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Chase Home Lending – thirteen months in a bad relationship

March 24, 2010: Today marks thirteen months since the day Chase/WaMu first received my request for a loan modification. Back in February 2009 I wanted to get in front of my financial situation. Having suffered a 50% salary reduction in May 2008, I was still employed and supplementing my income with a freelance job; by using savings I could make ends meet, but unless something changed, my savings would be depleted by February 2010. 

The responsible thing to do was to speak with my lender and renegotiate the terms of the loan. No reduction in principal, just a reduction in interest rate so I could ride this out until my salary increased. Since I had no other debt of any kind, was not underwater and the Chase/WaMu loan was my primary and only mortgage (no home equity loan or second mortgage), this seemed like a reasonable request. 

Reason, however, seems to have flown out the window at JP Morgan Chase. Although JP Morgan Chase employs over 200,000 people, not one of them including Chase Bank’s Mortgage Unit CEO, David B. Lowman can provide a straight answer or a loan modification. After thirteen months I’ve drained my savings, devastated my once decent credit rating and spent countless hours chasing answers, yet I can’t get anyone at Chase to meet face-to-face to resolve a loan work-out. It’s a predatory loan and a bad relationship. The resolution to a bad relationship is to walk away and put it behind you, but I can’t. This is my home, and I just can’t walk away.

Chase Home Loan Modification Help

December 15, 2009, 10:25 am: The situation was going downhill and I needed an advocate, fast. If credit counseling was required, so be it. I would make an appointment today. Back to the   makinghomeaffordable.gov to download a pdf of credit counseling services. Consumer Credit and Budget Counseling in Marmora, NJ was on the list and close, but they would only help if I was past due. Not good. I started calling and soon found the agencies were all swamped. The first available appointment I could get anywhere was Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 9 am, with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley in Camden, NJ. I took it.

December 15, 2009, 10:34 am: I called Chase (866) 550-5705, the number for Making Homes Affordable. Spoke with Stewart who advised “all systems are down”; call back in an hour.

December 15, 2009, 11:45 am: I called Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Jillian. I asked for a copy of the denial letter dated 6/30/09. Jillian could not provide this but she offered to read the content to me and said I was ineligible as the “L.T.V. was less than 80%”. As she read the notes to me she freely admitted she did not understand them. Jillian confirmed Chase had received my new application for a home loan modification on 12/11/09 and that it was with the technical team who was looking to see if all of the required information was there. “This can take a few days or up to two weeks”.

I pressed for more information and was transferred to Mary in Imminent Default. Mary said Chase required a one-line statement that I do not pay condo or homeowner association fees and that line 6 on my tax request form needed completion; she could accept a verbal approval on that but I was to fax the “missing” document and be sure to note my loan number on the document. I again requested a copy of my 6/30/09 denial letter; Mary said she could see an 8/25/09 letter but no 6/30/09 letter – she would send an e-mail to request a copy be re-sent to me. Mary indicated that loan modification reviews were taking 30-60 days and I should follow up every 7-10 business days. We ended the call.  I then faxed (866) 282-5682 a one-page document indicating I did not pay condo or homeowners association fees on my home.    

December 16, 2009, 11:54 am: I called Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Tony who confirmed Chase had all the necessary documents including the verbal tax form release and the fax about no condo fees. Tony then transferred me to Imminent Default. I spoke with Sandra and again requested a copy of the 6/30/09 or 8/25/09 denial letter. I asked Sandra to read the letters to me and she said I was ineligible due to L.T.V., my “loan to value was too much” and I had “too much” cash reserves (more than three months). Sandra said she’d send the letter again; it should take 7-10 days.

December 16, 2009: Since letters were on my mind, I wrote some. I wrote to Jamie Dimon, Chairman & CEO, JP Morgan Chase, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Robert Menendez, Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Alan J. Heavens, real estate columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and I wrote one to Wall Street Journal reporter Ruth Simon.

Learning Curve

Throughout August, September, October and November I went to large banks and small banks, banks I’d done business with in the past (Wachovia, Citizen’s & Sturdy Savings Bank) as well as banks I’d only driven by (1st Bank of Sea Isle City & 1st Colonial National Bank), meeting with residential loan officers to explore any and every possible way to refinance. Could my parents co-sign? Could a friend? Could I do something with home equity against a house I owned? Maybe a reverse mortgage? I also met with mortgage brokers who promised the moon, only to be shot down or not even called back.

I went to my investment advisor to look at raiding my retirement savings and he directed me to his mortgage guy. This guy helped him out when he was going through a divorce and his wife had destroyed his credit – he was a miracle worker. The guy was sharp and professional but there were no miracles for me. His response:  “Yes, you have equity, yes you have assets, but the banks want to see income, it’s all about income and cash flow. You need to cut your losses and move on; there will be other houses.” 

A friend in Florida told me I had to talk to her mortgage guy, he was the best. He took all my information on November 13, 2009 and called back four days later. He said there was absolutely no one who would touch a loan of this size without a comparable salary; did I have any wealthy relatives or stand to inherit any money soon? His advice: “Stop paying your mortgage, now. Write your senator; write your congressmen, there’s going to be a revolution. Mail in your house keys and walk away.” I patiently explained to him that perhaps he wasn’t hearing me correctly. I was not underwater in the loan. I had equity, enough equity that I’d been denied a loan modification, I had assets; my credit rating was decent (701 Equifax, 706 TransUnion, 732 Experian) and I’d never missed a loan payment or even been late. I could drain my retirement savings and hang on, ride this thing out until things turned around and I got a good job again. His reply: “As long as you pay, they won’t play. Stop paying now. So what if there’s a tax lien. That will get their attention. They only address the squeaky wheel. You are not a problem so they won’t work with you, they won’t talk to you, and they’ll just string you along because you are a performing loan. They will bleed you dry and take every penny you have. They just want their money. Stop making payments now.”

But I couldn’t stop paying the mortgage. I had an obligation. Only bad people didn’t pay. Plus I’d ruin my credit rating and never be able to get a loan again. It should have occurred to me that despite my good credit rating, I couldn’t get a loan now, and besides, what did I need a loan for other than a mortgage? I didn’t finance new cars, boats or anything else. I didn’t buy anything new, and I wasn’t about to start. Credit cards weren’t important – I didn’t carry a balance with American Express and used it only for work; the only other card I had was my debit card. 

I met with more loan officers, mortgage brokers, neighbors and friends of friends. I asked anyone I knew to hook me up with a senior loan officer, bank CEO or board member, any introduction where I could meet face to face and work out a way to re-finance. I talked to a lot of people but I didn’t get a loan.

In all that time, from July to November, no letter from Chase/WaMu regarding a loan modification application, review or denial ever arrived. The only thing that arrived with resolute punctuality was the monthly mortgage statement and payment coupon.