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Mortgage Payments Out of Control? Here's What to Do

The possibility of losing your home because you can't make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. Perhaps you are one of the many consumers who took out a mortgage that had a fixed rate for the first two or three years and then had an adjustable rate. Or maybe you're anticipating an adjustment, and want to know what your payments will be and whether you'll be able to make them. Or maybe you're having trouble making ends meet because of an unrelated financial crisis.

Regardless of the reason for your mortgage anxiety, we want you to know how to help save your home, and how to recognize and avoid foreclosure scams.

Know Your Mortgage

Do you know what kind of mortgage you have? Do you know whether your payments are going to increase? If you can't tell by reading the mortgage documents you received at settlement, contact your loan servicer and ask. A loan servicer is responsible for collecting your monthly loan payments and crediting your account.

Here are some examples of types of mortgages:

  • Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.

  • ARMs: Mortgages that have adjustable rates from the start, which means your payments change over time.

  • Fixed Rate Mortgages: Mortgages where the rate is fixed for the life of the loan; the only change in your payment would result from changes in your taxes and insurance if you have an escrow account with your loan servicer.

If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase  and you have trouble making the increased payments, find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you're planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you're planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.

If You Are Behind On Your Payments

If you are having trouble making your payments, contact your loan servicer to discuss your options as early as you can. Most loan servicers are willing to work with customers they believe are acting in good faith, and those who call them early on. The longer you wait to call, the fewer options you will have. After you've missed three or four payments and your loan is in default, most loan servicers won't accept a partial payment of what you owe. They will start foreclosure unless you can come up with the money to cover all your missed payments, plus any late fees.

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