Homeowner help: HUD-certified advisers, more refinancing available

Whether their home loan is through Countrywide, another mortgage company or bank, homeowners can get free counseling to help them avoid foreclosure.

An $8.4 billion legal settlement was agreed to this week to benefit those with certain types of Countrywide mortgages. But housing counselors say many other lenders, too, have started offering options that may enable people to keep their homes.

"There are more lenders who are backing off and trying not to foreclose now," said Martha Lucey, president of ByDesign Financial Solutions.

ByDesign is nonprofit agency that provides free foreclosure prevention and housing counseling in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties. Its counselors offer unbiased advice and are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Homeowners concerned about keeping up with their mortgage payments can get free advice from ByDesign and other HUD-certified counselors in private meetings, by phone, over the Internet and at assorted workshops throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Besides requesting lenders modify their mortgages, homeowners also might be eligible for some new refinancing programs.

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