Opinion

Get help with mortgage payments during COVID pandemic

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The U.S. economy has begun to reopen, but don't expect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to lessen, economists warn. The uncertainty could mean more Americans have trouble paying their mortgages. 

Fortunately, homeowners have several options during this time.  

"If you are able, continue to pay your mortgage to avoid falling behind once the pandemic passes," Attorney General Tom Miller advises. "But if you are struggling financially, I encourage you to act quickly to seek help. This is the time to act, not to sit back and wait, if you can't pay your bills."  

Here are some of the options for homeowners: 

FORBEARANCE

If you have a federally backed mortgage, you have the right to request a forbearance ― or a temporary pause on payments — for up to 180 days if you have a financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. You also have the right to request one extension for up to another 180 days. Keep in mind that forbearance doesn't erase what you owe. You still must repay any missed payments in the future.   

How do I find out if I have an eligible federally backed mortgage?

1. To find out if you have a federally backed mortgage, you can call your mortgage servicer (the company to which you send your monthly payment) and simply ask them.   

2. You can also see tips from the CFPB or go to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac's look up tool.  

What if I do not have a federally backed mortgage?  Can I still be helped?

Even if you do not have a federally backed mortgage, many mortgage service providers and financial institutions are also offering relief to borrowers. Call your service provider and let them know your situation immediately. Ask them what "forbearance," "hardship" or "loss mitigation" options may be available. 

NEW DEFERRAL OPTION AVAILABLE

Fortunately, homeowners with federally backed mortgages have a new payment option if they temporarily suspend payments. Starting July 1, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have a new payment deferral option to help certain homeowners who are in a COVID-19 related forbearance.  

Under the new option, the missed payments are put on the back of the loan without interest. That enables eligible borrowers to simply resume making their regular monthly payment when they are able. The borrowers' monthly mortgage payment will not change. Because the missed payments are placed on the back of the loan, they are repaid when the home is sold or refinanced, or when the loan terms ends, instead of having to repay suspended payments when the forbearance plan ends.  

On April 23, this office and a bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general recommended actions to help homeowners in letters sent to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Among other suggestions, the letters recommended moving the forborne payments to the back of the loan. 

Miller and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox followed up with a phone call to FHFA Director Mark Calabria, urging his agency to implement new policies to provide relief to homeowners affected by the pandemic. FHFA announced the new payment deferral option the following week.  

"I thank the Federal Housing Finance Agency for offering this new option," Miller said. "It could make a big difference for homeowners who need relief, but fear facing a big payment once they can resume making payments. It makes all the sense in the world." 

FORECLOSURE MORATORIUMS

If you have a federally backed loan (such as those through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or HUD), a foreclosure and eviction moratorium is in place through Aug. 31, for certain loans. The separate foreclosure and eviction moratorium that had been put in place by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds expired on May 27. 

PAYMENT ASSISTANCE

To get short-term help paying your mortgage or rent, check out the COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program, which Gov. Kim Reynolds established in late May.  

The program provides funding to help income-eligible renters and homeowners pay for up to four months of payments. It can be used to pay missed payments starting from April 1. A cumulative total of $3,000 per applicant can be provided for mortgage assistance and $3,200 for rental assistance.  

Renters and homeowners who are at risk of eviction or foreclosure due to a COVID-19 related loss of income are eligible for this assistance. The documented loss of income must be COVID-19 related and have occurred on or after March 17. Assistance is only available to those who have not received the federal CARES Act unemployment benefits. Other eligibility criteria apply.    

For more information, go to iowahousingrecovery.com or call the Housing Recovery Help Line: 1-855-300-5885 or 515-348-8813.