(CNN) -- Bank of America said Friday it would purchase embattled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. for $4 billion in an all-stock transaction.
A growing number of foreclosures is one symptom of the troubled real estate market.
The news was not received warmly on Wall Street, where Countrywide shares tumbled 16 percent in pre-market trading.
But CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis says it could be good news for consumers.
She answers some questions that may be worrying mortgage holders. Watch Gerri's tips for mortgage holders »
Q: What does the acquisition of Countrywide by Bank of America mean for Countrywide mortgage holders?
Willis: Well, it's better than the alternative -- which was probably bankruptcy. If you have a Countrywide mortgage, don't panic. The reality is that mortgage loans change hands all the time, and in this particular case you may see no change at all.
But remember, a change isn't an excuse not to pay your monthly mortgage bill. Your mortgage is an asset to lenders -- they aren't going to let you slide just because the asset was taken over by a different bank.
Q: What should I do if my mortgage loan changes hands?
Willis: You have rights when your mortgage loan changes hands, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. First, the new owner can't change the terms of your loan. So, if you locked in a sweet 5 percent rate a couple of years ago, nothing will happen to change that.
Second, you have to be notified within 15 days of any such change and given the correct address where you should send your payments. Plus, you have a 60-day grace period to get the payment to the right place.
If you are a Countrywide mortgage holder and pay online, you'll want to pay particular attention to your mail to make sure you don't miss any such notifications from Bank of America or Countrywide. However, you may see no change at all, since Bank of America is keeping the Countrywide brand name.
Q: What does this mean for people who were trying to get Countrywide to relax the terms of their loan?
Willis: Countrywide has endured a raft of criticism for the speed with which they have responded to complaints about toxic loans and exploding adjustable rate mortgages. If you have a subprime Countrywide loan and are struggling to make payments, today's news is good for you.
Bruce Marks, a consumer advocate and chief executive of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, says that consumers should have an easier time getting loans modified by Bank of America. That's because the $4 billion price tag that B. of A. paid for Countrywide is a fire sale price that will allow them to write down mortgage loans, he says. Getting consumers to agree to some sort of payment will be better than no payment at all.
Q: Why do these loans change hands so much?
Willis: If you've had a mortgage any time at all, you've probably experienced having your loan change hands. Remember, your loan has value to lenders. In fact, your loan has so much value that Wall Street has turned mortgage loans into investments.
And that's what's made this mortgage crisis so deep and so long -- not only are lenders suffering from the mortgage meltdown, so are lenders, investors and Wall Street firms that package and sell these investments.
Q: Is there any opportunity for the average mortgage borrower these days?
Willis: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has made it fairly clear he intends to cut rates again. If you are struggling with a high interest rate, investigate getting a new mortgage loan. Rates are low, and lenders are eager for customers with good credit histories.
Remember, getting a new loan will trigger an appraisal. So, if you think your area has endured big price cuts, you'll have to weigh the benefits of a new loan at a lower rate against a loss of home value. Don't make this move if you end up owing more than the house is worth. E-mail to a friend
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