Tip: Be prepared for tough questions. At Ocwen, loss mitigation specialists are taught to ask tactfully, Bratcher says. Example: "Is there a way you can reduce some of those auto expenses?"
A counselor at a housing counseling agency might be more direct: "Do you want the Escalade or the house?" Know the answers before the pointed questions are asked.
Be persistent in your quest to talk to the right people at the mortgage companyThis last point could just as easily be the first: Make sure you talk to the people at the mortgage servicing company who can help you.
A mortgage servicer has two platoons of employees who talk with delinquent borrowers. The first is the collections department, which consists of people who try to pry money out of you and get you current on the payments.
The second group consists of the loss mitigation specialists. These departments go by different names, depending on the servicer, including foreclosure prevention, loan resolution and delinquency customer service. We'll use the most common name for the department: loss mitigation, or loss mit.
It can be difficult to get through to the loss mitigation department if collection agents are discouraged from transferring calls. This is one of the benefits of having a helper, such as an attorney or a housing counselor. The first will intimidate bill collectors and the second might have contacts within the loss mit department.
Tip: You'll want to talk to someone in the loss mitigation department. See "Contacting mortgage servicers" for phone numbers of the loss mit departments of major servicers.
Making the callWhen you finally do get through, tell your story, answer the questions about income and expenses, and request an application for forbearance or modification, and say, "I want to know all the things I'm eligible for."
"What they'll get back from the lender is a push to get an agreement then and there," Lewis says. Don't agree to anything immediately. "Otherwise, they may agree to something that they cannot afford," Lewis says. "Fill out an application and let the lender make an offer first," and then consider it for 24 hours. Talk it over with an adviser. Accept the offer if it's a good one; otherwise, make a counteroffer.
Plan to arrive at an agreement, but prepare for the unwelcome news that you'll have to move out. If you turn over the deed in lieu of foreclosure, or agree to a short sale (in which the lender lets you sell the house for less than the mortgage balance), or are forced out in a foreclosure action, you'll need to consult a lawyer and maybe an accountant.
Claes Bell contributed to this report.