The majority of home mortgage foreclosures happen because homeowners don’t have enough money and stop making their mortgage payments. But many times borrowers have a legitimate defense against foreclosure. Or they’re willing to accept the foreclosure but could use some help in making sure their rights are protected during the foreclosure process. If you can't afford to pay for a foreclosure defense attorney, there are other options you can use to help you through a foreclosure proceeding. You can handle the foreclosure on your own, set up a free consultation with an attorney, contact a free legal aid society, or look for a pro bono lawyer.
Written by Attorney Curtis Lee.
Updated December 31, 2021
The majority of home mortgage foreclosures happen because homeowners don’t have enough money. As a result, they stop making their mortgage payments. But many times borrowers have a legitimate defense against foreclosure. Or they’re willing to accept the foreclosure but could use some help in making sure their rights are protected during the foreclosure process. But because the homeowner has limited financial resources, they can’t afford to hire a foreclosure attorney.
In this case, there are other options you can use to help you through a foreclosure proceeding. You can handle the foreclosure on your own, set up a free consultation with an attorney, contact a free legal aid society, or look for a pro bono lawyer.
What To Do if You Can’t Afford To Hire a Foreclosure Attorney
Generally speaking, it helps to have an attorney handle your foreclosure. This is true in many cases, such as when you want to fight the foreclosure and have at least one valid foreclosure defense. Valid defenses include:
Your lender doesn’t own the mortgage loan they’re trying to foreclose on.
Your lender has misapplied your mortgage payments.
Your lender violated one or more rules during the foreclosure process.
You may also want to hire a foreclosure attorney if you’re a service member. Being in the United States armed forces doesn’t make you immune from foreclosure, but it does give you special legal rights. For example, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) limits when and how a mortgage company can foreclose on your home while you’re on active duty.
Sometimes you may be better off not hiring a foreclosure attorney, though. Even if the lawyer can provide some assistance, it may not be worth the cost. This might be the case if you’re going to let the bank foreclose on your home. Sure, you may prefer that the bank doesn’t do this, but you know there’s nothing you can legally do to stop the lender from foreclosing. In this case, it’ll probably be best to save the money you’d spend on a foreclosure attorney and use it to help find a new place to live.
All this being said, one of the primary considerations in deciding whether to hire a foreclosure attorney or not is how much it’ll cost. You could have the most compelling reasons to fight the foreclosure with an attorney, but if you can’t afford one, you’ll need to find an alternative.
Deal With the Foreclosure on Your Own
Depending on what your goals are, dealing with a foreclosure on your own may be a reasonable option. If you don’t want to fight the foreclosure and are willing to let your lender proceed, then you probably don’t need to hire an attorney. For instance, if you want to use a loss mitigation option like a mortgage loan modification, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure, you can usually handle those on your own.
If you decide to deal with the foreclosure without a lawyer, you should contact your loan servicer to discuss your options. It might be hard to believe, but most lenders want to avoid foreclosure, too, because it costs them time and money. So if they can find a way to let you stay in your home and resume your monthly payments, it’s a win-win situation.
If you decide to proceed without an attorney, you should still learn at least a little bit about state and federal foreclosure laws. This will give you an idea of what to expect when negotiating with your lender. And if they don’t follow the law as they should, you can point it out to them and prevent them from taking advantage of you. There’s also a chance that a lender’s misstep could delay or stop the foreclosure proceeding.
Consult With a Lawyer
If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer for your foreclosure, you can often consult with one to get some free legal advice. Some foreclosure defense lawyers offer a free consultation. During this meeting, you can explain your situation and get a rough idea of your legal and financial options. The attorney can also tell you about any immediate action you need to take to protect your rights. After this consultation, you should have a sense of what your next steps should be.
If you want additional help after the consultation, you may want to consider paying for limited legal representation. This might include paying for a few hours of your lawyer’s time when you need some guidance during foreclosure. Or you might pay a flat fee to get help with your foreclosure until it reaches a certain stage, like the end of loss mitigation. Either way, don’t be afraid to ask an attorney you want to hire (but can’t afford to) if there’s some alternative arrangement that’s more affordable for you.
Get Help From a Legal Aid Office
If you meet certain eligibility criteria you could have an attorney from a legal aid office represent you for free. Legal aid offices provide legal assistance to those who can’t afford to pay for an attorney or are otherwise disadvantaged. To find a legal aid office in your area, check out the Legal Services Corporation. Just keep in mind that qualifying for free legal aid will depend largely on whether you qualify as low income.
Get Help From Volunteer Attorney Programs
If you don’t qualify for help from a legal aid office or they don’t have the resources to help you, you can try to find an attorney who will take your case for free. Lawyers are strongly encouraged to volunteer some of their time providing free legal services to those in need. This volunteer work — also known as working pro bono — can take several forms.
For instance, an attorney could participate in a foreclosure assistance program. These programs can include clinics for those who need help with their foreclosures. There might also be attorneys in private practice who’re willing to take a foreclosure case at no charge.
To find out if you have a program or attorney in your area who might be able to take on your case for free, you can use the American Bar Association’s Free Legal Help search tool. But if you can’t find a pro bono or volunteer lawyer, there are other places to look, like your state and municipal bar associations. These are professional organizations that most attorneys join for professional development and volunteer opportunities. Depending on where you live, you should have a state bar association and maybe a city and/or county bar association.
To find out what’s available, do an online search for your state, county, or city + “bar association.” If the bar association exists, it should be at the top of your search results. You can then contact these organizations and ask if they know of any pro bono attorneys who handle foreclosure cases. If they know of an attorney or two, they can send you a referral.
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In many foreclosures, it’s beneficial to have an attorney handle your case. But it can also be very expensive. The only real question is if the foreclosure attorney’s services are worth the cost. Many homeowners who are facing foreclosure don’t have the funds to hire an attorney to represent them. Luckily, there are several ways to get the legal services of a foreclosure lawyer for free. These include free consultations, legal aid offices, and pro bono work.