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VIRTUAL HOMEOWNER HELP

WaysHome, a free online tool launched by Fannie Mae last week, is the electronic equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure book for distressed homeowners. Using an interactive video, borrowers can explore options for avoiding foreclosure and see how their choices would play out.

The stories take place in a neighborhood that has been hurt by the foreclosure crisis. Users choose one of three characters at different levels of financial distress, make decisions for them and see the results of their choices in a video re-enactment. Tips, tools and links are provided, and users can go back and revise their choices to see the impact of different options, such as repayment plans, forbearances, modifications, deeds-in-lieu and short sales.

"It's a great informational tool. I was very impressed," says Maria Sanz, a HUD-certified counselor at the Long Island Housing Partnership. "It's one question at a time, and you fill it out depending on what you need. Then you can go back on the page and answer it another way. It tells them about options they probably did not know they had."

The online tool, which can be found at knowyouroptions.com, is not yet available in Spanish, though a Fannie Mae representative said that's in the works. - KRISTIN TAVEIRA


MORTGAGE PAYMENT TO SPARE?

If you can afford to make an extra mortgage payment, make sure you get the proper credit for it from your lender, advises Chandra Ortiz, a Baldwin attorney specializing in real estate and co-chair of Nassau County Bar Association's Real Estate Committee.

First, take a close look at the bottom tear-off portion of your bill. Note the categories of: Total Amount Enclosed, Additional Principal and Additional Escrow. "If you're trying to decrease your principal, make sure that you clearly designate that you want your extra payment to be applied to 'Additional Principal,' " says Ortiz. "If you don't let the lender know that this is where you want the additional funds applied, then the bank will hold your money off to the side in another account, and mark your status as only being ahead of schedule."

Ortiz says that would be a shame if your intention was to hammer away at your principal and ultimately lower your interest. "If, however, your goal is to make an extra payment to take financial pressure off the next month," continues Ortiz, "then send in the extra payment as usual, under 'Total Amount Enclosed.' " - GIGI BERMAN AHARONI

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