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Chasing a Chase Home Loan

December 17, 2009, 11:30 am: It was obvious that with “too much equity”, Chase was not going to play ball. Their web site offered attractively low interest rates and encouraged folks to refinance now. Why not? No one else would work with me but if Chase thought my financial situation was so great, surely they help me to refinance. I called (800)-873-6577 and responded to the prompts. Yes, I was an existing customer and yes I could key in my loan number. I was directed to Cynthia, a debt collector. She did not know why I was sent to her as I was current on the loan. I told her I wanted to refinance. Cynthia said she’d try to send me to the right place and gave me the number (877) 835-3019 just in case. We were disconnected.

I then called (877) 835-3019 and spoke with Kathy, who took my qualifying information “before turning me over to a loan officer”. After taking my all of info she advised that it would be impossible for me to refinance at this time as Chase was running 90-120 days behind on processing. She couldn’t offer me anything nor would she accept an application from me. In fact, Chase had selected QuickenLoans to handle the massive volume of inquiries they were getting. I was then transferred to QuickenLoans, where I spoke with Bryan, Executive Banker. (480) 346-0551. Bryan reviewed my financial situation and said that based on my salary, he could offer nothing. Loan too big, salary too small.

Making Homes Affordable

In December 2009 a senior residential loan officer at a local bank spent an hour with me. He told me right from the get-go his bank was not going to loan me a penny, then he looked at the magazine article and the book and my assets and really listened. He said it would be unethical of him to grant me a loan; I could never pay it. I had to get out from under this and move on. He went on to say he had on his desk four conforming loans for people who were well-qualified and had more assets on hand than the amounts they wished to borrow but even those loans were stuck, sitting with the OCC awaiting approval, and that if he was having a hard time getting these loans approved, my non-conforming loan didn’t have a prayer. He told me my only option was HAMP. He said he’d had to turn down a local policeman who’d been laid off and was collecting unemployment; that man was ultimately able to obtain a loan modification at a 2% interest for a forty-year term. I listened, thanked him for taking the time to speak with me and vowed to myself that if I was ever again in a position to do business with a bank, his small local bank would be first on the list.

I went home to look at the website http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/modification_eligibility.html and saw the $ cap of $729,750. Okay, a reach, but maybe this could work. Yes, I owed more than $729,750.00 but I could drain my retirement savings and bring the loan amount due down to hit that number. I’d be penniless but it was still worth doing if I could get a loan modification. I called my investment adviser and told him to tee up for liquidating my retirement savings and then I called back his sharp mortgage broker friend and laid out my plans. He listened carefully and asked where the $729,750. 00 number was coming from. I told him it was on the makinghomeaffordable.gov web site. He informed me that HAMP qualifying numbers are location-based and vary by county; the Cape May County, NJ maximum $ amount was $487,500.00. I could liquidate my retirement savings and my assets and still not bring the loan balance down enough to hit that number. HAMP was not going to work for me.

Chasing WaMu

WaMu becomes Chase!

Phoned Chase/WaMu June 5, 2009 at 9:55 am and spoke with Hank who had fond memories of vacationing on the seven-mile island of Avalon, NJ. Hank confirmed my re-submission fax was received on 6/3/09 and that the loan modification clock starts anew. Hank advised there was nothing for me to do but “be patient and pay my mortgage”. The government had changed all the programs in March and the programs change daily; his department had only been established on May 1, 2009. Hank assured me they are working on it and said it was okay to call back and check in every week.

Phoned Chase/WaMu on June 12, 2009 at 9:35 am and endured a recorded collection message informing me this was an attempt to collect a debt. Note: I had never been late nor had I missed a payment. After the message played I was put on hold for ten minutes when Kim B. picked up. Kim’s sole purpose appeared to be to transfer me and introduce me to someone who could answer my questions. I then spoke with Adam who noted I’d called before. Adam confirmed receipt of my 6/3/09 fax and advised that all paperwork was in hand, WaMu had a “complete” package. Adam said I should have an “update” by end of month; it’s taking 20-25 days for an “update”. I pressed him on what an update meant and he said deny, modify, etc.

Phoned Chase/WaMu on June 23, 2009 at 10:30 am and spoke with Brad who advised that as of 6/15/09 the loan was in the Imminent Default department and I should be calling a different number. Per Brad the loan had been assigned to Brad U. – I could see this conversation was going nowhere and asked to speak to someone in Imminent Default. I was transferred to Troy who told me the files had been “sent to Guardian to microfiche” and that should take a week. They are taking pictures of documents and basically my loan is still in the review process. There was nothing he could tell me and nothing I could do. Brad was in Loss Mitigation, now I was talking to Imminent Default and they do not share names. Troy terminated the call by hanging up on me.

Time Marches On

Phoned WaMu on March 6, 2009 at 9:00 am and spoke with Juan C. Per Juan, “WaMu is hiring and training people. They are getting about 150 requests a day. As of today’s date it has not yet been assigned.”  Juan estimated it would be reviewed by Friday 3/13/09 and suggested I call back then.

Phoned WaMu on March 13, 2009 at 9:20 am and spoke with Margie. Per Margie, it’s “going to be a 97-day turnaround from when the negotiator gets it” and it “should have been assigned.” Margie confirmed that nothing appeared to be missing and could not understand why it hadn’t been assigned; she then gave me a priority number to fax in my 34-page packet, even though it had been received already. When I asked her what a reasonable time frame was to follow-up, she said they would contact me within 48 hours and reconfirmed my cell phone number.

Faxed WaMu on March 13, 2009 the 34-page packet.

48 hours elapsed with no calls from WaMu.

Phoned WaMu on March 13, 2009 at 8:50 am and spoke with Kathy. The paperwork had been received on March 16, 2009 and forwarded to an “opener”. It goes to an opener first and is then assigned to a negotiator; that can take up to seven days (3/26/09). I pressed Kathy on what happened to my original submission, the one I mailed in, because we were losing time and each day counted; she said she would open up a Work Order for the original submission and indicated that once the Work Order was opened, they would contact me within 48 hours. Kathy said the whole process should take 30 to 60 days and that they were averaging 66 days.

48 hours elapsed with no calls from WaMu.

Phoned WaMu March 20, 2009 at 10:00 am and spoke with Kristen. Per Kristen, “on March 16, 2009, the packet was forwarded to C. H.” (an opener) for research and to be assigned. “Escalation is looking into what happened to the 2/24/09 submission.” I will either get a phone call or a letter in the mail regarding more info needed or that they are working on it. Kristen suggested calling in 3/31/09 to follow-up.

March ended with no calls from WaMu.

Inside The Box

Please explain:

In May 2008 my salary was reduced by 50%. I have supplemented my income with freelance work but am unable to obtain full-time employment at my original salary or supplement enough to reach my original salary and honor my mortgage obligation.

I continue to seek full-time employment at my old salary without success.

I am only able to make payments by using savings; those savings will soon be depleted.

I seek a reduction in interest and a modification to a fixed 30-year mortgage. This will enable me time to obtain higher-paying employment and allow my savings to last longer to meet my mortgage obligation. I have no desire to sell my home.  

I moved on to Number 10. “Would you prefer to keep your home or sell it?” I checked Keep my home.  Number 12. “Do you have any other loans on the home?” I checked No. I completed the remainder of the form, painting the best possible picture about how much my home was worth, how little I owed relative to its value and how frugally I lived. Then I gathered the requisite paperwork (a full 34 pages) and headed out to make copies and send my application by Certified Mail to WaMu Home Preservation. It was February 18, 2009.

On February 24, 2009 I phoned WaMu. The packet had been received. A file would be created, reviewed and checked for missing items. Then, a processor would be assigned. I was advised to call back in 7-10 days.

WaMu Cares

Searching here, searching there, searching almost everywhere – four long months of searching for another job, any job and on the eve of 2009, an actionable New Year’s resolution to redouble my employment search efforts – my current income (50% salary reduction) had put me back to what I earned in 1989. Sherman, time to re-set the wayback machine. An aside – the effects of underemployment are not just financial but psychological. It’s very depressing. That said, in the world at large unemployment was rampant and the fact I still had a job, even at a dramatically reduced salary, was something to be happy about. Put up and shut up. I worked as many freelance hours as I could but it became apparent that using my savings to supplement the mortgage payments was going to be a much longer term remedy than I’d envisioned. I needed a way to stretch my savings as long as possible so I could continue to meet my mortgage obligation while seeking more rewarding work. The solution: apply for a mortgage modification.

Washington Mutual had a web site with a Borrower Assistance Form and the notation “We’re in this with you. We offer options for resolving your home loan issues.” They offered a two page form that was easy to download and complete. The tone was upbeat and helpful, with phrases like “Thank you for taking steps to resolve your home loan issues!” and “We’ll contact you soon!” Even the mail drop was designed to ensure confidence and optimism: WaMu Home Ownership Preservation; yes – this was the solution I’d been seeking. Home preservation help was within my reach.

Numbers 1-8 on the form were the standard address, phone and account number sort of queries, while Number 9 asked: “Why are you having trouble with your home loan payments? Select all that apply:” The answer was simple; only one box applied to me: Reduced Income. The multiple choice section was followed by an empty white box titled: “Please explain:”    

So I did.