Perhaps you're among the many people who have bought a house this year, settling in with relief now that the stress of the home buying process is behind you. You may be short - very short - of cash, but you have enough income to pay the mortgage.
That's a dangerous position to be in, the Mortgage Bankers Association says. If something goes wrong with the house, you'll be in trouble if you have no reserves to pay the hefty freight that such repairs generally cost."Mechanical failures in the plumbing, electrical and heating systems seem to occur at the worst possible times," MBA says. "Planning for unexpected situations as well as the routine costs of owning a home can help consumers avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy when emergencies arise."
Paul Reid, executive vice president of the MBA, says that while unanticipated expenses can cause problems, "More people lose their homes because of illness, loss of employment or marital problems than all other reasons combined."
MBA, a trade group, has put together a brochure with advice on handling a mortgage and related housing costs and what to do if you fall behind.
For a free copy of "How to Manage Your Mortgage Obligations," send a business-sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Consumer Affairs, Mortgage Bankers Association, P.O. Box 65299, Washington, DC 20035.
A lot of people could have used that brochure earlier this year. MBA figures show that mortgage delinquencies rose during the first quarter this year - 4.47 percent of mortgage holders were anywhere from 30 to 90 days late on payments. That means that more than 1 million homeowners - 1,037,812 - were behind in mortgage payments during the first quarter.
These figures are considered moderate, Reid said. "Much of this quarter's increase can be attributed to the upward interest rate adjustments on ARMs (and) the record level of personal bankruptcies, which has most likely kept loans in the delinquency and foreclosure process categories."
Another factor, he said, is that people with poor credit records who bought houses - a category known as "subprime" loans - account for an increasing share of the market.
The subprime category of mortgages is indeed growing fast. Countrywide, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, has jumped into the field with what it calls credit repair mortgages for people who have screwed up their credit ratings.
Here's how it works: You get a subprime (read: "expensive") mortgage with a fixed interest rate for two or three years. At the end of that period, if you have repaired your credit rating, you can convert to a regular mortgage at a lower interest rate. If you are still in credit purgatory, you can keep the mortgage you have but it converts to an adjustable rate.
"Homeowners or prospective buyers who have reached the maximum limit on their credit cards or whose mortgage payments have been late will benefit greatly from this new loan program," Countrywide says.
The loans are sold through a Countrywide subsidiary, Full Spectrum Lending. Information is available toll-free at 1-800-940-0640.
Going on vacation? Here are tips from the Florida Association of Realtors to keep the robbers at bay:
- Install timers on interior lights so they will turn on and off periodically. Most timers cost less than $20. Also, consider leaving a radio on and tuned to an all-news or talk-show station.
-- Discontinue newspaper delivery, ask the post office to hold your mail and get a neighbor to pick up any free papers or fliers left near your house.
- Leave a car in the driveway. If that's not possible, ask a friend to park his car there periodically. If your neighborhood has a crime-watch program, notify the captain of your travel plans.
- If you have an alarm that is monitored, tell the alarm company you will be away. If possible, provide a phone number where you can be reached.
- If you'll be away two weeks or more, get a lawn service, or a friend, to mow your grass.