Got tax questions? Keep Your Home California has some answers, but refers most to professional tax preparers

It’s beginning to feel like crunch time.

You’ve seen the ads for H&R Block and TurboTax, the documents have arrived in the mail and the calendar flips just a little faster this time of the year.

Welcome to tax season. When Uncle Sam becomes either your favorite family member – or a money-grabbing relative. Tax Day (April 17) is right around the corner.

It’s also when many soon-to-be tax-filing homeowners begin calling, emailing and even posting on social media tax-related questions to Keep Your Home California. Our counselors know a lot about the free mortgage-assistance program, but not nearly as much when it comes to taxes.

We let professionals – accountants, tax preparers or even software – handle tax-related questions. It’s our policy and the law. Only tax professionals, folks who have completed numbers-crunching courses and feast on figures, are allowed to provide tax advice.

However, the Keep Your Home California website’s Frequently Asked Questions page provides information on several of the most-asked tax-related questions from homeowners who have received assistance from the program:

The most frequent question among homeowners can also be found on the FAQ page: Do I have to pay taxes on the benefits assistance received from Keep Your Home California?

We’ll save you from the suspense – consult a tax professional.

The section on tax is near the bottom of the FAQ page. You can also search the FAQ page for “1098-MA Tax Statement,” which will take your cursor to the section.

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It’s a drag that we cannot answer tax-related questions and help homeowners, but we are experts on mortgages – and saving your home. We leave taxes to professionals. Additional information is also available from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

If you are more comfortable in another language, the entire Keep Your Home California website – including the FAQ page with the tax-related questions – can be translated into virtually any language through Google Translate. Just go to the homepage and click on “Select Language” in the upper right corner.

Also, Conserva Tu Casa California offers the entire Keep Your Home California website in Spanish.

If you have questions about Keep Your Home California, please call the counseling center at 888-954-5337 or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Got an adjustable-rate mortgage with a hard-to-make payment? Keep Your Home California and your mortgage servicer could help – and likely save you money

Adjustable-rate mortgages are so 2008. You know, when the housing boom went bust, leading to more than 1.1 million California households to enter foreclosure.

But guess what? As many as 10% of California homeowners still have adjustable-rate mortgages, according to industry experts.

Now, adjustable-rate mortgages aren’t necessarily bad financial tools. They allow some home-shoppers to qualify for loans and become homeowners, and much-tougher regulations have reduced their risk and volatility in recent years.

But when adjustable-rate mortgages were coupled with subprime mortgages – higher-risk, lower lending standard loans – during the housing boom, they created some major trouble. In fact, about 90% of subprime mortgages were adjustable-rate loans in 2006, compared to a historic average of only 8%, according to mortgage experts.

The combination created a hard-to-imagine and impossible-to-maintain situation. It was like bloated water balloons being tossed higher and higher, they were eventually bound to burst when they hit your hands.

And they did for many homeowners, as payments increased as part of the mortgage meltdown.

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Still, tens of thousands of homeowners in California are paying and struggling with adjustable-rate mortgages from the mid- to late-2000s. In many cases, these homeowners are not able to refinance their homes for a fixed-rate mortgage, due to a recent financial hardship.

Perhaps their income declined, they’ve been faced with unexpected medical bills, their monthly payment has increased and made the mortgage unaffordable, or they have an underwater mortgage.

Despite the predicament, help is available to qualifying homeowners. If the servicer participates in Keep Your Home California, homeowners may qualify for free-assistance from the program.

The Principal Reduction Program offers as much as $100,000 in principal reduction and often lowers the monthly mortgage payment for qualifying homeowners. If a homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment has become unaffordable due to an adjustable rate mortgage payment resetting to a higher amount, that homeowner could qualify for Principal Reduction Program assistance to bring the payment back down to an affordable level. In some cases, servicers will couple the Keep Your Home California assistance with a servicer-provided loan modification to change the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate.

Rather than the roller coaster-like ride of adjustable-rate mortgages, which follow interest rates, fixed-rate loans offer the same monthly payment. Then, homeowners know what to expect and can plan their spending, while hopefully socking away some dollars in savings.

Homeowners that have an adjustable-rate mortgage and have suffered a financial hardship should consider Keep Your Home California.

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On the Participating Servicers webpage, all servicers that have signed up for the program are listed and you can see which offer modifications with the assistance. More than 250 servicers, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank and U.S. Bank, participate in Keep Your Home California.

In order to apply for the state-managed program, homeowners must have a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family, or extraordinary medical expenses.  Homeowners must also meet county-by-county income limits. Severe negative equity is considered a financial hardship under the Principal Reduction Program.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337), visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org, or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers.

The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language.


Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program now helps homeowners catch-up on past-due mortgage payments

Losing a job and looking for work is tough. Just ask anyone who has gone through the experience.

Searching for job openings online, sending out resumes – in some cases drafting cover letters – and going to interviews is often more difficult and time-consuming than a full-time gig.

Keep Your Home California continues to expand to make the experience for job-seekers who own homes much easier, more helpful and less stressful. The free mortgage-assistance program provides assistance to out-of-work homeowners so they can focus on the job search and not worry about their monthly mortgage payments.

To more effectively help homeowners, Keep Your Home California recently made some changes to the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. The program now allows homeowners to get as much as 18 months or a total of $54,000 in financial assistance, whichever comes first. The move opens the door to the program for homeowners with mortgage payments of more than $3,000, the previous limit.

For example, jobless homeowners with a $3,600 monthly mortgage payment could get up to 15 months of assistance from the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance. A larger payment over less time, but still not exceeding the $54,000 limit.

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Keep Your Home California has also adopted in recent weeks another major change to the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program – the state-managed program can now help homeowners catch-up on past-due mortgage payments, a rather common challenge for many households looking for work.

Another example: An out-of-work homeowner has a monthly mortgage payment of $4,000, but gets behind by three months as he looks for work. Under the new changes, Keep Your Home California will help the homeowner “catch-up” on those past-due payments of $12,000 and cover the monthly payment of $4,000 – again up to a maximum of $54,000. Under this scenario, Keep Your Home California can help the homeowner for as long as 10 months.

Homeowners can qualify for Keep Your Home California’s Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program if they are eligible for unemployment benefits from the state Employment Development Department – or they have received jobless benefits within the past 60 days.

Even if a homeowner’s EDD benefits have already expired, as long as it was less than 60 days ago, they can still qualify for assistance.

Before homeowners can receive assistance from Keep Your Home California, they must meet the core requirements, including a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses.

They must also meet county-by-county income requirements and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – needs to participate in Keep Your Home California. A vast majority of mortgage servicers, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, participate in the federally funded program.

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Keep Your Home California has issued almost $1.9 billion – or about 90% of the funding allocated for the program – to 78,000 households across the state.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language through a free translation service.

Feature photo by ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.


Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program to stop accepting applications Nov. 30

Keep Your Home California will soon close its Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program, a program that helps senior homeowners with a reverse mortgage catch-up on past-due property-related expenses, such as property tax or homeowners’ insurance, in order to avoid possible foreclosures.

Applications for the free mortgage-assistance program must be received by 6 p.m. Thursday, November 30, 2017. Homeowners who have a reverse mortgage and are at-risk of foreclosure should contact their reverse mortgage servicer to apply or receive more information about the program. A complete list of reverse mortgage servicers who participate in the program and their contact information can be found on the website at the following link: http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/reverse-mortgage-assistance-program/.

The reason behind the end of the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program is rather simple – the funds allocated for the pilot program will run out by the end of November 2017. The program has helped approximately 700 households and issued more than $9 million in assistance.

Keep Your Home California allocated $10 million for the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program. During the next few weeks, between homeowners approved and awaiting funding and applications that are submitted before the deadline, the program will exceed the $10 million limit.

Keep Your Home California launched the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program in February 2015 as a way to help senior homeowners with a reverse mortgage dealing with a financial hardship, such as a reduction in household income, extraordinary medical expenses or even the loss of a spouse.

“It saved our lives,” Joanne H. says of the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program.

Joanne, who lives in Central California, had to close her business and pursued a reverse mortgage to help pay off bills. But she and her husband got behind on their property-related expenses and faced the possibility of losing their home.

“The weight it took off … you just don’t know. We were going to lose our home,” she said

Low- to moderate-income homeowners can receive as much as $25,000 in assistance under the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program. Homeowners must meet county-by-county income limits – from about $84,000 in rural counties to more than $160,000 in the Bay Area.

The mortgage servicer must also participate in the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program. Fourteen servicers – including Champion, Financial Freedom, James B. Nutter and Sunwest – participate in the program.

Keep Your Home California’s four first-mortgage programs – Unemployment Mortgage Assistance, Principal Reduction, Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance and Transition Assistance – will continue to accept applications and issue funding after November 30, 2017.

While the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program is the first of the five programs to end, Keep Your Home California is entering the final stretch of the program, and homeowners are encouraged to apply as soon as possible for the four remaining programs. Keep Your Home California has assisted more than 77,000 homeowners since February 2011, with about $1.9 billion issued.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for Keep Your Home California should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) and visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language.

 


Keep Your Home California’s $3 billion economic effect is helping homeowners, small-business owners, local government

From the smallest cities like Albany and Weed to the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area, Keep Your Home California has had a tremendous economic effect.

All Californians – from homeowners faced with a financial hardship to small-business owners and even state government – have benefited from the free mortgage-assistance program that has helped more than 76,500 homeowners since inception, according to an updated economic impact report that analyzed program funding data from 2010 through 2016.

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Keep Your Home California issued $1.5 billion in assistance to homeowners during that six-year period, preserving an estimated $3 billion in economic activity, according to The Economic Impact of Keep Your Home California: A Statewide and Regional Analysis report from Dr. Joseph C. Von Nessen of the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. In other words, for every $1 of assistance provided, $2 of economic activity was preserved.

Keep Your Home California was fully implemented in early 2011, at a time when many homeowners were dealing with foreclosures and almost all homeowners were faced with a significant drop in the value of their homes. When the program started, more than 2 million Californians were jobless, including hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

But the program has proven extremely effective in many ways, from assisting homeowners to protecting private- and public-sector revenues.

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“A strong and vibrant housing market is a critical component of any healthy economy,” Dr. Von Nessen said. “Housing is not only one of the largest sectors of the economy, but individuals who live in stable housing environments also experience many economic and social benefits.”

The state-managed program’s $3 billion economic impact includes preserving $1.4 billion in property value, saving 9,800 jobs and $536 million in labor income, and protecting $98.7 million in tax revenue.

How does the program help preserve, protect and save?

Well, for example, preserving property values also protects property tax revenue for local government agencies, from cities and counties to school districts, and the state as well. If housing values decline, assessed property values follow – and government revenue slides.

Another example: Keep Your Home California can cover jobless homeowners’ mortgage payments, help them catch up on missed payments or even lower principal – and often reduce the monthly payments. The assistance allows homeowners to pay for goods and services, from necessities like clothing and food to health and home insurance premiums (note that many out-of-work homeowners are required to pay for their own health insurance).

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Keep Your Home California has helped homeowners throughout the state, from large cities to small towns. In fact, midsize cities – Stockton, Fontana and Moreno Valley – cracked the top 15 for those most helped by the program.

Corona finished at No. 15, with an economic impact of $30.6 million – a nice figure for a city of 166,000 residents. That means every Corona resident benefited with $184 from Keep Your Home California, regardless of whether they were approved for the program or not.

Los Angeles has enjoyed an economic impact of $180 million from the program, the most in the state and twice as much as second-place San Diego at $90 million. Wherever you live in the state — from Calexico to Crescent City, Tiburon to Truckee – Keep Your Home California has helped your economy and homeowners.

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The program will continue to assist homeowners as long as funding remains available, but consumers are encouraged to apply as soon as possible since Keep Your Home California is entering its final stretch.

In order to apply for Keep Your Home California, homeowners must have a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses. In some cases, negative equity – also known as an underwater mortgage – or an unaffordable mortgage, or both, are considered a financial hardship under the Principal Reduction Program.

In addition to the financial hardship, homeowners must meet county-by-county income limits and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – needs to participate in Keep Your Home California. More than 260 servicers, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank and U.S. Bank, participate in the program.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language.


Major changes will help open the door for more homeowners to qualify for Keep Your Home California

 Keep Your Home California is always looking to improve its free mortgage-assistance program to better help homeowners, from folks dealing with an unaffordable mortgage payment to those looking for work.

Quite often it’s a minor change, a simple tweak that will affect few applicants and homeowners.

But sometimes, the changes deserve a bit more attention – including a blog post — and will help many homeowners, like those the program has recently implemented.

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The most notable changes are with the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. Keep Your Home California’s most popular program covers the monthly mortgage payment for out-of-work homeowners eligible for unemployment benefits from the state Employment Development Department.

Keep Your Home California eliminated the $3,000 monthly mortgage payment limit connected to the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. The program will now cover mortgage payments for qualifying homeowners – regardless of the amount – for as long as 18 months or a total of $54,000, whichever comes first.

For example, out-of-work homeowners with a $3,600 monthly mortgage payment could get up to 15 months of assistance from the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program.

The change will help homeowners with larger mortgage payments who previously would not have qualified and still ensures that all homeowners have the same amount of assistance (up to $54,000) available to them.

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A couple of other changes will also affect the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. Homeowners can be eligible for the program if they received unemployment benefits from the EDD within the previous 60 days, double the current 30-day limit.

Even if a homeowner’s EDD benefits have already expired, as long as it was less than 60 days ago, they can still qualify for assistance. This change should give jobless homeowners more time to apply for the program, especially if their unemployment benefits are ending.

Other changes to Keep Your Home California:

  • Homeowners can now apply for and tap into the Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program multiple times, if necessary. The Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program helps homeowners catch-up on their past-due mortgage payments, up to a total of $54,000. For example, homeowners could get $5,000 to catch-up on their past-due payments, then later another $15,000 – but they cannot exceed a total of $54,000. However, homeowners must apply each time for the Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program and have a new hardship.
  • Severe negative equity under the Principal Reduction Program will decline to a loan-to-value ratio of 115% from the previous 120%. Again, this will allow more homeowners to be eligible and get much-needed help from the program.
  • Homeowners with interest-only loans are now eligible for assistance from the Principal Reduction Program. The monthly mortgage payment must be affordable, per program guidelines, once it converts to a fully amortized loan, in order for homeowners with interest-only loans to qualify. Previously, interest-only loans were ineligible for Principal Reduction program consideration.
  • Keep Your Home California has increased the current mortgage balance for the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Program, from $625,000 to $750,000. The program offers as much as $25,000 to help seniors who are behind on their property-related expenses, such as their property taxes or insurance.

All of the changes are designed to help more homeowners qualify for the mortgage-assistance program. However, before homeowners can apply for Keep Your Home California, they must meet the core requirements, including a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses.

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In addition to the financial hardship, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – needs to participate in Keep Your Home California.

Keep Your Home California has issued over $1.8 billion – or about 85% of the funding allocated for the program – to 76,000 households across the state.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language through a free translation service.

 


Homeowners can benefit from multiple programs with Keep Your Home California

Sometimes bad luck can hit more than once. A cut in pay, job loss, divorce, or extraordinary medical expenses from a serious health issue, can occasionally come in waves.

Just ask anyone who has lived more than a couple of decades. Life is indeed a comedy – and a tragedy.

And, when life’s challenges make for rough waters, Keep Your Home California wants to provide a safe harbor.

The free mortgage-assistance program was designed to help homeowners who are having difficulty paying their mortgages due to financial hardships – multiple times, if needed.

In fact, about one of every six homeowners approved for Keep Your Home California has used the federally funded program at least twice.

Now, homeowners must meet eligibility requirements each time they apply for the program – a financial hardship, county-by-county income limits and their mortgage servicer must participate in Keep Your Home California. They also cannot exceed a lifetime cap of $100,000 in financial assistance under the state-managed program.

But many homeowners approved for the program can apply for more help down the road.

The best – and the most common – example is out-of-work homeowners who can tap twice (or more) into the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program offers homeowners as much as 18 months or $54,000 in mortgage assistance, whichever comes first.

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When qualifying jobless homeowners are approved for the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, their mortgage payments are covered while they look for work. Many homeowners may find another job in a matter of a few months, allowing them to leave the program with many months and thousands of dollars still available.

If they involuntarily lose their new job, the homeowner can reapply for Keep Your Home California and the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. About 7,000, or almost 10%, of homeowners approved for Keep Your Home California have received assistance from the unemployment program at least twice.

Homeowners can also apply for assistance from other programs, though not at the same time. For example, let’s say the out-of-work homeowner had a monthly mortgage payment of $2,500 and used the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program for six months – or a total of $15,000.

If the homeowner has a new job, but his pay dropped with the new position, he may be able to apply for the Principal Reduction Program, which offers up to $100,000 in mortgage assistance. The program cuts the outstanding principal balance, which often results in the monthly mortgage payments going down, to establish an affordable mortgage for the homeowner.

Under the scenario, the homeowner could receive as much as $85,000 from the Principal Reduction Program (remember they already benefited with $15,000 from the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program). The maximum amount each homeowner could receive from Keep Your Home California is $100,000.

Of course, homeowners can combine other programs, including the Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program, which offers as much as $54,000 to help homeowners catch-up on their past-due mortgage payments. Whether or not a homeowner will ultimately qualify for more than one Keep Your Home California will depend on the homeowner’s circumstances, particularly, whether they have suffered a subsequent financial hardship that has affected their ability to pay their mortgage.

Before homeowners can apply for Keep Your Home California, they must meet eligibility requirements, including a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses.

In addition, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – needs to participate in Keep Your Home California.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language through a free translation service.