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If you or someone you know has lost a job and are in danger of falling behind on mortgage payments, here’s some potentially important news for you: The two largest players in home mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are revising their policies on forbearance when unemployment interferes with your ability to stay current on your loan.
Forbearance means that a lender or mortgage servicing company will either suspend – cut to zero – or reduce required monthly payments for a specific period of time. On loans they own or have securitized, Fannie and Freddie are now directing servicers to forbear when a borrower can show the loss of a job.
Unlike the companies’ earlier rules, servicers can grant a half year of reduced or suspended payments without getting special permission in advance. If unemployment continues beyond six months, and if the servicer believes additional forbearance for up to another six months would be appropriate, it can ask Fannie or Freddie for approval to do so. During any unemployment forbearance period under the rule revision, borrowers will not be subject to foreclosure, even if they had fallen behind on payments before the forbearance began.
Fannie Mae’s policy becomes mandatory for all loan servicers on March 1. Freddie Mac’s policy takes effect Feb. 1. Though no estimates were available on how many borrowers could be assisted under the new guidelines, the numbers nationwide are likely to be substantial at a time when the unemployment rate is at 8.5 percent.
Forbearance, it should be noted, does not mean a forgiveness or reduction of the principal balance on the mortgage. Think of it instead as a timeout. Whatever amounts go uncollected during the forbearance period must eventually be repaid. Say, for instance, that you owe $2,000 a month on your loan. Suddenly you lose your job and that payment becomes impossible. An unemployment forbearance agreement might allow you to pay nothing on the mortgage while you search for a new job. Or, if your spouse still has a job and you can afford it, your monthly payment might be cut to $1,000.
If your job search ultimately took four months, you’d owe $4,000 on the partial reduction plan or $8,000 on the suspension plan at the end of the forbearance period. You’d be expected to resume your regular $2,000 payments and work out an arrangement with your servicer to repay the deferred amounts in affordable increments. If this happened to be $500 extra a month, your repayment would take eight months on the reduction plan, 16 months on the suspension.