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When the real estate market takes a downturn, homeowners can find themselves with a mortgage balance greater than the value of their house. People often agonize over what to do and may receive conflicting advice. If you’re in this situation, you have several options.

Keep Paying the Mortgage
If you can afford your loan payments and would like to continue living in your home for several more years, your best option is probably to continue paying your mortgage. In time, the real estate market will probably rebound, which means your home’s value will rise and you will again have equity. You may also be able to get assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you need to move relatively soon, refinancing may be the best option. If you can afford higher monthly payments, you may be able to refinance to a loan with a shorter term and reduce the difference between the value of your house and the amount you owe before you sell. If you’re struggling to afford your mortgage, you can consider refinancing to a 30-year mortgage with a lower interest rate to reduce your monthly payments, but it may be tough to find a lender willing to refinance your loan if you owe more than your house is worth.

Modify Your Loan
Another way to stay in your home is to get a loan modification. That could reduce your monthly payments, but you’d have to repay the loan over a longer period of time. Be careful, because some homeowners have found that the associated fees caused a loan modification to make little or no difference in their mortgage payments.

Arrange a Short Sale
If you’re on the verge of foreclosure, a short sale could allow you to sell your home if you owe more than it’s worth. Your lender must agree to a short sale and approve any purchase offer. Depending on the state where you live, you might have to pay the difference between the loan balance and the sale price, unless your lender granted a waiver of deficiency or you had private mortgage insurance. A short sale would lower your credit score.

Allow the Lender to Foreclose
Letting your house go into foreclosure should be a last resort. Your credit would take a major hit, and it could take years to recover. You might also be responsible for the difference between the home’s value and the mortgage balance if the house didn’t sell for enough to pay off the mortgage and you didn’t have private mortgage insurance.

Consider All Possible Solutions
Being underwater on your mortgage is a scary situation. Don’t panic. Talk to a financial advisor, explore all available options, and look for a way to keep your house or to sell it without your credit score suffering major damage.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice.