What to keep in mind about how forbearance works

Forbearance word from wooden letters.
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Forbearance doesn’t wipe out your monthly payments, it just allows you to postpone them without getting hit by late fees. Because the credit bureau reporting of overdue payments is suspended, you won’t take a hit to your credit score.

The relief has been limited to homeowners with federally backed mortgages, which are the majority of U.S. home loans. They include:

  • Loans sold to government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • Mortgages guaranteed by U.S. agencies including the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By late September, there were still 3.4 million homeowners in forbearance, according to a survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

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What to do as your mortgage forbearance ends

Here are a few paths to explore if your forbearance is expiring.

1. Request an extension

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GaudiLab / Shutterstock

The clock may be running out on your six-month forbearance, but the pandemic isn’t going anywhere.

If your finances are still in dire straits and you need more time before getting back to your monthly payments, you can ask your loan service for an additional six-month break. The service is the company you send your payment to each month.

The law says forbearance "shall be extended for an additional period of up to 180 days at the request of the borrower."

Don't wait for the servicer to contact you. Reach out by phone or email, or via chat on the servicer's website, if that's available.

Whatever you do, don't continue to let your payments go if you haven't received your extension. Otherwise, you could face stiff penalties.

2. Refinance to lower your mortgage payment

Attractive young asian adult couple looking at house plans.
Makistock / Shutterstock

You don’t need to keep deferring your payments to get some relief on your mortgage bills.

The economic turmoil resulting from the pandemic has brought us the cheapest mortgage rates on record, meaning you're probably due for a refinance that could slash your housing costs.

More than 19 million homeowners have the potential to reduce their mortgage payments by an average of around $300 through refinancing, says the mortgage data firm Black Knight.

Refi rates can vary widely from one lender to the next, so it's crucial that you shop around. Get at least five rate quotes to find the best rate available in your area and for a person with your credit score.

3. Ask for a loan modification

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fizkes / Shutterstock

Most lenders and loan servicers are offering lifelines for homeowners during the pandemic. A loan modification will keep you in the same mortgage, but with new terms that will be easier for you to meet during a time of financial challenges.

If you feel you're at risk of defaulting under your original mortgage terms, a loan modification allows you to change one of the parameters.

You might be able to negotiate a lower interest rate or monthly payment, or the lender might be willing to shrink the balance remaining on your loan.

Modification may come with administrative or filing fees, but those should be lower than the costs associated with refinancing your mortgage.

4. Resume your mortgage payments

rear view of young couple looking at their new house
Serhii Krot / Shutterstock

Eventually you'll have to start paying on your mortgage again — and make up all of the months you missed.

The forbearance program was created as part of the CARES Act, the same law that gave us those $1,200 stimulus checks. Under the law, a lender can't demand that you make up all of your postponed payments in a lump sum once your forbearance ends.

Instead, you have alternatives, including:

  • Tacking on the missed payments at the end of your mortgage term.
  • Making additional payments — on top of your regular mortgage payments — for up to 12 months.
  • Agreeing to make a lump-sum repayment when the home is sold or refinanced, or when the mortgage term comes to an end. A Mortgage Bankers Association survey found this was the most popular option.

You'll want to discuss your choices with your lender, which will be eager to work with you to find a solution you can live with — so you'll avoid foreclosure.

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About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg

Former Reporter

Ethan Rotberg was formerly a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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