Here's a common scenario: borrower contacts lender about a HAMP mortgage modification and sends in initial paperwork. Lender puts borrower into a trial modification program and borrower commences making a lowered payment. Meanwhile, the lender asks for a pile of additional forms to be completed and oodles of documentation of income, assets, hardships, etc. Weeks and months go by. Meanwhile, the lender's collection department calls every week to ask the borrower when he or she plans to send in the thousands of dollars in arrearages that have allegedly been racked up. Finally, borrower is informed of HAMP denial.

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But there is another alternative.

You can get a private or proprietary mortgage modification, says your lender. And you, worn out by the process and afraid of losing your home, agree and sign the paperwork.

According to HAMP nay-sayers and Hope Now coalition spokespeople, private mortgage modifications are "more successful" because there have been so many more of them than HAMP modifications. But what is behind the success of private mortgage modifications? Maybe the improper denial of a multitude of HAMP mods, which contain generous 2% interest rates, in favor of private mods which are characterized by smaller reductions?

Make the best of the HAMP crap-shoot.

First, lower your expectations. It will take months, your documentation will find its way into some black hole or vortex of death several times, and while you negotiate with the loss mitigation department for your loan mod the folks in collections will be hassling you about your missed payments. Consider that there is nowhere to appeal an improper HAMP denial, and consider that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the majority of lenders studied applied HAMP guidelines improperly and inconsistently. Mistakes will be made. Count on it.

Second, ask for HAMP by name -- do everything in your power to get a HAMP mod. Proprietary modifications fail at a rate of twice that of HAMP mods because they aren't as good. If you are turned down, you are allowed to reapply as long as your circumstances have changed. If you had too much cash on hand to qualify (more than three months of mortgage payments) and now you don't, reapply for HAMP. Fill out the official HAMP forms (you can find them here) and make it clear that you are reapplying for HAMP every time you speak to a lender employee.

Third, keep your documentation readily available. Make a file for it and every time you get a new bank statement or pay stub, put a copy of it in this file. That way it's no big deal when you are asked for updated paperwork for the eleventh time.

Fourth, stay in touch. Call your lender weekly to get a status report on your modification. Note the name of the person you speak with and what the conversation is about. Clarify anything you don't understand, write it down, and read it back to the employee for confirmation.

Fifth, make every trial payment on time and be able to prove that you did.

With any luck (and luck is definitely involved here!) you will emerge from HAMP purgatory with a modification and some financial breathing room.