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One month later, many Ashwood Apartments fire victims still without a home | News



SOUTH COVENTRY — One month to the day after the Ashwood Apartments in North Coventry were destroyed by a massive fire, many of the 100 people made homeless by the blaze gathered in a church picnic ground in Pughtown for a break, and some help.

“We just wanted them to have a break, get some fresh air and see each other,” said the Rev. Josh Park, pastor of BranchLife Church on Pughtown Road, which organized the event.

The church has been assisting those displaced, 50 families, about 100 people, who lived in the 45 apartments once contained in the three-story brick building on Worth Avenue in North Coventry.

Of those 50 families, only about 13 have found new permanent housing, Park said. “I’m told that’s pretty good and that it usually takes 45 to 60 days, but we won’t rest until they all have homes.”

It’s been a joint effort, with assisting agencies ranging from the Red Cross, United Way, Salvation Army, Chester Housing Authority, Owen J. Roberts School District and more.

Local businesses have lent a hand (Pottstown’s own Grumpy’s Handcarved Sandwiches and Beverly’s Pastries provided the food for Sunday’s picnic and Costco donated a bed) with donations and services.

Many of those donations arrived early Sunday morning after the call went out seeking goods and an article appeared in Saturday’s Mercury. In addition to having a chance at winning donated prizes needed for a new home, every family left Sunday’s picnic with a packet of donated gift cards.

Even the entertainment, by Moon Dawgs, was donated, as were the inflatable slide and bounce house set up for the kids.

“All I can say is at a time when the country is so divided, how heartening it is to see the community come together to help,” Park said.

And while the help is appreciated, former Ashwood residents are still struggling to put their lives back together.

“About 75 percent of them didn’t have renters insurance,” Park said of those who had lived in one of the few places in northern Chester County with affordable rent.

“I just want my life back,” said Kim Scram, a mom with 11-year-old twin girls and a 13-year-old boy to support.

Like many of the former Ashwood residents, Scram is staying in the Staybridge Suites in Royersford.

“I had to get a two-bedroom suite because of the kids’ age and it’s $129 a night,” said Scram.

Luckily, she can still work. A home health aide, Scram’s client conveniently lived in Ashwood and is now lodging at the Staybridge.

But Scram has “bad credit” and an eviction that resulted from a bad relationship a few years ago, “and it really follows you around. I mean who in the world has good credit in these times?” she asked.

As a result, she has had landlords refuse to rent to her and her children. “I need a three or four bedroom and I can afford $1,700 to $1,800 a month,” Scram said adding, “but it’s a landlord’s market.”

While some landlords, prevented from evicting tenants due to the COVID-19 pandemic might dispute that observation, the fact remains that decent apartments at rents like those at Ashwood are hard to come by.

Maybe that’s why Bill and Eleanor said when they went to look at an apartment recently, they saw several of their former neighbors contenting for the same space.

Bill and Eleanor agreed to speak to a Mercury reporter only if he agreed to change their names. Like many who at the picnic seeking housing, there is a reluctance to share their difficulties with the world in a newspaper article.

Bill, who has been clean for 14 years, is still dogged by a criminal record dating back to his addiction. “I am not that person anymore, but I had a landlord laugh right in my face,” he said.

And the difficulties and the competition the former Ashwood residents face in the housing market may only get tougher in the next few weeks.

The Chester Housing Authority recently warned that unless the state General Assembly extends the ban on evictions, thousands more people, put out of work by pandemic health restrictions and unable to pay rent, may be flooding the already cramped, and expensive, housing market.

“We are extremely worried that these developments could result in an even greater crisis for those renters faced with continuing monetary challenges related to the COVID-19 virus,” Dale Gravett, executive director of the Housing Authority of Chester County, told MediaNews Group.

The eviction moratorium expired Monday and Gov. Tom Wolf has asked the Legislature to extend it because he claims the law prevents him from extending it once again himself.

Wolf is now proposing an extra $100 million for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and CARES Rent Relief Program. The PHFA has a program for people who need assistance. Renters can get up to $750 a month and $4,500 for six months.

The funds are first-come, first-served. Under the PHFA, landlords must agree to not evict tenants until 60 days after that final payment.

To date, the HACC has received in excess of 200 applications from renters whose inability to pay would normally result in potential eviction proceedings.

In Chester County, a payment limit of $750 per month is too low to cover most rents which results in a flat-out rejection from the majority of landlords, Gravett said.

That’s not news to Bill and Eleanor. That was the rent at Ashwood, but it’s hard to find other places in a similar price range that don’t have problems.

“We looked at a place on High Street in Pottstown, but it smelled like wet dogs, and once we saw the mouse turds, we knew we couldn’t live there,” said Bill.

They’ve looked at two apartments which were in or above garages, “and they wanted $1,000 a month,” said Eleanor.

Luckily for them, they had renters insurance and Eleanor has two jobs, so they have some breathing space.

It’s a good thing too because like all their neighbors “we lost everything.”

They may need that breathing room because the two, both 53, are looking for a place that takes pets. They had just welcomed a kitten about a week before the fire hit, and that has made the search harder.

And while Bill saved their kitten on the night of the fire, he was unable to save Jim and Evelyn Uphold’s cat Kissy.

“They often tested the alarm system there, but when it went off that night it was at an odd time,” Jim recalled. He rushed out and helped several people out of the burning building, “and then I recalled ‘oh God, the cat!'” and was able to get inside and save it.

But after he helped the Upholds get out, the police officer would not let Jim go back to get Kissy.

It’s been a rough couple of months for the Upholds.

When the fire hit, Jim Uphold had just completed chemotherapy and radiation treatment for rectal cancer. He is due for surgery to remove the tumor that remains in a few weeks.

His wife Eveyln, herself a leukemia survivor, needs kidney dialysis three times a week.

Their search for a new apartment has been difficult because it has to be on the first floor.

“We’re looking for something no more than $900 a month on the first floor, but no one is calling us back,” Jim Uphold said.

Before handing out the prizes, Park reviewed the complicated process the former tenants must go through to be assigned a caseworker to help them get new housing. “I know it gets exhausting to have to tell your story over and over again,” he told the families.

He said 15 area churches have stepped up and he will be assigning former Ashwood tenants a church that will provide volunteers to help with shopping, appointments and looking for new homes.

The Upholds said they are thankful for all the help the community has provided — it took three days to sort all the clothing donations made in the fire’s wake, said Park.

“And we appreciate being able to stay at the Staybridge,” Jim Uphold said. “But it’s not home.”

MediaNews Group staff writer Fran Maye contributed to this article.

This article first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.

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How to Avoid a Prepayment Penalty When Paying Off a Loan | Pennyhoarder



Look at you, so responsible. You received a financial windfall — stimulus check, tax refund, work bonus, inheritance, whatever — and you’re using it to pay off one of your debts years ahead of schedule.

Good for you! Except… make sure you don’t get charged a prepayment penalty.

Now wait just a minute, you say. I’m paying the money back early — early! — and my lender thanks me by charging me a fee?

Well, in some cases, yes.

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders use to recoup the money they’ll lose when you’re no longer paying interest on the loan. That interest is how they make their money.

But you can avoid the trap — or at least a big payout if you’ve already signed the loan contract. We’ll explain.

What Is a Loan Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders charge if you pay off all or part of your loan early.

Typically, a prepayment penalty only applies if you pay off the entire balance – for example, because you sold your car or are refinancing your mortgage – within a specific timeframe (usually within three years of when you accepted the loan).

In some cases, a prepayment penalty could apply if you pay off a large amount of your loan all at once.

Prepayment penalties do not normally apply if you pay extra principal in small chunks at a time, but it’s always a good idea to double check with the lender and your loan agreement.

What Loans Have Prepayment Penalties?

Most loans do not include a prepayment penalty. They are typically applied to larger loans, like mortgages and sometimes auto loans — although personal loans can also include this sneaky fee.

Credit unions and banks are your best options for avoiding loans that include prepayment penalties, according to Charles Gallagher, a consumer law attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Unfortunately, if you have bad credit and can’t get a loan from traditional lenders, private loan alternatives are the most likely to include the prepayment penalty.

Pro Tip

If your loan includes a prepayment penalty, the contract should state the time period when it may be imposed, the maximum penalty and the lender’s contact information.

”The more opportunistic and less fair lenders would be the ones who would probably be assessing [prepayment penalties] as part of their loan terms,” he said, “I wouldn’t say loan sharking… but you have to search down the list for a less preferable lender.”

Prepayment Penalties for Mortgages

Although you’ll find prepayment penalties in auto and personal loans, a more common place to find them is in home loans. Why? Because a lender who agrees to a 30-year mortgage term is banking on earning years worth of interest to make money off the amount it’s loaning you.

That prepayment penalty can apply if you want to pay off your loan early, sell your house or even refinance, depending on the terms of your mortgage.

However, if there is a prepayment penalty in the contract for a more recent mortgage, there are rules about how long it can be in effect and how much you can owe.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruled that for mortgages made after Jan. 10, 2014, the maximum prepayment penalty a lender can charge is 2% of the loan balance. And prepayment penalties are only allowed in mortgages if all of the following are true:

  1. The loan has a fixed interest rate.
  2. The loan is considered a “qualified mortgage” (meaning it can’t have features like negative amortization or interest-only payments).
  3. The loan’s annual percentage rate can’t be higher than the Average Prime Offer Rate (also known as a higher-priced mortgage).

So suppose you bought a house last year and then wanted to sell your home. If your mortgage meets all of the above criteria and has a prepayment penalty clause in the mortgage contract, you could end up paying a penalty of 2% on the remaining balance — for a loan you still owe $200,000 on, that comes out to an extra $4,000.

Prepayment penalties apply for only the first few years of a mortgage — the CFPB’s rule allows for a maximum of three years. But again, check your mortgage agreement for your exact terms.

The prepayment penalty won’t apply to FHA, VA or USDA loans but can apply to conventional mortgages — although the penalty is much less common than it was before the CFPB’s ruling.

“It’s more of private loans — loans for people who’ve maybe had some struggles and can’t qualify for a Fannie or Freddie loan,” Gallagher said. “That block of lending is the one going to be most hit by this.”

How to Find Out If a Loan Will Have a Prepayment Penalty

The best way to avoid a prepayment penalty is to read your contract — or better yet, have a professional (like an attorney or CPA) who understands the terminology, review it.

“You should read the entirety of the loan, as painful as that sounds, because lenders may try to hide it,” Gallagher said. “Generally, it would be under repayment terms or the language that deals with the payoff of the loan or selling your house.”

Gallagher rattled off a list of alternative terms a lender could use in the contract, including:

  • Sale before a certain timeframe.
  • Refinance before a term.
  • Prepayment prior to maturity.

“They avoid using the word ‘penalty,’ obviously, because that would give a reader of the note, mortgage or the loan some alarm,” he said.

If you’re negotiating the terms — as say, with an auto loan — don’t let a salesperson try to pressure you into signing a contract without agreeing to a simple interest contract with no prepayment penalty. Better yet, start by applying for a pre-approved auto loan so you can get a pro to review any contracts before you sign.

Pro Tip

Do you have less-than-sterling credit? Watch out for pre-computed loans, in which interest is front-loaded, ensuring the lender collects more in interest no matter how quickly you pay off the loan.

If your lender presents you with a contract that includes a prepayment penalty, request a loan that does not include a prepayment penalty. The new contract may have other terms that make that loan less advantageous (like a higher interest rate), but you’ll at least be able to compare your options.

How Can You Find Out if Your Current Loan Has a Prepayment Penalty?

If a loan has a prepayment penalty, the servicer must include information about the penalty on either your monthly statement or in your loan coupon book (the slips of paper you send with your payment every month).

You can also ask your lender about the terms regarding your penalty by calling the number on your monthly billing statement or read the documents you signed when you closed the loan — look for the same terms mentioned above.

What to Do if You’re Stuck in a Loan With Prepayment Penalty

If you do discover that your loan includes a prepayment penalty, you still have some options.

First, check your contract.

If you’ll incur a fee for paying off your loan early within the first few years, consider holding onto the money until the penalty period expires.

Pro Tip

If you don’t have a loan with a prepayment penalty, contact your lender before sending additional money to ensure your payment is going toward principal — not interest or fees.

Additionally, although you may get socked with a penalty for paying off the loan balance early, it’s likely you can still make extra payments toward the balance. Review your contract or ask your lender what amount will trigger the penalty, Gallagher said.

If you’re paying off multiple types of debt, consider paying off the accounts that do not trigger prepayment penalties — credit cards and federal student loans don’t charge prepayment penalties.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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10 things you didn’t know will help you get a mortgage



Anyone who wants to apply for a mortgage right now will know that it’s not easy. Coronavirus has made the process of applying longer, while lenders are now more careful than ever about who they will lend to. You probably already know that having a healthy credit score is essential to a successful mortgage application, but how can it be achieved? Personal finance experts from Ocean Finance  weigh in with the top tips for making sure your application is a success – that you may not have heard about. 

1. Make sure your name is on all household bills

If you share a rental, it can be tempting to let someone else put their name down on the utility bills and just pay them back. If you want a mortgage, avoid doing this: bills with your name and address on them are proof that you pay them on time. This especially applies to the rent itself – never move into a house share without your name being on the contract. Before applying for a mortgage, ask your landlord for a letter confirming that you pay on time. 

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How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan? A Guide



When you are in need of money quickly, you very likely don’t want to sit around pondering a bunch of different options. You want to find the option that works best for you and utilise it. Unfortunately for so many people around the country, it can be difficult to get their hands on the money they need due to them having a bad credit score, or even no credit score at all.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

Photo, Varun Gaba.

Your credit score is thought of as being pretty important, as it shows your financial trustworthiness to financial institutions like banks, credit card companies, lenders, and more. Your credit score is one thing that will usually be considered by just about any company you apply for a loan through, so keeping a close eye on your credit score is imperative for your financial life.

No matter what your credit score looks like, knowing how you can prequalify for a personal loan can be a comforting feeling when you are in need of quick cash. After all, when you are eligible for personal loan prequalification, you feel a little better going into the loan process knowing you won’t have to wait around for a loan decision.

How is Pre-qualification Decided? Prequalifying for a personal loan can depend on several different factors that you will have to keep in mind, and it will vary greatly depending on the lender you are applying through. Here are two of the things you will need to keep in mind when it comes to your loan that could affect whether or not you prequalify for the loan.

— Your credit score; Yes, this is always going to be something you are going to need to think about. Depending on the financial institution or lender you are going through, you can bet that your credit history and score will play a huge part in whether or not you prequalify.

— The amount of your loan; How much money you plan on borrowing from the lender or bank is also going to play a part in deciding whether or not you prequalify.

To get the most out of your search for a lender that you could prequalify with, think about applying with more than just one lender. This way, you might get several pre-qualification offers, and this will allow you to sort through the lenders and decide which one works best for you.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

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The Pre-qualification Process: No matter where you are trying to prequalify for your loan through, you will find the process to be pretty simple and largely similar across most lending platforms. You will need to provide some information to the lender that will help them decide whether or not to prequalify you.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

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Some of the information you will need to provide includes:

— Your full name; You will want to make sure you provide your full legal name so you can make the process simple for yourself and the lender. Depending on the lender, you might also be asked to provide images of your government issued ID or driver’s license to validate your identity.

— Your income and information on your job; Your income and employment status are often considered over your credit score when it comes to pre-qualification for loans, especially if you are applying for a personal loan through a lender who deals with customers with bad credit or no credit.

— The loan amount you want; Of course, you will have to include the amount of money you would like to borrow. Make sure it is something reasonable, and something that you can realistically pay back on time.

What Will the Lender Do? If you are trying to prequalify through a lender who specialises in bad credit clients, then you won’t have to worry about your credit score being negatively affected by taking out your loan. However, if the lender reports to the credit bureaus, your payments could still make an impact on your credit score.

If not working with a specialised lender, you might find that the lender will do a soft inquiry on your credit when going through the pre-qualification process. No worries here, as this doesn’t put any dents in your score. If you prequalify for the loan you are looking for, you should get an alert via email from the lender of your choice.

The Money You Need: Hopefully, you will have prequalified for the loan you are looking for so you can ensure you have access to the money you need, when you need it. Whether you’re going through some unexpected circumstance in life or just need money to pay something off quickly, knowing you are prequalified for the loan you need is a comforting feeling, allowing you access to the cash you need for whatever you need it for.

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