What Happens When You Can't Make Your Real Estate Loan Payment
I've written a lot here about how to manage your mortgage so that you control it instead of it controlling you.
Let's consider what happens when that project fails.
If you don't pay your mortgage, on time, no big deal at first. The lenders don't like it, but there's a grace period built in. Fifteen days later, the first consequence is that you owe the lender a late payment penalty. It's a doozy, typically four to six percent, depending upon where you live. Here in California, it's four percent. Doesn't sound like so much, but four percent for fifteen days is the equivalent of ninety-six percent annualized interest, over three times the most horrible credit card I'm aware of. I don't like paying ninety-six percent interest, and neither should you. Don't get fifteen days late if you can help it. But once you've paid the penalty and brought yourself current, nobody knows and nobody cares.
Suppose you get to thirty days delinquent - one full month. At this point longer term consequences set in. First off, your lender marks your credit as being thirty days late on your mortgage. This is a big negative as far as everyone goes, and can easily make a difference of 100 points or more on your credit score. Additionally, if you are applying for a mortgage loan (or plan to), you just got a "1x30". For A paper, this means that if your credit is otherwise perfect, you barely slide through. For subprime, this makes a difference on your rate. It takes two years for this to work its way out of affecting your mortgage application, even if your credit score recovers.
Most people end up being thirty days late for several months in a row, each month hurting their credit score, before it goes to sixty days late. They missed one payment and struggle but manage to make several more before they miss another. Occasionally, they go straight to two months late. Either way, it's a Bad Thing. A single "1x60" might scrape through A paper if there's no cash out and your credit is otherwise perfect. Otherwise you are subprime for at least two years. In the subprime world, a "rolling 30" is generally not as bad as a 60 day late, but both are steps down from even a "1x30" and a "rolling 60" is worse. It gets worse yet if you pay your way current and then backslide again. And of course, you are paying penalties and interest is accruing on your loan and you're falling further behind every time you are late. This amounts to a notable chunk of change very quickly. So none of this is good.
On the other hand, depending upon the state you live in, until you get to ninety or 120 days late the situation doesn't become dire. Each state's foreclosure law is different, but once the lender has the option of marking you in default, the situation gets uglier. It is a common misconception that lenders like foreclosing. In actuality, only so-called "hard money" lenders will usually start foreclosure immediately upon eligibility, especially if you've been talking to them about your situation. If they have some real reason to believe yours will eventually become a performing loan again, regulated lenders will cut you significant slack, by and large. It costs lenders a lot of money to foreclose and there's always the risk they end up stuck with the property, so they'll usually give you as much leeway as they reasonably can. One thing I keep telling people who want a loan approved based upon the equity in the property alone is "The lender doesn't want your house. They want to make loans that are going to be repaid. The lender is not in the business of foreclosure. They don't make any money on it."
Nonetheless, even the most forgiving lender is going to eventually hit you with a Notice of Default. At this stage, things are starting to move towards a resolution that nobody likes, but you least of all. At this stage, you are now liable for a large amount in extra fees that was written into your contract to cover the lender's cost of going through the foreclosure process. At this point, the lender has the right to require you to pay the loan all the way current, with all fees, in order to get them to rescind the notice. Refinancing becomes almost impossible, except with a hard money lender, and unless something about your situation has changed from what caused it to get to this point, that is only delaying the inevitable and making it worse.
As soon as that Notice of Default is recorded, your situation becomes part of public record. You are going to get calls and letters and everything else coming out of the woodwork. One category is going to be lawyers, who will typically tell you they can keep you in the house a long time without payments by declaring bankruptcy. Well, this is true as far as it goes, but it's not going to make the situation any better. As a matter of fact, it will steadily get worse. Just because you go into bankruptcy doesn't mean that the penalties and fees and interest go away or stop accruing. They are still there, and they keep coming. I'm not a lawyer, and you should consult both a lawyer and an accountant if you are in this situation. Nonetheless, bankruptcy is not something I would even consider in this situation without something highly unusual going on.
The second group that will contact you are the "hard money" lenders, looking to lend you money at 15% with five points upfront and a hefty pre-payment penalty, to buy your way out of the situation. Once again, unless something about your situation has suddenly changed, not a long term solution, and it only makes it worse.
Another group that's going to call is investors looking for a distress sale. They want you to sell it to them for less than it would otherwise be worth. This is actually something I might consider. Yes, I lose some money, but that's better than going through denial with the lawyer for a year and a half while any equity I might have left gets frittered away in interest and fees and penalties, not to mention paying the lawyer.
The final category, and one with a significant overlap from the previous, is real estate agents looking to sell the property for you. Assuming you're not deep in denial, this is probably the best option as to least unfavorable resolution. The drawback is that it depends upon whether somebody will make an offer in a timely fashion, a factor which is not under your control. No matter how great the price, no matter how hard my agent works, there might not be an offer. It happens.
If you do nothing, eventually a Notice of Trustee's Sale will follow the Notice of Default. In California, seventeen days after that happens, the property gets sold at auction (unless you've somehow brought it current). There are some protections in place here in California. The lender must perform an appraisal, and for the property to sell at auction, the minimum bid is ninety percent of this amount. Nonetheless, these are typically very conservative appraisals by design. At this point, the lender wants the property sold at auction, because if it doesn't sell, they own it, and they don't want to own the house. They are in the loan business, not the real estate business. So a house that may be actually worth $500,000 on the open market gets appraised at $400,000, and sold for $360,000. If the loan was for $250,000, that's $140,000 of equity you allowed to be taken from you because you were in denial, when you probably could have saved most of it. And if the loan with penalties and fees and interest was $450,000, that's worse, and not only because you forfeited $50,000 you could have gotten, and not only because they may be able to go after you in court for their loss in some states.
You see, because the lender took a $90,000 loss, they want to write it off on their taxes. And in order for them to do this, they have to hit you with a form that says you got away with $90,000 from them. This is taxable income!. So the IRS comes after you for the tax on the $90,000. IRS liens are one of the things that is not discharged by bankruptcy, and it stays with you forever. Ten years absolute minimum for any purpose. Sometimes your lawyer, CPA or Enrolled Agent will get you an "offer and compromise" that cuts your liability, but that's technically taxable income also and may be subject to another round of this crud. It it seems like to you the system is rigged so you can't win, you're right. The loan was an obligation you agreed to, and took the money for, and taxes are on obligation of anyone who is a citizen or resident.
The smart thing to do? As soon as you realize that you can't make your payment, take a long look at your situation and decide if this is something that's going to get enough better to make a difference, or not. Then figure out how much equity in the property you have.
If the situation is likely to improve, and you'll start making your payments in thirty days because hey, you just started your new job, that's one thing. Most of the time, however, most folks lie to themselves on this issue, for a variety of reasons. Remember: Denial Digs Deeper, and makes the situation worse.
Even if selling the property isn't going to net you anything, it's still worth doing as it gets you out from under the sitation. Your credit score stops dropping, you quit getting marked late by your lender, you quit getting socked with penalties and interest and fees you can't pay. The IRS obligations you are incurring stop.
Particularly if you have significant equity built up, the sooner you contact a real estate agent to sell, the better off you will usually be. You are going to lose the house if you don't sell. The sooner you sell, the lower the penalties and fees and extra interest you are charged by the lender will be. This translates into dollars in your pocket - dollars you are likely to need. If you can sell before the Notice of Default is filed, so much the better, as that's thousands of dollars right there. You don't have the luxury of taking your time about it, though. Taking the first reasonable offer is highly advised, and you have more time to get a reasonable offer if you start sooner. Once a Notice of Default is filed, it's a matter of public record and so your bargaining situation gets a lot worse because the buyer should know that you are over a barrel, metaphorically speaking, assuming their agent does their homework. Considering that it's two or three clicks of the mouse, it's easy homework to do and even the greenest new agent is going to catch it more often than not.
Trying the various delaying tactics with a lawyer is likely to end up costing you more than a quick sale. Even if you remain in bankruptcy for five years or more, within about a year and a half at most, the lender will almost certainly persuade the court to cut the home and loan out of the bankruptcy as a secured debt, and sell it. Since the loans and penalties and fees and interest kept accruing all this time, you end up with less money - or none, along with a little love note from the IRS that says "You owe us thousands of dollars! Pay up NOW!"
Every situation is different. At a minimum, consult a loan officer, lawyer, accountant, and real estate agent in your area. But when all is said and done, what I've talked about is the way most of these end up.
I've also got a "what happens next" kind of article called "Short Payoffs" up.
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