“Loss mitigation” is the process in the mortgage-servicing business where borrowers and their servicer, on behalf of the loan owner or "investor," work together to prevent a foreclosure. Various loss mitigation options include:
Perhaps the most sought-after form of loss mitigation is a modification. A "loan modification" is a written agreement that permanently changes the promissory note's original terms to make the borrower's mortgage payments more affordable. A modification typically lowers the interest rate and extends the loan's term. In some cases, if you're behind in payments, you might be able to add the overdue amount to the balance of the loan as part of a modification. Lenders and investors usually won't, however, approve principal reductions as part of a modification, even if your home is underwater.
To get a modification, you'll need to contact your loan servicer to get an application. In the application, you'll have to supply details about your income, expenses, and situation. You'll also have to provide supporting documentation. Even though the process might seem intimidating, most people can apply for and, if you meet investor-specific guidelines, get a modification on their own without paying for assistance.
To be eligible for a mortgage modification, along with meeting other investor-specific guidelines, you'll generally need to show that:
In most cases, you'll have to complete a trial period plan, often for around three months, to demonstrate you can afford the new modified amount.
Depending on your mortgage type and circumstances, you might qualify for a government modification program. Different options are available for borrowers with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA-insured, VA-guaranteed, and USDA mortgages. For instance, you might qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac Flex Modification if you have one of those kinds of loans. Investors are free to offer their own in-house modification options, too, called “proprietary” modifications.
To apply for a modification, contact your servicer's loss mitigation department, sometimes called a "home retention" department, and ask for a loss mitigation application. You can find contact information on your monthly mortgage statement or the servicer's webpage.
You'll need to submit the application to your servicer and likely include:
Depending on the situation, you might also have to provide additional documentation or answer questions from the servicer.
While it's sometimes useful to hire an attorney to help you in the modification process, you should avoid loan modification companies in almost all circumstances. Here's why.
Loan modification companies charge a lot for services you can perform yourself. Modification companies collect your application paperwork from you and send it to your mortgage servicer. These companies charge thousands of dollars to act as a middleman. It's much cheaper to handle the modification process yourself instead of paying someone else to do the legwork for you. Also, many modification companies are scammers who will do little or nothing to help you in the process.
If you handle the modification application process yourself, you can respond to any inquiries or requests from the servicer promptly. Loan modification companies often fail to respond to requests from the servicer, or they respond after weeks or months go by, leading to a modification denial.
Also, you're in the best position to deal with any inquiries or requests for additional documentation. Only you know all of your particular situation's details and have access to the paperwork that the servicer might want.
The vast majority of modification companies are scammers. They'll take your money, and you'll get very little in return—certainly, nothing that you couldn't have done yourself. These companies might tell you they're experts at negotiating a modification, but there's really no trick to it. Little to no haggling happens in the loan modification process; the investor has specific requirements that borrowers must meet to get a modification, and if you meet them, you'll get one.
In some circumstances, it's worthwhile to get an attorney to help you in the modification process like if you're having difficulty understanding what you need to do to complete your application, the servicer violates loss mitigation laws, or your servicer isn't responding to you. Rather than hiring a loan modification company, consider talking to an attorney. If you can't afford a lawyer, a legal aid organization or HUD-approved housing counselor might be able to help you for free.