In a loan modification, the bank agrees to alter your mortgage terms, which in turn lowers your monthly payment to a more affordable amount. If Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac own your loan, you might qualify for a Flex Modification, which is a special loan modification program. Under this program, the loan servicer takes a series of steps, which may include lowering the interest rate and/or extending the term of the loan, to lower your monthly payments. (To learn what to do—and what not do—in the loan modification process, read Do’s and Don’ts for Getting a Loan Modification.)
Read on to learn who (or what) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are, how the Flex Modification program works, who’s generally eligible for this type of modification, and what you can do if you don’t qualify for the program.
Before you can understand who or what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are, you first must understand the basic parties involved in mortgage servicing.
Lender or originator. A lender or originator is the party that loaned you the money for your home loan.
Investor. Often, the originator— the original owner of the loan—subsequently sells the loan to a new owner, who is called an investor.
Servicer. A servicer is the company that handles the loan account. The servicer collects and processes the monthly payments, manages the escrow account (if there is one), processes loan modification applications, and supervises the foreclosure process when borrowers don’t make their payments. Sometimes, the loan owner also acts as the servicer. Other times, the owner sells the right to service the loan to another company.
The Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), also called “Fannie Mae,” and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), also called “Freddie Mac,” are government-sponsored enterprises that own or back (guarantee) many mortgages in the United States.
Here’s how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play a role in the mortgage market:
A borrower usually takes out a loan to buy a home from a bank or mortgage company. Most of the time, though, the original lender won’t keep the loan. Instead the lender sells the loan to a bank or investor—like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac—on what’s commonly known as the secondary mortgage market. After purchasing a loan from a bank or mortgage company, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac either keep the mortgage in their portfolio or package the loan with other loans into mortgage-backed securities, which are then sold to private investors. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sometimes guarantee the loans that they sell to investors, which means they make sure that an investor gets paid on the loan even if the borrower defaults. (Learn more about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.)
The Flex Modification program helps borrowers who have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned loans. A Flex Modification, which replaces the now-expired Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) program, is supposed to reduce an eligible borrower’s mortgage payment by about 20%.
With a Flex Modification, the servicer has to take one or more of the following steps to lower the borrower's payment:
Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require their servicers to review all borrowers for a Flex Modification when the borrower is between 90 and 105 days behind in payments. So, your servicer might offer you this type of modification, even if you don't apply for it. Though you can also apply, as long as a foreclosure sale hasn't happened yet. (Under federal law, if you submit your complete application more than 37 days before a scheduled foreclosure sale, the foreclosure must be delayed while the application is pending.)
Before the servicer finalizes the modification, you’ll have to successfully complete a trial period plan that normally lasts three or four months. If you make all of the trial payments, you’ll get a permanent loan modification that likely waives previous late charges, penalties, and other fees.
To be eligible for a Flex Modification, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac must own your loan. (To find out if either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac owns your loan, call your mortgage servicer or use the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac online loan lookup tools.)
Also, you, your home, and your mortgage loan have to meet specific criteria, like:
The requirements to get this type modification are rather extensive and complicated, so call your mortgage servicer to find out if you qualify and to learn how to apply.
Even if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac doesn’t own your loan—or if you don’t qualify for a Flex Modification for some other reason—you might qualify for another modification program through your servicer. Servicers and investors normally offer their own in-house (called “proprietary”) modifications, as well as forbearance agreements and repayment plans to help borrowers who are behind in mortgage payments.
To learn about the different options that might be available to you, call your loan servicer.
If you need help working out a modification or another way to avoid foreclosure with your loan servicer, consider contacting a foreclosure attorney or a HUD-approved housing counselor.