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Mortgage

How to Rebuild Equity on an Underwater Mortgage

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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There are some things you can’t control as a homeowner, such as natural disasters, neighbors or the direction of home values. If these happen to take a nosedive, you could watch the equity you’ve built in your home disappear.

In fact, more than 5 million homeowners are “seriously underwater” on their mortgages — meaning the amount of debt attached to their home is at least 25% higher than the home’s value, according to the latest data from ATTOM Data Solutions, a property research firm. If you’re one of these homeowners, don’t despair. There are ways to rebuild the equity on an underwater mortgage. In this guide, we’ll explain what it means to have a mortgage underwater and how to rebuild the equity you’ve lost.

What is an underwater mortgage?

An underwater mortgage is a loan with an outstanding balance that exceeds the value of the home it secures. This is also referred to as having negative equity or being upside down on your mortgage.
There are a few ways that a mortgage can become underwater:

  • Significant drop in home values
  • Multiple loans taken out against a home, and the total balance is higher than the home’s value
  • Monthly payments not covering the interest due on a mortgage (negative amortization), and the balance owed grows instead of shrinks

If you tried to sell your home while it’s underwater, the sales proceeds likely wouldn’t be enough to pay off your mortgage, which would leave you on the hook for the remaining balance. You’d also have a hard time refinancing your mortgage, since you need to have some equity available for a refinance in many cases.

How to tell when my mortgage is underwater

If your current mortgage balance is higher than your home’s current market value, then your mortgage is underwater.

For example, let’s say your home was worth $250,000 when you first bought it, and you took out a $200,000 mortgage with a 4% interest rate. Five years later, the economy takes an unfortunate tumble and home values drop by an average 40%, giving your home an approximate $150,000 value.

Based on your loan’s amortization schedule, the outstanding balance you’d owe in year five would be about $180,000. That leaves you with $30,000 in negative equity.

Negative Equity in Your Home

Estimated Home Value in Year 5

$150,000

Estimated Mortgage Balance in Year 5

$180,000

Available Equity

-$30,000

If you find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, there are options available to help you rebuild your home equity, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

How do I rebuild equity?

Just because your mortgage is underwater doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There are ways to start rebuilding the equity you might need to fund other financial goals.

Pay down your mortgage as usual

The most straightforward option is to continue to pay down your mortgage as you normally would. Perhaps the housing market will recover, leading to an eventual rise in home prices. Either way, as long as you’re submitting your mortgage payments in full and on time, you’ll pay it off on schedule.

You can help speed things along by paying extra toward your principal balance. There are several ways to tackle this, which might include adding a couple hundred dollars — or whatever amount is comfortable for you — to your mortgage payment each month.

Another option is to make biweekly payments instead of monthly payments. This can add up to one extra payment each year. That’s because there are 52 weeks in a year and you’d make 26 half payments, which equals 13 full payments.

Be sure to ask your mortgage lender or servicer to direct any extra money you pay on your loan toward your principal balance (not interest).

Modify your mortgage

If you’re experiencing a temporary hardship on top of your underwater mortgage and are struggling to keep up with your mortgage payments, you could benefit from a mortgage modification.

A modification is when your lender changes the original terms of your mortgage to make it more affordable for you. Changes might include:

  • Extending the number of years you have left to repay your mortgage
  • Lowering your mortgage interest rate
  • Reducing your outstanding principal balance
  • Switching your mortgage rate type from adjustable to fixed

Eligibility requirements vary, so it’s best to contact your lender for more information about how to modify your loan.

Recast your mortgage

Another way your lender can make tweaks to your existing mortgage is by recasting your mortgage — especially if you’ve recently come into a financial windfall.

A mortgage recast involves paying a lump sum of money toward your outstanding principal balance. Your lender then recalculates your monthly mortgage payments based on the lower principal balance, but your mortgage rate and term length stay the same.

You’ll need to pay at least $5,000 — sometimes more — to recast your mortgage, and you might also be charged a recasting fee, up to $500. Check with your lender for more details and requirements.
Conventional loans typically qualify for mortgage recasting, but not government-backed loans, such as those insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA loans).

Refinance your mortgage

Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) — a government-sponsored initiative that helped nearly 3.5 million homeowners refinance their mortgages — has expired, there are other programs available that provide similar assistance.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major agencies that buy and sell mortgages to and from lenders that follow their guidelines, created new initiatives as HARP was ending to address those homeowners who were underwater on their conventional mortgages or have high loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. An LTV ratio is calculated by dividing your loan amount by your home’s value. Revisiting the underwater mortgage example above of a home worth $150,000 with a $180,000 mortgage balance, the LTV ratio is 120%.

Fannie Mae’s high LTV refinance option offers homeowners with an LTV ratio above 97% the opportunity to refinance their mortgage. Homeowners must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least one of these options:

  • A reduction in the principal and interest portion of their monthly payment
  • A lower interest rate
  • A shorter loan term
  • A more stable mortgage, such as a switch from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate loan

There is no maximum LTV ratio for fixed-rate mortgages, but adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) have a 105% LTV maximum. The existing mortgage must be Fannie Mae-owned.

The Enhanced Relief Refinance mortgage offered by Freddie Mac also requires homeowners to be current on their mortgage payments and have an LTV ratio that is higher than allowed for a standard refinance. The maximum LTV ratio allowed for ARMs is 105%; there’s no maximum for fixed-rate loans.

Homeowners must benefit from a shorter loan term, lower principal and interest payment, lower mortgage rate and/or a move from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage.

If you have a government-insured mortgage — FHA, USDA or VA loan — you may be able to take advantage of a streamlined refinance, which typically has a limited credit documentation and underwriting process. Additionally, you may not need an appraisal to verify your home’s value.

  • FHA: FHA borrowers applying for a streamlined refinance must be current on their mortgage payments and benefit from at least a 5% reduction in their monthly payment amount. You may also qualify if you’re switching from an ARM to a fixed-rate mortgage or shortening your loan term.
  • USDA: Borrowers with USDA loans may qualify for the streamlined assist refinance option if they have little to no equity and are current on their payments. The benefit must come from a monthly mortgage payment that’s at least $50 lower than the existing amount.
  • VA IRRRL: The VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan program helps homeowners with VA loans by lowering their mortgage payment through a reduced interest rate. Guidelines require a minimum 0.5% rate reduction.

Other options for underwater homeowners

If you’re ready to walk away from your home or simply can’t afford it anymore, consider one of the avenues below:

Home sale

You could attempt to sell your home, with the understanding that you likely won’t make enough profit to pay off your mortgage. If you have a hefty savings account, you can use some of those funds to pay the difference between the amount your home sale covers and your outstanding loan balance.

Short sale

Another option is a short sale, which allows you to sell your home for a price that is less than the outstanding balance on your mortgage. Additionally, your mortgage lender may forgive your remaining mortgage debt. Keep in mind that your credit score will take a hit with this option — it could drop by 100 points, according to FICO.

Deed in lieu of foreclosure

A deed in lieu of foreclosure, also known as a mortgage release, is the process of voluntarily transferring the ownership of your home to your lender. In exchange, you may be released from your mortgage payments and debt. This option also prevents you from going into foreclosure.

Similar to short sales, a deed in lieu of foreclosure negatively impacts credit scores.

The bottom line

You may feel helpless if you’re dealing with an underwater mortgage, but you have options. If you’re able to manage your monthly payments as they are, it may be best to continue paying down your loan as usual, making extra payments whenever possible. But if you’re struggling or simply want to reduce your payment amount, consider a loan modification or a refinance.

Be sure to discuss your available options with your mortgage lender or servicer, and remember that maintaining on-time payments will help your case.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Hidden Costs of Selling A Home

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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When you decide to sell your home, you may dream of receiving an offer well above your asking price. But putting your home on the market requires you to open your wallet, which could cut into your potential profit.

While some line items probably won’t come as a surprise, you may find that there are a handful of hidden costs.

Below, we highlight those unexpected expenses and everything else you need to know about the cost of selling a house.

The hidden costs of selling a home

It’s easy to fixate on the money you expect to make as a home seller, but don’t forget the money you’ll need to cover the cost to sell your home.

A joint analysis by Thumbtack, a marketplace that connects consumers with local professional services, and real estate marketplace Zillow, found that homeowners spend nearly $21,000 on average for extra or hidden costs associated with a home sale.

Many of these expenses come before homeowners see any returns on their home sale. Money is spent in three main categories: location, home preparation and location.

Location

Your ZIP code can influence how much you pay to sell your home. Many extra costs are influenced by regional differences — like whether sellers are required to pay state or transfer taxes.

For example, if you’re in a major California metropolitan area like Los Angeles, you may pay more than double the national average in hidden costs when selling your home.

Below, we highlight 10 of the metros analyzed in the Thumbtack/Zillow study, their median home price and their average total hidden costs.

Metro Area

Median Home Price*

Average Total Hidden Costs of Selling

New York, NY

$438,900

$33,510

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

$652,700

$46,060

Chicago, IL

$224,800

$18,625

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

$243,000

$19,350

Philadelphia, PA

$232,800

$21,496

Houston, TX

$205,700

$17,477

Washington, D.C.

$405,900

$34,640

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL

$283,900

$24,241

Atlanta, GA

$217,800

$18,056

Boston, MA

$ 466,000

$35,580

Source: Thumbtack and Zillow analysis, April 2019.


*As of February 2019.

Generally, selling costs correlate with the home price, so expect to pay a little more if you live in an area with a higher-than-average cost of living or one that has a lot of land to groom for sale.

Home preparation

Thumbtack’s analysis shows home sellers may spend $6,570 on average to prepare for their home sale. These costs can include staging, repairs and cleaning.

Buyers are generally expected to pay their own inspection costs; however, if you’ve lived in the home for a number of years and want to avoid any surprises, you might also consider paying for a home inspection before listing the property for sale. Inspection fees typically range from $300 to $500.

Staging is often another unavoidable expense for sellers and can cost about $1,000 on average, according to HomeAdvisor. Staging, which involves giving your home’s interior design a face-lift and removing clutter and personal items from the home, is often encouraged because it can help make the property more appealing to interested buyers.

It also helps to have great photos and vivid descriptions of the property online to help maximize exposure of the property to potential buyers. If your agent is handling the staging and online listing, keep an eye on the “wow” factors they include. Yes, a virtual tour of your house looks really cool, but it might place extra pressure on your budget.

You could potentially save hundreds on home preparation costs if you take the do-it-yourself route (DYI), but expect a bill if you outsource.

Closing costs

Closing costs are the single largest added expense of the home selling process, coming in at a median cost of $14,,281, according to Thumbtack. Closing costs include real estate agent commissions and local transfer taxes. There may be other closing costs, such as title insurance and attorney fees.

Real estate agent commissions range from 5-6% of the home price, according to Redfin. That amount is further broken down by 2.5-3% being paid to the seller’s agent and the other 2.5-3% being paid to the buyer’s agent.

The taxes you’ll pay to transfer ownership of your home to the buyer vary by state.

Other closing costs include title search and title insurance to verify that you currently own the home free and clear and there are no claims against it that can derail the sale. The cost of title insurance varies by loan amount, location and title company, but can go as high as $2,000.

If you live in a state that requires an attorney to be present at the mortgage closing, the fee for their services can range from $100 to $1,500.

There are also escrow fees to factor in if you’re in a state that doesn’t require an attorney. The cost varies and is usually split the homebuyer and seller.

If you have time to invest, you could try listing the home for sale by owner to eliminate commission fees. One caveat: Selling your home on your own is a more complicated approach to home selling and can be more difficult for those with little or no experience.

Other home selling costs to consider

Now that you have an understanding of the costs that may get overlooked, remember to budget for the below expenses as you prepare to sell your home.

Utilities

It’s important that you make room in your budget to keep the utilities — electricity and water — on until the property is sold. (This is in addition to budgeting for utilities in your new home.) Keeping these services active can help you sell your home since potential buyers won’t bother fumbling through a cold, dark property to look around. It may also prevent your home from facing other issues like mold during the humid summertime or trespassers.

Be sure to have all of your utilities running on the buyer’s final walk-through of the home, then turn everything off on closing day and pay any remaining account balances.

Homeowners insurance

Budget to pay for homeowners insurance on the home you’re selling as well as your new home. You’ll still need to ensure coverage of your old property until the sale is finalized. Check the terms first, as your homeowners insurance policy might not apply to a vacant home. If that’s the case, you can ask to pay for a rider — an add-on to your insurance policy — for the vacancy period.

Capital gains tax

If you could make more than $250,000 on the home’s sale (or $500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly), take a look at the rules on capital gains tax. If your proceeds are less than the applicable amount after subtracting selling costs, you’ll avoid the tax. However, if you don’t qualify for any of the exceptions, the gains above those thresholds could be subject to a 15% capital gains tax, or higher. Consult your tax professional for more information.

How to save money when selling your home

Keep the following tips in mind when you decide to put your home on the market:

  • Shop around and negotiate. Don’t settle on the first companies and professionals you come across. Comparison shop for your real estate agent, home inspector, closing attorney, photographer, etc. It could also work in your favor to try negotiating on the fees they charge to save even more.
  • Choose your selling time carefully. The best time to sell your home is during the spring and summer months. If you wait until the colder months to sell, there may not be as much competition for your home.
  • DIY as much as possible. Anything you can do on your own to spruce up your home — landscaping, painting, minor repairs, staging — can help you cut back on the money you’ll need to spend to get your home sold.

The bottom line

There are several upfront costs to consider when selling your home, but planning ahead can help you possibly reduce some of those costs and not feel as financially strained.

List each cost you’re expecting to pay and calculate how they might affect the profit you’d make on the home sale and your household’s overall financial picture. If you’re unsure of your costs, try using a sale proceeds calculator to get a ballpark estimate of your potential selling costs. Be sure to also consult a real estate agent.

If you’re starting from scratch on your next home, here’s what you need to know about the cost to build a house.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

How to Recover From Missed Mortgage Payments

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

understanding good faith estimate vs loan estimate
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The best way to ensure your credit stays in great shape is to pay your monthly bills — especially your mortgage — on time. That’s because payment history plays the biggest factor in determining your credit score. Still, unexpected events — such as a job loss or medical emergency — can occur, causing you to miss a payment or two.

If that’s the case, you’re not alone. In fact, mortgage delinquencies (loans with past-due payments) have increased from their 2018 levels, according to the latest National Delinquency Survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

So can you bounce back from a missed mortgage payment? The answer is yes, but there’s work involved. Below, we explain how to recover from missed mortgage payments, including repairing your credit, and what you need to know to avoid losing your home.

How many payments can you miss before foreclosure?

Days late

What happens?

1

Your grace period kicks in.

15

You’re charged a late fee.

30

Your servicer reports the late payment to the credit bureaus.

45

Your servicer assigns a representative to work with you on foreclosure prevention.

60

You’re charged a second late fee.

90

Your servicer sends you a demand letter, giving you 30 days to catch up. You’re charged a third late fee.

120

The foreclosure process typically begins, though it could start sooner.

The number of mortgage payments you can miss before foreclosure — the action a bank or mortgage lender takes to repossess a property — is initiated varies from lender to lender, but the process can begin as early as 60 days after your first missed payment. (Check your state’s foreclosure laws online.)

 Being a day late on your next mortgage payment likely won’t alarm your mortgage servicer. In fact, most offer a grace period — generally 15 days — before they charge a late fee, which is typically a percentage, often around 5%, of the principal and interest portion of your monthly payment. You can find specific details about your grace period and late fee on the promissory note you signed as part of your mortgage closing documents.

 Once you’re 30 days late, it’s likely your mortgage servicer will report that information to the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Your credit score will be negatively impacted as a result (more on this later). You can also expect your servicer to contact you directly no later than 36 days after your past-due payment to discuss getting you current on your mortgage again.

You’ll also receive a Notice of Default, as mentioned in your promissory note, by the 45th day you’re late on the mortgage payment. The notice gives you a deadline to pay the past-due amount, which must be at least 30 days after the notice date. If you miss that deadline, your servicer can demand that you repay your outstanding mortgage balance, plus interest, in full.

Your mortgage servicer will also assign someone on its team to work with you on foreclosure prevention options once you’re 45 days late. This information will be communicated to you in writing. We’ll discuss available options in the next section.

 Once you’re 60 days late, you’ll be charged a second late fee, as you’ve missed two payments. Your servicer will send you another notice by the 36th day after the second missed payment. This same process applies for every month you’re behind.

 At 90 days late, your servicer will likely send you a demand letter telling you to bring your mortgage current within 30 days. You’ll likely be charged another late fee.

 If you’re not able to catch up on payments by the 120th day, the foreclosure process typically begins. Your mortgage servicer’s attorney will contact you and you’re now responsible for repaying the outstanding loan balance, interest and late fees, plus your servicer’s legal fees, if any.

Once your servicer’s attorney files a foreclosure lawsuit with your county court to resell the home and recoup the money owed, the attorney schedules a foreclosure sale date. You’re notified in writing about the sale and given a move-out deadline. The sale information may also be advertised in your county’s newspaper or on its website.

There’s still a chance you can keep your home if you pay the amount owed, along with any applicable legal fees, before the foreclosure sale date.

What to do when you’ve missed mortgage payments

There are several ways to recover from missed mortgage payments before reaching the point of losing your home. Here are some options:

  • Forbearance: Your mortgage servicer agrees to temporarily reduce or suspend your monthly mortgage payment for a set amount of time. Once the forbearance period ends, you’ll repay the total amount that was reduced or suspended.
  • Modification: This is the process of changing your loan’s original terms. A mortgage modification might involve extending your loan term, lowering your mortgage interest rate or switching from an adjustable-rate to a fixed-rate mortgage. The goal is to reduce your monthly mortgage payment to a more affordable amount.
  • Repayment: Your servicer agrees to let you spread out your late payments over the next several months to bring your mortgage current. When you make your monthly mortgage payments, you add a portion of the past-due amount to each of those payments until you catch up.

Options to leave your home without going through foreclosure include a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and short sale. A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, also known as a mortgage release, allows you to give up ownership of your home in exchange for no longer being responsible for your outstanding mortgage debt. You may be able to rent the home for up to a year after going through the process and receive up to $3,000 to help you relocate.

A short sale allows you to sell your home for a price that is less than the amount you owe on your mortgage. Depending on the final sales price, you either pay off a portion of your mortgage balance or the entire amount. If you go this route, be sure you won’t be responsible for the remaining balance if the short sale proceeds aren’t enough to cover the full amount you owe.

How late mortgage payments affect your credit

Late payments start to affect your credit once you’ve been delinquent for 30 days or more. Depending on which credit score range you’re in before your past-due payments are reported to the bureaus, your score could drop by anywhere from 60 to 110 points, according to research by FICO. Being 90 days late could lower your score by another 20 points or more.

It can take up to three years to fully recover from a credit score drop after being 30 days late on your mortgage, FICO’s research found. That time can increase to seven years once you’ve been 90 days late.

Here’s what you should know about repairing your credit by yourself.

What about late mortgage payment forgiveness?

If you’ve otherwise had a good payment history on your mortgage and have only been late once, you could try writing a goodwill letter to your mortgage servicer to have the late payment information removed from your credit reports. The purpose of the letter is to ask your lender to forgive the late mortgage payment by erasing the negative information from your credit report.

Your goodwill letter should include your name, contact information and account number. Be sure to keep your letter concise. Make note of your good payment history prior to this point and explain what led to the late payment. Demonstrate the steps you’re taking to prevent late payments in the future and end the letter requesting removal of the late payment details from your credit reports. Thank your servicer for their consideration and print, sign and mail your letter to your servicer’s address.

Once the late payment is taken off your credit reports, your credit scores will eventually increase, as long as you continue to make on-time payments. Remember the letter is simply a request — your servicer isn’t required to forgive a late mortgage payment.

The bottom line

Falling behind on your mortgage can be a frustrating and scary experience, particularly if you’re facing the threat of foreclosure.

The smartest thing you can do is be proactive about getting back on track instead of waiting for your mortgage servicer to reach out. If you think you’ll be behind soon or are already a few days behind, now’s the time to contact your lender and review your options.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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