The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About Mortgage Loan Forbearance

A record number of homeowners entered into a forbearance plan for their mortgage over the past year amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Forbearance — an option that allows borrowers to pause payments on their mortgage for a limited amount of time due to an unforeseen hardship — served as a veritable lifeline for many people who found themselves unexpectedly out of work and unable to pay their mortgage as COVID restrictions tightened.

As more time passes, however, it is apparent that issues stemming from forbearance are starting to surface. While this is not an immediate cause for panic if your own mortgage has been in forbearance, being aware of issues that others are facing will help to keep you prepared for any trouble that arises.

For that reason, I had a Zoom meeting this week with Jaxzann Riggs, owner of The Mortgage Network in Denver, to learn more about complications that forbearance may bring about.

When the CARES Act was initially passed back in March 2020, it included a provision for mortgage forbearance, making it relatively easy for millions of borrowers with government backed mortgages to enter into such a program. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest servicers of government backed loans, subsequently issued an extensive list of guidelines for lenders in response to Covid-specific forbearance.

One of the most crucial guidelines involved credit score reporting. An account in for-bearance must continue to be reported as current, provided it was current prior to the forbearance plan. Due to the vast number of people who entered into forbearance in such a short time period, it is especially important to monitor your credit score — but that is not necessarily the end of the story.

Some borrowers who were previously in forbearance that are now applying for new loans are discovering that their issue does not lie with the credit reporting bureaus themselves but with the underwriting on their new loan. Underwriters, who are primarily responsible for qualifying a borrower for a loan from a specific lender, have a significant amount of discretion when it comes to approving an application. The consequence of this is that borrowers who would otherwise be well qualified to purchase — with high credit scores, steady employment, and a significant down payment — may find themselves struggling to obtain the loan they are seeking if they previously had a loan in forbearance. Although Fannie’s and Freddie’s guidelines include specifics for underwriting, the sometimes unfortunate reality is that these guidelines can be interpreted differently by different underwriters.

If you had a loan in forbearance sometime this past year and are now considering a new purchase or refinance, you should not immediately despair. Maintaining meticulous records that indicate when you initially applied for forbearance and being able to produce all communications with your current lender to the new lender are essential. If you have entered the repayment phase of the loan it is critical that the repayment agreement is followed exactly as written.

Because forbearance was originally intended to help those that had a loss of income or employment due to COVID, underwriters are scrutinizing employment history and the likelihood of it continuing for all borrowers. Borrowers that did not have any change in employment status during the pandemic but who entered into a forbearance agreement should be prepared to outline for the new lender their motivations for entering forbearance and to additionally explain how they will be able to avoid forbearance in the future. This is a bit ironic, in that lenders strongly encouraged many to utilize the options afforded them under the CARES Act. If you have questions about how forbearance may impact your future lending, I recommend, as always, that you consult Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network. You can reach her anytime on her cell phone, 303-990-2992.