d remembered to do before the interview. But the way Bailey was asking required me to add up various expenses, yet another opportunity to make a mistake. Thank goodness I had a calculator at the ready!

After utilities, Bailey moved on to automobiles (I have no car payments). She asked about automobile insurance (I drive clunkers so I carry only liability insurance and have no collision coverage) and then gasoline costs. With that, Bailey was ready to move on. Hold the phone! If the category is Automotive, what about tolls? Between the Garden State Parkway and the NJ Turnpike, I throw money out the window almost every time I get in the car. And parking? Automobile registration, inspection, driver’s license renewal and how about maintenance? Things like tires, oil changes, tunes-ups?  I could see right then that Chase wanted to breeze through this interview so the “modification” would be as small as possible. It was a set-up to fail. No wonder so many homeowners who had been given a trial modification couldn’t keep up. They probably didn’t really understand their actual operating costs until they ran out of money before month’s end, and by the time they figured it out it was too late.  

Bailey seemed to be asking questions in a random fashion, and there was no reference to categories. I suggest anyone facing a Chase financial interview ask in advance for the categories as Chase accounts for them so they can compile their expenses accordingly. She seemed to be working through a spreadsheet of some kind and entering numbers, but she jumped all over the place.

I hunkered down. When Bailey asked about health insurance, I made sure to add in co-pays, medications (I have no prescription plan), dental, optometrist and eyeglasses. Next was food, and at this point I was glad I was single. I know what I eat. The prospect of doing this for a family was daunting.  We continued through a few more questions like clothing, toiletries, life & disability insurance (I have none) and Bailey was ready to call it done.

I asked, “what about the telephone?” Bailey’s response: “Oh, that’s entertainment”.  Really? What about “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” I have a waterfront property and yes, I have a landline so anyone can dial 911 in the event of an emergency. There will be no fumbling for a cell phone if someone’s fallen into the bay and is being swept away by the current. I also have a cell phone (the size of a brick with no features at all) which I use for business, but it didn’t matter to Bailey. She filed it all under “entertainment”. Maybe there’s someone out there who finds my phone calls to Chase entertaining; I sure don’t.

I soldiered on and mentioned charitable contributions, newspapers (to look for a better-paying job!), job search expenses, pet food, gifts, etc. but I soon realized it was all going to be lumped under “entertainment”. There also didn’t seem to be a category for office supplies and loan modification application expenses like having a phone line and access to a fax machine; I sure knew Staples, FedEx and the USPS were beneficiaries of the Chase paper trail.  That was probably still considered “entertainment”.

Bailey quickly ran through some of the categories and totals she’d come up with including: Income, Expenses, Medical, Auto, Health, Transportation, Utilities, Food & Toiletries and Other. My head was spinning. It had been 45 minutes and I was done. I agreed to dollar amounts and categories I could not see and would not be given a copy of and we ended the call. Chase was really beginning to wear me down and it was not at all entertaining.