Like "the Sword of Damocles," the threat of foreclosure hangs over any mortgaged home until the mortgage is paid off. Fall behind on a few mortgage payments and your mortgage lender could foreclose.
Foreclosure is the process by which a lender or mortgage company vastly accelerates the monthly payments into one lump sum; declaring the mortgage immediately due in full. If you can't pay the entire cost of the mortgage at the time of foreclosure the lender can seize your home and resell it.
If your former home is resold for less than the cost of your mortgage at foreclosure you'll be responsible for the remaining unpaid balance. You could end up homeless, in further debt and have your credit destroyed – all in one fell swoop.
Despite the grim possibilities surrounding a potential foreclosure, don't panic if you think you may miss a mortgage payment. Even if you're in a financial slump there are many things you can do to avoid foreclosure.
The first thing you should do is consult with an attorney to find out what your legal rights are. You may need legal representation to ensure your rights are upheld. You should also contact the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 1-800-569-4287. HUD can provide you with the phone numbers of many reputable housing counseling agencies. The agencies can give you vital information on housing assistance programs offered by the government, private institutions and community organizations.
Luckily for borrowers, most mortgage lenders don't like to foreclose on homes. If your home is repossessed the lender takes the risk of not recouping the full mortgaged value of the home at resale; a prospect no lender looks forward to.
Before you ever acquire a mortgage you should find out if any of your potential lenders will be flexible with you if you ever end up in a financial crisis. The best lenders will work with you to help you get back on track and start making regular mortgage payments again.
If you end up having difficulties making your regularly scheduled mortgage payments you need to reply to any and all letters the lender may send you regarding the status of your loan. Ideally, you should contact your lender as soon as possible if you have any problems making your mortgage payments. Request the contact information for the lender's loss mitigation or foreclosure department for further assistance.
If you can provide documentation to support your claim of financial hardship your lender may be able to provide you with some alternatives to help you get back on track in paying off your mortgage.
Some of these alternatives include:
If you qualify for a repayment plan, your lender may allow you to add a percentage of your missed payments to your monthly payment once you resume making your regularly scheduled mortgage payments.
If you qualify for a mortgage modification you can refinance your mortgage, extend the term of your loan or both. This will allow you to pay lower monthly payments.
If you qualify for a special forbearance you may be able to reduce or even suspend your mortgage payments for a few months. You may qualify if you lost your job, have your income cut or your living expenses drastically increase.
If you have a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Veterans Administration (VA) and your loan is between 4 months and 1 year overdue, your lender may file a partial claim with HUD. You may qualify for an interest free loan to pay off your late payments if you can afford to resume regular payments. HUD will place a lien on your home for the amount of the loan, payable when you either pay off your mortgage or sell your home.
Whatever you do, don't move out of your home if you're having problems paying off your mortgage. You may be disqualified for payment assistance if your home is considered abandoned.
If you end up way over your head financially and won't be able to save your home, even with assistance, you can minimize the financial damage of foreclosure proceedings by doing one of the following:
Holding a Pre-Foreclosure Sale
If you qualify for a pre-foreclosure sale you can try to sell your home for fair market value and your lender may forgive any remaining mortgage balance if your home sells for less than you paid for it. HUD may reimburse the lender if you qualify for a pre-foreclosure from the agency. To qualify, your mortgage must be at least 2 months overdue and your income must be cut or your expenses increase due to no fault of your own. Under a pre-foreclosure agreement, you may have anywhere from 3 to 5 months to sell your home before foreclosure takes place.
Giving Back Your Home
If all your available options have failed you may qualify for giving back your "deed-in-lieu of foreclosure." You will lose your home but your credit won't be as negatively impacted as it would if a foreclosure took place.
Whatever you do, you should explore every available option to avoid foreclosure on your home. If you can't "dodge the sword" of foreclosure, the consequences may negatively impact your life for years to come.