Bank of America loan specialists Thursday began a three-day, one-on-one mortgage advising event for its customers at the Cox Convention Center downtown.
Customers can register online to reserve a space at the event, which is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Walk-ins also are welcome.
The event is one of 320 being held across the country this year, and the first in Oklahoma City, which the bank identified as having a significant number of customers behind on their mortgage payments.
The bank sent event invitations to the 1,000 Oklahoma City customers who were more than 60 days behind on their payments. But the assistance is available for any customer, regardless of financial circumstance.
“The situations that people are in are going to vary,” bank outreach executive Roger Bragg said. “I want all people to come. … We want to see you way before we talk about foreclosure.”
Unfortunately, most of the customers who came through Thursday were struggling to keep their homes, said Tressa Brooker, a financial counselor from Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma who worked with customers at the event.
“They're usually far enough past due where just making up a mortgage payment isn't an option,” she said.
Sheral King, who attended the event Thursday, was an exception — she said she is not behind on her mortgage payments, but she is struggling with debt.
When it turned out her mother's life insurance had expired in 1999, King had to pay for the funeral using a credit card.
“That 27 percent interest has been killing me,” King said.
King put her house on the market in January but hasn't been able to sell it. She said she would be willing to keep the house if she could lower her monthly payment. King said she hoped Bank of America loan specialists would show her a way to do that.
Most participants spent four to five hours reviewing their financial situations and mortgage options with counselors and specialists.
Customers who qualify for refinancing can leave the event with new loan parameters, Bragg said.
The event follows recent criticism of Bank of America's mortgage practices. Investor disputes over bad mortgages and mortgage-backed bonds have more than doubled from a year ago, according to reports.
Bragg said the advising sessions were not a reaction to the criticism.
“This event is in response to our customers who are experiencing financial hardship,” he said.
Customers who go to the event go through several stages of advice. First, they have a 20-minute primer on avoiding mortgage fraud and understanding options such as refinancing and short sales.
Then, customers sit with a nonprofit counselor from either Neighborhood Housing Services or the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma.
The counselor reviews the customer's monthly budget and helps set expectations for what kind of mortgage plan he or she might qualify for.
Mortgage specialists then review customers' loan information and prepare them for a decision from outcome specialists, who walk customers through their options.
The process is long, but the staff packs a lot of information into those hours, Bragg said, and customers usually leave with a new road map.
Brooker said most of the people she sees will do whatever they can to stay in their home, so she reviews their overall financial situation to see if a modified loan might be enough to get them back on track.
Many of her clients are unemployed, and some have to seek legal advice to address their situation, but she gives them whatever help she can.
Brooker said the nonprofit counselors at the event are available to advise even non-Bank of America customers and can continue to counsel them in the future, in person or over the phone.
She said in-person attention each customer receives at the Bank of America event is invaluable.
“It can be frustrating to do everything by phone,” Brooker said. “Being face-to-face really helps to make sure that all of their situation has been addressed and all of their questions have been answered.”
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