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Being underwater, or having a mortgage balance higher than a house’s current market value, is a situation no homeowner wants to be in. If you have found yourself in this predicament, you’re probably trying to figure out what to do—and may be receiving conflicting advice. 

When and How to Sell Your Home
If you’ve fallen behind on your mortgage payments and know that you won’t be able to catch up, selling your house may be your best bet. Doing so can allow you to get out from under an expensive mortgage, avoid foreclosure and make a fresh start in a more affordable home.

If you try a traditional sale, you may not receive enough money to pay off the mortgage. In that case, you will have to find a way to pay the difference between the sum you receive and the amount you owe on your loan.

You may be able to sell your home in a short sale for less than the amount you owe. Your lender will have to agree to a short sale and will have to approve any offer before you accept it. Depending on where you live, you may have to pay the difference between the sale price and your loan balance, or your lender may grant you a waiver of deficiency that will allow you to walk away without having to pay the difference. A short sale, however, can damage your credit.

Ways to Stay in Your Home
If you have an emotional attachment to your home or neighborhood, or if you think that home prices will eventually go up and you want to wait it out, you can stay put. There are several options that may make your mortgage payments more affordable.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers programs to help struggling homeowners. You may also qualify for assistance from your state or local government. 

If you refinance your mortgage, you may get a lower interest rate that can help you reduce your monthly payments and make them more affordable. Refinancing to a shorter loan term can allow you to chip away at your principal faster, bring your outstanding mortgage balance closer to your home’s value, build equity and get out of your current underwater situation. It may be difficult to get approved for a refinance, however, since lenders generally have minimum equity requirements.

A loan modification can also lower your monthly payments. It will extend your loan term, though, which means you may pay more in the long run than you would without a modification.

Seek Advice From a Financial Professional
Being underwater on your mortgage is stressful. Before you take action, speak with a financial advisor about your situation. Discuss all of your options so you can make an informed decision on what to do.

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