Breathe Easy with Mortgage Forbearance: Your Guide to Financial Relief

fact checked icon

Updated: December 29, 2023

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

A mortgage is a type of loan that helps individuals finance the purchase of a home, differing from other loans like personal loans or auto loans in that the house itself acts as collateral. According to the New York FED’s Household Debt and Credit Report for Q3 of 2023, mortgage debt in the U.S. totals more than $12 trillion. Unfortunately, 0.72% of mortgage debt is considered seriously delinquent. If a homeowner defaults on their mortgage, they risk foreclosure, where the lender seizes their home. Fortunately, homeowners can use several tools to provide temporary financial relief. One of these is mortgage forbearance, a program that allows homeowners to pause or reduce mortgage payments for a set period.

What Is Mortgage Forbearance?

Mortgage forbearance is a relief program designed to temporarily assist homeowners who cannot meet their mortgage obligations due to unforeseen circumstances. In such situations, forbearance allows you to pause or reduce your mortgage payments for a specified duration. It's crucial to note that this isn't a waiver of the owed amount but a temporary respite. The payments are deferred to a later date and must be paid back once your forbearance period ends, usually under specific repayment plans offered by your lender.

housePapers icon

It's important to distinguish mortgage forbearance from loan forgiveness. While forbearance allows you to temporarily pause or reduce your mortgage payments due to financial hardship, it doesn't eliminate or reduce the debt you owe. Lenders expect you to repay the paused or reduced payments in the future. On the other hand, loan forgiveness is when your lender cancels or forgives part or all of your debt, meaning you're no longer obligated to repay the forgiven amount.

Swift and early communication with your lender is critical if you're facing financial difficulties. It allows for more options and could potentially prevent serious consequences such as late fees, credit score damage and even foreclosure. Remember, forbearance is a tool to help keep you in your home, and your lender is often your most significant ally in navigating these challenging times.

When To Consider Forbearance for Your Mortgage

Deciding to seek mortgage forbearance can be challenging, but you may consider it if you're already facing financial strain. It can be a critical safety net in numerous situations that impact your ability to meet your mortgage obligations. Here are some scenarios where mortgage forbearance can be a helpful financial tool.

Jane’s Job Loss

Jane is a hardworking nurse who has always taken pride in managing her finances effectively. Unfortunately, her employer of the last decade unexpectedly lays her off due to budget cuts. With her steady income suddenly gone and her job prospects uncertain, meeting her monthly mortgage payments becomes a significant challenge.

Carlos’s Injury

Carlos is a proud homeowner who lives for his career as a construction worker. Carlos recently suffered a severe injury on the job and had to undergo expensive medical treatment. The burden of hefty medical bills, compounded by his inability to return to work during recovery, has left Carlos struggling to maintain his mortgage obligations.

Olivia’s Force Majeure

Olivia is a dedicated teacher in a coastal town prone to hurricanes. A recent category five hurricane severely damaged her home. The cost of necessary repairs is overwhelming, draining her savings and making it hard to keep up with her mortgage payments.

Robert in an Economic Downturn

Robert is a small business owner passionate about his local bookstore. When an economic downturn hits his community, his business revenue drops significantly. Despite cutting costs wherever possible, Robert cannot cover all his expenses, including his monthly mortgage payments.

Mia’s Medical Complication

Ethan and Mia, a newlywed couple who had just welcomed twins, had done their best to prepare for the additional childcare expenses. However, a medical complication required Mia to extend her unpaid maternity leave. This unexpected reduction in their income, coupled with their new childcare costs, strains their ability to make their usual mortgage payments.

Each of these individuals represents a circumstance where forbearance could provide much-needed relief, offering a temporary reprieve from mortgage payments. No two situations are identical, and the key to finding the best solution is communicating with your lender at the earliest sign of financial difficulty.

How Does Mortgage Forbearance Work?

While it's crucial to understand what mortgage forbearance is and when to consider it, the process's nuances can be equally important. In this section, we'll delve into the nitty-gritty of mortgage forbearance, including the qualifications, terms, repayment options, its impact on credit and other financial implications.

How To Qualify for Forbearance

Lenders and government agencies don't grant forbearance to every homeowner experiencing difficulty with mortgage payments. They have eligibility requirements. Here are a few critical factors for qualifying:

  • Proof of Financial Hardship: Lenders typically require evidence that you are facing genuine financial hardship. Being strapped for cash isn't enough — you need to show that a significant financial disruption happened, such as a job loss, a major illness or a sudden, unexpected expense like a hefty medical bill. This proof may come in the form of pay stubs showing reduced income, medical bills or unemployment documentation. Each lender has different requirements, so don't forget to confirm the details with them.

  • Good Prior Payment History: A good payment history doesn't guarantee forbearance, but it can be a significant factor. If you've consistently made your mortgage payments on time, lenders may view this positively, suggesting that you're generally responsible with your financial obligations. Your commitment to meeting your mortgage responsibilities in the past may give lenders confidence that you will fulfill your repayment obligations once the forbearance period ends.

  • Ability to Resume Repayment: Forbearance is only temporary relief from payments. You'll need to demonstrate that your financial hardship is short-term and that you will likely resume regular mortgage payments when the forbearance period finishes. This process can be subjective and depends on individual circumstances. Lenders might want to see a plan for future income, such as a job offer letter or proof of a retirement fund you can access in the near future.

Terms and Repayment Options

Navigating mortgage forbearance can become smoother if you know your terms and repayment options. The former helps set clear expectations about the forbearance period, while the latter equips you with information, allowing you to make informed decisions when it's time to resume payments.

Forbearance Terms

Forbearance doesn't mean your payments are forgiven or erased. It is essentially a pause or reduction in your mortgage payments, and the length of this pause, the "forbearance period," is typically 180 days. However, your lender can agree to extend this period for an additional 180 days if you're still under financial stress. For example, if you lost your job and need time to secure a new one, these terms allow you to focus on your job hunt without the immediate pressure of making full mortgage payments.

Repayment Options

Choosing the right repayment plan for you depends on your personal circumstances. Some homeowners have enough savings to repay the paused amount in one lump sum, while others may need to spread it out over time. Here are some options:


Lump Sum Repayment

Repay the total paused payments in one go at the end of your forbearance period.

This method allows you to get back on track quickly if you have sufficient funds.

Repayment Plan

Spread out your paused payments over several months, in addition to your regular mortgage payments.

This eases the financial strain by distributing the paused payments over time.

Payment Deferral

Pay the paused amount when you sell your home, refinance your mortgage, or at the end of your loan term.

Deferral is an option if you can't afford a lump sum or higher monthly payments now but expect to have more financial flexibility in the future.

Loan Modification

Alter the terms of your mortgage to make payments more manageable, which could include adding the paused amount to the balance of your loan.

This helps if your financial hardship has permanently reduced your ability to make your previous mortgage payment amount.

Forbearance and Your Credit Score

A credit score quantifies your creditworthiness and plays a vital role in your financial life. It’s calculated based on your credit history, including your loan repayment history, credit card usage and overall debt management. A high score translates to better interest rates on loans and credit cards, while a lower score can make it harder to secure these financial products.

When you enter into a mortgage forbearance agreement, your lender may report this status to the credit bureaus. Entering forbearance will usually result in a drop in your credit score. However, how your lender reports it to the credit bureaus is what makes the difference.

If they report your account as current during the forbearance period and you were current on your payments before the forbearance, your credit score should not be directly impacted. However, if you were delinquent on your payments before the forbearance or failed to resume your regular payments once the forbearance period ends and become delinquent on your loan, this could be reported to the credit bureaus and negatively impact your credit score.

Forbearance and Its Effect on Your Financial Outlook

Financial planning involves not only managing the present but also looking ahead to the future. Understanding the effects of mortgage forbearance on your financial health, whether short-term or long-term, is crucial in making an informed decision. The relief that forbearance provides can be a lifesaver in tough times but also opens you up to obligations you must prepare for.

Short-Term Effects

Mortgage forbearance offers substantial relief because it temporarily pauses or reduces mortgage payments. In turn, that frees up funds that you can use for other urgent needs or expenses. This financial breathing room can be essential, especially when you've lost a steady source of income or encountered an unexpected expense. But keep in mind that forbearance isn't forgiveness, so it isn't a free pass — it simply defers payment to a later date. While it eases immediate pressure, it can lead to larger or more extended payments down the road.

Long-Term Effects

The terms of your forbearance agreement and repayment plan play significant roles in the long-term effects of forbearance. Since it does not erase what you owe, you must know how much it is because deferred payments will be due in the future. If your forbearance plan involves extending your mortgage, you may pay more interest over its life. If a lump sum is due at the end of the forbearance period, it may be a financial burden if you're not prepared. Consider the long-term early to start planning for repayment immediately.

The Process to a Forbearance

Navigating the forbearance process can be daunting, so understanding each step can make it more manageable.

The Application Process: A Step-By-Step Guide

Identify your need

If you're experiencing financial hardship and struggling with your mortgage payments, consider seeking forbearance.

Reach out to your lender

Early communication with your lender is crucial. Discuss your financial situation and ask about forbearance options.

Gather necessary documents

Your lender will likely require proof of your financial hardship. This may include bank statements, proof of income and documentation of your hardship.

Apply for forbearance

After providing the necessary documents, submit your forbearance application. Be sure to note any deadlines.

Wait for approval

Your lender will review your application. If approved, you'll receive terms for your forbearance agreement.

Life After Forbearance

Forbearance is a temporary measure. Once you've made it through your financially challenging period, getting back on track is essential.

  • Financial Planning. You may face increased monthly payments or a lump sum to repay once your forbearance period ends. Don’t get caught off guard — plan a budget to manage these expenses while ensuring you meet your other financial obligations. This process might include cutting down on non-essential expenses or seeking financial advice.

  • Communication with Lender: Keep in touch with your lender throughout and after your forbearance period. It helps address any concerns or questions and lets your lender provide timely information about your loan status.

Being mindful of your financial position will help you be successful once your forbearance period is over.

FAQs About Mortgage Forbearance

What does forbearance mean for a loan?
How does forbearance differ from foreclosure?
What is the difference between forbearance and deferment?
Can I apply for forbearance if I'm not facing financial hardship right now?
Can I sell or refinance my home during forbearance?
Will my loan interest continue to accrue during forbearance?

About Christopher Boston

Christopher Boston headshot

Christopher (Croix) Boston was the Head of Loans content at MoneyGeek, with over five years of experience researching higher education, mortgage and personal loans.

Boston has a bachelor's degree from the Seattle Pacific University. They pride themselves in using their skills and experience to create quality content that helps people save and spend efficiently.