At this point, most homeowners have probably heard of the CARES Act and its massive 12-month forbearance option for those with federally-backed mortgages.
It sounds pretty sweet – you can request six mortgage-free months, followed by an additional six months if you need it, with little paperwork or evidence of hardship from COVID-19.
Apparently, all you need is a mortgage forbearance letter and you should be good to go, assuming loan servicers don’t revolt and balk at the sheer number of requests that flood through the door.
Update: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have launched COVID-19 payment deferral once forbearance ends.
Additionally, they released guidance on mortgage forbearance waiting periods.
Does Mortgage Forbearance Need to Be Repaid?
- Yes, homeowners are expected to repay the missed mortgage payments
- Loan servicers are NOT waiving payments, they are offering to delay them
- The big question is how and when are homeowners supposed to catch up
- Especially if the homeowner loses their job permanently or severely depletes their assets along the way
The million-dollar question is how will the skipped mortgage payments be paid back.
Remember, these aren’t waived mortgage payments, they are delayed mortgage payments.
You are getting a brief moratorium on payments while furloughed or out of work, after which time you must make good on those missed payments, assuming you do get back to work.
Everything is working on the assumption that this is a temporary situation, unlike the mortgage crisis a decade ago that was driven by fundamental issues, like sketchy mortgage financing and overpriced homes.
Most homeowners could afford to make their mortgage payments in the normal, pre-COVID-19 world, so once this is all over, they should go back to making their payments per usual.
There are a few issues with that theory. For one, we might not go “back to normal” right away or ever.
While the smart people in the room have a plan, or are at least working on one, to get us back on track as a society, much of what I’ve heard so far speaks of a gradual return.
For some industries, like big events, concerts, restaurants, bars, and anything that involves large crowds, it might be a much longer road back.
How does a homeowner who missed six to 12 mortgage payments simply return to making their payments if they don’t have a job, or even if they’ve lost tons of income and therefore depleted their assets along the way?
Surely you can’t expect these individuals to pay a lump sum right after the forbearance ends to make up for the shortfall. That would be ridiculous.
I would venture to say that most Americans don’t have the ability to make multiple mortgage payments at once, even during good times. So asking them to pay several during dire times seems absurd.
A Post-Forbearance Solution That Makes Sense
- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have offered vague solutions involving loan modifications
- But they don’t get into specifics nor speak to things like credit score impact
- HUD has a good solution in its COVID-19 National Emergency Partial Claim
- Missed payments would be set aside as an interest-free second mortgage that doesn’t need to be repaid until sale/refinance
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which oversees the FHA loan program, put together a good Q&A regarding mortgage forbearance.
One question explicitly asks: Will the monthly mortgage payments that are reduced or suspended under a COVID-19 Forbearance need to be repaid?
They don’t mince words; “Yes. A homeowner with an FHA-insured mortgage who receives a COVID-19 National Emergency Forbearance is responsible for repaying the suspended mortgage payments or the balance of reduced mortgage payments.”
With regard to how, they say your loan servicer can help determine “options for eventually repaying any suspended mortgage payments or the balance due as a result of reduced mortgage payments.”
They note that you won’t be charged late fees and penalties while on a “COVID-19 National Emergency Forbearance plan.”
But what about after? Again, a great unknown.
However, HUD does have what appears to be a good solution to deal with the missed mortgage payments.
COVID-19 National Emergency Partial Claim
They have implemented the “COVID-19 National Emergency Partial Claim,” which can be put to work once the COVID-19 forbearance period ends.
In short, it reinstates borrowers’ home loans by authorizing loan servicers to advance funds on behalf of homeowners.
Those advances are placed in an interest-free subordinate (second) mortgage that the borrower doesn’t have to pay down until their first mortgage is paid off, either via home sale or mortgage refinance.
For me, this makes prefect sense assuming loan servicers are able to set aside all those missed payments for an unknown length of time.
It would actually allow homeowners who get back to work to return to making regular monthly mortgage payments, as opposed to making six or 12 of them at once, along with the next one due.
Nobody is going to make seven or 13 mortgage payments all at once, or anything close to that. Asking someone to make two at once is a longshot.
Meanwhile, Freddie Mac has said that it could offer “loan modification options to provide mortgage payment relief or keep those payments the same after the forbearance period.”
And Fannie Mae said, “a servicer must work with the borrower on a permanent plan to help maintain or reduce monthly payment amounts as necessary, including a loan modification.”
So that could work if monthly payments were only incrementally higher as as a result.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have a new payment deferral option that works similar to the partial claim solution that will be rolled out soon, but it only allows for 1-2 missed payments, not 6-12.
The VA has instructed loan servicers not to require a lump sum payment upon exiting forbearance.
Rather, they ask that they consider other options such as a repayment plan, where installments are made over time, or a loan modification, where a new payment schedule is established that includes the delinquent amount.
If the loan servicer wants to go the lump sum route, they ask that it be paid back at the end of the loan.
Ultimately, don’t homeowners need assurances regarding what happens after, before agreeing to mortgage forbearance?
And what about credit scores post-forbearance? Will loan servicers begin calling these homeowners delinquent at some point?
The forbearance isn’t supposed to count against them, but will the loan modification?
Will they have trouble refinancing post-forbearance, or difficulty financing a subsequent home purchase if they took part in the mortgage forbearance relief?
There are too many unknowns right now, which makes it difficult for a homeowner to determine if taking the forbearance option is a good idea.
That being said, I don’t think it will stop millions of homeowners from taking part.