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PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM PREDATORS

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If something sounds a bit too good to be true, assume that it is. Always be suspicious of anyone offering "bargain loans." Avoid letters, phone calls, or personal solicitations that pressure you by making their offers good "for a limited time." Most reputable mortgage companies will never solicit business in such a way. And shop around. Never be in a hurry to sign away your most important investment; that "home improvement" you want won't be so compelling if you lose your house.

For older homeowners, typically age 65 and over, a "reverse mortgage" is often the best bet — more so than an equity loan. A reverse mortgage loans a homeowner money that doesn't have to be repaid until he or she moves, sells the house, or dies. One chooses to get the money either as a lump sum or portioned out over a specified amount of time (like getting a monthly income), or a combination of the two. The advantage of a reverse mortgage for older homeowners is that one cannot lose one's house to foreclosure the way one can with an equity loan.

If you think you've been had by a predatory lender, there are steps to take to get some justice — and at least to help others avoid the same trap sprung on you. Contact your state attorney general's office, consumer protection division: 512-463-2185

You may also report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission online at www.ftc.org, via phone at the Southwest Regional office, located in Dallas, 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357); or by mail, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20580

Contact ACORN (Association of Communities Organized for Reform Now) for exhaustive info on this and other consumer rights subjects: www.ACORN.org; 1-877-692-0233.

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