Bankruptcy and Home Loan Modification: What You Need to Know
The thought of losing your Long Island home because of an unforeseen financial hardship can keep you awake at night. You might be struggling to make ends meet because of job loss or an unexpected financial setback. Anxiety sets in because you do not know how you are going to make your mortgage payments and cover your daily living needs. Take a deep breath. There are options available that will help you keep your home and gain control of your debt. You can choose to lower your monthly payments by obtaining a loan modification, refinancing your mortgage, or filing bankruptcy. Whichever option you choose, it is important to contact your mortgage servicer or bank as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the fewer options you have.
What Is Loan Modification?
A modification is a form of loss mitigation designed to protect both the borrower and the lender. The lender agrees to change the terms of the mortgage to make monthly payments more affordable. Lenders can permanently change the terms of the mortgage by:
- Extending the duration of your agreement
- Adding past due payments to the unpaid principal balance
- Reducing your interest rate
- Forbearing payments for a short-term
- Changing your mortgage type (for example changing an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) to a Fixed-Rate Mortgage)
Some Long Island homeowners may benefit from the government-sponsored Flex Modification program created to assist borrowers who have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac home loans. The program can reduce a borrower’s mortgage payment by around 20 percent by adding the past due amounts to the outstanding loan balance, modifying the interest rate, extending the loan terms, or setting aside some of the principal balance before recalculating the monthly payment. This is called a forbearance and is a temporary option to get you back on your feet. You may be eligible for the Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac Flex Modification program if:
- The loan is a conventional first mortgage
- The borrower has enough income to make the monthly payment, and
- The loan was acquired at least 12 months before Flex Modification evaluation
There may be other programs offered by your state. For example, the New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) provides a zero percent interest deferred payment mortgage loan up to $80,000 to New York homeowners who have exhausted all other avenues of help. This program is available statewide, so it does not matter whether you live on Long Island or in Buffalo. According to the New York Housing Conference, you can use the funds to bring your mortgage current, get a modification, or pay off property tax arrears. Typical loan recipients are low- to moderate-income homeowners with an average household income of $53,311. Long Island residents can receive assistance and personal counseling through the Community Development Corporation of Long Island
Modification Eligibility for New York Homeowners
Eligibility varies from lender to lender, but the process begins by completing and submitting an application with the required documentation to the lender. The list of required documentation will vary but the following documents are generally required:
- Proof of income and an expense finance worksheet
- Tax returns for the last two to three years
- Proof of additional income such as alimony, social security, disability, child support
- Bank statements, and
- Proof of your hardship which can be a hardship letter or affidavit
- Proof of additional debt such as student loans, credit cards, and car loans
If find yourself having difficulty with the modification application or you feel your lender is not abiding by state laws, consider contacting our Long Island office and we can guide you through the process. You do not need to hire an attorney to obtain a loan modification, but employing a qualified professional can make the difference between keeping your home or losing it foreclosure.
Refinancing your loan replaces your old loan agreement with a new one and can be completed by either your current lender or a new one. To qualify for a refinance, you must be creditworthy and not owe more than the house is worth. While creditworthiness is not a major concern with a modification, a lender or bank does require that you be able to make the new payments. Unlike a modification, you may have to pay closing costs and other fees to complete the mortgage refinance process.
Mortgage Modification and Bankruptcy
Chapter 7 and 13 are the most common types of bankruptcy filed by individuals. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a liquidation process in which the trustee sells non-exempt assets and uses the proceeds to pay creditors. There are no provisions in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that allows you to keep your home, but it gives you time to find other housing or enter a loan workout plan with your lender. There is nothing that states your lender cannot agree to a modification after you file a Chapter 7. However, this is at the lender’s discretion. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy generally allows you to keep your home and pay creditors under a court-supervised repayment plan over three to five years. Once the court approves the repayment plan, the lender cannot foreclose. Additional advantages of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy include:
- Automatic stay (an injunction that temporarily prevents creditors from pursuing or continuing credit collection actions)
- Extending your secured debt over the life of the repayment plan
- Protecting third parties such as co-signers
- No direct contact with your creditors. Payments are made to the trustee who disburses the payments to the creditors
According to the United States Courts, you do not need an attorney to file bankruptcy. However, due to the long-term legal effects surrounding a bankruptcy, hiring a bankruptcy lawyer who will work to protect your rights, recommend the best bankruptcy for you, and guide you through the process adds an additional blanket of security should a problem arise.
If you would like more information on the home loan modification process, or if you have questions regarding bankruptcy filing, considering contacting The Offices of Adam C. Gomerman. Our Long Island based team of attorneys has years of experience in advising clients on the home loan modification process and personal bankruptcy process.