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Credit Counselors Overwhelmed by Those Seeking Mortgage Aid

Credit counseling agencies across the nation are being inundated with scores of phone calls from struggling homeowners looking for answers to a growing problem.

“It’s not only the sheer volume of people needing help but the emotion,” said Mohammed Ibrahim, a counselor at the Neighborhood Housing Services of Staten Island in New York, in a statement. “Each person comes with a different story. Often they break down and cry.”

Ibrahim, who helps homeowners in Staten Island, New York avoid foreclosure, said the number of calls to his office surged last summer as the mortgage crisis took center stage.

Between October and December of last year, he took on 63 cases, compared with just 77 cases for the previous nine months and just a handful in 2006, with 2008 expected to be even busier.

Meanwhile, Scott Scredon, Director of Public Relations for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta, says his company plans to hire about 130 new staff members.

Scredon said that since the interest rate freeze plan was announced, CCCS has received such a huge swell in calls that it had to limit its services to customers who were delinquent on their mortgage payments, and refer those who were not to their own mortgage lenders.

The so-called HOPE NOW alliance has garnered a lot of attention from struggling homeowners since it was announced, but doesn’t seem to be helping at-risk borrowers.

“We’re getting so many calls about the government plan, but no real answers on how we are supposed to help them,” said Eileen Anderson, who runs two NeighborWorks counseling centers on suburban Long Island.

The volume of calls to her offices rose more than tenfold in 2007 compared to a year earlier, and since October more than half of those calls have been referrals from HOPE NOW, she said.

The Homeownership Preservation Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs the national mortgage counseling hotline as part of the HOPE NOW alliance, has taken 140,000 calls since it joined up in October, according to vice president Tracy Morgan.

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