What you should do if you can't make the mortgage payment

Your mortgage payment re-set to a higher interest rate and you can't afford the new payment. Or you lost your job and can't pay the mortgage. Or you're facing surgery and don't know how you'll have enough money to pay the mortgage. These are the three most common reasons people can't pay their mortgage, and your reason may be even different.

Whatever the reason, when you know you no longer can afford your mortgage payments, don't go hide in the closet. The best thing you can do is to call your mortgage servicer (whether it's the bank you first took the loan through or a new bank that is now collecting the payments) and let them know you have a problem and what the problem is. Many loan servicers will tell you they can't do anything for you until you miss at least two payments or are more than 60 days late. If you can't get help from your mortgage service, don't give up seeking help.

Your next call should be the the Center for Foreclosure Solutions at 888-495 HOPE (4873). This hotline handled more than 50,000 calls in the third quarter of 2007, so you're not alone. The center is a collaboration of housing counselors, mortgage servicers, investors and other mortgage participants.

If you have trouble getting through or don't find the help want, you should then call a HUD approved Housing Counseling Agency at 800-569-4287. If you prefer, you can find one near you using the HUD website.

You may find that you don't even want to open the mail you receive from your lender. Well don't give in to that temptation. The first notices you will receive will be critical information about how to prevent foreclosure. Later notices will focus on pending legal action. Failure to open the letters will not give you a defense in court.

Pull out your loan documents and read them to find out what they say regarding missing your payments and the actions your lender will take. You also may want to contact your state government housing office to find out what the foreclosure laws are for your state. Every state has different laws.

Remember, after the basics of life -- food and health care -- keeping your house should be your first priority. Too often I've seen stories of people who made their minimum payments on credit cards, so they wouldn't be closed, and skipped their mortgage payments. Remember, credit card debt is not secured against your home, but your mortgage is. Your mortgage payment should always be a higher priority than your credit card debt.

Think about assets you may have that you may be able to sell, or possibly a second job you can take. Let your lender know that you are willing to make sacrifices to keep your house. A lender is more willing to come up with a modification of your loan package if they know you're serious about making it work.

Don't seek the easy way out by paying fees to a foreclosure prevention company. An authorized HUD counselor will provide those services for free if you call them. Also, don't sign any document appointing a firm to represent you and act on your behalf. These people are scam artists. You will be signing over your title to your property and becoming a renter in your house.

Lita Epstein has written more than 20 books including "The 250 Questions You Should Ask to Avoid Foreclosure."

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