By Meg Waters
If you’re having difficulty paying your bills, whether because of the flood or not, there’s a county program designed to help you map out the best path forward. The housing and financial counseling program from Boulder County Housing and Human Services enables residents to meet with a financial counselor for free.
Prior to September 2013, the program primarily focused on foreclosure prevention, and on helping people who were considering a home purchase figure out the finances around that decision. “We also work with people on just straight-up budgets, getting their budget to a balanced state,” says Becky Thelen, a housing and financial counselor with the program. “And we help people clarify their financial goals and tailor their budget to achieve those goals. We work on credit improvement for individuals, reverse mortgage counseling, and for people who are refinancing their mortgage, we talk through their new loan, make sure the terms make sense, that sort of thing.”
Since the flood, the scope of the program has expanded. “What we’re finding is a lot of people feel stuck in a holding pattern,” Thelen says. “They’re not able to move forward on repairs or rebuilding or purchasing a new property because there are so many moving targets. Will they get the buyout? Can they get the permits to rebuild? Will they need to elevate? How can they finance repairs and their existing mortgage at the same time? What’s going to happen with spring runoff?
“We help people sort through the many options they have and all the variables that go into each one,” Thelen continues. “Then we help them create a plan for moving forward. If someone wants to repair their property, we determine whether that’s financially feasible, how much they can afford for repairs, what their options are for financing it, and whether financial assistance is available. There are a lot of common themes, but everybody has very distinctive, individualized variables, so we help them create their own personal follow-up plans.”
Whether or not a homeowner is rebuilding, Thelen and her colleagues can help determine what types of payment relief might be available through the mortgage company. “We’ve found that lenders seem to be pretty willing to work with homeowners, but since everybody’s in a different financial circumstance with different goals and different mortgages, the way the lender works with them is different for everyone,” Thelen says. “We can help provide realistic expectations about what mortgage companies can do with homeowners, and what the likelihood of getting different options looks like.” The organization can also act as a communication conduit between the homeowner and the mortgage company.
Thelen has found that even when a homeowner is successful in working with his or her mortgage company shortly after a crisis, that relationship may break down over time. “I think that as more time passes since the flood occurred, mortgage companies will become less likely to extend mortgage payment forbearances or deferments,” she says. “We’ll need to be working on more permanent solutions for people.”
In addition to flood-related financial counseling, Thelen and her colleagues continue to offer the same services they provided before September. “Anyone who is having difficulty paying their mortgage and all of their expenses should contact a housing and financial counselor, whether or not that’s flood-related,” Thelen says. “The services are always free.”
The program is funded by grants from federal and local government agencies, as well as the IRS’s National Mortgage Settlement. “Anytime anyone offers this type of service for a fee, that’s a red flag,” Thelen says.