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Avoid drowning in the mortgage storm
NEW YORK (2/2/09)--Brace yourself. Experts warn there’s a wave of foreclosures that hasn’t yet hit the market (CNNMoney.com Jan. 23). Last year, U.S. homes lost $2 trillion of their value. That’s a nearly 10% decline, and it means that more than 11 million homeowners have mortgage balances larger than their homes are worth, according to Zillow Real Estate Market Reports (third quarter 2008). If you’re in that position, or foresee being in that position if conditions don’t improve soon, it’s important to take charge. Homeowners whose mortgage balances are greater than the market value of their houses are said to be under water. In that case, the longer you can put off dumping your house, the more likely you’ll be able to weather the current recession. That’s because until you sell, your home’s depressed value remains theoretical. So if you don’t have to sell, sit tight. Do whatever you can to stay on top of your payments. If you have to give up your house, you want it to be on your terms and with your creditworthiness intact. Before you delay a payment or miss it entirely, talk to your lender. Bill Merrill, director of nonperforming loans for Freddie Mac, clarifies that it's not just communication, but early communication, that's key to avoiding foreclosure. The earlier the lender and borrower work together on a solution, the greater the chance of avoiding default. Merrill says that a "couple of payments can make all the difference. It's a lot easier to fix a situation if you're contacting the lender when you're two payments behind than it is if you're already four payments behind." Of course, your situation might become worse before it improves. Be prepared to sell less-valuable assets, such as a second car, to keep your house. If you must move because you’ve lost a job or must relocate for work, consider renting your current house instead of selling it. There are plenty of former homeowners looking for rentals, and their lease payments can help pay your mortgage. And that might keep you afloat until the price of your house gets back on solid ground. For more information, read “Tough Times Series: Lenders, Counselors Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.
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