Upside Down Mortgage Help for Homeowners

Editor’s note: This article was updated in 2019 to remove links to pages on the HUD website that are no longer available. The rest of the story has been preserved for historical purposes.

As of August 2010, when this article was published, approximately 11 million homeowners were upside down in their mortgage loans. Much of this results from the housing crisis that came to a head in 2008. In the wake of that financial crisis, property values began dropping all across the country. In places like California, Arizona and Florida, they dropped considerably.

This leaves many homeowners scratching their heads over what to do next. What can you do about an upside down mortgage loan? Can you sell or refinance the home when you’re in this boat? Is there any help for upside down homeowners? These are the questions we will address below.

A Resource for Upside Down Homeowners

As the number of upside down homeowners has grown, so too have the number of programs available to them. But this creates a dilemma. With so many program updates and announcements, the average consumer is left feeling overwhelmed and confused. There is help for homeowners with upside down mortgage loans — it’s just hard to find the right path. Our goal is to compile information and resources related to upside down mortgage loans. We will update this page as needed, to ensure it stays current.

The Upside Down Mortgage, Defined

What is an upside down mortgage loan? Here’s a simple definition: If you owe more on your mortgage than your home is currently worth, you are upside down in the loan.

Here’s an example. If my home is worth $185,000 in the current market, but I owe $195,000 on my mortgage loan, I am upside down. My loan balance exceeds the value of my property. This is also referred to as being underwater in the loan. The two terms are interchangeable.

Why Is This a Problem?

Upside down homeowners have a hard time selling or refinancing their homes. If you sell the house for less than what you owe to the lender, you’ll probably have to pay the difference out of pocket. On the refinancing side, the lack of equity makes it hard to qualify for a mortgage refinance loan. Upside mortgage loans can create a situation where the homeowner is “stuck” — can’t sell the house, can’t refinance the loan.

When homeowners plan to stay in the home for a long time, being upside down is less of a concern. They can simply stay put, continue making their mortgage payments, and hope that their property values rise again in the future. But for those who want to sell or refinance their homes, an upside down mortgage will put up a financial roadblock.

Refinancing Options Through the FHA

Underwater homeowners are often unable to refinance their homes. They lack the equity that most lenders require. But there is help for upside down homeowners who want to refinance.

In May 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced changes to the FHA’s loan-backing program that would make refinancing possible for underwater homeowners. This new program will be rolled out in the fall of 2010. To qualify, homeowners must (1) have a loan that is not currently insured by the FHA, (2) be current on their mortgage payments, and (3) be upside down in their mortgage loan. TARP funds are being used to give incentives to lenders, encouraging them to participate in the program.

This program is being referred to as the FHA short refi for underwater homeowners, and you can learn more about it through the links below:

  • FHA Refinancing Help for Underwater Homeowners (Home Buying Institute)
  • FHA Mortgagee Letter for the Short Refi (PDF document)

Other Programs to Help Homeowners

If your mortgage loan is currently owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you may have additional options for underwater refinancing. This would be through the federal government’s Making Home Affordable program. Here again, you need to be current on your mortgage payments to pursue this option.

You can learn more through the links below:

  • Eligibility for the Home Affordable Refinance Program
  • Freddie Mac Loan Lookup

Upside Down Mortgages in the News

It is our goal to make this resource page as useful as possible. So we will be tracking the various programs and topics mentioned above. Here is some recent (2010) news regarding upside down mortgages and help for homeowners.