A Detailed Journal of My Experiences Applying for HAMP.

Update

So, I discovered that SPS had left me some voicemails, but I use Google Voice for my voicemails and for some reason Google Voice threw the voicemails into my SPAM folder. While I’m still not happy with the responses SPS gave when I called in, I’m much less upset knowing that they did make an effort to return the calls (unbeknownst to me).

See the bottom of this article for continuing updates about the process.

Introduction

For various reasons1Namely, a failed business venture in 2008, and the fact that my real estate taxes are not included in my mortgage payments. I’ve experienced significant struggles financially.

The government has created some programs to assist those in this situation – especially homeowners – one of these programs being the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). I am currently in the process of applying to my mortgage provider (Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc.) for HAMP.

This image of a house is thanks to OpenClipart.org.
This image of a house is thanks to OpenClipart.org.

It has been a somewhat complicated and frustrating process and I thought perhaps by documenting my experiences here as I have them I could provide others with insights into the process and perhaps even some insight to the Federal Government and/or mortgage providers on streamlining the process.

This post will be an ongoing process until the application has been completed (whether accepted or rejected). I apologize that some of the earlier information is not as detailed as it might be – I did not begin tracking everything right from the get-go, but I have included as much information as I have been able to collect retroactively and will also keep better records moving forward.

Initial Application

I’m not sure how I originally learned about HAMP – I think I had heard about it on NPR, etc. In any case, I found information regarding the program on the SPS website under “Assistance Programs.”

The details for HAMP in particular are on: https://www.spservicing.com/AssistancePrograms/haModification.aspx. I believe these details may differ slightly from those presented by other mortgage companies, but that the general process will be the same.

The first thing I did was gather all the requested documentation:

  • Filled out an IRS 4506T-EZ Request for Transcript of Tax Return form. This allows the IRS to send specified previous year tax returns to SPS so they can use them to compare the info. I am submitting to what I submitted on my income taxes.
  • Next I gathered the two most recent pay stubs my wife had and then included invoices for all of my income up to the date of submission since I had become full-time self-employed February 1st.2Note, this was a mistake I made. They wanted a profit/loss statement apparently, not what in my mind was the equivalent of pay stubs.
  • I missed including my most recent tax return, probably subconsciously thinking that IRS 4506T-EZ took care of the tax returns.3When I later spoke to SPS on the phone, they informed me that it takes a significant period of time for the IRS to send over the returns, so they can expedite things if I send them the most recent copy.
  • And I filled out the Request for Mortgage Assistance (RMA) form.4This was a bit of a struggle for me. My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) makes these sort of forms really frustrating and anxiety provoking. I pay a decent bit to H&R Block each year to perform my taxes for me to relieve this stress/anxiety. I have submitted the taxes myself for a number of years, but it is so anxiety provoking and does not reduce in anxiety with the passage of time, that I decided the expense was worth it.

Let me take  a few moments to comment on the RMA form. It was nice that the form is an editable PDF so I could type in the information as I went but I don’t understand why the form is not savable (this would have made it easy to fill out the form in multiple sessions, and to edit and resubmit as necessary). One can fill out the form but cannot save the form with the data in it.

Additionally, the “Loan I.D. Number” fields on page 2 were not long enough when I attempted to include my second mortgage’s loan ID number. I had to write it in later by hand.

Finally, I included a fairly detailed letter explaining my situation and clarifying any aspects which I felt where unclear regarding my applications.

I put it in an envelope and sent it off with high hopes.

First Contact

SPS would eventually call me (I don’t remember the date I first sent the documents and when I received the phone call) and inform me they needed additional documentation. What documentation? Well, they needed the 2012 IRS Tax Return to expedite the process5I had forgotten to include this in the initial application. and they also wanted three months bank statements from my checking account. As far as I know this was not mentioned as a requirement anywhere in the initial documentation process.

This is where HelloFax came in very handy. I was able to send 19 pages of bank statements6Yes, they include a lot of extra blahh that doesn’t really need to be there – but I’ve tried just faxing the relevant pages to financial organizations before and been told they need all of the pages even if not relevant, so I included them all. and 13 pages of my 2012 IRS tax return. It cost me maybe $2.7HelloFax offers free faxing, but I had gone over my limit…but it is still a lot cheaper/easier than buying a fax machine, going to a local store and paying for faxes, etc. I sent these documents in on June 7th according to HelloFax.

After this I would receive several more contacts informing me that documentation was missing. It appears that for whatever reason they did not receive all of my faxed documents.8I’ve found HelloFax to be entirely reliable in the past, so I would lean towards believing that the documents were misplaced or the fax machine malfunctioned at SPS’ end. But that is neither here nor there, faxing is such an antiquated technology it needs to be dealt a long overdue death. Thankfully, they informed me that I could email the documents to them via [email protected] So I sent over an email with the same documents I had faxed over – this was on June 10th. The subject line of my email was “Attn: (Name of Assigned SPS Agent), Required Documents as Needed, (Loan Number).” These were successfully received by SPS.

Lost in the System

I called SPS’ number several times to ensure they had received my documents. The number given was 866-820-6218. I had a specific extension for my assigned agent – but I could never enter it, the phone system lacked the prompt and/or ability to accept extensions directly.9I know, I know, “Dave, you just don’t know what you are doing” but I swear, I tried multiple times and I’m pretty tech savvy, including a fair amount of familiarity working with PBX’es and Automated Call Attendants from the administrative/technical side.

I ended up speaking with random representatives who told me I was missing documentation, I would inform them I had sent the documentation, they would confirm it had been received, and then I’d get a call telling me that I needed to send in more documentation – so I would call in again, have a similar discussion, and receive the same assurances.

I asked to be transferred to my agent on occasion, but was informed that the individual was unavailable. I requested a note be added for the agent to return my call, but no call was received. I also sent an email to my account manager requesting contact via SPS’ email [email protected] with the subject “Attn: (Account Representative), Acct: (Loan Number)” on the 12th of June like so:

“(Account Representative),
I attempted to call your number as printed on the letter I received from SPS (866-820-6218) and enter the extension given (extension) but it seems the system does not have any option for accepting extensions.
In any case, I wanted to confirm that you had received all the required documentation from me regarding the requested HAMP modification. I had faxed the documents over but received a call informing me that the documents had not been received so I sent them over via email, but did not receive any confirmation that they were received.
You can reach me at (my cell number).
Respectfully,
Dave Mackey”

I received an email from SPS the same day acknowledging (via automated system) that my email had been received, but did not receive a call back.10As you’ll note, I’ve eliminated the account representatives’ name. The rep. could have been on vacation, ill, overloaded with other cases, etc. and I don’t want to subject the representative to any form of harassment when journals of activities such as this have been posted on the web.

Over the next number of days and weeks I would receive confusing letters from SPS – I wish I had kept physical copies. They essentially acknowledged again and again (I think I received fix or six) receiving documentation from me and that I would be contacted – but didn’t say what had been received or any other useful details.

I also received one that seemed to be asking me to reapply for HAMP from the get-go. This scared me, so I believe I called SPS again and was assured they had the documentation.

Finally, a few days ago, I think maybe June 28th, I received a letter from SPS entitled “INCOMPLETE INFORMATION NOTICE.” It stated that “If we do not receive the required documents by 7/24/13 we will consider your request for a modification to be withdrawn…” and so on. Well, that gives me a few weeks to try and send in additional info.

At the bottom of the first page it stated that the missing documentation was “Income Documentation” – and said I needed to submit two of the most recent paystubs – which I had for my wife (who is regularly employed) and had included several months of invoices for myself recording all my self-employed income.11I figured I’d give them extra, as I know they oftentimes want extra documentation when it comes to self-employment. So, I’m not entirely sure what this refers to, I’ve been unable to reach my account manager to clarify, and speaking with other representatives has not clarified the issue thus far.

My guess is that I mailed out the initial application around June 1st and it is now July 1st. The length isn’t too concerning, I know these things take time…and hopefully I can overcome these hiccups and move forward with the application.

I’m going to try and send them perhaps a summarized sheet of income from Feb 1st to the present for my self-employed income and see if that “fixes the glitch” and simultaneously I’ll continue attempting to contact my account representative via email and phone and hopefully can get some clarification on this issue.

Well, that brings you up-to-date on my process thus far. I’ll continue to expand this post as I take additional steps and receive additional communications from SPS. Let me know if you have any insights on the process and I hope this documentation will be helpful to others, especially those who might be customers of SPS, but I think it will also be useful to anyone attempting to apply for HAMP.

Ongoing Journal Entries

  • 7/2 – Received a phone call from SPS account manager (not the one I’d been assigned) informing me they needed a profit/loss statement for the past quarter. I generated one in Freshbooks and sent it over via email (asked if I could send it in this manner and they indicated this was acceptable). Hopefully I’m unlost. =)
  • 7/10 – As of yet I have not received any further communications from SPS. However, there was the Fourth of July holiday, so if we are generous, it has only been three full days since last communications (this being the fourth).
  • 7/13 – Received a phone call from SPS. They informed me that they had received my profit/loss statement and added it to my file two days ago, but that underwriters had not yet looked at it – but that they should within the next week (I’m guessing by 7/19). After which time, if everything is correct (and they didn’t state, but I assume, I meet the requirements) it will be passed on to the Treasury (I assume the U.S. Treasury Department). From there the representative informed me it is usually a thirty day turn-around period before the Treasury Department responds…So, sounds like some forward momentum, but also sounds like I won’t know anything for sure until almost September.
  • 7/24 – Discovered that SPS had left some voicemail messages but Google Voice had thrown them in the SPAM folder – so I never saw them until just a day or two ago. Makes me less upset with SPS.
  • 7/?? – Received another notice from SPS. It seems to be the same sort of form letter I have received so many copies of previously and doesn’t appear to show any different information.
  • 8/13 – Waiting…and waiting…and waiting.
  • 8/20 – Called SPS and requested an update on the status. The representative indicated that I had completed documentation in mid-July and that it could take “30-45” days for a decision to be made. So, I guess that means I should hear something early in September…hopefully, maybe even before.
  • 8/31 – Received a letter from SPS indicating that we had been accepted into the HAMP program. This was great news! The new estimated payment is significantly lower and will be a great help. It sounds like the taxes and homeowner’s insurance are also rolled into this – which if true, makes the new lower payment even more amazing. Now we are in a “trial” period. Fingers crossed!

Movie Review: For Greater Glory (Rated R)

General Enrique Gorostieta y Velarde de Cristero
General Enrique Gorostieta y Velarde de Cristero (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been on a historical dramas kick recently – which is somewhat unusual for me. While I enjoyed these epics when I was younger, I found them too slow moving in recent years…but something in me has suddenly lighted upon them again and here I am eagerly consuming one after another. With this said, I expect that those who are not fans of historical epics will find this film long and boring – but for those who are looking for a more measured, historical, and contemplative film – For Greater Glory is a great choice.

For Greater Glory tells the story of the Cristero War in Mexico during the late 1920’s. This war occurred between a strongly secularist government which was oppressing strenuously and often violently the Catholics in Mexico and numerous Catholics who formed into an army and fought for religious freedom.

Andy Garcia stars as Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, an atheist military commander who believes in religious freedom, and for a price, takes command of the Cristero army. Mauricio Kuri is introduced as young Jose – a troublemaker turned passionate follower of Christ after being taken under the wing of a friendly Catholic priest (played by Peter O’Toole) who is then executed before his eyes. Eduardo Verastegui (whom some may recall from the film Bella) plays Anacleto Gonzales Flores while Eva Longoria (best known for her role in Desperate Housewives) plays an interesting Cristero supporter – Tulita.

The cast is solid and plays their roles convincingly. The film is long – but not longer than it needed to be. The story is violent – though without profanity or sensuality. In some ways, it feels similar to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in its gritty portrayal of a historical event.

Interestingly enough, the film was panned by critics, receiving only a 18% rating on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes but seemed widely appreciated by the general viewer who on Rotten Tomatoes offered an average rating of 77%. Wesley Morris’ review for Boston.com almost makes you want to see the movie to see if it could possibly be as bad as he describes (it isn’t) with soundbites like, “Some bad movies can make you feel awful for the people who made them and worse for the audience that shows up.” and  “The movie’s length has little to do with vision, scope, or scale. The scenes just plod along without much to help distinguish them. It’s not an epic movie so much as an epic run-on sentence.”1Morris also insists that “President Plutarco Elias Calles (Rubén Blades) is almost personally overseeing the humiliation of a tiny foot soldier (Mauricio Kuri) in General Garcia’s army, and what happens to him is the closest the film comes to camp.” which makes me wonder if he watched the entire film – since never is Calles involved in the persecution of “the tiny foot soldier” – rather the little soldier is just another grape being trod in the massive vat of violence that is war and brutality.

Stephen Holden over at the NY Times offers a much more balanced review but notes at the end that even at a length of 143 minutes, ““For Greater Glory” cannot satisfyingly fill out the stories of a half-dozen secondary characters, and there are frustrating gaps in the biographies of Gorostieta and José. The jamming together of so much history and melodrama makes for a handsome movie that is only rarely gripping.” Sounds to me like perhaps this film would have been better treated as a mini-series? I certainly would have liked to have seen some of the secondary characters developed more – specifically, the non-violent wing of the resistance and also Tulita and other female supporter’s involvement in the war effort.

James P. Pinkerton offers an interesting analysis of the film and its implications for the (recent) US presidential election, highlighting several aspects of the film that might be interesting to viewers – such as its underlying funding by the Knights of Columbus (think Luther, but with Catholic instead of Lutheran backers). Some aspects of Pinkerton’s analysis make me uncomfortable – such as when he states, “So, as we think about the horrific drug-violence in Mexico today–which has left some 50,000 dead in five years–we might think back to the Cristero War, and recall with sadness that a jagged streak of bloody violence runs through Mexican history. Future scholars may or may not see much of a connection between the Cristero War and the Narco War, but they will inevitably link the narco-terror to tragic patterns in Mexican history, going all the way back to the Aztecs and before.” We can say that we can see the “jagged streak of bloody violence runs through human history” but to state that it runs through “Mexican history” seems to indicate a difference between Mexican history and our (pick your choice of nation) history. Certainly, a bloody streak runs through United States history! (Revolutionary War, Northwest Indian War, First Barbary War, Tecumseh’s War, War of 1812, Second Barbary War, First Seminole War, Arikara War, Winnebago War, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War, Navajo Wars, Cayuse War, Apache Wars, Rogue River Wars, Puget Sound War, Third Seminoles War, Paiute War, American Civil War, Snake War, Red Cloud’s War, Comanche Campaign, Red River War, Black Hills War, Nez Perce War, Bannock War, Cheyenne War, White River War, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Occupation of Nicaragua, Mexican Revolution, Occupation of Haiti, Occupation of the Dominican Republic, World War I, Russian Civil War, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iran-Iraq War, Invasion of Panama, Gulf War, Somali Civil War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, War on Terror, Afghan War, Second Gulf War – and that is just a sampling!)

Innovative Ways to Save Money in Government.

I’m a big fan of using technology to reduce the cost of government while improving the services provided. A recent article by Tami Luhby about the town of Maywood in California outsourcing all of their services to contract workers reminded me of this topic. It seems, in my humble opinion, that there are thousands of townships, etc. which began in farming communities – but since have become suburban areas – and yet maintain their independent governance. This results in a significant redundancy of administrative manpower. I’ll suggest the controversial idea that we should work on merging some of these townships and streamlining administration to save on costs.