Foreclosure Timeline: After You Miss Your First Payment

Generally, homeowners have to be more than 120 days delinquent before a foreclosure can begin.

If you're behind in mortgage payments, you might be wondering how soon a foreclosure will start. Generally, a homeowner has to be at least 120 days delinquent before a mortgage servicer starts a foreclosure. Applying for a foreclosure avoidance option, called "loss mitigation," might delay the start date even further.

120-Day Loss Mitigation Period

Under federal law, in most cases, a servicer can't start a foreclosure until a homeowner is more than 120 days overdue on payments.

Applying for loss mitigation before foreclosure starts. The 120-day preforeclosure period gives the homeowner time to:

If you turn in a complete loss mitigation application during the 120-day period, the servicer must evaluate the submission, and inform you of the results, before it can start to foreclose. Though, once the 120-day period expires, if you haven't brought the loan current or applied for (or received) a foreclosure alternative, the servicer will probably start a foreclosure.

Why apply for loss mitigation? Before losing your home to a foreclosure, you might want to find out whether you qualify for a mortgage modification—like a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Flex Modificationor some other mortgage workout option, like a repayment plan or forbearance. Whether or not you ultimately plan to leave, there's no harm in seeing what you can get. Even if the servicer rejects your application for a workout, simply engaging in the process can buy you some time in payment-free shelter.

Applying for loss mitigation after foreclosure begins. If you don't apply for loss mitigation during the 120-day preforeclosure period, you can still apply for a loss mitigation option after the foreclosure begins. (The servicer generally doesn't have to review multiple applications from you, though, unless bring the loan current after submitting an application. Also, it's usually better to get the process rolling during the 120-day preforeclosure period—before you get even further behind in payments and foreclosure costs start to add up.)

Under federal law, so long as you submit your complete application more than 37 days before the foreclosure sale, the servicer can't ask for a judgment or order of sale, or conduct a foreclosure sale unless:

  • the servicer denies your request (and any appeal period expires)
  • you decline the loss mitigation option offered, or
  • you fail to abide by a loss mitigation agreement.

Along with the 120-day preforeclosure period, federal law also provides you with various protections before and during a foreclosure.

Breach Letters: Warning Before Foreclosure Starts

Many mortgages and deeds of trust have a clause that requires the lender or servicer to send you a notice, commonly called a "breach letter," informing you that the loan is in default before it can accelerate the loan and proceed with foreclosure. (The acceleration clause in the mortgage or deed of trust permits the lender to demand that the entire balance of the loan be repaid if you default on the loan.)

Typically, the breach letter will provide the following information:

  • the nature of the default (for example, you didn't make payments)
  • the action required to cure the default (you have to get current on the loan)
  • a date by which you must cure the default, usually not less than 30 days from the date the notice is given, and
  • that if you fail to cure the default on or before the date specified in the notice, this may result in acceleration of the debt and sale of the property.

If the 30-day time period expires and you haven't cured the default, foreclosure proceedings, which could be nonjudicial or judicial depending on the state and the circumstances, will begin. Most times, you'll get this letter during the 120-day preforeclosure period.

Your state's foreclosure laws might also require the servicer to send you some kind of preforeclosure notice.

Getting Help

To find out how to apply for a loss mitigation option, call your mortgage servicer. If you need more information about different ways to avoid foreclosure, consider contacting a foreclosure attorney or a HUD-approved housing counselor. (Read about what kinds of services that HUD-approved housing counselors provide.)

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