What Happens If I Can't Pay My Mortgage Anymore?

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Falling behind on your mortgage payments is different than not paying your rent because it can have a bigger effect on your credit score. It can also put your home in jeopardy if you can’t settle up, but you do have options. What to do if you can't pay your mortgage ranges from a forbearance agreement, which can give you some time to work things out, or a deed in lieu of foreclosure if you can't salvage the situation.

What Happens When You Fall Behind?

First, you’ll be charged a late fee when 15 days have passed and you haven't made your payment. Your loan will officially go into default if you’re still unable to make your payment after 30 days.

Mortgage lenders usually offer a grace period on monthly payments. You typically have until the 15th of the month to make your payment without incurring any late fees or penalties.

At this point, your lender will report your overdue payment to credit bureaus, and it will start to impact your credit score. 

If You Don't Catch Up

The foreclosure process will begin when you’re 120 days or more past due. This is when the lender takes possession of the home and removes you from the property. The actual legal process for this varies by state. The goal is for the lender to sell the property, using the proceeds to pay off your remaining mortgage balance.

This might sound like the solution to the problem because you're no longer responsible for the remainder of the loan, but you could be required to pay the difference if the proceeds from the sale don’t cover the full loan balance. This is called a “deficiency judgment” and it requires additional legal action on the part of your lender.

Options If You Can't Pay

Contact your mortgage company right away to find out if there are any programs available that might be of help you. You might be able to qualify for a temporary payment reduction, or refinance for a lower payment depending on where you live and if you're past due on the loan.

You can also meet with a HUD housing counselor who can help you determine the best course of action, as well as assist with budgeting and other financial needs.

Here are some other options:

  • A forbearance plan: This allows you to make reduced payments or sometimes no payments at all for a period of time if you’re dealing with a temporary hardship.
  • A loan modification: Your lender might be willing to modify your loan to make your payments more affordable.
  • A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure: You can voluntarily hand over ownership of your property to the lender in exchange for total or partial debt forgiveness. This is usually only an option if foreclosure is imminent.
  • A repayment plan: These plans are designed for borrowers who are a few payments behind. They allow you to pay a higher monthly payment until you’re caught up on your past due balance.
  • A short sale: A short sale lets you sell the property for less than your outstanding mortgage balance. It requires lender approval.

A refinance might help if you can pay some but not the full amount of your payments. You can usually lower your monthly payment if you refinance into a longer-term loan, although this will increase the amount of interest you'll pay over the life of the loan overall.

Prevent Falling Behind

You might also try to find a way to increase your income. Taking on a second job or a side gig can help. Working a few temporary jobs can help you stay in your home and avoid falling behind if your problem is a temporary income issue. Taking in a roommate might also be an option, depending on your circumstances.

Be sure you’re financially ready to buy a home before you do so. This can involve a few steps:

  1. Save up for a larger down payment. A solid down payment gives you equity in your home from day one, and it can prevent you from owing more than your home is currently worth later on down the line.
  2. Reduce your debts first. Paying down credit cards, student loans, and other debts in advance of buying frees up income and makes it easier to manage your house payments. 
  3. Only purchase a home that you can really afford. You might find yourself overwhelmed by your house payment if you stretch yourself too thin, especially if your income changes or an emergency crops up that requires extra funds.

You should generally plan to stay in your home for at least five years to break even on the purchase.

You should also consider how long you plan to stay in the home. You might plan on upgrading in a few years if you're buying a starter home. If you're in a profession that requires you to move frequently, you need to take that into consideration as well. 

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Homeowner's Guide to Success," Page 2. Accessed April 14, 2020.

  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I Can't Make My Mortgage Payments." Accessed April 14, 2020.

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "How Does Foreclosure Work?" Accessed April 14, 2020.

  4. Cornell Law School. "Deficiency Judgment." Accessed April 14, 2020.