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John lost his manufacturing job six months ago in a round of mass layoffs, and he's been unable to find consistent work since. He and his wife had little in savings, and with every day that passes they're getting further and further behind on their bills.
Two months ago today, Mary's husband walked out on her and the kids. Between childcare costs and other bills, she can barely afford to put food on the table.
Every day thousands of people across the U.S. fall deeper into debt, often through no fault of their own. Left unchecked, this debt ultimately threatens their number one asset, their home, through the process of foreclosure.
It doesn't have to end there, though. There are ways to stop foreclosure, protect your credit and keep your home.
What is Foreclosure?
In most states, when you buy a home there are actually two parties on the buying side: you (the mortgagor) and the lender (the mortgagee). You own the home, but the mortgagee holds a lien on the property for as long as the mortgage has an outstanding balance. The lien gives the lender the right to assume ownership of the property should you fall behind on payments. That process by which the lender assumes ownership is called foreclosure.
All other states use a deed of trust, which serves the same purpose as a mortgage but actually involves three parties: you (the trustor), the lender (the beneficiary), and a third party (the trustee) who holds the temporary title on the home until the full balance is paid. In these states, the foreclosure process involves the trustee selling your home when you become delinquent.
A key difference between mortgages and deeds of trust is in the foreclosure process. With a mortgage, the lender must go through the court system to foreclose on your home. Not so with a deed of trust. The trustee must first fulfill certain requirements, but is then free to sell your home without going through the court system, leading to a much faster foreclosure.
How to Stop Foreclosure
Contact the Lender
Absolutely the first step to avoid foreclosure is to contact the lender and let them know your situation. In many cases, they can work with you to temporarily modify payment terms until your situation is resolved.
Never, ever ignore late notices, letters or calls from your lender. They would much prefer to work together with you to resolve the situation, but will not hesitate to begin foreclosure proceedings if it appears that you are unwilling to work with them to avoid foreclosure.
Redo Your Mortgage
If you're still current on your payments, or not too far behind, refinancing may be a viable option for you. Refinancing will pay off your current mortgage and in many cases lower your monthly payment at the same time. It can be the most straightforward method to avoid foreclosure.
Sell Your House
This may be the toughest route to stopping foreclosure, particularly if you still need somewhere to live, but it may be the only way to stay out of trouble and prevent a black mark from appearing on your credit record. If you need to sell fast, there are home buyers in your area who will allow you to do that. They can close in 10 days or less, or on whatever timetable fits your schedule, and allow you to walk away with cash at closing.
Be very, very careful, though. There is no shortage of people who will use this opportunity to make a profit for themselves at your expense. To keep yourself from falling victim to these predators, be sure to read "We Buy Houses" Scams — How to Spot Them and How to Avoid Them.
Protecting Your Credit
Ultimately, protecting your credit must be your number one goal. Your credit report will be with you for the rest of your life, and having a foreclosure noted on it will cause problems for many, many years down the road — problems that only time will erase. Take steps now to keep that from happening. It may be difficult in the short-term, but the long-term results far outweigh the alternative.