Protecting Your Credit During Divorce

December 17, 2013

By Roy Sperr, President
Equity Source Mortgage, Inc.

ROGERS, MN– When a marriage ends in divorce, the lives of those involved are changed forever. During this time of upheaval, one thing that shouldn’t have to change is the credit status you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Unfortunately, for many, the experience is the exact opposite. Unfulfilled promises to pay bills, the maxing out of credit cards, and a total breakdown in communication frequently lead to the annihilation of at least one spouse’s credit. Depending upon how finances are structured, it can sometimes have a negative impact on both parties.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. By taking a proactive approach and creating a specific plan to maintain one’s credit status, anyone can ensure that “starting over” doesn’t have to mean rebuilding credit.

The first step for anyone going through a divorce is to obtain copies of your credit report from the 3 major agencies: Equifax, Experian®, and TransUnion®. It’s impossible to formulate a plan without having a complete understanding of the situation. (Once a year, you may obtain a free credit report by visiting www.AnnualCreditReport.com.)

Once you’ve gathered the facts, you can begin to address what’s most important. Create a spreadsheet, and list all of the accounts that are currently open. For each entry, fill in columns with the following information: creditor name, contact number, the account number, type of account (e.g. credit card, car loan, etc.), account status (e.g. current, past due), account balance, minimum monthly payment amount, and who is vested in the account (joint/individual/authorized signer).

Now that you have this information at your fingertips, it’s time to make a plan.

There are two types of credit accounts, and each is handled differently during a divorce. The first type is a secured account, meaning it’s attached to an asset. The most common secured
accounts are car loans and home mortgages. The second type is an unsecured account. These accounts are typically credit cards and charge cards, and they have no assets attached.

When it comes to a secured account, your best option is to sell the asset. This way the loan is paid off and your name is no longer attached. The next best option is to refinance the loan. In other words, one spouse buys out the other. This only works, however, if the purchasing spouse can qualify for a loan by themselves and can assume payments on their own. Your last option is to keep your name on the loan. This is the most risky option because if you’re not the one making the payment, your credit is truly vulnerable. If you decide to keep your name on the loan, make sure your name is also kept on the title. The worst case scenario is being stuck paying for something that you do not legally own.

In the case of a mortgage, enlisting the aid of a qualified mortgage professional is extremely important. This individual will review your existing home loan along with the equity you’ve built up and help you to determine the best course of action.

When it comes to unsecured accounts, you will need to act quickly. It’s important to know which spouse (if not both) is vested. If you are merely a signer on the account, have your name removed immediately. If you are the vested party and your spouse is a signer, have their name removed. Any joint accounts (both parties vested) that do not carry a balance should be closed immediately.

If there are jointly vested accounts which carry a balance, your best option is to have them frozen. This will ensure that no future charges can be made to the accounts. When an account is frozen, however, it is frozen for both parties. If you do not have any credit cards in your name, it is recommended you obtain one before freezing all of your jointly vested accounts. By having a card in your own name, you now have the option of transferring any joint balances into your account, guaranteeing they’ll get paid.

Ensuring payment on a debt which carries your name is paramount when it comes to preserving credit. Keep in mind that one 30-day late payment can drop your credit score as much as 75 points. It is also important to know that a divorce decree does not override any agreement you have with a creditor. So, regardless of which spouse is ordered to pay by the judge, not doing so will affect the credit score of both parties. The message here is to not only eliminate all joint accounts, but to do it quickly.

Divorce is difficult for everyone involved. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your credit remains intact.

If you have questions about your situation, please feel free to contact Roy or Shawn at 763-657-2000.

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Repairing credit key to Coon Rapids woman’s fresh start after divorce

December 16, 2013

By Molly Guthrey
mguthrey@pioneerpress.com
Posted: 12/15/2013 12:01:00 AM CST

Athena Degel

A divorce prompted a Coon Rapids woman’s fresh start.

Starting over isn’t always easy.

“It was very scary at first, to be on my own,” says Athena Degel, 39, an administrative assistant from Coon Rapids. “Renting my own apartment, trying to have two kids in daycare, making a car payment. After I sold my stock, took out a 401(k) loan and sold my engagement and wedding rings, I made just enough money to buy one tank of gas a month and some groceries.”

The divorce, which took place during the Great Recession of 2009, had other financial consequences, too.

“In the divorce, we put our house up for sale,” Degel says. “We had bought the house at a high point in the market, in 2006. A short sale was our best option, because we were so upside down on our mortgage. The short sale went through at a $100,000 loss.”

A short sale — where the seller comes up short when paying off the mortgage to the bank — damages a credit score.

“That was my biggest hurdle,” Degel says. “You can’t buy a house for three years. You just have to wait.”

The single mom used that time to heal. That included getting her financial house in order: She worked on repairing her credit history with the help of Shawn Hunter at Equity Source Mortgage.

“Because of him, I was able to close on my new house on Sept. 3,” Degel says.

This fresh start feels different — and it’s not just because she has a new love in her life and is engaged to be married.

“The thrill hasn’t worn off,” Degel says. “I was able to buy my own place. I have my own life. I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s a new me.”

Share your own turning point with Molly Guthrey atmguthrey@pioneer press.com or 651-228-5505.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR TROUBLED HOMEBUYERS AND OWNERS

1. Fix your credit score. Credit scores are mainly driven by momentum, and small changes in behavior can make a big impact. Before applying for a mortgage, know which way your credit score is going, and what you can do to get it to go in the right direction.

2. Find an expert to help with the fix. If there are events in your credit history that need fixing, fine, but know it takes time, commitment and sound advice from trusted advisers. Experts can point you in the right direction.

3. Hold off on big purchases. Your debt-to-income ratio is one of the core qualifiers in getting a mortgage. If it’s too high, you may not qualify for a low rate or any rate at all. So if you’re thinking about buying a home, hold off on large-ticket purchases. An additional $100 a month payment could reduce your buying power by as much as $10,000.

4. Watch for credit disputes. Credit disputes are not only for the credit challenged. Some people have no idea there are disputes on their reports, yet those disputes could prevent them from getting a home. If you do have to dispute something on your credit report, make sure that the dispute is solved and removed from the report. Otherwise, it could appear as a negative on your credit and detract institutions from providing you a mortgage. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have had even tighter dispute resolution requirements for several years. These policies came about due to the positive impact on credit scores when a consumer enters a dispute on a derogatory account. Most credit-scoring models remove disputed accounts from the credit-score calculation, perhaps creating an artificially high score and exposing the lender to added risk. The FHA stated it also found a correlation between credit disputes and mortgage defaults in its loan-performance evaluations.

5. Know the difference between consumer credit monitoring and actual credit reports. Consumer credit monitoring is a different world than the credit reports available to professionals. These systems are very effective for fraud prevention but do not rely solely on the scores you see. In most cases, those scores are significantly higher than your score. Consumer Reports Webwatch recommends consumers not familiar with credit reports consider each separately and incrementally. Consumers are better off obtaining the one free report per year they are entitled to by law from annualcreditreport.com and purchasing credit scores from that site for as little as $8 each if desired.

6. Monitor interest rates and know what they mean to your payments. As the economy continues to improve, interest rates have gone up. Higher rates reduce buying power because the cost of the money is higher. Borrowers may have to settle for less. On a $200,000 loan, a 1 percent increase in interest rates represents a little more than $120 per month on the payment.

7. Learn about other options if you are underwater on your mortgage. If you’re upside down on your home mortgage loan (i.e. loan-to-value) and have been turned down on a refinance, there are options. First, find out who services your loan. A mortgage professional can talk to you about mortgage insurance, buy-back provisions, negative equity and government programs, such as principal-reduction alternatives recently designed to help homeowners.

8. Know what you’re qualified for. Some loans offer “no money down” options, but it’s hard to get a loan today without bringing money to the table. Still there are special programs out there. Some communities have a pool of money to attract potential buyers to buy distressed or foreclosed properties. But not everyone qualifies or is familiar with the fine print in the programs. Find out what you’re qualified for.

9. Choose a broker wisely. Whomever you choose to broker your mortgage, make sure that person really knows how to read and analyze a tax return, understand current guidelines and know credit requirements. That ability can often make or break you qualifying for a mortgage.

10. Don’t give up hope. If you can’t qualify for a mortgage today, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps, change your spending habits, improve your credit and buy a home in the future. It might take some time, but it can happen. Make sure you find a mortgage professional who will be your advocate and partner to guide you through the process.

Source: Roy Sperr, Equity Source Mortgage

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What is the Velocity of Money and How Does it Impact Home Loan Rates?

December 06, 2013

By Roy Sperr, President
Equity Source Mortgage, Inc.

Rogers, MN – If you’ve been watching the economic news, you’ve probably noticed that market experts and traders have been keeping a close eye on the Commerce Department’s Personal Spending and Personal Income reports. Obviously, those reports provide insight into the health of our economy, but did you know they also influence home loan rates? That’s right, personal spending can actually influence the interest rates that are available when you purchase or refinance a home.

Here’s why. It has to do with something called the velocity of money. Even though the government keeps pumping money into the system, nothing happens until that money is spent or lent – and passes from one hand to another or one business to another. The speed at which this money passes between parties is called the velocity of money.

With the job market still very sluggish, consumers aren’t spending much money these days, and businesses are still reluctant to spend money to make investments in their business. With the present velocity at low levels, inflation remains subdued and that’s good for home loan rates. That’s because rates are tied to Mortgage Bonds and inflation is the archenemy of Bonds, so low inflation is good for Bonds and rates. However, once velocity increases, the excess money in the system will cause inflation – which is bad for rates, since even the slightest scent of inflation can cause home loan rates to worsen.

While we certainly want to see better economic recovery news in the near future, we have to remember that there’s an inverse relationship between good economic news and Bonds and home loan rates. Weak economic news normally causes money to flow out of Stocks and into Bonds, which helps Bonds and home loan rates improve. Strong economic news, on the other hand, normally has the opposite result.

Currently, home loan rates are at a historically low level, but that situation won’t last forever. That means now is an ideal time to purchase a home or refinance before the velocity of money – and rates – change. If you or anyone you know would like to learn more about the current economic situation and how to take advantage of historically low home loan rates, then please contact me.

Roy Sperr is affiliated with Equity Source Mortgage, Inc. a Licensed Broker, Minnesota Department of Real Estate.

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Life After Bankruptcy

October 18, 2013

By Roy Sperr, President
Equity Source Mortgage, Inc.

ROGERS, MN – Bankruptcy is an uncomfortable subject for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the potential havoc it can wreak on your finances. Running a close second is the negative stigma which is often attached to the process. This negativity is important to mention because strong emotions can sometimes lead to unsound financial decisions with devastating results.

Bankruptcy becomes a viable option for someone who is “upside down” in terms of cash flow. In other words, when a person has more money going out each month than coming in, bankruptcy should be considered if no reversal of this negative cash flow is within sight. The longer someone waits to explore the various options available, the more serious his or her situation may become.

One of the worst things people can do in this situation is to borrow more money to try and pay off their debts. On paper, this is clearly an unwise financial decision. In the real world, however, it is very common for individuals to pursue this strategy in an attempt to buy time and hold off on filing for bankruptcy. On the surface, this is certainly a noble notion; however it can often compound the problem and serves only to delay the inevitable.

For many homeowners in the midst of this upside down cash flow, speaking to a qualified mortgage professional is a much better option. An experienced loan officer can objectively look at your finances and help you determine if restructuring your mortgage would not only help, but possibly even alleviate any need for bankruptcy.

If bankruptcy is the only option, seek out a reputable bankruptcy attorney and credit counselor. A qualified mortgage specialist can provide references for you as well, as he or she works with these professionals on a regular basis. Reliable references are essential in this case because experienced professionals greatly increase the odds of a successful bankruptcy experience. It’s that simple.

When filing for bankruptcy, be completely honest and accurate regarding every aspect of your financial situation. This includes any changes to your income which may occur throughout the process. Bankruptcy is a federal procedure, adjudicated by real judges, and scrutinized by representatives who coordinate with the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the IRS.

Here are some additional steps you can take to make the bankruptcy process as painless as possible:

• Save all paperwork regarding your bankruptcy, and keep it organized. This will prove beneficial after your bankruptcy as you now have all of the pertinent information in one place. Also, be sure to write down your discharge date. It’s surprising how many people forget to do this.
• Establish a household budget. This can be accomplished in many ways, but there are several inexpensive computer programs available which do an excellent job.
• Throughout the bankruptcy, do your best to not only live below your means, but to save as much cash as possible. You never know what you may need it for once the process is completed.
• Be prepared for a barrage of junk mail. There will be sharks on the loose who are hoping to capitalize on your need for credit.

Tips for Rebuilding Credit:

• If you must buy a car, focus on transportation as opposed to style. Buy an inexpensive, used car, and try to get a loan for it. It’s a good idea to figure out what your budget allows in terms of a dollar amount first. This means obtaining financing prior to looking for a car.
• Get a secured credit card. Secured credit cards allow for the cardholder to deposit a said amount of money into an account, thus establishing the spending limit of the card. Missed payments result in deductions from the account. Some of these cards will reward responsible borrowers by upping the limit without an additional deposit. Some will even convert the account into a traditional credit card. (Be wary of offers of “easy credit” or any card which asks you to call a 900 number. You will be charged for the call.)
• Meet with a credit repair specialist. Not only can they help you clean up the damage to your credit report, they can advise you on specific ways to rebuild the credit you lost as well.

While it does take time, there is definitely life (and credit) after bankruptcy. Some mortgage lenders will even lend to you within a year or so after a bankruptcy. If you’re in serious financial trouble, the trick is to get the help and advice you need from professionals you trust.

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