Southern Living Magazines "The Souths Best College Towns" By Sterling Kelso
By Millissa
August 23, 2011

MORGANTOWN, WV    Beyond West Virginia University's campus along the Monongahela River, the focus in this town is the great outdoors. Those interested in adventure-lite activities can stroll along the Rail Trails or hike and bike on nearly 50 miles of trails in Coopers Rock State Forest (, just 15 minutes awqy.  White-water rafting on the Cheat River is only 45 minutes away for visitors seeking a wetter thrill.

Facing Foreclosure: What to Do Right Now
By Millissa
August 17, 2011

Facing Foreclosure: What to Do Right Now

If you’re facing foreclosure, don’t panic: Take  steps right now to save your home or at least lessen the blow of its  loss.



A record high 2.8 million properties were hit with foreclosure notices in 2009. That’s the bad  news. The good news: About two-thirds of notices don’t result in actual  foreclosures, says Doug Robinson of NeighborWorks, a nonprofit group that offers  foreclosure counseling.

Many homeowners find alternatives to foreclosure  by negotiating with lenders, often with the help of foreclosure counselors. If  you’re facing foreclosure, call your lender right now to determine your options,  which can include loan modification, forbearance, or a short sale.

Foreclosure process takes time

The entire foreclosure process can take anywhere from  two to 12 months, depending on how fast your lender acts and where you live.  Some states allow a nonjudicial process that’s speedier, while others require  time-consuming judicial proceedings.

Once you miss at least one mortgage  payment, the steps leading up to an actual foreclosure sale can include demand  letters, notices of default, a recorded notice of foreclosure, publication of  the debt, and the scheduling of a foreclosure auction. Even when an auction is  scheduled, however, it may never occur, or it may occur but a qualified buyer  doesn’t materialize.

Bottom line: Foreclosure can be a long slog, which  gives you enough time to come up with an alternative. Meantime, if your goal is  to salvage your home, think about keeping up with payments for homeowners  insurance and property taxes. Otherwise, you could compound your problems by  getting hit with an uncovered casualty loss or liability suit, or tax liens.

Read the fine print

Start by reviewing all correspondence you’ve received from your lender. The  letters—and phone calls—probably began once you were 30 days past due. Also  review your mortgage documents, which should outline what steps your lender can  take. For instance, is there a “power of sale” clause that authorizes the sale  of your home to pay off a mortgage after you miss payments?

Determine the  specific foreclosure laws for your state. What’s the timeline? Do you  have “right of redemption,” essentially a grace period in which you can reverse  a foreclosure? Are deficiency judgments that hold you responsible for the  difference between what your home sells for and your loan’s outstanding balance  allowed? Get answers.

Pick up the phone

Don’t give up because you missed a mortgage payment or two and received a  notice of default. Foreclosure isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it’s heading in  that direction if you don’t call your lender. Dial the number on your mortgage  statement, and ask for the Loss Mitigation Department. You might stay on hold  for a while, but don’t hang up. Once you do get someone on the line, take notes  and record names.

The next call should be to a foreclosure avoidance counselor approved by  the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of these counselors  can, free of charge, explain your state’s foreclosure laws, discuss alternatives  to foreclosure, help you organize financial documents, and even represent you in  negotiations with your lender. Be wary of unsolicited offers of help, since foreclosure rescue  scams are common.

Be sure to let your lender know that you’re working  with a counselor. Not only does it demonstrate your resolve, but according to  NeighborWorks, homeowners who receive foreclosure counseling are 1.6 times more  likely to avoid losing their homes than those who don’t. Homeowners who receive  loan modifications with the help of a counselor also reduce monthly mortgage payments by $454 more  than homeowners who receive a modification without the aid of a counselor.

Lender alternatives to foreclosure

Hope  Now, an alliance of mortgage companies and housing counselors, can aid  homeowners facing foreclosure. A self-assessment tool will give you an idea  whether you might be eligible for help from your lender, and there are direct  links to HUD-approved counseling agencies and lenders’ foreclosure-prevention  programs.

There are alternatives to foreclosure that your lender might  accept. The most attractive option that’ll allow you to keep your home is a loan  modification that reduces your monthly payment. A modification can entail  lowering the interest rate, changing a loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed  rate, extending the term of a loan, or eliminating past-due balances. Another  option, forbearance, can temporarily suspend payments, though the amount will  likely be tacked on to the end of the loan.

If you’re unable to make even  reduced payments, and assuming a conventional sale isn’t possible, then it may  be best to turn your home over to your lender before a foreclosure is completed.  A completed foreclosure can decimate a credit score, which will make it hard not  only to purchase another home someday, but not impossible: The foreclosure  disappears within 7 years or even less, especially if there are extenuating  circumstances.

The more quickly you get steady employment and repair your credit score, the  more quickly you’ll be eligible to buy a home again. It also may be difficult to rent a home in  the short term, but your HUD counselor may be able to offer help.

But you’re better off if your lender can approve a short sale, in which the  proceeds are less than what’s still owed on your mortgage. A deed in lieu of  foreclosure, which amounts to handing over your keys to your lender, is another  good possibility.

Although a deed in lieu of foreclosure or short sale will have virtually the  same effect on your credit score as a foreclosure, you will likely be able to  buy another home more quickly than if you go through a foreclosure. The earlier  you begin talks with your lender, the more likelihood of success.

Explore government programs

The federal government’s Making Home Affordable program offers two  options: loan  modification and refinancing.  A self-assessment will indicate which option might be right for you, but you  need to apply for the program through your lender. A Making Home Affordable loan  modification requires a three-month trial period before it can become  permanent.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have their own  foreclosure-prevention programs as well. Check to determine if either Fannie or Freddie owns your mortgage. Present this  information to your lender and your counselor. Fannie and Freddie also have  rental programs under which former owners can remain in recently foreclosed  homes on a month-to-month basis.

The federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives  program, which takes full effect in April 2010, offers lenders financial  incentives to approve short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure. It also  provides $3,000 in relocation assistance to borrowers. Again, talk to your  lender and counselor.

Jerry DeMuth has written about mortgages and other  financial issues for more than two decades for trade publications, major  newspapers, and consumer magazines. His writing has received four awards and has  been included in eight non-fiction books.

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What Affects Credit Scores? 7 Misconceptions
By Millissa
August 17, 2011

What Affects Credit Scores? 7 Misconceptions

By: Gwen Moran

Published: October 22, 2010

If you’re trying to raise your credit score to get a good rate for a refinance or HELOC, you might be surprised by what affects—or doesn’t affect—your score.

More money improves your credit score

False. Your level or sources of income don’t affect your credit score, although lenders may look at it when making loan decisions, according to the Fair Isaac Corp., the company that issues the commonly used FICO credit scores.

Ownership of several credit cards can hurt your credit score

Mostly false. Having many credit lines isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says credit expert Liz Weston, author of Your Credit Score. Multiple lines give you a favorable debt-to-available-credit ratio. But use them correctly: It’s best to keep any balances below 10% or 20% of the total credit line, she says. Anything more will affect the ratio of debt-to-available-credit, which can decrease your credit score.

Opening and closing credit lines can hurt your credit score

True. New credit applications can decrease your credit score, so be careful about applying for new credit cards or personal loans before applying for a HELOC, second mortgage, automobile loan, or other large line of credit.

Surprise: Closing existing credit lines may also hurt your credit score, since it’ll damage your debt-to-available-credit ratio. A good rule is not to make any credit changes in the months leading up to a major credit request, such as for a HELOC.

Consolidating credit lines will help your credit score

Mostly false. Although it may seem like a good idea to move all your balances to one card, that can actually hurt your credit score, since your debt-to-available-credit ratio will spike on that card, says Weston.

However, credit expert Harrine Freeman says such a slight decline isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for a loan, especially if the card has a lower interest rate and will allow you to pay off the balance sooner. Your score will increase as soon as that ratio goes down.

Changing jobs can hurt your credit score

Partly true. Taking a new job or losing your job doesn’t affect your credit score. However, if you have a spotty employment history, lenders may hold that against you in making a loan. Dips in income may signal that it could be difficult to pay bills in a timely manner.

Co-signing for others can hurt your credit score

Partly true. Simply co-signing on a loan for someone else may not affect your score, but if that person is late on paying the loan, it’s likely to show up on your report, says Freeman. And that’s a nasty surprise if you didn’t know the person was late.

Judgments and liens aren’t considered in your credit score

False. If you’ve had a judgment or lien filed against you, it’s considered in your payment history, which represents 35% of your score.

Similarly, while most utility companies don’t report payment history to credit bureaus, your account will likely be reported if it is seriously delinquent and referred to a collection agency.

Additional details on how to manage your FICO score are available on the FICO site.

Gwen Moran is a freelance business and finance writer from the Jersey shore. She’s the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans and writes frequently about real estate.