Play a Troubled Borrower — In a Movie

This week mortgage giant Fannie Mae launched a new interactive web tooldesigned to educate troubled borrowers "about their options to avoid foreclosure and motivating them to take action and seek help in 20011," according to the press release.

The tool is actually a video, where you put yourself in the place of one of three families (it helps you choose which you most resemble financially) and at various intervals in the dramatic video, you make choices that affect the family's outcome. At first it looked seriously cheesy, but I decided not to make that hypercritical snap decision and try it out for myself.

Know Your Options from Fannie Mae
Know Your Options from Fannie Mae

The video first presents you with the three families: One is headed by Miguel Gonzalez (Hispanic, with wife), one by Jackie Williams (African American, single mom) and one by Richard Lane (Mid-Western white guy with wife and three kids).

The narrator, a lovely woman who walks the neighborhood and hangs in a kitchen, as she's emptying the dishwasher, asks you to take a short quiz, where you say how behind you are on your mortgage. If you choose not behind at all, you get Miguel, whom they show literally sinking underwater. If you choose one payment behind, you get Jackie, who is running breathlessly through the neighborhood. If you choose more than a few payments behind due to a long term problem, you get Richard, whom they show literally standing in a large hole, into which he has figuratively dug himself.

I decided to play the most desperate role, Richard. Let me just preface that I went into this with full skepticism/snarkiness on high. I thought it would be a total joke.

It's not.

As Richard, a foreman with the same construction company for eight years, I learned that there would be no more jobs ahead. Richard and his wife had refinanced their beloved home to pay all the family's expenses, and now they are behind on the mortgage.

I won't go through all the steps, but I was given several choices to decide my fate, such as: Should I try to find help? Should I answer calls from my mortgage company? Should I believe some random company claiming to help me if I pay them money?

As a long-time real estate reporter, I obviously knew which choices I was supposed to make, but I also know that a huge percentage of borrowers don't answer the phone, don't seek help and many have already been scammed.

I purposely made bad decisions to see what would happen, and each time I was carefully educated as to why they were bad choices, and was gently told things like, "take action," "don't give up," "ask questions." I was never offended. I also liked that the video was realistic.

In the scenario where I met with a free HUD-approved mortgage counselor, she told me (as Richard) that the bank could lose my paperwork, so I should file everything at once. She told me that even if I lose my home, I can still be eligible to apply for a mortgage in as little as two years. She was also very frank about how different scenarios would affect my credit score and who could come after me, like my second lien-holder. In other words, she didn't sugar coat.

In the end, as Richard, I did lose my home, (not sure if it was a short sale or deed in lieu) but I did it on a planned schedule with few surprises. I was informed about potential tax and credit ramifications, but skeptical me actually felt some sense of relief, after I'd seen where all my bad decisions led me.

I realize many of you out there will criticize me for praising a slightly cheesy video tool with actors and a narrators, but honestly it could have been a whole lot worse. Yes, it stereotypes, yes it over-dramatizes, and yes Richard's kids are wildly annoying, but I do think it will help a lot of borrowers afraid to answer the phone and face some very real circumstances.

Click here to learn more about the video.

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