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Consumers who have little or no equity in their homes or who have gone through financial difficulty have more options than in the past to refinance or buy another home.

After home prices started falling in mid-2007, homeowners in this situation had little luck in refinancing into a lower-rate loan. Those who lost their homes faced a long wait to buy another.

But over the past two years, government assistance programs have surfaced. In the private sector, banks and credit unions have begun to roll out programs of their own for people who have been through financial hardships.

"I don't think a lot of people realize all of the resources that are available," said Kim Casaday, president of residential lending for Zions Bank.

To get the word out, Zions is offering free counseling to Utahns — whether they are bank customers or not — to help them learn more about their options regarding homeownership. Zions also has expanded the information available on its website, The Homeowner's Cafe at

Among key assistance efforts are the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, which helps those who are having trouble making their monthly payments get a lower mortgage rate, lower monthly payment or other type of relief that can help them avoid losing their homes.

Effective June 1, the federal government broadened eligibility for the program by including homes that are not primary residences.

There's also help for people who aren't behind on their mortgage. Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, helps homeowners who are current on their mortgage but unable to refinance because of falling home values.

Information about either program is available by calling 1-888-995-4673.

Many people don't realize that the wait to buy another home after a financial meltdown has gone down. For example, rather than a wait of as much as seven years, some consumers can buy a home in as little as three to four years after a short sale, foreclosure or even bankruptcy.

Utah First Credit Union has even rolled out a "No Wait" home loan product designed for people who do not qualify for conventional financing.

The program is available for loans of up to $320,000, and borrowers may apply as soon as their short sale, foreclosure or bankruptcy has been completed. Qualifiers will pay a higher interest rate — around 6 percent when normal 30-year loans are less than 4 percent — and they must put down a 20 percent down payment.

Still, it's a way to buy without waiting years. "We certainly don't have enough money to lend to everybody who has been through a short sale in Utah," said Gerard van Gils, consumer lending manager at Utah First. "But we're hoping this will get the ball rolling and that other financial institutions will take note."

Utah First believes the losses in the "No Wait" mortgage may be even less than with other types of mortgage loans, given the fairly large down payment and the loan cap of $320,000.

For the time being, there is no secondary market for these types of loans, which means Utah First will carry them in its portfolio. For more information, go to

The loans could end up being a business development tool, van Gils said. Many who have taken out a "No Wait" mortgage have since transferred credit cards, checking accounts and auto loans to Utah First.

"People are fiercely loyal to us for offering this product," he said. "They are grateful."

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in blog form at


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