Spending down debt: You are afraid of losing your home

This is part of our series on strategies you can adopt to free yourself from burdensome debt.

What should you do if you can't pay the mortgage? You're not alone. Right now that's happening to more than a million people.

People get in trouble financially for many different reasons. Your interest rate may be set to go higher 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 if you'll have enough money to pay the mortgage. These are the three most common reasons people give for not being able to make mortgage payments, but your reason may be different.

Whatever the reason, when you know you no longer can afford your mortgage payments, don't go hide in the closet. The first thing you should do is 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 servicer, don't give up seeking help and don't wait until you've missed two payments. Start working on finding a solution as soon as possible.

Today you've got lots of options for assistance. Four excellent resources include:

* The Center for Foreclosure Solutions at 888-995 HOPE (4873). The center is a collaboration of housing counselors, mortgage servicers, investors and other mortgage participants.

* If you can't get help through them, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America is another good place to seek help. They even have a 30-year mortgage program you may be able to use to get out of a higher interest rate mortgage.

* Another good resource is the Homeowner Crisis Resource Center, which is run by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, an excellent source for finding help to get out of a debt problem.

* Or you can 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.

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 become 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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