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I’m Unemployed. How Can I Get Help With My Mortgage Payments?

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In a Nutshell

If you’ve lost your job and need help with your mortgage, don’t panic. Several mortgage assistance programs may be available to you. You may also take advantage of special protections enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic that aren’t ordinarily available.

Written by Attorney Serena Siew.  
Updated July 19, 2021


If you’ve lost your job and need help with your mortgage, don’t panic. Several mortgage assistance programs may be available to you. You may also take advantage of special protections enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic that aren’t ordinarily available. First, apply for unemployment. Eligibility and benefit amounts depend on the state where you last worked. Use the Department of Labor’s unemployment benefits finder to get state-specific information. 

Next, think about your mortgage. It’s likely your largest monthly expense, so you’ll want to reduce your repayment burden temporarily in order to prevent foreclosure. Due to the pandemic, the government has stopped foreclosures nationwide until June 30, 2021. The deadline has been extended to September 30, 2021 for some mortgages. But you should act before then by applying to “pause” your payments in what’s called “forbearance” or ask your lender for a mortgage modification. 

You’ll need to know what type of mortgage you have, which lender to approach, the financial assistance programs offered by each, and any other COVID-related benefits for which you may qualify. This article walks you through these steps, so that you can hopefully get any mortgage relief you’ll need while you’re unemployed.

Determine What Type of Mortgage You Have

To request mortgage relief, you’ll first need to know who owns your loan. This is the original agency that lent you the money for the mortgage. This is different from loan “servicers” who collect your monthly payments. You can call the mortgage servicer’s number on the back of your monthly statements to find out what kind of mortgage you have and who owns it. Or, you can use the tools listed below.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The most common or “conventional'' mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, so make sure to check both agencies:

Mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be eligible for temporary payment relief, including:

  • Halting monthly mortgage payments under a forbearance plan.

  • Changing the original mortgage terms of the loan (modification).

  • Relieving you from late fees, foreclosure, or legal proceedings during this period.

To get mortgage help, you must actively apply for it. Unlike government stimulus checks, the federal government will not automatically issue mortgage assistance. 

Government-Backed Mortgages

Other types of conventional mortgages are backed by one of three government agencies. When you bought your house, you likely received a HUD-1 form. Developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the HUD-1 form lists all the transactions between you and your mortgage lender. 

Look at the first boxes on the first page of your HUD-1 form for information about the lender. Section B.7 shows your lender’s account number and your loan number. Your mortgage is likely government-backed if you see any of the following names:

  • Federal Housing Administration (FHA)

  • Veterans Administration or The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS)

If you’ve lost your HUD-1 form, you can call your loan servicer to get a copy. You pay your loan servicer monthly, so you can find their contact information on the back of your monthly mortgage statements. Be sure to ask the servicer about any foreclosure prevention programs that may be appropriate for your situation.

Portfolio Or Private Loans

Private mortgages are not sold to government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Instead, they are often kept by the original lending bank or financial institution. These loans may also belong to the portfolio of another private entity after a sale or merger. 

Many private banks and lenders offer their own mortgage suspension and disaster-relief programs. Like government programs, they may pause monthly mortgage payments, prevent foreclosure, and offer borrowers counseling and time to modify their original loan terms. 

In addition to Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup, other banks offering assistance include:

  • Countrywide

  • Associated Bank

  • JP Morgan Chase

  • Washington Mutual

  • Wachovia/Golden West

Each bank has different programs designed to prevent foreclosure. Some portfolio lenders are open to refinancing, adjusting interest rates, repayment plans, short sales, and reduction of the principal amount owed on the loan. Contact your private lender to take advantage of any programs that may apply to your situation.

Special COVID-19 Relief Considerations

In response to COVID-19, there is a halt or “moratorium” on almost all foreclosures until June 30, 2021 or, in some cases, September 30, 2021. The foreclosure moratorium means that mortgage companies can’t start court proceedings against homeowners who haven’t been able to pay their mortgages until they are again permitted after the moratorium has expired.  

This moratorium applies to all government-backed, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac loans, but doesn't apply to private loans. Private portfolio loans may be affected by alternative programs. Almost all private lenders have pledged to help customers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Since March 25, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has provided economic relief to unemployed homeowners and renters. The CARES Act relies on State Housing Finance Agencies to assist with overdue mortgage bills and emergency rental assistance. Renters who face job loss should check for eviction bans in their states.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) does not offer direct financial assistance to renters and borrowers but advises them to visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to learn what next steps to take. Visit cfpb.gov/housing to check eligibility for relief programs, explore your options, and take action against foreclosure and eviction

Note that both sites strongly warn consumers about scams.Don’t commit to any plan of action until you’ve researched it and verified that it is a legitimate opportunity, not a scam.

Forbearance

Forbearance helps unemployed homeowners by pausing their mortgage payments for a set period of time or a “forbearance period.” For conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, forbearance assistance benefits may include:

  • Reduced or no mortgage payments for up to 15 months

  • Waiver of penalties and late fees covered by the forbearance agreement

  • Relief from reporting late or missed loan payments to credit bureaus

  • Loan modifications - you pay less money per month until you get back on your feet

Protected by the CARES Act, qualifying homeowners need to write a hardship letter informing the lender that COVID-19 caused them financial distress in order to begin the process of being approved for a pandemic-related forbearance. Under the Act, homeowners aren’t required  to pay back what they owe in one lump sum at the end of the forbearance period.

Forbearance is also available for government-backed loans, including those held by the FHA, VA, and USDA RHS. These programs lighten the load of homeownership by providing: 

  • Mortgage forbearance for up to 18 months (180 days, plus another 180-day extension, and possibly two more 90-day extensions after that)

  • A break from proving financial hardship, which usually requires filing a lot of supporting documents like taxes, pay stubs, and bank records

Qualifying loan holders need to request mortgage forbearance in a written letter to their lenders. The letter can simply say they’re experiencing economic hardship due to the pandemic.

Many private mortgage lenders offer their own relief programs. Most of them include protection from foreclosure, mortgage forbearance, and chances to modify the original loan. Many provide access to housing counseling agencies. Use the American Bankers Association (ABA) bank lookup tool to find a list of banks offering mortgage payment assistance to customers affected by the pandemic.

Note to readers: The link above only connects to the ABA pressroom. Once the link opens in your browser, to get the information you need, you’ll have to click the“Control” button and the letter “F” (Control +F).Once you hit Control +F, a small dialogue box will appear on the top-right of your screen. In the box, type the word “Foreclosure” and then click “Enter.” These steps will clarify which specific foreclosure relief programs are being offered by private lenders.

Loan Modification Programs

Loan modification programs allow you to negotiate with mortgage companies for more beneficial loan terms. For conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modification reduces monthly mortgage payments to a more manageable amount by:

  • Changing the type of mortgage loan (adjustable or fixed-rate)

  • Extending the time to pay back the loan (sometimes adding 10 years)

  • Lowering the interest rate for a short time or forever

  • Spreading out past-due payments without interest over the new loan term

Loan modification through the government’s Making Home Affordable Program may be available if you can’t refinance, are facing long-term financial hardship, and are already (or are likely) to fall behind on your payments.

Modified loan terms for government-backed mortgages depend on the agencies that own them. The FHA, for example, offers the same options listed above but also gives extra help in the form of the FHA Home Affordable Modification Program. This program defers missed payments until the borrower can become current.

VA loan modification also treats missed payments and other late home ownership costs as part of the principal loan balance, which is then redistributed over time. The servicer and borrower can then agree on a new repayment schedule that will lower monthly payments. “Streamline modification” entitles eligible homeowners to at least a 10% drop in their monthly payments.

USDA modification lets homeowners extend loan terms for up to four years or 480 months so they can catch up with payments. USDA loan modification may even allow servicers to lower the interest rate below market value in addition to advancing borrowers up to 30% of the unpaid balance. 

Private lenders like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase have separate programs to provide mortgage help. Citigroup, for example, agreed to lower mortgage payments for some homeowners to around $500 per month for up to three months. During that time, homeowners can focus on getting another job rather than stressing out about their home loans. After that:

  • If the borrower is still without work, Citigroup will re-evaluate each case.

  • If employed within three months, some may go back to paying the original amount or the bank may be willing to reduce mortgage payments either long-term or permanently.

To be eligible for the program, you must be 60 days or more past due on your mortgage and your mortgage must be owned or operated by Citigroup. Even if it wasn’t originally owned by the bank, there’s a chance Citigroup may now be the mortgage servicer. 

Additionally, JPMorgan Chase has partnered with Washington Mutual to modify terms for around 400,000 homeowners, totaling about $70 billion in loan modifications. The program promises to:

  • Modify loan terms before homeowners default

  • Offer 2,500 housing counselors nationwide

  • Review its entire mortgage portfolio to prevent foreclosures

Possible loan modifications include a more affordable 30-year fixed-rate mortgage or conversion for 10 years to an interest-only loan with principal deferment. The last option forgives debt for a term of years until the home can be sold.

Let’s Summarize…

If you’re unemployed, consult your state website using the above lookup tools to apply for unemployment benefits. Most mortgage borrowers in America can't be foreclosed on before June 30, 2021 or, in some cases, September 30, 2021 because the CARES Act purposely halted foreclosure and eviction to alleviate the fallout from COVID-19. When it comes to your home, whether your loan is government-backed or privately owned, there are likely special programs that can help you prevent foreclosure. But you’ll need to find out who owns your loan, deal directly with your mortgage lender, and explore your options using the tips above. 

Remember that in addition to the usual mortgage assistance programs like mortgage forbearance and loan modification, many lenders are also offering HUD-approved housing counselors who can tell you if it’s possible to renegotiate your terms to make monthly payments more affordable. Some banks are already reevaluating their entire portfolios to prevent foreclosures. But don’t wait for them to offer you foreclosure relief. Contact them directly. Remember you don’t need to understand how all the mortgages mentioned above work. Just concentrate on reducing your own financial burden until you get back on your feet.

 Most importantly, remember you can and you will.



Written By:

Attorney Serena Siew

LinkedIn

Serena Siew is an attorney with a specialty in immigration defense and legal writing for the general public. She is a member of the State Bar of California and admitted to practice before the California Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court for the Central District Court of Cali... read more about Attorney Serena Siew

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