In 2010 South Carolina was declared one of the 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, “hardest hit” by the recession and the housing market crash.
With that designation came a share of $7.6 billion in federal aid to help people avoid foreclosure — a fund that as of Dec. 31 had helped 10,373 South Carolina residents and their families. The Palmetto State’s initial funding of nearly $295 million has not been exhausted, and the federal government recently announced additional funding and extended the deadline to spend it all.
This program has clearly been underutilized by South Carolina homeowners, so hopefully the extra time and additional $22 million that the SC HELP program is slated to receive will translate to more people being helped.
Imagine that you lose your job, burn through your savings and eventually fall behind on mortgage payments. SC HELP could get the mortgage payments up to date (as it has for most successful applicants) and even help pay the mortgage while you get back on your feet (as it has for roughly four out of 10 successful applicants).
I know from talking with applicants, both successful and unsuccessful, that there’s plenty of red tape and paper-shuffling involved in getting assistance from SC HELP. Of the program’s 24,443 applicants, 20 percent withdrew or did not finish the process, and 35 percent were denied assistance.
But for those who make it to the goal line, SC HELP can provide life-changing financial assistance.
The program offers up to $36,000 in aid to homeowners who have fallen behind on mortgage payments, or expect to, for a variety of reasons. Acceptable causes include: unemployment, underemployment, a sharp reduction in self-employment income, a divorce, death of a spouse, medical bills, or the October 2015 floods.
The program has no income limit for applicants, but the home involved must be the applicant’s residence. The original mortgage loan amount must be less than $729,751.
To learn more or apply, go online to schelp.gov or call 855-435-7472.
From a public policy standpoint, it would be easy to take some shots at this program, because it’s taken a painfully long time to help many of the intended recipients and the application process is burdensome. Then again, some of the nation’s largest banks have been fined or sued for the way they’ve handled mortgage assistance programs, so it’s not clear the government is doing any worse than the private sector on foreclosure avoidance.
Speaking of banks not helping people, homeowners are prevented from receiving assistance from SC HELP if the bank or finance company that services their mortgage has declined to participate. So, if any of these institutions is your mortgage loan servicer, you can’t get assistance from SC HELP: Atlanta Postal Credit Union, Beal Bank (including LNV Corp., LPP Mortgage LTD., and MGC Mortgage, Inc.), CitiFinancial, County Place Mortgage, First National Bank of America, Franklin Credit Management, Oconee Federal Savings and Loan, One Main Financial, and TD Bank (including the old Carolina First). This is not all the banks obviously but enough to show you that the banks have gotten their money, their bailouts, and now they want your home too.
If you think the SC HELP program might be able to assist you, don’t wait until the last minute to ask for help. It can take about roughly five months to get through the process, from filing the application to receiving assistance.
Assistance can include one or more of these types of aid: Funds to catch up on past-due mortgage payments, direct payment of monthly mortgage bills, help obtaining a loan modification, or a grant to help with moving expenses if the home cannot be save from foreclosure.
Program statistics show that in South Carolina, most of the successful applicants received financial assistance and were able to stay in their homes. Fewer than 100 obtained loan modifications through the program.
As of Dec. 31, nearly $160 million in assistance was provided to South Carolina residents, including 1,531 in the tri-county area. The majority of recipients were women, and most had suffered a job loss and fallen behind on mortgage payments.