DEFINITION of 'Mortgage Modification'

A permanent change in a homeowner’s home loan terms that makes the monthly loan payments affordable. The goal of mortgage modification is to prevent foreclosure. Mortgage modification can benefit homeowners by preventing them from losing their home and can benefit lenders by avoiding  the costly foreclosure process.

BREAKING DOWN 'Mortgage Modification'

To apply for a mortgage modification, a homeowner must complete an application package documenting income, assets, expenses and financial hardship.

The biggest mortgage modification program in the United States is the Home Affordable Refinance Program, created in 2009 by the federal government in response to the nation's housing crisis. This program helps homeowners who are struggling to pay their Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae-backed mortgage apply for mortgage modification with their loan servicer. These are borrowers who cannot do a traditional refinance to improve their loan terms because their home value has declined below the mortgage balance.

A similar program called the Home Affordable Modification Program helps borrowers with Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages. Borrowers can also apply for a mortgage modification outside these federal programs. A nonprofit housing counselor can help with the process.

While a mortgage modification generally means less income for the bank because of a reduction in the mortgage’s principal amount, interest rate or both, this loss may be less than what the bank would experience by foreclosing on the borrower and reselling the property. Mortgage modification can turn a less-than-ideal situation into a win-win.

Still, foreclosure was much more common than mortgage modification during the housing crisis because banks claimed they lacked the resources to handle the large number of modification requests. This meant many homeowners who probably would have qualified for mortgage modification were not able to get into a modification program and, instead, lost their homes to foreclosure. 

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