Modifying a mortgage? Don't pay a fee

Loan modification, reverse mortgages, first-time homebuyers tax credit, Gerri Willis answers your mortgage questions.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- Question 1. My husband went to company who claims they work with the mortgage company and negotiate on your behalf "for a fee." They claim we as homeowners cannot do this on our own. Now I am beginning to think we made a very big mistake. -- Worried in Florida

Unfortunately, it sounds like you've been conned.

First of all, if you need to modify your mortgage or you're having trouble making your monthly payments, your first phone call should be to your lender. These days lenders are instituting their own modification programs for troubled borrowers. You should not pay a "fee" to any company that says it can negotiate with your mortgage company.

My advice: call your lender and explain your situation.

The government also has its own mortgage modification program that lenders are signing onto. For information go to In the meantime, report the company that you've been using to your local Better Business Bureau and give a call to your local state Attorney General. .

Question 2. Can you give me the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage? I am 62 years old and wondering if this is good to do. -- Marlene

A reverse mortgage is a loan where your home equity is converted into cash that you receive either as a lump sum, a monthly payment or line of credit.

The loan doesn't need to be repaid if you continue to live in the home. But if you move, the debt must be repaid - with interest.

If you die, your heirs can elect to sell the house to repay the loan.

Reverse mortgages are most beneficial if you own your home or have a small amount left to pay on the original mortgage.

Reverse mortgages are also best for people who want to remain in their home for the long term. If you're looking to move in two or three years, a reverse mortgage may not be right for you.

One of the biggest downsides of a reverse mortgage: fees can be high. You are required to get counseling before buying this product. Contact the Housing Counseling Clearinghouse at 800-569-4287 to find a lender in your area. Or go to for a more comprehensive look at these products.

Question 3. I filed my 2008 taxes in February and was told I was not eligible for the first time homebuyers tax credit because the program began on April 10th 2008. I had closed on my home in mid-March. Is there any way that I can still receive the tax credit? -- Brian, New Jersey

Sadly, you won't be able to get this credit.

You can claim this credit only if you bought your home between April 8th of last year through January of 2010.

There are other caveats too. For example, to claim this credit you have to be a first-time homebuyer -- meaning you can't have owned a principle property in the three years leading up to the purchase.

And there are income limits too. $75,000 for single tax filers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. For more information, go to  To top of page

Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send an e-mail,we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and
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