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The COVID-19 pandemic has left many Americans dealing with reduced income or unemployment. The federal agencies and government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, that buy and insure mortgages have stepped in to provide mortgage relief options to affected homeowners.
Some lenders and state governments have also taken independent action to provide mortgage relief to homeowners.
If you’re worried about paying your mortgage or repaying a forbearance, the mortgage relief programs below may be able to help. Note that the initial application deadline for certain types of assistance was Sept. 30, 2021. For more details, read about the options available for your loan type, and reach out to your lender.
To start, verify your mortgage type
The kind of mortgage you have may determine what types of assistance are available to you.
To verify whether you have an FHA, VA or USDA loan, find your closing documents (either hard copies or electronic versions) and look for the Closing Disclosure. In the upper right of the first page of this document, under "Loan Information," you'll see checkboxes indicating your loan type: conventional, FHA, VA or other.
If you can't locate this document, try looking at your monthly mortgage statement or contacting your lender at the phone number listed on the statement.
Regardless of mortgage type, contact your lender to discuss relief options. The federal government has encouraged all lenders to support homeowners who need mortgage assistance due to hardship brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
How mortgage forbearance works
Forbearance is an agreement with your lender that lets you make a reduced payment or no payment for a set amount of time. Interest accrues, and the skipped amount needs to be paid after the forbearance period ends.
Under normal circumstances, forbearance typically lasts about three months, but longer periods have been available to homeowners dealing with financial issues during this pandemic.
Before you start forbearance, make sure your lender offers repayment terms that seem reasonable. Repayment may be expected as a lump sum at the end of forbearance, sometimes called a "balloon payment." If a lump-sum payment doesn’t sound feasible, try to negotiate for another option.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with the FHA, VA and USDA, have required lenders to offer options other than lump-sum repayment to borrowers using COVID-19 forbearance. The agencies and GSEs have also barred lenders from charging additional fees, penalties or interest during forbearance beyond what would have normally accrued.
Lenders shouldn't report forbearance to the credit bureaus.
"The lender should report it as 'paying as agreed,'" says Rocke Andrews, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. Once the forbearance is repaid, Andrews says, "in theory, it shouldn't affect your ability to refinance or purchase in the future."
If you are unable to resume your normal monthly payments at the end of your forbearance period, you may be able to ask your lender for a loan modification. A modification changes the terms of your mortgage in order to make your payments more affordable.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgage assistance
Conventional loan borrowers are eligible for up to 12 months of forbearance, which won't be reported to the credit bureaus. If you were already in an active forbearance as of Feb. 28, 2021, you may request an additional three months of forbearance (up to 15 months total).
If, at the end of the forbearance term, you’re able to go back to your regular mortgage payments but are unable to pay anything additional, you may be eligible for COVID-19 Payment Deferral. With that deferral, the amount of the forbearance won't accrue interest and would not be due until the end of the mortgage — whether that’s when you sell, refinance or pay off the loan.
Even if you are ineligible for deferral, your lender cannot demand a lump-sum repayment and is required to work with you to find a different solution.
If you are unable to resume your regular mortgage payments at the end of your forbearance, you have options. The Federal Housing Finance Administration, which supervises Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, is discouraging lenders from pursuing foreclosure. Instead, you may be evaluated for a loan modification, which changes the terms of your mortgage.
Both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae offer the Flex Modification. This loan modification aims to reduce your monthly mortgage payment amount by up to 20% by rolling missed or forborne payments into the total loan amount, extending the mortgage term, and, for some borrowers, changing the interest rate or allowing you to make payments against a lower principal balance. The Flex Modification also makes your loan current, with your lender and on your credit report — in other words, you're no longer missing any payments.
Contacting your lender directly is the first step you should take in order to obtain a forbearance or be considered for a loan modification. This is especially important because the GSE moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions have ended. You can also find more information on the Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae websites.
FHA loan assistance
The FHA is allowing borrowers to apply for initial COVID-19 forbearance through "the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency." You can request an initial six months of forbearance, with the possibility of extending the term a set number of months depending on when you entered forbearance.
If you are already in an active forbearance that began on or before June 30, 2020, after 12 months you can request up to two additional three-month extensions, for a total of 18 months of forbearance.
If you are in an active FHA forbearance that began between July 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2020, after 12 months you can request one three-month extension, for a maximum of 15 months' forbearance.
If you began an FHA forbearance between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, you are eligible for two six-month periods of forbearance, for a total of 12 months.
Borrowers who request an initial COVID-19 forbearance after Oct. 1, 2021, are eligible for up to six months of forbearance. An additional six months of forbearance will be an option if the forbearance period will expire before the COVID-19 National Emergency has ended.
In addition to COVID-19 forbearance, the FHA always has several mortgage relief programs in place. These include standard mortgage forbearance lasting up to six months and special forbearance for unemployment, which can last a year or more.
If you are able to resume your regular home loan payments at the end of your FHA forbearance term, but cannot repay some or all of the payments you missed, you may be eligible for HUD's COVID-19 Standalone Partial Claim. This is a no-fee, no-interest junior lien (a type of second mortgage) that doesn't have to be paid back until you sell your home, pay off your mortgage or otherwise end the loan.
If you reach the end of your FHA forbearance or are 90 or more days delinquent on your FHA loan and you meet certain eligibility requirements, your mortgage servicer is required to offer you a COVID-19 Advance Loan Modification. The ALM is a 30-year modification — so no matter how far along you were with your existing loan, you'll now be starting over with a new 30-year term — that will make your loan current and reduce your monthly principal-and-interest payment by at least 25%.
FHA borrowers who cannot resume their loan payments at the end of their forbearance may be eligible for the COVID-19 Recovery Modification. Like the ALM, this extends your mortgage term by 30 years and should reduce your principal and interest payment by 25%. The Recovery Modification can also be combined with a partial claim.
The FHA says it offers other repayment options for homeowners who are ineligible for the Standalone Partial Claim, and if you are offered an ALM but choose not to take it, you're still eligible for other repayment options. No matter which you choose, FHA lenders cannot require a lump-sum repayment.
The FHA foreclosure and eviction moratoriums have ended, so if you have missed mortgage payments and don't seek a modification, you could face foreclosure and eviction. The FHA is urging borrowers to contact their mortgage servicers as early as possible about mortgage payment relief options. You can also get more information on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website.
VA loan assistance
The Department of Veterans Affairs deadline to apply for an initial COVID-19 forbearance expired Sept. 30, 2021.
VA borrowers are eligible for a six-month forbearance, which can be extended another six months. If you requested an original forbearance on or before June 30, 2020, you can apply for two additional three-month extensions, if needed. Each extension must be requested separately.
If you received a COVID-19 forbearance from the VA and missed at least one payment on your VA loan, you may be eligible for a VA Partial Claim Payment when you are ready to resume paying your mortgage. The VAPCP has strict requirements, including that either your loan began after March 1, 2020, or that you were no more than 30 days delinquent on March 1, 2020. The VAPCP is a second mortgage that can cover any missed payments, with a limit of 30% of your current outstanding principal (how much you still owe on your loan). You can repay it at any time without penalty, but it must be repaid when you sell, refinance or finish paying your VA loan. The VAPCP will be available through Oct. 28, 2022.
The VA offers additional options, including the VA Disaster Extend Loan Modification and payment deferment, if you can make your regular mortgage payments but won't be able to repay your forbearance.
If your VA forbearance is ending and you aren't able to go back to making your monthly mortgage payments, you may be able to get a COVID-19 Refund Modification. This can include your mortgage servicer changing the terms of your VA loan to reduce your monthly payments by 20% or more. If you are facing extreme hardship, the VA may purchase some of your missed payments and principal in order to reduce the overall amount that you owe.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions have expired. That makes it crucial to seek assistance if you are behind on your mortgage or in danger of missing a payment. Contact your lender to learn more about your options, or see additional mortgage assistance information on the VA website.
USDA loan assistance
If your mortgage is backed by the USDA Rural Housing Service, the USDA deadline to apply for initial assistance has passed.
If your ability to pay your USDA-guaranteed loan has been affected by the pandemic, you can receive 180 days’ forbearance as long as your lender approved your request before Sept. 30, 2021. Assistance can be extended another 180 days if needed. As with FHA and VA loans, if you were in active forbearance on or before June 30, 2020, and need an additional deferral, you can apply for two additional three-month forbearance periods.
At the end of your forbearance, if you are unable to resume monthly USDA loan payments, you may be eligible for the USDA COVID-19 Special Relief Measure. This loan modification aims to reduce your monthly mortgage payment by up to 20%. Your servicer will work with you to reduce your interest rate; if that doesn't provide enough relief, you may be able to have the term extended as well. Borrowers may also be considered for a mortgage recovery advance, which provides funds to help cover past due payments and other costs.
If you are delinquent on your USDA loan, you could face foreclosure or eviction, as these moratoriums have expired. Contact your lender if you are concerned about making your USDA loan payment, or find more information on the USDA website.
Assistance for other types of mortgages
Not all mortgages are backed by government agencies or the GSEs. Sometimes called "portfolio loans," these mortgages aren't resold and are kept in-house by the lender. Portfolio loans — which can include mortgages for self-employed borrowers, borrowers who are not U.S. citizens or borrowers who have experienced a foreclosure — don't meet Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae's standards. Lenders may also choose to hang onto a mortgage for other reasons.
Portfolio loans aren't covered by any of the mortgage relief programs listed above. However, your lender may have its own assistance programs. Follow the steps in the next section to contact your lender.
Contact your lender to get mortgage relief
No matter what type of loan you have or what government assistance may be available, contact your lender directly if you have concerns about paying your mortgage.
You don't have to wait until you are delinquent on your mortgage, and calling before you miss a payment will likely give you more mortgage relief options. If you've already missed a payment when you ask for forbearance, that delinquency may show up on your credit report (and stay there until the loan is made current again).
Here's what you should have ready when you contact your lender:
An estimate of your current income (and future income, if you anticipate that it may change).
An estimate of your current monthly expenses.
Your most recent mortgage statement.
Documentation of what caused your situation to change.
Beware of third parties offering mortgage assistance. Look for help from your lender, not from other organizations offering mortgage relief. If you want to get advice about talking to your lender, find a HUD-approved financial counselor on the HUD website. These counselors offer no-cost assistance and can help you be better prepared to call your lender.
You can also find more information on all of the programs listed above at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.
Help for the hardest hit
On top of the programs listed above, the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan has created a Homeowner Assistance Fund. The HAF earmarks $9.961 billion to provide relief to homeowners affected by the pandemic, providing funds not only for mortgage assistance but also for help paying homeowners insurance, utility bills, homeowner association fees and more.
These will be distributed via state, territorial and tribal governments. Eligible homeowners will be able to use HAF funds in addition to the forbearance and loan modification programs described above.
Given that the states and entities that will distribute the funds are still providing the federal government with their plans for allocation, homeowners can't apply for assistance yet. Homeowners will need to meet eligibility requirements, including an income limit and having experienced financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020. The funds can be applied to primary residences only, and priority will be given to those who have experienced the greatest hardships.