Mario Lopez, a new website and record funding highlight Keep Your Home California program in 2013

Keep Your Home California enjoyed a banner year in 2013, with the introduction of a spokesman and a new interactive website — and a record of funds issued by the free mortgage-assistance program.

The state-funded program introduced Mario Lopez as a bilingual spokesman, with ads featuring the Extra host talking about Keep Your Home California on TV and in radio spots. A new round of commercials should appear during the next several weeks.

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Also, Keep Your Home California debuted a new website that allowed homeowners to answer 12 questions to determine if they should apply for the program. The new, easier-to-use website includes homeowner Success Stories and reports and statistics about Keep Your Home California, including county-by-county and program-specific data.

The program also greatly increased its outreach to homeowners and mortgage servicers in 2013. Keep Your Home California added 67 participating servicers last year, with the overall total topping 160 servicers.

And Keep Your Home California representatives attended 142 community events to educate homeowners about the program during the year – or basically about one every two workdays.

The above efforts are all about connecting with homeowners and encouraging more people to apply for the program.

It definitely worked.

Keep Your Home California approved 13,688 homeowners for the program with combined funding of more than $307.3 million in 2013, a dramatic increase from the $201.7 million in 2012.

Much of the boom in funding is connected to the Principal Reduction Program, which increased from $30.3 million in 2012 to more than $125.6 million last year.  Keep Your Home California approved 2,101 homeowners for principal reduction last year, almost four times more than the 563 homeowners in 2012.

The head-turning increase is attributed to some recent changes in the Principal Reduction Program, including a change to program criteria in November, which specified that an underwater mortgage with a 140% or greater loan-to-value ratio was considered a financial hardship.  Homeowners must be able to demonstrate a financial hardship to qualify for each of the four assistance programs, so making this change to the Principal Reduction Program opened the door to a lot more people.

The Principal Reduction Program provides as much as $100,000 in mortgage assistance, a huge benefit for homeowners looking to lower their monthly payments and/or outstanding principal.

The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program also had an increase in funding, with more than $152 million issued to homeowners last year, compared to $143 million in 2012. The program was expanded from nine months to 12 months in 2013.

About 1.54 million Californians were collecting jobless benefits in November, 233,000 fewer than a year earlier, according to the latest Employment Development Department report. Homeowners applying for the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program must be eligible for jobless benefits.

The program provides as much as $3,000 per month for up to 12 months. Of course, if homeowners find jobs, they are removed from the program.

The Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program, which offers as much as $25,000 to help homeowners catch up on their mortgage payments, increased last year to $28.3 million, from $27.8 million in 2012. Keep Your Home California approved 2,066 homeowners last year for the program, down slightly from the 2,111 in 2012.

And the Transition Assistance Program, which gives as much as $5,000 to a homeowner with an approved short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure to start over with a new living situation, helped 367 families last year – almost 300 more than 2012. The program issued about $1.34 million last year, compared to $335,000 in 2012.

So, as you can see, last year was a huge success for Keep Your Home California. But program officials have even loftier goals for helping homeowners prevent avoidable foreclosures in 2014.

If you have additional questions or would like to apply for any Keep Your Home California program, call 888-954-5337 or visit www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org (Spanish speakers should visit www.conservatucasacalifornia.org). The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

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California homeowners who recently lost their federal extension benefits could receive as much as $3,000 in mortgage assistance from Keep Your Home California

Unemployed Californians who recently lost their federal extension benefits could get much-needed financial assistance for their mortgage payments.

Keep Your Home California can approve out-of-work homeowners with as much as $3,000 per month for up to 12 months through its Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program. The free mortgage-assistance program, one of four programs offered through Keep Your Home California, allows homeowners to look for work and not worry about their monthly mortgage payment.

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However, homeowners must apply as soon as possible – within one month of losing their unemployment benefits. About 222,000 Californians lost their federal extension benefits December 28.

Keep Your Home California has approved more than 25,000 homeowners and funded about $320 million through the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program since February 2011 – and more than $500 million combined from all four programs.

Of course, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements and meet other Keep Your Home California eligibility criteria in order to qualify for the assistance. Additionally, their mortgage servicer must participate in the program.

There are currently 165 servicers – including banking giants Bank of America, Chase, Citi and Wells Fargo – who are enrolled with Keep Your Home California and every one of them participates in the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance program.

For other struggling homeowners, Keep Your Home California also has a Principal Reduction Program that can lower a homeowner’s outstanding loan balance by as much as $100,000. Another option, the Mortgage Reinstate Assistance Program, provides homeowners with up to $25,000 to catch up on their past-due mortgage payments. And, for homeowners who have simply run out of options, the Transition Assistance Program helps make a graceful exit from homeownership with up to $5,000 in transition assistance.

If you have additional questions or would like to apply for any Keep Your Home California program, call 888-954-5337 or visit www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org (Spanish speakers should visit www.conservatucasacalifornia.org). The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net