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Mortgage Firms Help Hurricane-Stricken Borrowers

Lenders offering mortgage assistance for Hurricane Irma federal disaster areas

Sept. 18, 2017

By KELLY TYKO Treasure Coast Newspapers (Tribune News Service)

Weathering the financial aftermath of Hurricane Irma can be stressful and expensive.

But there is hope.

Many banks and lenders are willing to offer customers relief on their mortgages.

It's called mortgage forbearance, and residents of the 46 Florida counties declared disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are eligible to put their payments on hold for up to a year.

The assistance is available for homeowners with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the Federal Housing Administration.

The federal agencies also have temporarily suspended foreclosure sales and evictions in impacted areas.

"The disaster has hit and we're going to hit the pause button on you needing to worry about your mortgage payments for a while," said Malloy Evans, a Fannie vice president, "so that you can go focus on things that are much more basic and pressing."

Brevard, Collier, Indian River, Lee, Martin and St. Lucie counties are among those that qualify.

Getting Relief
The first and most important step is to contact your mortgage servicer, the company where you send your payment each month.

"You'll be offered at least a 90-day forbearance off the bat," said Ben Gottheim, Freddie director of mortgage servicing policies.

I've had a few friends call their banks, and within minutes were approved to temporarily stop paying their mortgages for three months.

No documentation was needed, just confirmation that their single-family homes or condos were in a federal disaster area.

The same relief is available in Texas areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. It's a standard disaster-relief policy.

Because land lines or cell service might be out in some areas, lenders have been authorized to offer forbearance even to borrowers who might not have requested it, Gottheim said.

"They want to work with you and we have options," Gottheim said. "Do what you need to do to get back on your feet."

The Details
Whether your lender grants you a three-month, six-month or longer break in payments, you won't have late fees or delinquencies reported to the credit bureaus.

You also won't have to catch up all at once. And it's possible to get additional help.

Gottheim and Evans say it's important to keep in touch with your lender.

"The intent is to get you back into a monthly mortgage payment that is as close as possible as what you were making before," Evans said. "If you need additional help and are not able to afford that payment anymore, then we have loss-mitigation solutions that are available to help you try to retain your home."

Other Assistance
Additional financial assistance could be another phone call away.

Some banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., are providing payment relief on credit cards, student loans, auto loans, small-business loans and other lines of credit.

"There will be no negative credit reporting for those customers who receive payment relief," according to a Wells Fargo news release. "Impacted customers who are not in a FEMA declared area are also able to receive similar benefits by contacting Wells Fargo."

The Internal Revenue Service is offering tax relief to individuals who reside or have businesses in the 46 impacted counties.

According to a news release, the IRS automatically will identify taxpayers located in the covered disaster areas and will apply automatic filing and payment relief.

Affected taxpayers have until Jan. 31, 2018, to file most returns, including individual, corporate and estate and trust income tax returns that had an original or extended due date on or after Sept. 4, 2017, and before Jan. 31, 2018.

Estimated tax payments due on or after Sept. 4, 2017, and before Jan. 31, 2018, will not be penalized for not paying the installments if the payments are paid on or before Jan. 31.

Easy steps to mortgage relief:

Kelly Tyko is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. This column reflects her opinion.

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