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Nonprofit touring US to help struggling homeowners

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[March 14, 2009]  COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Philip and Gloria Spigner saw their monthly mortgage payments climb from $800 to $1,300. Carol and Butch Dycus have received foreclosure notices though they say they're not behind on their payments. And Tony Jumper's mortgage hasn't changed, but 26 people were laid off this week from his job.

They were among the hundreds of people who gathered here Friday to seek advice from a nonprofit group that finds ways to help at-risk homeowners lower their mortgage payments.

It was the third stop on the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America's nationwide "Save the Dream Tour," which offered mortgage restructuring help in Washington, D.C., last year and in Stamford, Conn., last month. The nonprofit also plans to visit areas hard-hit by foreclosure, like Florida and California.

Using paycheck stubs, interviews and tax filings, NACA counselors calculate what struggling homeowners can afford to pay, then negotiate with lenders who have signed agreements with the group.

Around 10,000 people had registered for the free counseling service before the event began Friday and a total of 20,000 were expected to participate over three days, said organizer Carmon Orta.

"Everyone is in an unaffordable mortgage right now whether it be that they were in a predatory loan and got duped into a bad interest rate or because of the economy they have a job loss," she said. "We will go to the lender's CEO's office. We will go and do what we have to do to sit with them until they sign a contract with us and agree to have real solutions and modifications for people."

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. and a fan of the group, said such efforts will help stabilize families and give them hope.

"And I think it will do a whole lot to help get this country back where it ought to be," he said.

Some lenders are beginning to recognize the problems with the foreclosure process and working with several nonprofit groups to restructure mortgages, Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon said.

"We're now looking more and more at the cost of going to foreclosure," he said. "And knowing what that cost is - and it's tens of thousands of dollars per foreclosure - it doesn't make much sense in today's environment."

NACA boasts of lowering the mortgage payments of more than 90 percent of the people who seek their services.

Carol Dycus hopes she's next. The 64-year-old, who can't work because she had a heart attack, said a prayer before leaving her Newberry home around 6 a.m. Friday and making the 40-mile trip to the Carolina Coliseum in the state capital.

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It's been hard for her and her 59-year-old husband to make their mortgage payments, which increased under an adjustable rate from $569 to $624. The couple made the payments but still received foreclosure notices - a mistake that's happened before, Carol Dycus said.

Now, after months of trying to talk with their lender, they're ready to try another approach.

"It hurts," Carol Dycus said, showing three months of receipts for payments she says the mortgage company insists never arrived. Lenders "have a lot of money. We don't. My husband works every day - sick or well ... it's hard on us."

Philip and Gloria Spigner hope they won't have to leave the Columbia home where they raised their children.

"We're hoping after this that our adjustable rate won't be adjustable anymore," said Gloria Spigner, a 64-year-old nurse.

"All we want is a solution and to hang on to our home," said Philip Spigner, a 52, an assistant manager at a restaurant. "We want to put some money into the bank and be able to do some other things besides struggling every month to make the mortgage payment. That's all we want."

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[Associated Press; By KATRINA GOGGINS]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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