The Myrtle Beach Sun-News
By: Adva Saldinger
August 25, 2010
South Carolinians struggling to avoid foreclosure will now have a technology tool designed to help them more easily and efficiently qualify for loan modifications.
On Tuesday, the Homeownership Resource Center, a division of Family Services Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Charleston, started using CounselorDirect, a new web-based program that helps homeowners fill out their financial data sheet and improve their chances of gaining approval for a modification.
"We find that with a lot of homeowners, their shame and their pride prevent them from seeking help," said Debbie Kidd, the director of the Homeownership Resource Center. "This program allows homeowners to submit an application from the privacy of their own home."
Homeowners can visit the agency's website and fill out the financial information. All of it is secure, and the program will generate a probability meter that will let homeowners know how likely they are to get approved by their specific lender for a modification. The program, like all of the agency's services, is offered free to the public.
As the borrower inputs information into the program, it will give the individual tips on how to improve his or her ability to qualify, sometimes recommending simple changes like trying to cut back on one non-essential bill that may increase household income enough to qualify for the modification.
The program is designed to be user-friendly and to walk the homeowner through each step in the process, said Jason Kirshner, a spokesman for CounselorDirect.
Homeowners obviously can't lie about the information they input, because they have to be able to prove it to the bank, but the program helps homeowners tweak their information to portray themselves in the best way, he said.
Once the homeowner fills out the online application and uploads their document, he or she can meet or speak to a counselor who will then submit that information to the lender. Kidd said about 40 percent of homeowners who submit loan modification applications on their own are successful, but that her agency has an 85 percent success rate. She said she expects using CounselorDirect will improve the agency's success rate.
"It has been successful. I know that it will be [for us]," Kidd said.
The agency did a preliminary launch of the program last week and received 159 applications.
Kidd said she expects that number will jump now that the software is officially up and running.
Andy Firoved, chief executive of CounselorDirect, said the company saw that counselors throughout the country were spending the bulk of their time answering basic questions rather than working directly with people.
"One of the nice things that our system has been able to do is reverse that," he said. "We're finding that productivity in the majority of our organizations increased about 250 percent."
The program provides homeowners and counselors with more information and helps address the lack of information that has complicated the modification process, Firoved said.
The software will also likely speed up the process because if homeowners fill out all the information electronically, the Homeownership Resource Center can submit it to lenders electronically, which is faster and should get a more prompt reply.
Kidd said homeowners who don't want to or can't access the software can call and a counselor can walk them through the program or fill out the information for them online and send them the print-out to sign.
"With all of the options that we have in the foreclosure arena, there is no reason for a person in the state of South Carolina not to seek assistance," Kidd said.
Contact ADVA SALDINGER at 626-0317.