Guide to Mortgage Relief Programs

By Emma Diehl · February 16, 2024 · 5 minute read

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Guide to Mortgage Relief Programs

Whether a layoff, inflation, or other bugaboo is causing you to struggle with your mortgage payments, life rafts are available.

Options for people who need mortgage relief include forbearance, loan modification, and refinancing. Here’s a closer look at each option.

What Are Mortgage Relief Programs?

Relief programs don’t magically make monthly mortgage payments disappear, but they can 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 (the company you send your mortgage payments to) immediately to talk about your options.

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.

Forbearance at Any Time

While pandemic-related laws that required lenders to provide mortgage forbearance relief to struggling homeowners expired in April 2023, many lenders offer forbearance programs to borrowers on a case-by-case basis. If you’re dealing with a short-term crisis, you can reach out to your lender and ask for mortgage forbearance, to temporarily pause or lower your 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.


💡 Quick Tip: Lowering your monthly payments with a mortgage refinance from SoFi can help you find money to pay down other debt, build your rainy-day fund, or put more into your 401(k).

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 (an arrangement where you give your mortgage lender the deed to your home) 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.


💡 Quick Tip: Generally, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better loan terms you’ll be offered. One way to improve your ratio is to increase your income (hello, side hustle!). Another way is to consolidate your debt and lower your monthly debt payments.

How to Repay Forbearance

Homeowners who received 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.

SoFi can help you save money when you refinance your mortgage. Plus, we make sure the process is as stress-free and transparent as possible. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates on a traditional mortgage refinance or cash-out refinance.

A new mortgage refinance could be a game changer for your finances.


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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.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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