Nudging Obama

Formerly "Obama Watch" Keeping the promise of change

Obama’s Making Homes Affordable Plan has a few flaws

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The Dispatch

Consumer Empowerment Blog

By Gene Ayres, Your Consumer Curmudgeon 

I want to talk about home mortgages because, unless you happen to be a state legislator or congressperson, you probably need one to buy a home these days. Two items were in the news today that both hit home, literally. The first was the news that, while most banks were still struggling (mostly to safely hide their bonus money, no doubt) one was doing just fine: Wells Fargo, which had just announced a $4 billion profit in the first quarter of this year.

Wells Fargo happens to be the carrier of my home mortgage; not, I might add, that I chose them for that role, but rather because they apparently won it in a poker game. In any case, like it or not, this is now my “home mortgage provider” and I suppose I should be happy that they aren’t going to go bankrupt tomorrow and sell my home at a garage sale while I’m out shopping.

The other item in the news was our President announcing, with considerable fanfare, a new Federal program to assist homeowners who might possibly be financially challenged in our new economy called the Making Home Affordable Plan (www.makinghomeaffordable.com). Most of the programs we’ve heard about, and most of the noise about them, have been programs for people who arguably had no business buying a home in the first place, were in the business of “flipping” properties, or took out what are now being called “liars’ loans.” Or maybe were just talked into ARMs that suddenly jumped about five percentage points last year.

What no one had questioned (except perhaps me) was what was being done for people who were making their payments, making them on time, but having an increasingly difficult time making ends meet with the rest of their bills now that their jobs, retirement savings, 401Ks and Roth accounts had gone bye-bye into the deep pockets of the same people on Wall Street now lining up for more. We were the people Obama was promising to assist with this new plan, and since I am carrying a 30-year mortgage at 6.25% and rates were down almost two points, maybe there was finally something in it for me. So I jumped online, went to the site, filled out a questionnaire, and bingo: I qualified!

All I had to do was contact my “home mortgage provider.” The aforementioned Wells Fargo.

Now I know how Wells Fargo made all that money last quarter. They must have saved a fortune by firing everyone who wasn’t an executive and/or was in the business of providing what we so quaintly used to fondly remember as being “customer service.”

First I logged onto the Wells Fargo website. Sure enough, there were lots of promising-looking links to the Federal website, including options to refinance, and another option I liked even better called The Home Affordable Modification Program, ostensibly to assist homeowners in lowering their interest rates and, thus, payments on their current balance, allowing them to put more money elsewhere into the economy. This would seem like a no-brainer, and therein goes the rub.

It seems that Wells Fargo has been dragged to the table kicking and screaming, in regards to the above services, and has no intention, at least at this stage, of actually delivering the goods. Having a good-looking website, it seems, is all that’s really necessary.

But a man’s gotta try. So I tried. First I called the number on my statement, as per instructions. Naturally I got voice mail. After listening to several long speeches about how anybody who was delinquent on payments could expect to be contacted at any minute by a posse of NRA legionnaires, I was given the usual selection of languages, departments, and divisions to contact, and invited to enter my loan number (ten digits), phone number, social security number, and favorite pet’s maiden name (I don’t have a favorite pet). I was then put on hold for ten minutes having made the closest selection available to what I wanted (loan modification not being on the list of options, of course). I was then invited, by a new voice robot, to enter my loan number (ten digits), phone number, social security number, and favorite pet’s maiden name. I was then given a new menu to choose from, which didn’t include loan modification either. After a twenty minute wait, I got yet another robot, asking me (you guessed it) to enter my loan number (ten digits), phone number, social security number, and favorite pet’s maiden name. Then I was disconnected, and had to start over. Eventually, after another forty minutes or so, I got an actual person on the line. At least, I think it was a person. The Bangalore accent still hasn’t been perfected yet by robots, although they are working on it in Silicon Valley with an earmarked grant from the last appropriations bill, I do believe.

Anyway, the Bangalore person was more than happy to help. Just not with my mortgage. She said for that, she would need to transfer me to another department. Nervously, I asked her to give me that number as well, just in case. She was more than happy to do so. Luckily, the transfer went through. Directly to (and I am not making this up) Robot Menu Number One, where I had started out in the first place an hour earlier. Which, after several long speeches about how anybody who was delinquent on payments could expect to be contacted in any minute by a posse of NRA legionnaires, I was given the usual selection of languages, departments, and divisions, and invited to enter my loan number (ten digits), phone number, social security number and favorite pet’s maiden name. I was then put on hold for ten minutes having made a decision to move to Costa Rica and start life over. Instead, I went back online, filled out another form, and was invited to contact a local Wells Fargo loan broker to “assist me with my home mortgage needs.” I can hardly wait…

Gene Ayres is a career writer, author and freelance journalist. His latest book is A Billion to One: An American Insider in the New China. He can be found at: http://www.geneayres.org.

http://blog.consupo.com/2009/4/14/and-you-can-take-that-to-the-bank


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Written by bearmarketnews

April 17, 2009 at 12:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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