Mortgage bailout swells to 4.1 million borrowers

A ‘For Sale’ sign stands in a vacant lot near new homes in Dunlap, Illinois.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the past week, 225,000 more borrowers took advantage of government and bank mortgage forbearance programs, according to data firm Black Knight.

The rise brings the total to nearly 4.1 million homeowners not making their monthly mortgage payments, representing 7.7% of all active mortgages.

While the numbers are far higher already than federal regulators predicted, borrower demand for help during the coronavirus crisis is actually slowing. About half as many borrowers asked for forbearance in the past week, compared with the previous week.

“After surging at the beginning of April and then rising again near the 15th — when most mortgages become past due and late fees are charged — the number of new forbearance requests has declined in recent weeks,” said Ben Graboske, president of Black Knight Data & Analytics.

“What remains an open question at this point is to what degree forbearance requests will look like at the beginning of May — when the next round of mortgage payments become due, and with nearly 30 million Americans newly unemployed in the last month.”

Under the government mortgage bailout, part of the CARES Act, borrowers can initially miss payments for up to 90 days and then can apply for extensions of up to a year. They eventually have to go into repayment plans or mortgage modifications.

In total, the number of forbearances represents $890 billion in unpaid principal and includes 6.4% of all loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and 11% of all FHA/VA loans.

As borrowers miss payments, their mortgage servicers still must advance those payments to bond holders for four months. At today’s level, mortgage servicers need to advance a combined $4.5 billion per month to holders of government-backed mortgages. Another $2.1 billion in lost funds will be faced each month by those with portfolio-held or privately securitized mortgages, with 7.2% of these loans in forbearance.

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