Lenders' assistance can vary greatly

David Waxer, financial counselor for GreenPath Debt Solutions in Southfield, Mich., said his office has seen all extremes when it comes to how lenders handle troubled homeowners.

One small mortgage company, he said, didn't want to budge and wouldn't lower the 12 percent mortgage rate held by one of its delinquent customers.

The lender would only add the past-due amount to the back end of the mortgage to make the loan current and avoid foreclosure for a while.

By contrast, a large bank offered one of its customers a generous but temporary reduction in payments. The financially stressed homeowner was allowed to pay half of the regular monthly mortgage for six months -- and then the bank would review the situation again.

So what should consumers expect if they reach out to a lender because they're struggling making a mortgage payment?

"It would depend on who your servicer would be," said Marietta Rodriguez, national director for homeownership for NeighborWorks America, the administrator of the congressionally authorized National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program.

"You could find a very responsive team," Rodriguez said.

Or not.

The responsive service loan company might get back to you quickly, say in 10 to 15 days with an answer.

The unresponsive company could make you wait 30 to 60 days.

So, it seems those who looked for easy answers to the housing mess aren't exactly finding them as part of the stimulus package's Making Home Affordable program. Lenders argue that loan modifications are complex and require time to do.

But regulators express disappointment with the performance of some of the loan servicers.

"We're going to be requiring ramped-up efforts across the board," Michael Barr, the assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions, said in a teleconference this week for reporters.

Lenders, such as Bank of America, also say that the Making Home Affordable program is one part of the picture -- and banks have other programs in place to help homeowners, too.

Even so, some loan-servicing companies -- including PNC Financial Services Group Inc. -- have yet to modify a single loan under the program, according to government data.

The federal government programs are designed to help delinquent homeowners, as well as those who are current with their payments but in imminent danger of default.

The federal government now wants to see 500,000 borrowers helped by Nov. 1. Homeowners, though, are advised to try to talk to lenders -- and HUD-approved housing counselors -- as early as possible to avoid foreclosure. They're going to need to provide as much financial detail as possible -- and they should be honest.