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Guide to Mortgage Relief Programs

By Emma Diehl · October 24, 2022 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Guide to Mortgage Relief Programs

Whether a mutating virus, a layoff, inflation, or other bugaboo is the cause of a struggle to make the mortgage payments, life rafts are available.

Options for people who need mortgage relief include forbearance, loan modification, and refinancing.

What Are Mortgage Relief Programs?

Relief programs don’t magically make monthly mortgage payments disappear, but they pause or lower those payments.

Through a perennial form of mortgage relief, mortgage forbearance, borrowers facing financial troubles may be able to defer or trim payments short term.

It’s important to know that if you even anticipate a problem making a payment, it would be smart to contact your mortgage servicer immediately to talk about your options. There are several ways to find out who your mortgage servicer is.

Tardy payments damage credit scores, and late payments stay on a credit report for seven years.

Catching a Break Through Mortgage Relief

The remedies for mortgage payment anguish come in several forms.

Covid-Inspired Programs

As of late 2022, if you have an FHA, VA, or USDA loan, your mortgage servicer is authorized to approve initial Covid hardship forbearance requests until the national emergency is declared over.

If your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you can request an initial Covid hardship forbearance at any time.

For most loans, no fees or additional interest (beyond scheduled amounts) will be due.

You do not need to submit documentation to qualify. You can just tell your servicer that you have a pandemic-related financial hardship.

Homeowners with federally backed loans can pause or reduce payments for up to six months and can request an extension, for a total of 360 days.

Then there’s the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which offers grants to households experiencing a Covid-related hardship. To qualify, the maximum household income is typically $79,900.

Forbearance at Any Time

A borrower dealing with a short-term crisis may ask for mortgage forbearance, to pause or lower the mortgage payments.

Many lenders will ask for documentation to prove the hardship. They also will want to know whether the hardship is expected to last for six months or less or 12 months.

During forbearance, interest accrues and is added to the loan balance. All suspended or reduced payments will need to be paid back.

Refinancing

Homeowners coming out of forbearance may find that it’s a good time for a mortgage refinance, aiming for a lower rate and possibly different repayment term.

When choosing a mortgage term, know that the longer the term, the lower the payments, in general.

It’s generally thought that you should have at least 20% equity in your home to refinance. Your debt-to-income ratio and credit will be assessed if you apply.

There are two refi options for low- to moderate-income homeowners whose current mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae’s RefiNow and Freddie Mac’s Refi Possible are designed to help those homeowners get better mortgage rates and reduce upfront costs.

Someone with a VA loan can look into an interest rate reduction refinance loan, and an FHA loan borrower may look into an FHA Streamline Refinance or standard conventional refi.

Loan Modification

Homeowners who expect a permanent change in finances, or who are exiting forbearance but don’t qualify for refinancing, can ask for a loan modification.

Loan modification may result in a lower interest rate, a lower principal balance, an extension of the repayment term, or a combination.

You might have to prove the hardship to be approved.

Recommended: Loan Modification vs. Refinancing

Applying for Mortgage Relief

Again, when homeowners realize that they might have trouble making their monthly mortgage payment, they would be doing themselves a favor by contacting their loan servicer.

This applies to primary homes, multifamily property, and vacation homes.

Suffering in silence does no good. Working with your mortgage servicer could lead to one of the mortgage relief options described above or an agreement to try a short sale to avoid foreclosure.

A deed in lieu is also sometimes used to avoid foreclosure.

Recommended: 6 Ways to Lower Your Mortgage Payment

What to Do During Forbearance

A homeowner in mortgage forbearance might want to keep track of the following:

•   Automatic payments. Any automatic payments or transfers to mortgage accounts should be paused by the borrower during the forbearance period. It’s unlikely the payments will be paused automatically, so it might be best to double-check.

•   Credit scores. On any loan, deferring payments shouldn’t affect credit scores, but homeowners might want to keep an eye on their scores in the event of an error.

•   Savings account. Now might be a good time to set aside any extra income to pay for the mortgage once forbearance ends.

•   Any changes to income. If a borrower’s income is restored during forbearance, they might need to contact their lender.

•   Property taxes and insurance payments. If homeowners insurance and taxes are paid through an escrow account, it should go into forbearance along with the mortgage. Homeowners who do not have an escrow account may be on the hook for those payments.

Homeowners interested in an extension of a forbearance period need to ask their mortgage servicer.

How to Repay Forbearance

Homeowners who receive Covid hardship forbearance are not required to repay their paused payments in a lump sum when the forbearance period ends.

For those with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, options include a repayment plan with higher mortgage payments, putting the missed payments at the end of the loan, and a loan modification.

Borrowers with FHA loans can put the money owed into a no-interest lien that comes payable if they sell the home or refinance the mortgage. Or they can negotiate to lower their mortgage payments with a loan modification.

Options for USDA and VA loan repayment include adding the missed payments to the end of the loan, and loan modification.

In general, a homeowner can expect one of the following scenarios:

•   Repaying the forbearance amount in a lump sum.

•   An amount is added to the borrower’s monthly payment until the forbearance amount is repaid in full.

•   The forbearance amount is added to the end of the loan.

Recommended: Guide to Buying, Selling, and Updating Your Home

The Takeaway

Federal mortgage relief programs help homeowners who are experiencing hardship. General mortgage forbearance is possible during most any household setback. Refinancing could be an answer for some borrowers who are coming out of forbearance.

If refinancing seems like a good move, see what SoFi offers. SoFi’s fixed-rate mortgage refinance comes with a variety of repayment terms.

Get a rate quote in minutes.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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