New Penalty for Homeowners Who Walk Away

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Losing your home to foreclosure is one thing, but walking away just because it's financially convenient could keep you out of an FHA-backed mortgage for seven years.

With millions of Americans owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, many are opting for “strategic default” – allowing a house to go back to the bank, even though the borrower may be capable of making the payments.

In some states, those who opt for a strategic default face lawsuits from lenders anxious to collect what they’re owed. Today the quasi-governmental agency Fannie Mae announced they’re upping the stakes by barring those who walk away from getting an FHA-insured loan for seven years.

“Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting,” said Terence Edwards, executive vice president for credit portfolio management at Fannie Mae.

Fannie Mae also said in states where it’s allowed, it plans to join lenders in suing borrowers who strategically default. This won’t apply to all borrowers – just those who, in the company’s opinion, are able to pay their mortgage; just not willing. The company said homeowners who make a good faith effort to repay their loan or have extenuating circumstances won’t be affected.

The other big mortgage guarantor, Freddie Mac, already requires a five-year wait for those who strategically default. In the latest quarter, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac insured about 96% of all mortgages issued, but only insure about half of all current mortgage debt currently outstanding in the U.S.

To learn more about how long you would normally have to wait to borrow mortgage money after a foreclosure or a bankruptcy, see this recent story.

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