Our view: Foreclosure fears? Get help early

Gwinnett set another record - not the good kind - this month.

Lenders will foreclose on 1,180 homes, eclipsing the previous record set four months ago. That's 1,180 families who have watched their American dream turn into a nightmare.

For months, the debate has raged over who's to blame for the sub-prime boondoggle. Is it the fault of greedy lenders who, in attempts to land the mortgage business, ignored credit histories or disregarded what their clients actually could afford? Or is it the mortgagors who jumped in over their heads?

In the past 12 months, 10,082 Gwinnett homes were foreclosed upon. You can't completely credit this calamitous number to those who threw caution to the wind. There always have been and always will be foreclosures. The economy has been tough on a lot of people, and some were hit by unforeseen financial hardship, loss of a job, divorce, medical bills, etc.

But it's also clear that other forces are at play. Greedy lenders and overzealous homeowners played key roles in a rise that's seen an increase in foreclosures from 308 in April 2002 to 1,180 this month.

For those in foreclosure or facing the prospect, there is help.

IMPACT! Group is a nonprofit corporation that offers a range of housing services from homelessness to home ownership in Georgia, including guidance and counseling for those in foreclosure.

Tony Mitchell, director of IMPACT!'s home ownership center, says the agency has been bombarded with clients.

"We doubled the amount of activity from '05 to '06 and doubled that again in '07," Mitchell said. In the first three months of this year, IMPACT! has counseled 350 families, which puts it on pace to double the client number again in 2008.

Today's foreclosures are not particular to any demographic. "We're seeing people come to us from all levels of housing, from starter homes to luxury homes," Mitchell said.

IMPACT!'s primary goal is to keep these families in their homes. With the right approach and the right plan, Mitchell or one of his five other counselors can help people regain control of their home payment.

In addition to one-on-one counseling that starts with a one-hour session and then one or two more meetings, IMPACT! holds group seminars. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 26, the Home Investment Academy seminar is entitled "Keeping your home through challenging times."

Whether you seek help from IMPACT! or get it elsewhere, timing is critical, Mitchell explains. "The bottom line is to get help early. Stay ahead of the curve." Too often, he said, people wait and the hole gets too deep.

We may not be at the bottom of this subprime mortgage crisis and it's likely Mitchell's counselors will keep doubling their clientele.

For more info on IMPACT!: 678.808.4477 or info@theimpactgroup.org.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Keeping Your Home in Challenging Times, an IMPACT! Group seminar

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 26

Where: IMPACT! Group offices, 1845 Satellite Boulevard, Suite 100, Duluth, GA 30097

More info: 678-808-4477 or info@theimpactgroup.org