When you received your home loan, you agreed to make regular monthly mortgage payments. Your payment plan is based on the specific contract you made with your lender. Unfortunately, sometimes unexpected life events get in the way, causing homeowners to miss payments.

These unexpected events and emergencies, such as a reduction to income or a medical emergency, are stressful enough on their own. But when these events interfere with the ability to make mortgage payments on time, the added strain of potentially losing your home can be overwhelming and frightening. What happens if you miss mortgage payments? Are there consequences to missing even one payment, and how many can you miss before the foreclosure process begins?

In general, you can miss about four mortgage payments—approximately 120 days—before your home lender will start the foreclosure process. However, it’s best to be proactive and talk to your lender early in the process to avoid problems. Contact your lender before you miss payments so you can develop a plan together and avoid foreclosure. They understand that unexpected life events happen.

If you know you’re going to have trouble making your mortgage payments, there is help available. The National Mortgage Relief Hotline can help you get in touch with resources to develop a plan, so you avoid foreclosure.

What if You Can’t Pay Your Mortgage?

Staying current with your mortgage payments is an important priority. Missing payments can negatively impact your credit score and your personal credit.

Your mortgage is a secured loan that’s tied to your house or land. There are many types of mortgages, such as fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, and more. Depending on your mortgage arrangement, you can begin accruing additional fees and costs when you miss payments, making it even more challenging to catch up.

Typical Process When You Miss Mortgage Payments

Here are some events you can expect if you start to fall behind on your mortgage payments.

Missing Your First Mortgage Payment

Most lenders will offer a ten or fifteen-day grace period the first time you miss a mortgage payment. During this time, you usually make your payment without penalty or being considered delinquent.

If you don’t pay by the grace period deadline, you will be charged a late fee. The amount of the late fee will vary based on your loan agreement. However, this fee can often be a significant percentage of your mortgage, typically 4 percent of your overdue payment.

Missing Your Second Mortgage Payment

If you’ve missed two consecutive mortgage payments, you will be in default on your mortgage. Typically, your lender will contact you to ask why you aren’t making payments. It’s essential to take their call. Some lenders will contact you frequently, especially if you aren’t returning their calls. While this can be stressful, they want to reach an agreement with you to avoid the foreclosure process. Remember, they don’t want to become the new owner of your home, they just want your mortgage to perform.

Make time to explain your situation to your lender. Try to work with them at this stage on an arrangement that can resolve the issue. Their loss mitigation department may come up with an affordable plan if you explain your situation.

It’s helpful to prepare before talking with your lender. Before you call your loan servicer:

  • Review the terms of your mortgage
  • Make a list of your expenses and income, gather recent pay stubs
  • Identify how long you foresee having difficulty paying your mortgage, and whether this is a temporary situation or long-term
  • Consider how much money you could realistically pay by a certain date, to begin an affordable pay plan

Missing Your Third Mortgage Payment

Once you are 3 payments behind on the mortgage, your options are starting to become more limited. You may receive a Notice to Accelerate letter. This letter states you must pay the past amount plus any accumulated late fees by a specified date, or the foreclosure process will begin.

The lender will typically hire an attorney to send you a demand letter if you don’t pay the amount requested in the Notice to Accelerate letter. The demand letter is your official notice that the foreclosure process will begin if you don’t pay. At this point, you typically will be responsible for the missed payments and late fees along with attorney fees. These attorney fees can amount to $1500 or more.

At this stage, most lenders give you 30-days to get your account paid, including late fees, penalties, or any legal fees incurred. If you haven’t spoken with your lender, it is critical to do so. Some lenders will only accept payment in full at this stage. However, you may still be able to reach an agreement with some lenders to avoid foreclosure.

Missing Your Fourth Mortgage Payment

If haven’t reached an agreement or paid the amount due by the specified date in the letters sent, the foreclosure process will start. At this point, you will be four months, or 120 days, behind on your payments.

The laws overseeing foreclosure vary from state to state. If you live in a non-judicial state like Texas, the process gets underway fast. There is no need for the lender to sue you to get underway. Whereas in a judicial state like Illinois, the lender must win a case for the right to begin foreclosure. Some of these homeowners can linger in the foreclosure process for over a year without making any payments before being finally evicted. If you are facing foreclosure, it’s always wise to learn the procedures and time tables for your state.

What You Can Do When You’re Unable to Make Your Mortgage Payments

The most critical step is to contact your lender as soon as you realize you’re going to fall behind on your mortgage payments. The foreclosure process is costly for everyone, including the lender. If you communicate with your lender early, you may be able to reach an agreement that works for both parties. If you wait to talk to your lender, you’ll have fewer options available to you.

There are many resources available, including federal programs, to help homeowners who find themselves falling behind on payments. The National Mortgage Relief Hotline offers free help and advice. You will connect with reliable, trusted experts who can assist you in solving your problem.

    Using Bankruptcy as a Last Resort

    If after seeking help, if your lender is unwilling to come to an affordable agreement with you, you may want to contact a bankruptcy attorney to learn about your remaining options to keep your home. Under a chapter 13 bankruptcy plan you can force the lender to agree to terms you can afford. To learn more you can call the Free Bankruptcy Advice Helpline.