by Broderick Perkins
(4/19/2013) - Homeownership counseling is a lot like solar energy.
Relative newcomers to the world of housing, both offer the potential for big financial gain.
Solar energy saves money on the operating cost of owning a home by reducing the need for energy from the utility grid.
Homeownership counseling saves money on the cost of owning a home by teaching consumers how to prepare.
Solar energy helps save the planet by reducing a home's carbon footprint, global warming and climate change.
Homeownership counseling helps save the neighborhood, by saving homeownership, one by one.
Educated homeowners are less likely to default on their mortgage. When too many of a neighborhood's homeowners default, well, there goes the neighborhood.
And you gotta have neighborhoods to raise a planet.
There is, however, one big difference.
A solar panel system large enough to make a big difference can cost $25,000 or more.
Homeownership counseling thorough enough to make a difference is free — except for your time.
And just when you thought you had another excuse not to get some home schooling, Freddie Mac's new online, interactive CreditSmart training course now makes homeownership educational lessons convenient.
CreditSmart is a smart use of the Internet's interactive capability, a capability that's tapped for interactive educational purchases far too little.
CreditSmart doesn't have quite the depth of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-certified counseling and it might not be a good fit for those who learn best in a classroom
However, CreditSmart's self-paced modules do cover salient points necessary to become fairly well grounded in homeownership knowledge. And it allows you to gain the knowledge right from the comfort of your own home, even in your jammies and on a couch, if you wish.
"Whether you are considering homeownership for the first time or currently own a home and need information on how to avoid foreclosure, this flexible, interactive course will teach you how to achieve your financial and homeownership goals," the interactive site claims.
Getting on the right track
CreditSmart comes with 12 different learning modules divided into four tracks.
You can take the modules in order 1 through 12 or choose to work on a specific track.
Some modules show up in more than one track. For example you'll find the "Your Credit And Why It's Important" module in all four tracks. "Thinking Like A Lender," however, only shows up in the "Steps to Homeownership" track.
Moving through the modules
If you decide to take the complete program, there's nothing to prevent you from meandering through the modules and taking them out of order.
However, the full program is designed sequentially to move you through the progressives steps you should take on the road to homeownership - credit and money management, budgeting and goal setting, mortgage planning, homeownership and protecting your investment.
The instructions say it takes no more than 30 minutes for each module or about a total of 6 hours to complete. Compare that to the minimum eight hours in a full-blown HUD-certified counseling session.
However, if you are a quick study you can move through some of the modules in half the suggested maximum time or in about three of four hours, but that's only if you just do a read through and take the short quiz at the end of each module.
There's much, much more to CreditSmart, so expect to settle in for something closer to the six hours in one sitting or over time.
In addition to information you'll have to read and learn and the quiz at the end of each module, some modules are longer or come with more time-consuming homework. Homework is necessary to get the full benefit of the CreditSmart program.
For example the "Managing Your Money" includes a "Needs vs. Wants Worksheet" you should complete.
The 46-page "Is Homeownership Right For You?" includes "Are You Ready To Buy a Home" a list of yes or no question to help you decide, "Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent" and pop questions, along with the end-of-module quiz.
So that you are speaking the right language when you talk to real estate agents, brokers, mortgage lenders and other real estate and financial professionals, CreditSmart comes with an extensive glossary of hundreds of related terms hot linked throughout the modules.
You can access from any module page, the full glossary, all the worksheets that are interspersed throughout the modules, including "Goal Setting Worksheet," "Debt Worksheet," "Cash and Asset Worksheet," "Spending Plan Worksheet," and others.
Also, throughout the modules, you'll find module-related links referring you to additional information and resources outside the CreditSmart program, say, to HUD-approved counselors, credit counselors, Freddie Mac's homebuyer education web site and more.
Again, while not offering the same educational intensity as classroom or one-on-one, in-person counseling, CreditSmart goes a long way toward preparing you for homeownership and beyond.
The site is easy to navigate, nicely illustrated with photos, graphs, charts and other images, it's educational content-heavy without advertiser distractions and otherwise delivers as promised.
Bookmark it — even if you already own a home.
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