HARP, or the Home Affordable Refinance Program, is the latest federal program designed to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages. Designed to help people who are "underwater" with their mortgages due to lowered home values, it allows people who owe more on their home than it's worth to refinance their mortgages and get lower interest rates. In this sense it is a sort of emergency mortgage assistance program, but it only works for people who don't have any late or delinquent payments. If you are rejected while trying to refinance your home or go through a loan modification program, HARP may benefit. This only applies if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and you need to owe 125% or less of your home's value in order to qualify.
Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP): HAMP lowers your monthly mortgage payment to 31 percent of your verified monthly gross (pre-tax) income to make your payments more affordable. The typical HAMP modification results in a 40 percent drop in a monthly mortgage payment. Eighteen percent of HAMP homeowners reduce their payments by $1,000 or more.
Forbearance: Your mortgage payments are reduced or suspended for a period you and your servicer agree to. At the end of that time, you resume making your regular payments as well as a lump sum payment or additional partial payments for a number of months to bring the loan current. Forbearance may be an option if your income is reduced temporarily (for example, you are on disability leave from a job, and you expect to go back to your full time position shortly). Forbearance isn’t going to help you if you’re in a home you can’t afford.
You can find a lender on Zillow to learn how much you can borrow. And you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator to estimate what you can afford. But you should go a step further and figure out what you can be comfortable with. Is travel a passion? Do you like spending a fair amount on dining out or other entertainment? The lender won’t factor biannual vacations or a craving for high-end restaurants into their calculations, so you have to. Fortunately, that’s easy enough with tools that help you calculate your monthly payment as well as estimate what you should be able to afford given your existing income and debts. Chances are, even after the sub-prime crisis, a lender will be willing to offer you a bigger mortgage than you think you can afford. Only you can know how much you are willing to set aside for a mortgage payment each month.
Foreclosure mediation programs have been created by cities, counties, and state governments. A number of local court systems have also created mediation programs that will ensure lenders, banks and homeowners meet with an attorney or professional mediator to explore all solutions to a foreclosure. Learn more on foreclosure mediation programs and whether your state or local government offers one.