How to Navigate Your Post-Foreclosure Financial Life

red foreclosure signOnce you lose your home in foreclosure, the logic goes, you are kicked to the curb financially. Popular wisdom says that nobody will lend you a dime, let you co-sign on your son's college loan, finance a new car or issue you a new credit card. And certainly nobody will again loan you money to buy another house. Well, let's bust that myth today.

While the typical FHA and Freddie Mac-backed loans can take 48 months or longer to forgive you your financial indiscretions, Michigan loan broker Jeff Tufford of Monarch Mortgage Consulting just got Greg Bailey a 4.5% 30-year fixed rate loan on a new home in Fenton, Mich. just 18 months after Bailey lost his house in a foreclosure.Bailey, a master plumber, had had solid credit before his foreclosure and had mitigating circumstances for falling behind in his payments: His wife got the house in their divorce and although his name was still on the loan, he said he was unaware that she had fallen behind in making payments. Bailey, 42, kept up with all his bills, made all his payments on time, and he continued to hold his job. He was able to restore his credit rating quickly to the magic number of 620. At 620, you get to play ball again. It was that simple. He bought a new house for $85,000 and was able to get a 30-year fixed-rate loan at 4.5% interest for $93,000 that rolled all the closing costs into it.

Greg Bailey in front of his new houseWhile Bailey's case indeed happened, it is clearly the exception, not the rule.

Laurie Giles, attorney and author of the "What Now?" series of financial guides, says that even up to a year ago, a foreclosure was a financial black eye that didn't heal for up to seven years. Now, she says, things are different. Mitigating factors -- the loss of a job, a death in the family, divorce -- in the foreclosure are looked at, as is how the borrower has handled his money post-foreclosure.

"The market simply has had to respond differently because of the sheer number of people in this situation," Giles said. "There is just no way it can hurt for seven years."

The key, she said, is convincing lenders that you didn't just cavalierly walk away from your mortgage obligation, and that you have rebuilt your finances in a responsible way: saving up, living within your means, paying bills on time.

But don't kid yourself: Life post-foreclosure can mean life without credit. Foreclosure affects everything. You likely can't even rent a car unless you pay cash. It impacts your auto insurance (you will pay a higher rate), and may even be a red flag to potential employers who check your credit.

Giles suggests that people in the foreclosure pipeline keep current on their credit cards. You won't be able to open a new credit card account once you foreclose, but you can keep the ones you have -- assuming you aren't overextended there too.

Forget getting a car loan -- auto loans generally require a higher credit score than mortgage loans -- and you won't likely be putting away any major appliances on lay-away at Sears. If your child is looking for a government-backed college loan, your foreclosure could easily get in the way.

None of this comes as news to Los Angeles film-maker Kenny Golde. He lost his home in foreclosure last April, after three attempted loan modifications. He had owned it for five years. He managed to pay off his $200,000 in credit card debt and is now renting a home. His credit score plummeted but he already owned his car and hasn't had to try and use his credit score for anything since the foreclosure.

The biggest lesson he says he learned was how to "let go of the emotional side of financial troubles -- the fear, stress, guilt and shame that comes from missing credit card payments or losing a home."

He turned the experience into a book called The Do-It-Yourself Bailout, and now coaches others on how to move past the experience emotionally.

Jason Biro, founder of Saving Your American Dream, a group that provides counseling and aid to those suffering from housing hardships, adds this idea to the mix for those who are navigating the post-foreclosure waters.

"Consider a lease purchase," he said. A lease purchase is a contract that includes the option of buying the home you are renting at a later date at a predetermined agreed-upon price. Each month, a portion of your rent is applied toward the sale price.

Another option is to find a seller willing to hold a loan for you when the banks won't. An uphill quest, for sure, but remember that most sellers today are eager to move on just as much as you are. You might find one more sympathetic than the institutional lender -- and at least you can plead your case that you've financially reformed to someone without hours on hold.
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