Life can change fast. For example, you could lose your job, a family member could fall ill, or an accident could occur. For many homeowners, unforeseen circumstances like these can cause financial problems that hinder their ability to keep up with mortgage payments, putting them at risk of losing their house.
If you’re having trouble paying your mortgage for any reason, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers 10 tips to help you avoid foreclosure:
1. Don’t ignore the problem. The further behind you get on payments, the harder it’ll be to reinstate your loan and the more likely you’ll lose your house.
2. Contact your lender as soon as you realize you have a problem. Lenders don’t want your house. They have options to help borrowers through difficult financial times.
3. Open and respond to all mail from your lender. The first notices you receive will offer good information about foreclosure prevention options that can help you weather financial problems. Later mail may include important notices of pending legal action. Your failure to open the mail won’t be an excuse in foreclosure court.
4. Know your mortgage rights. Find your loan documents and read them so you know what your lender may do if you can’t make your payments. Learn about the foreclosure laws and timeframes in your state (as every state is different) by contacting the State Government Housing Office.
5. Understand prevention options. Valuable information about foreclosure prevention (also called loss mitigation) options can be found on HUD’s website.
6. Contact a HUD-approved housing counselor. HUD funds free or very low-cost housing counseling nationwide. Housing counselors can help you understand the law and your options, organize your finances and represent you in negotiations with your lender, if you need this assistance. Find a HUD-approved housing counselor near you.
7. Prioritize your spending. After healthcare, keeping your house should be your top priority. Review your finances and see where you can cut spending in order to make your mortgage payment. Look for optional expenses, such as cable TV or memberships, you can eliminate. Delay payments on credit cards and other “unsecured” debt until you’ve paid your mortgage.
8. Use your assets. Do you have assets, such as a second car or jewelry, you can sell for cash to help reinstate your loan? Can anyone in your household get an extra job to bring in additional income? Even if these efforts don’t significantly increase your available cash, they demonstrate to your lender that you’re willing to make sacrifices to keep your home.
9. Avoid foreclosure prevention companies. You don’t need to pay fees for help–use that money to pay the mortgage instead. Many for-profit companies will contact you promising to negotiate with your lender. While these may be legitimate businesses, they’ll likely charge you a hefty fee for information and services your lender or a HUD-approved counselor will provide for free.
10. Don’t lose your house to scams. If any firm claims it can stop your foreclosure immediately and you sign a document appointing the firm to act on your behalf, you may well be signing over the title to your property and becoming a renter in your own home. Never sign a legal document without reading and understanding all the terms and getting professional advice from an attorney, a trusted real estate professional or a HUD-approved counselor.
These 10 tips could help you safely overcome troubled times and remain a homeowner.