There are several government reports out now stating that most homeowners who lose their home to foreclosure never contact the bank to determine whether they can work something out with them, despite the ubiquitous government, bank and media education campaigns encouraging them to do just that.
While I’d wager that a small portion of this number are strategic defaulters who plan to walk away from the home in any event because of its deep negative equity, the vast majority are folks who have lost a job, seen their business income decline during the recession and/or had their payment adjust steeply upward sometime over the past couple of years, and have simply fallen behind on the payments.
Simply ignoring the bank’s calls and letters does not just get a distressed homeowner out of a hard conversation or two; the ultimate results of this plan of inaction include losing the property to foreclosure and bank repossession, including eviction and having to find another place to live.
Could those things happen anyway, even if you do reach out to the bank? Absolutely. But there are still millions of homeowners every year who are able to save their homes, under a bank or government loan modification or refinance program, or even amicably agree to a less traumatic surrender of the property than foreclosure, by short-selling the property or negotiating a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.
It only makes sense to try.
But not everyone does. Here are a few of the emotions and psychological underpinnings I suspect motivate a homeowner in mortgage distress to completely avoid the situation and fail to seek help with keeping their homes. And just in case you recognize yourself in any of these, I’ve also included some steps for deactivating these issues and rethinking your (non-)approach.
1. Fear and panic. The thought of not being able to make your mortgage payment — and then actually missing it — induces a constant, chronic state of fear and overwhelming dread. If you have a contingency plan in place — a check you know is coming, or a new job where you’ll get your first check in a week or two — those emotions are manageable. But if you have no backup plan, or it falls apart, fear quickly comes to panic — and panic is paralyzing.
If you’re about to miss a mortgage payment or have just missed one, and are feeling that paralyzing panic of not knowing what to do next, decide to do just one thing today — right now — to break the hold of that panic. First things first: Search the Web to get educated about the foreclosure process in your state.
On average, it takes 22 months of missed payments before banks foreclose on a home, on today’s market. That’s not to say you should plan on missing that many, because many states allow foreclosure after six months, and even a single missed month can be difficult to ever recover from.
But it should also help you understand that you’ll probably not be evicted tomorrow, and you probably do have some time to try to work something out, whether with the bank or with your own financial situation.
Any little item you do will help put the kibosh on your panic. So, go to your mortgage company’s website and figure out who it is you are supposed to call. Calendar your time to call the bank, or call them right now. Just do something, no matter how little, but do it now.
2. Guilt and shame. The longer you’ve been a responsible homeowner, the more susceptible you are to feeling guilt and shame at the prospect of needing to reach out and ask someone for help.
If feelings of guilt for making a bad mortgage choice five years ago or shame at having lost your ability to support your family and make the mortgage payments are holding you back from making the call, get over it. Guilt and shame are the lowest-energy, least productive of all the human emotions.
And the fact is, you certainly are not alone in having chosen an unsustainable mortgage or having lost your job. The guilt and shame you feel now, if this describes you, are nothing compared to what you will feel if you lose your home without having given the effort to save it your best college try.
3. Intimidation. Perhaps things would be different if this was unfolding back in the days of the friendly neighborhood banker. These days, homeowners read headline after headline about the banks having foreclosed on the wrong people, flat out refused to help hundreds of thousands of homeowners who were targeted by the government housing programs, and running loan modification applicants through an insane rigmarole of lost documents and required resubmissions and last-minute notices that the home is on the auction block.
I have personally known people so intimidated and overwhelmed at the thought of even taking on this David vs. Goliath-style battle that they just pack their bags and move out as soon as they know they’re going to miss a payment.
If this describes you, consider getting some help in dealing with the banks. There is a lot of free help around.
Visit NACA.com and learn about their extremely successful, nearly free HomeSave program.
If you live in one of the "Hardest Hit" states or D.C., contact your state’s housing finance agency, which can directly assist you with designated "Hardest Hit" funds, and has particularly unique and powerful options for those receiving unemployment insurance or who are back at work but struggling to get caught up on their mortgage payments.
Additionally, many HUD-approved credit counseling services will negotiate with your lender on your behalf in a delinquent mortgage situation, for very low or no cost.