What do you do when financial hardship hits and you can't make your monthly mortgage payments? This is a question on many homeowner's minds as nearly 17.8 million Americans are reportedly unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic.
When homeowners face financial hardship, such as the loss of a job, they often look to obtain a forbearance agreement from their lender. A forbearance happens when your lender grants you a temporary pause or reduction in monthly payments on your mortgage. Forbearance is not the same as payment forgiveness, in that you still have to pay the entire amount back by an agreed-upon time.
Mortgage lending institutions differ on their mortgage relief policies and qualifications; however, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were signed into law in late March of this year to protect government-backed mortgages.
Federally backed mortgages include:
- Fannie Mae
- Freddie Mac
- The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
- The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Under the CARES Act, homeowners with a federally backed loan who either directly or indirectly suffer financial hardship due to coronavirus automatically qualify for mortgage forbearance.
Even if your mortgage is not secured by one of these agencies, you still can call and see if you qualify, as many lenders will still offer the option in order to avoid foreclosures.
Under the CARES act, homeowners can claim mortgage forbearance due to financial hardship from COVID-19 for up to 12 months without requiring any documentation or verification. During the forbearance period, mortgage lenders cannot charge late fees or penalties.
Additionally, as long as your mortgage is current at the time you claim forbearance, the lender is required to keep reporting your mortgage as paid current throughout the entire period.
At the end of the forbearance, the CARES act protects consumers from having to make a lump sum payment. Instead, you will be given a repayment plan from your provider. Since repayment options vary, it's important you ask your provider about all of your repayment options.
Possible Repayment Options:
You may be eligible for a loan modification at the end of your forbearance. With modification, the mortgage terms are changed in order to add payments that were missed during the forbearance onto the end of the loan, extending the term.
Another option that may work for some is a reduced payment option. This allows you to keep paying monthly payments at a reduced amount. The amount missed is usually added back into the monthly payments at the end of the forbearance.
Regular payment: $1000 per month
Reduced payment: $500 per month
Payment after forbearance period: $1500 (until caught up)
Balloon payments, or lump sum payments at the end of the forbearance, are prohibited under the CARES Act. However, mortgage lenders may require homeowners who are not protected under the CARES Act to make a balloon payment at the end, so again it is best to check first with your provider.
Mortgage forbearance should only be considered in true financial hardship. In other words, just because of the pandemic, you should not take a forbearance on your mortgage if you can still afford your payments. Likewise, if you are able to start making payments before the forbearance period is up, it's best to do so as soon as possible.
The Next Steps:
Before you get in touch with your mortgage servicer, save time by gathering as much documentation about the mortgage as you can. Also, be ready to list your income and monthly expenses. Due to an influx in calls, financial institutions are experiencing extremely long wait times right now, and having your information at the ready will help.
Have questions ready to ask. Here are some questions you should be asking:
- What fees are associated with the forbearance?
- What are all the repayment options available to you at the end of the forbearance?
- Will you be charged interest during the forbearance period?
If your forbearance is approved, make sure to keep all documentation pertaining to it. Make sure to cancel any automatic payments to the mortgage during the forbearance period, and keep tabs on your credit report to make sure your lender doesn't report the loan as unpaid.
For more information on forbearance, contact your lender and discuss your options. If you need more assistance with understanding your options, you can contact a local agent for the housing counseling agency, or call their hotline at 1-800-569-4287.
In the coming weeks many US states will begin the process of loosening COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and "reopening" their economies.
Other states have already done so.
While the argument for reopening has been unequivocal—it's supposedly what we need to save our flagging economy from a full-blown depression—it's not clear that it will serve that function at all. Recent polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans support social-distancing and stay-at-home measures and are not enthusiastic about the prospect of going back to restaurants and crowded stores while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Which means that the number of customers who return as states drop their restrictions may not be enough to keep small businesses afloat.
Unfortunately that majority opinion has not received as much attention as many of the loudest advocates for reopening—who have argued that a death toll that is likely to more than double current figures is worth it, or that the whole pandemic is just a hoax. Of course it makes sense for small business owners and people who are struggling to make ends meet right now to want to get back to work, but what good will it do?
If cases spike, overwhelming local hospital systems and causing deaths and tremendous medical debt in the process, then restrictions will need to be reinstated, and the economic problems we're currently dealing with will only be prolonged. Right now we lack the widespread testing and the sufficiently improving conditions to support reopening without a vaccine. There are measures we could take at the federal level to improve the situation without such startling risks, but we are ignoring those options—treating reopening like it's the only solution available—for one simple reason: Americans hate "big government."
Last Monday, cases hit their lowest daily total since March. Today, the case number is up a couple thousand cases… https://t.co/NJoLmhZwMZ— The COVID Tracking Project (@The COVID Tracking Project)1589839717.0
Since at least the 1980s our society has been flooded with anti-government propaganda. We recite mantras about government mismanagement, waste, incompetence, while ignoring successful programs at home and abroad. One of our two major parties has devoted much of its political willpower to actively sabotaging federal programs and agencies like the US Postal Service to prove their point and push for further privatization (that they, along with their donors and friends, stand to personally profit from). In this context, the kind of aggressive federal spending we would need to keep small businesses and struggling families afloat in current conditions is virtually unthinkable.
Even America's relatively compassionate party is only pushing fairly moderate measures that are likely to be whittled down and paired with massive business subsidies in the Senate—just like what happened with the Cares Act in March. In its current form the Heroes Act includes $175 billion in housing assistance, a second round of $1200 stimulus payments (with children receiving as much as adults this time), $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers, $1 trillion in funding for states to pay their vital workers, and a six month extension of the $600 unemployment expansion.
Undoubtedly these measures will help a lot—though not as much as more generous proposals—but they ignore some major issues. The biggest problem (apart from the fact that the senate isn't going to let the bill pass as is) is that states are straining to make the basic unemployment payments that the $600 expansion is meant to supplement. As a result, many of the tens of millions of people trying to file for unemployment have been stymied by bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape, and now states are using reopening as a way to push workers off of unemployment and protect state budgets from possible bankruptcy—an outcome which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in preventing. In some states there are even systems being implemented to report workers who refuse to go back to work, regardless of their circumstances or legitimate fears.
Whether any of this will improve the national economy in the long run remains to be seen. What is clear is that state governments are being understandably cautious with their budgets, and the Republican party is playing their usual political games with lives, health, and livelihoods on the line. The result is that states are reopening, and millions of workers are about to be pushed off unemployment. The next stop is cutting retirement benefits, and fully dissolving any remnant of a social safety net this country has.
As we enter what is likely to be another global depression, it's worth keeping in mind that these programs are among the measures that helped us get through the last one under FDR and that countries that chose a different path were pushed toward a scarier form of politics that has lately been threatening resurgence: outright fascism. Let's try not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.
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A second round of emergency funding for small businesses opened on Monday.
While this news came as a relief for many small business owners, it appears that error messages and slow processing have prevented many from accessing the fund. A spokesperson for the SBA said, "The pacing mechanism prevents any one lender from submitting thousands of loans an hour into the E-TRAN system. If a lender goes above the pacing limit they will get timed out."
But CNN reports that a banking industry source said that things are actually much worse than the SBA made it seem. "The SBA system simply cannot handle the volume of applications banks have processed from America's small businesses," this person said, adding: "Unless SBA set the pace at one an hour (or less), this is nothing but misdirection. Banks are working to deliver assistance and SBA is passing the blame."
In fairness, the SBA typically hands out about $25 billion in loans every calendar year. Thanks to the global health crisis, they're now suddenly trying to get $310 billion in PPP loans out the door as quickly as possible, so delays are to be expected.
But, even more worryingly, there is a major possibility many small businesses won't see any money this time around either. The last pot of money given out to small businesses was, obviously, insufficient in addressing the needs of many American business owners impacted by the crisis. So how far will the money go this time? Multiple industry experts contacted by CNN "anticipate that this money could be gone within the week. Last time, it took 13 days, but banks have a much longer queue of customers this round."
In summary, millions of eligible businesses are not going to get PPP funding, even if they applied in a timely manner. If you've already submitted an application, all you can do now is hope and wait.
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Thanks to the passage of the CARES Act, many Americans can expect a $1,200 check (or slightly less, depending on your income last year). The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for making these payments, either by mail or through direct deposit. If you filed your taxes last year and opted for a direct deposit option for your refund, you can expect to receive your stimulus check that way. If you opted to have your refund mailed to you, that's how you'll receive your check (likely much later than those who opted for direct deposit). Of course, making sure that every eligible tax payer receives this check is a very large task, and experts have warned that the IRS' antiquated system may struggle to handle the task.
If you aren't sure about the status of your relief check, you can use this tool to check. Unfortunately, over the weekend, many people found themselves unable to access their payment status through the tool. When these people entered their information through the portal, they were met with a "Payment Status Not Available" error.
While it's possible that you're receiving this error message because you aren't eligible for the relief check, there are several more reasons you may be receiving it. Luckily, the IRS updated their FAQ's with more information on the subject.
According to Forbes, a likely reason for receiving the error message is simply that the IRS hasn't finished processing your information: "In other words, they don't know your status because they haven't fully processed your information. If you recently filed a tax return for 2019 or used their Non-Filer form to give them your banking information, they just haven't processed that new information yet. It also doesn't include information for those who receive benefits through Social Security or Veterans Affairs."
Regardless of the reason for the error message, all you can do it continue to check the portal once a day for updates.