Now available: My new book!

Do you have questions about money? Here’s a secret: we all do, and sometimes finding the right answers can be tough. My new book, “There Are No Dumb Questions About Money,” can make it easier for you to figure out your financial world.

I’ve taken your toughest questions about money and answered them in a clear, easy-to-read format. This book can help you manage your spending, improve your credit and find the best way to pay off debt. It can help you make the right choices when you’re investing, paying for your children’s education and prioritizing your financial goals. I’ve also tackled the difficult, emotional side of money: how to get on the same page with your partner, cope with spendthrift children (or parents!) and talk about end-of-life issues that can be so difficult to discuss. (And if you think your family is dysfunctional about money, read Chapter 5…you’ll either find answers to your problems, or be grateful that your situation isn’t as bad as some of the ones described there!)

Interested? You can buy this ebook on iTunes or on Amazon.

Short sales, foreclosures have similar effect on credit scores

Dear Liz: I went through a divorce in the last year after being separated for two years. During our separation, we closed credit cards with high balances to make sure neither party would spend more on credit. We also had to short sell our home. So, as a single woman in her mid-30s, I have credit that’s somewhat shot for now. How many months should I expect the short sale to affect my credit scores? And was closing the credit card accounts good or bad for my credit?

Answer: Closing credit accounts can’t help your credit scores and may hurt them. In a divorce, however, it’s usually wise to close all joint accounts. Otherwise, your credit rating is in the hands of your ex-spouse, who could trash your scores by paying accounts late or maxing out credit lines.

In any case, the short sale probably had a much greater effect on your credit than the account closures. Short sales typically damage your credit as much as a foreclosure, according to the company that created the leading FICO credit score. Recovery times are measured in years, not months. If your scores weren’t that high to begin with — say 680 in the 300-to-850 FICO scale — it would take about three years for your numbers to return to their old levels. If your scores were high, say 780, it would take about seven years to restore them to their old peaks.

These recovery times assume you handle credit responsibly from now on. That means having and lightly using a credit card or two, making all payments on time and ensuring no account goes to collections.

Regulator targets mortgage servicers

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to “whip the mortgage servicing industry into shape,” as this post on The Consumerist puts it, and such action is long overdue. Mortgage servicers have been the choke point in the mortgage mess, often costing people their homes because of their inefficiency, inaction and indifference. The CFPB wants to increase transparency and accountability among servicers, which take people’s mortgage payments and pass them along, minus a small cut, to the loans’ owners. Here’s how CFPB head Richard Cordray put it in a speech today to Operation HOPE:

“This industry has never had a requirement, or a strong incentive, to meet the needs of consumers.  Even before the crisis, there were already problems with bad practices and sloppy recordkeeping. When the financial crisis hit, however, things got much worse…And instead of investing in new personnel and processes, too many mortgage servicers took short-cuts that made things far worse for homeowners in trouble.

Picture every bad customer service experience you have ever had: calls going unanswered, glacially slow processes, mistakes made and not fixed, a kaleidoscopic cast of human beings who never seem to deal with you more than once, your paperwork submitted and lost repeatedly.  Now, multiply that mountain of frustration exponentially, and you can begin to get an inkling of the scope of the problems that Americans face:  house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community.

And it is not just consumers who suffer.  Mortgage investors do not benefit from a broken system where servicers do not fulfill their obligations or make reasonable efforts to mitigate losses.  And this failed business model widened the pain of the housing crisis and destroyed an incalculable measure of consumer trust in financial businesses, perhaps in a lasting way.”

Cordray points out that consumers have absolutely no control over which company winds up servicing their loans and can’t walk away from bad service. He quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.”

Like everyone else who’s covered the mortgage industry, I’ve heard horror story after horror story from people given the runaround by their mortgage servicers. People have lost their homes, and investors have suffered far worse losses than necessary, because the servicing industry is so messed up.

The CFPB’s proposed rules won’t give people back the homes they’ve already lost, but it could prevent needless foreclosures in the future.

Reluctant lender blocks quick foreclosure solution

Dear Liz: Is there any way to expedite the foreclosure process? My wife bought a townhome shortly before we were married. Long story short, it didn’t fit our family once we got married and had a baby. We bought a larger house and tried renting the townhome but couldn’t cover the mortgage payment. We attempted a short sale, but the bank refused a good offer, so we let it go into default. We even offered to do a deed in lieu of foreclosure, but the bank refused unless we provided financial information for me, too. Since I’m not named on the mortgage and wasn’t even around when she got the loan, I refused. We’ve mentally and financially prepared for foreclosure and now just want the process complete. The bank, though, doesn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. The process is now entering the third year with no action on their part, and we haven’t even been to the property in well over a year. We’ve told them expressly that we aren’t fighting them on the foreclosure. At this point we just want to move on.

Answer: Offering a deed in lieu of foreclosure — in which your wife hands over the keys in return for being released from the loan — was probably your best bet to speed things along. If you don’t want to provide the financial information the mortgage company is requesting, you’re stuck with waiting this out.

It’s unfortunate, because many lenders prefer deeds in lieu as a cheaper, faster way to get control of properties they’re going to wind up with anyway. The idea is that the homes probably will be in better condition than if an angry borrower or squatter trashes them, plus the costs of formal foreclosures are avoided. As foreclosure times have lengthened, some lenders have even sent out letters to underwater homeowners in default urging them to consider a deed in lieu transfer.

One thing you should investigate is whether the lender can come after your wife for a “deficiency judgment.” If it is allowed in your state, your wife could be liable for any leftover debt that isn’t paid off with a foreclosure sale. Talk to an attorney familiar with credit and foreclosure laws in your state.

The weekly round-up

Spring break starts tomorrow for my kiddo, so I won’t be hanging out at the computer–we’ve got some serious goofing off to do. Therefore, I’m posting links to some stuff I hope you’ll find interesting, by myself and others, a day early.

Bob Sullivan of MSNBC posted a very scary column about how “Hackers turn credit report websites against consumers.” This one’s a must read.

GoBankingRates.com posted my column “Biggest Myths About Credit Scores.” We know so much more about  how these formulas work than we did a decade ago, but some of the same myths persist. Falling for any of these could cost you.

Fox Business picked up Jodi Helmer’s piece for CreditCards.com “Seven Easy Ways to Go Green with Your Finances,” to which I contributed a thought or three.

Donna Freedman’s latest for MSN, “A cheap death: Donate your body,” may take frugality a touch too far for some, but it could be just the ticket for those who want to benefit science and education while avoiding big burial costs.

Are you pregnant, or hope to be so soon? You might want to check out the baby planner created by “Generation Earn” author Kimberly Palmer. You can find the link, and read about the soon-to-be mom that Palmer’s advising, at Daily Worth’s Money Fix 3.

My MSN column this week “Lose your house, get socked by the IRS?” is about the coming expiration of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act, which protects homeowners from facing a tax bill after they lose their homes to foreclosure or short sales.