Cassandra Hubbart, AOL Daily Finance
Everyone has things they want to improve about their financial lives -- even those of us who are paid to write and think about money on a daily basis. To that end, some of the editors at AOL and Daily Finance have shared their financial goals for 2013. In return, I reached out to some experts for tips that can help these folks – and everyone who has a similar resolution – step-by-step their way toward making these goals reality.

Cassandra Hubbart, photo editor for AOL Money and Finance, says she and her husband need to refinance a large underwater mortgage on their old home, which they are now renting out.

"Four years ago, my husband and I were driving 50 miles to work every day ... with a baby crying in the back of our car for the duration of the trip," says Cassandra. "We needed to move for our sanity, so we bought a new home. But the value of the property we left behind was over $100,000 less then it had been when we purchased it."

Unable to sell, they found a reliable family to rent to, but the rent they felt they could reasonably charge was less than the mortgage payment. And, since the home was a rental, the refinance rates they could qualify for were less than desirable for many years. But now, rates are rock bottom, and they want to take action. "It would be a huge relief to refinance," she says.

Here's what Jean advises:

Step 1: Contact your mortgage servicer. According to HSH.com mortgage expert Keith Gumbinger, this should be your first point of contact, because they can tell you whether or not you're eligible for HARP or HAMP, the government programs that can help you refinance that underwater mortgage or modify your payments. Only mortgages backed by Fannie and Freddie qualify for these programs.

Step 2: If your loan is not backed by Fannie or Freddie, you're not out of options. "Some lenders, but certainly not all," Gumbinger says, "have private programs where they can talk to you on a one-off basis. They might not have a blanket program. They may have a modification, a more or less formal modification [they can make] available to you." Again, your servicer is the place to get these answers.

Step 3: If you're insistent on getting that refinance, start by adjusting your expectations. "Refinancing is a different thing entirely, because you're asking the investor who holds the loan to take a hit," Gumbinger says of private lenders. "A delicate negotiation could occur. You can certainly inquire."

Step 4: In the event you fail to secure a modification or refinance using steps one through three, your next (and, aside from walking away from the property, only) option is to pay down the loan so it's no longer underwater. One way to help fund this move? Increase the rent you're charging your tenants.

Coming Friday: An AOL Jobs Editor Wants to Cut Back on Everyday Money Wasters

Or, read the previous article in the series: Her Financial Goal: Cutting Back on an Online Shopping Habit



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