New Jersey's Hardest Hit Program: NJ Homekeeper Program

The New Jersey HomeKeeper Program provides mortgage payment and loan reinstatement assistance to struggling homeowners who are, or were recently, unemployed or underemployed.

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The New Jersey HomeKeeper Program, which is funded through the Hardest Hit Fund, provides mortgage payment and loan reinstatement assistance for homeowners who are facing foreclosure as a direct result of unemployment or underemployment through no fault of their own. Read on to get an overview of the program, learn how much assistance is available, and find out if you are eligible.

(To learn about foreclosure laws in New Jersey, and programs to assist New Jersey homeowners, visit our New Jersey Foreclosure Law Center.)

Hardest Hit Fund

In 2010, the U.S. Department of the Treasury created the Hardest Hit Fund to provide targeted aid to homeowners in those states most affected by the housing market crash. As part of this program, $7.6 billion in aid was allocated to the 18 states, along with Washington, D.C., that experienced the most extreme home price declines and high unemployment rates as a result of the economic crisis.

(Learn more about the Hardest Hit Fund.)

New Jersey was awarded over $300 million in funds through the Hardest Hit Fund to help eligible homeowners avoid foreclosure. (Learn more about the New Jersey foreclosure process.) To do this, New Jersey set up the HomeKeeper Program.

The New Jersey HomeKeeper Program

The New Jersey HomeKeeper Program is designed to help homeowners who are currently experiencing an income loss (or previously experienced an income loss) due to unemployment or underemployment. The two types of mortgage assistance available under the program are:

  • mortgage payment assistance, which pays monthly mortgage payments while the homeowner is actively seeking work or participating in a job training program, and
  • reinstatement assistance, which covers past-due mortgage payments and fees that accumulated during a period of unemployment or underemployment.

The maximum amount of assistance available per household was $48,000, but in 2013, New Jersey reduced the maximum assistance available to homeowners to $24,000.

How the Program Works

Prior to being considered for the HomeKeeper Program, homeowners must speak with a participating housing counseling agency to determine if there are other state or federal foreclosure prevention programs available that might be more appropriate for their situation.

(To get information about options to avoid foreclosure, see our Alternatives to Foreclosure area. To learn about government programs for distressed homeowners, visit Nolo's Government Foreclosure Prevention Programs area.)

If the housing counselor determines that the HomeKeeper Program is appropriate and the homeowner is approved for the program, assistance is provided in the form of a 0% interest rate, non-amortizing, forgivable loan secured by a junior lien that is recorded against the property.

You only need to repay the loan if you do one of the following things during the first five years after the loan closing date.

  • Sell your home.
  • Transfer ownership of the home.
  • Cease to occupy the home as your primary residence.
  • Refinance (unless you do so to obtain a lower rate orterm).

After the fifth year, the loan is forgiven at the rate of 20% per year. After ten years, the entire debt is forgiven.

Borrower Eligibility

To be eligible for the New Jersey HomeKeeper Program, you must meet all of the below criteria.

  • You are in danger of foreclosure directly resulting from unemployment or underemployment that occurred through no fault, decision, or personal circumstance of your own. (To learn the ins and outs of the foreclosure process, visit our Foreclosure Center.)
  • You have no more than nine months worth of mortgage payments available in cash or other liquid assets (excluding retirement accounts and educational savings plans).
  • You are paying (or, for reinstatement assistance, you were paying prior to your regaining sufficient employment income) more than 25% of your gross household income each month to cover all existing mortgage payments, including principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and any homeowner association or cooperative fees.

Home Eligibility Criteria

Additionally, your existing mortgages and the property securing the mortgages must meet the below criteria.

  • The property is in New Jersey.
  • The property is your primary and only residence. (This means you cannot own other investment or vacation properties.)
  • The property is a single-family home, a two-unit home, or a condominium.
  • The outstanding principal balance of your first mortgage plus the outstanding principal balance of any other existing mortgage loans on the home does not exceed $429,619 for a one-unit dwelling or $550,005 for a two-family dwelling.

Mobile or manufactured homes are eligible for the program if on a permanent foundation that is affixed to real property owned by the homeowner and secured by a real property mortgage lien. Learn more about what happens if you are struggling to pay your mobile home loan.

Program Exclusions

You are not eligible for the HomeKeeper Program if you filed bankruptcy and the bankruptcy is active. If you previously filed bankruptcy and it was dismissed or discharged, then you are also eligible to apply for assistance.

Servicer Participation

Servicer participation in this program is voluntary. (A mortgage servicer is the company that collects monthly mortgage payments from borrowers on behalf of the owner of the loan, as well as tracks account balances, manages the escrow account, handles loss mitigation applications, and pursues foreclosure in the case of defaulted loans.) Program payments are made directly to the mortgage servicer.

To find out if your servicer is part of the HomeKeeper Program, go to www.njhomekeeper.com, then select “Am I Eligible?” and go to #9 to find a link to a list of participating and non-participating servicers.

Program Details: Mortgage Payment Assistance

Mortgage payment assistance is available to those unemployed/underemployed homeowners who are already behind on mortgage payments or are likely to become delinquent within 90 days of their HomeKeeper Program application.

If you are approved for assistance, the program will pay your monthly mortgage payments until:

  • you have sufficient employment income to resume making payments going forward, or
  • you have reached the assistance limit of $48,000 (whichever occurs first).

If you are behind on your payments, up to $36,000 can be used to bring the loan current as well as pay any homeowner association or cooperative association fees.

Additional criteria. For unemployed applicants, you must have become unemployed within 36 months preceding the date of your application and are receiving, previously received, or are eligible to receive state unemployment benefits. For underemployed applicants, you must have a documented income reduction of 15% due to underemployment through no fault of your own which took place within the 36 months preceding the date you applied to the program.

Program Details: Reinstatement Assistance

If you fell behind on your mortgage payments when you were unemployed or underemployed, but now have a job with sufficient income to make ongoing payments, you may be eligible to receive up to $48,000 to catch up on the arrearages.

Additional criteria. For previously unemployed applicants, you must have become unemployed within 36 months preceding the date of your application. For previously underemployed applicants, you must have a documented income reduction of 15% due to underemployment through no fault of your own which took place within the 36 months preceding the date you applied to the program. You also must have sufficient employment income to pay all mortgage payments going forward.

How to Apply (or Appeal a Prior Denial)

For instructions on how to apply for HomeKeeper assistance, go to www.njhomekeeper.com and click on "Take the Tour." When you are ready to start the application process, click on “Start Now.”

The HomeKeeper Program guidelines were recently revised so even if you were previously denied assistance, you may now be eligible for the program. You do not have to reapply, but instead just submit a written appeal. Learn more about the appeal process by going to www.njhomekeeper.com and clicking on “Appeals.”

For More Information

If you would like more information about the New Jersey HomeKeeper Program, call toll free 877-496-4951.

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