How to Avoid Foreclosure and Keep Your Home
If you are a homeowner having trouble making your mortgage payments, then you probably are experiencing a lot of stress. You likely want to do whatever you can to stay in your home and to avoid a foreclosure.
The first thing you should keep in mind is to stay in close contact with your lender. If you are going to miss a mortgage payment, inform your lender. Keep good records of all your correspondence. Use registered mail to send documents and letters, so you can verify that they were received. Most lenders will work with you, as foreclosing on homes carries heavy costs for them.
It may be impossible for you to make any payments at all, temporarily. Forbearance is an agreement between you and your lender, where your lender agrees to not pursue foreclosure and to accept no mortgage payment or a reduced mortgage payment for a defined period. If you have a temporary disability or can show that you expect money from an insurance pay-out or tax refund, you may qualify for forbearance. You need to have a clean payment history to be eligible. Forbearance is only granted if your lender is confident that you will be able to resume making your normal payments plus pay back the any arrears accumulated while in forbearance. In most cases the length of the forbearance plan will not exceed 18 months. Most forbearance plans stipulate that foreclosure will proceed, if the borrower defaults on the agreement.
One way to work things out with your lender, if you are delinquent on your payments, is to negotiate a reinstatement of your mortgage loan agreement. A reinstatement agreement requires you to stay current on all of your future payments and to commit to agreed on payment terms for all your mortgage payment arrears. Arrears may be required in a lump sum or it may the case that you can pay the arrears in supplementary monthly payments to your regular mortgage payment over a period of 12 to 24 months. Reinstatement is really only an option for you, if you were having serious financial problems but are over them, as it requires substantial monthly payments moving forward. If you can receive help from a family member or sell of a valuable asset, reinstatement is a worthwhile option to pursue.
An important option for you to consider is a loan modification. A loan modification is a permanent change to one or more terms of your loan. Your lender can modify your loan by reducing your interest rate and the size of your monthly payment, by extending the repayment term of your loan, or by agreeing to reduce the principal balance of your loan. A principal reduction is negotiated when the value of the property has dropped. Balance reductions became relatively common starting in 2008, in reaction to the dramatic decline in home prices in many areas.
Some home loan modifications are completed according to the rules set by the Obama Administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). This is a voluntary program; there is no requirement that a loan servicer (the bank holding the mortgage in question) participate in HAMP. However, if the loan servicer received TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money, it must participate in HAMP.
As a borrower in distress, you must meet certain guidelines in order to qualify for a loan modification. The lender will examine the size of your loan compared to the fair market value of the property, your debt-to-income ratio, and your credit history. A loan modification is not a refinance. It does not add or remove a party from the loan agreement, nor allow you to remove equity from the property in the form of cash.
Loan modification is a multi-step process. You need to have patience and diligence to see the loan mod process through to a successful end. As mentioned above, you should keep thorough records. Save any letters you send to your lender or receive from them. Keep a log of any conversations you have, but remember that a paper trail gives you more solid records than notes you took of conversations with your lender’s representatives. Different lenders can have different rules and procedures for the loan modification process.
The first step to a loan modification is to apply for one. Some lenders require that you are delinquent on your loan in order to apply. Other lenders do not, as long as you can demonstrate a financial hardship that meets the lender’s standards. You generally have to supply tax records, bank statements, income documentation, and a statement of your assets and liabilities. You must make a declaration that explains why you are having troubles making your current mortgage payments or will soon be unable to make your payments. During the application period, you are still at risk for foreclosure. Your lender likely has separate departments reviewing your loan file. The loan modification department may be working on your loan mod application at the same time that the foreclosure department is moving forward to foreclose on your home.
After you have applied, your lender may put you on a trial modification, lowering your payment temporarily. Government loan modification programs require a trial period. A typical trial period lasts three months giving your lender time to test your ability to make the new, modified payment. During this time, the lender also reviews the documents you supply to support the financial hardship you claimed on your application. Make sure that the information you provide is accurate and verifiable. Adhere to any payment and document commitments that your lender requires from you.
Most lenders do not pursue foreclosure during the trial period, but it is not unheard of. Your state may have rules that govern whether your lender can proceed with the foreclosure during the trial period and how your lender can move forward to foreclose on you if your trial is not successful.
After the trial period concludes, if you are approved for the modification, be sure to make all of your modified payments in a timely manner. Your loan modification may hurt your credit score, depending how your lender reports the information to the credit bureaus. Whatever credit harm you may incur from successful loan mod, it will have caused far less damage your credit rating than continued delinquent payments or a foreclosure.
If your lender decides that your hardship is non-existent or not as severe as you claimed, your loan mod application will be turned down. Even if you made all the trial payments on time, if you are turned down, you would still be in arrears each month for the difference between your lower modified payment and the payment required in your original loan documents. You may have to make up the difference between your standard mortgage payment and the reduced trial payment, in order to avoid foreclosure.
If you are not approved for the loan modification, you have only a few options left that may keep you in your home.
Hire an Attorney
You could hire an attorney. An attorney will work to get the lender to take another look at your file, reviewing the reasons you were turned down. An attorney can audit all the original loan paperwork as well as your loan modification paperwork and threaten legal action if he or she finds any irregularities in the paperwork. With all the problems being reported in the news about how lenders handled foreclosures, your attorney may be able to apply some leverage that you as a layperson could not easily do.
Be wary of any private firm that wants to charge you money to help you with a loan modification. Unfortunately, there are many scammers out there who will take advantage of you when you are in a vulnerable position. Attorneys are not necessarily helpful. However, an attorney is at risk of losing his or her ability to practice law, if engaged in fraudulent conduct. This makes working with an attorney less risky than with a private loan modification firm.
Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
An option of last resort that allows you to remain in your home is for you to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Once you are under the supervision of the bankruptcy court, your lender cannot proceed with a foreclosure. The goal of filing bankruptcy, in these circumstances, is to allow you to retain possession of your residence while you participate in a structured repayment of your debts. Consult with an attorney who has experience in bankruptcy to discuss whether bankruptcy will allow you to keep your home.
It makes sense to take every step possible to stay to stay in your home. If you are having problems making your mortgage payments, it is crucial for you to know what steps you can take to avoid losing your home to foreclosure. If you follow the advice laid out in this article but still are facing threats of foreclosure, please read about the different ways to sell your home. How you choose to handle the sale of your home affects whether you will have debt follow you, if your home sells for less than you owe on it, and how your credit will be impacted.