OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) recognizes that additional federal relief, which may be forthcoming to help homeowners and student loan borrowers, will take time to reach those who need it. Knowing that, DFI urges homeowners and student loan borrowers to take the necessary time now to ensure they understand their payment options when forbearances end.
“Communicating with your loan servicer, be it mortgage or student loan, prior to the end of your payment forbearance is crucial to avoid default, damage to your credit, and even the worst for homeowners, foreclosure,” DFI Division of Consumer Services Director Lucinda Fazio said.
Mortgage servicers continue to process millions of forbearances and under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new rules, effective Aug. 31, 2021, homeowners can continue to request a forbearance through the year-end. If you are not able to resume payments at the time your forbearance ends, you still may be able to enter into a loan modification with your mortgage servicer, but you should start those discussions before your forbearance period ends.
“During these challenging times, we want to encourage struggling homeowners to reach out right away to access counseling and mediation if needed. In many cases it may be as simple as making a call to a housing counselor to discuss options and there is no cost for this service,” said State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, who 10 years ago authored the bill that created the Foreclosure Fairness Program (FFP). In the 2021 legislative session, Orwall sponsored the measure to maintain funding for the FFP and expand its scope to include small landlords, not only homeowners. “What we’ve learned over the years is that early action produces better outcomes, so I can’t stress enough how important it is for homeowners to call housing counselors before they get a notice of a pending foreclosure or eviction.”
It’s important for landlord homeowners and renters also to be aware of Governor Inslee’s eviction moratorium “bridge” (Proclamation 21-09) to support Washington residents working to get back on their feet financially. The Proclamation is intended to bridge the operational gap between the eviction moratorium (which expired at midnight on June 30) and the protections and programs created by SB 5160 that are not yet operable. The order is effective July 1, 2021, and remains in effect through Sept. 30, 2021. Per the Governor’s web site:
In response to this unintended gap, this order requires, among other things, that:
- Landlords and tenants avail themselves of rental assistance and eviction resolution pilot programs pursuant to SB 5160 to resolve any COVID-related past due rent (Feb. 29, 2020 through July 31, 2021);
- Tenants take steps to pay rent or avail themselves of rental assistance in order to pay future rent (beginning Aug.1, 2021 throughout the effective dates of this order);
- For any tenant who is or becomes in arrears, landlords offer a reasonable repayment plan to tenants per SB 5160; and
- Tenants respond to notice of funding and other available programs within the timeframes established by SB 5160.
Questions regarding this order may be directed to the Attorney General’s Office.
In addition to housing moratoriums coming to an end, borrowers with Department of Education-owned federal student loans that have been in forbearance should be aware that the current relief flexibilities are scheduled to end Sept. 30, 2021.
“Washingtonians have many options available to them, and numerous agencies and organizations at the ready to help,” DFI Director Charlie Clark noted. “It’s imperative homeowners, landlords, tenants and student loan borrowers be aware of their eviction and forbearance deadlines, the status of their loans, including upcoming changes in payments, as well as options available to help get back on track. Taking action now can spare a lot of heartache and financial pain down the line."
According to the Federal Student Aid (FSA):
COVID-19 emergency relief flexibilities are available through at least Sept. 30, 2021. The flexibilities include, but are not limited to the suspension of loan payments, 0% interest rate, and collections stopped on defaulted loans.
Here are three steps to make sure you’re prepared for payments to resume:
- Make sure your contact information is up to date in your profile on your loan servicer’s website and in your StudentAid.gov profile.
- Check out FSA’s Loan Simulator to find a repayment plan that meets your needs and goals, or to decide whether to consolidate.
- Consider applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. An IDR plan can make your payments more affordable, depending on your income and family size.
The FSA web site goes on to say those with loans will receive a billing statement or other notice at least 21 days before your loan payment is due. Do not wait! Contact your loan servicer to find out what the payment amount will be when payments restart. Your payment amount may be different from the amount you paid prior to the suspension. Make sure you get agreements in writing, read them thoroughly and make sure you understand what you’ve agreed to and what your loan servicer expects of you after your payment forbearance ends.
If you need help understanding the language used in your mortgage documents or would like to talk to a homeownership counselor, the Washington Homeownership Resource Center offers resources to help you do that at http://www.homeownership-wa.org/managing-your-mortgage or by calling 1-877-894-4663.
Homeowners having difficulty reaching their servicer should contact DFI’s Mortgage Assistance Team at 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) or the Washington Homeownership Information Hotline at 1-877-894-HOME (4663) for access to free foreclosure prevention counseling. Additional information is available at COVID-19 Mortgage Relief and Assistance (wa.gov) and in multiple languages at https://dfi.wa.gov/coronavirus/resource-sheets.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created a video to help homeowners understand more about forbearances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9aRKYvSe-Q&feature=youtu.be. The CFPB web site https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/ and DFI’s web site https://dfi.wa.gov/homeownership/ provide additional information on foreclosure prevention options available to homeowners.
If you need help understanding your student education loan documents, the Washington Student Achievement Council can help. Visit their site at Student Loan Advocacy | WSAC (wa.gov) or contact their student loan advocate at email@example.com.
The Washington State Department of Commerce offers information on housing and rental assistance related to COVID-19 at their site COVID-19 Information and Updates for Homeless Service Grantees - Washington State Department of Commerce. Homeowners without rental units should visit the agency’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) page and/or the Foreclosure Fairness Program page.