6. Get a qualified expert to help you navigate. You may want to take action on several fronts by contacting a lawyer as well. Don’t go to places that advertise a fix on TV, the Internet, or telephone poles. And hang up on phony buyers who offer to cure your problem by buying your home and leasing it back to you until you can repurchase it. To find a lawyer you trust, contact an agency affiliated with Legal Services Corp. (if your income level is low enough to qualify for their assistance), or call your county or state bar association.

7. Check to see if you’re eligible for special assistance. If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage and a good credit rating, the federal FHASecure program may be able to provide a refinance option with a fixed rate. If you’re an active armed services member or have served within the past 90 days, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers foreclosure protection.

8. Don’t consider bankruptcy an easy way out. Under current laws, bankruptcy can slow or halt foreclosure in some cases, but you need to seek legal advice from a trusted source before you proceed. Bankruptcy judges are not permitted to restructure debt owed on a mortgage covering a primary residence. "Borrowers can file Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which will put a temporary hold on a foreclosure action. The problem is that in order to sustain the Chapter 13 plan, a borrower in a high-cost mortgage has to be able to make payments in the mortgage going forward, and also to pay off a percentage of the arrears and other debts each month," says Josh Zinner of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project in New York. Congress has proposed a new law allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage debt for borrowers holding subprime or non-traditional mortgages. But the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 faces stiff opposition from mortgage bankers and the White House. And some relief programs, such as Project Lifeline, are not available to borrowers who’ve entered bankruptcy.

9. Meanwhile, try to keep your payments current. Mindy Wright, a housing counselor in Elyria, Ohio, says people often make the mistake of paying off credit cards bills before making their monthly mortgage payment. Why? Credit card companies call them immediately when they miss a payment, and often use threatening tactics. Banks wait much longer to communicate, and use the mail. By the time borrowers get a letter from the bank notifying them they are late with payments, they "already owe fees on tops of fees," Wright says. "Typically, when you're behind on your mortgage payments, you don't hear from your lender til you are 60, even 90 days late. With credit cards, as soon as you miss a payment, they will call and harass you day and night. That intimates people into making a payment." Wright advises homeowners to put off the credit card companies and pay their mortgage payment first. "If you don't pay the credit card bill, it might ruin your credit score, but a foreclosure will impact your credit score far more negatively—plus you won't have a place to live," she says.

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