Lenders starting to run after 'walkaway' homeowners

Banks chasing walkaway defaultersIt's a variation of "you can run, but you can't hide," in the case of underwater homeowners (those whose homes are now worth less than the remaining mortgage). In increasing numbers, according to reports, people are simply walking away from their homes. Now banks and other lending institutions are starting to run after them.

According to theDetroit Free Press, more and more lenders are either hiring collection agencies or "getting deficiency judgments -- court orders that allow banks to collect on mortgage balances."

And that is bad news for the walkaway ex-homeowner. Such a court order would allow the bank to do everything from garnishing wages to grabbing any tax refund he might be expecting.

It gets worse, too.

If you walk away from your home, you are still responsible for taxes on it. At the moment, many banks are actually paying off that bill because they want to head off a tax foreclosure situation. But once they catch their breath, guess who the lenders will go after to recoup those payments made on your behalf?

Yep. You.

Florida real estate attorney Larry Tolchinsky tells CNN.com: "Banks are pulling credit reports to see if it's a strategic default. If you're behind on all your other payments, you're okay. But if you're not, they'll come after you."

As one Web site that helps provide homeowners with foreclosure news points out, the extent that a lender can go after you when you walk away from your home depends, to some degree, on the laws of the state you reside in. So it is important you check this out if you are giving serious thought to walking away from your underwater property. Complicating matters, the site also points out, is whether you have a second mortgage on the property. You need to take all that into your calculations when it comes to any future liability.

None of this, of course, deals with the larger ethical question: Whether, under any circumstances, it is okay to walk away from a property you still owe money to lenders on? That debate has been intensifying in recent months as more distressed homeowners are taking that option.

But if you have settled this ethical issue in your own mind and with your family, and have decided to go ahead and toss those keys back to the bank, you really do need to be keenly aware that the banks are apparently starting to fight back and your money concerns may not come to an end just because you closed that door and walked away.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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