Your options if you're struggling to pay off your interest-only mortgage


With two-thirds of interest-only mortgage borrowers set to face a shortfall at the end of their term, we look at your options if you are facing a struggle to pay off your mortgage.

That's according to a new report from BDRC Continental, which identied 1.1 million interest-only mortgages where there are serious questions about how the borrower will clear their debt at the end of the term.

Around 700,000 borrowers said they had no investment plan at all with which to pay off the outstanding capital, while 400,000 had at least put a plan in place, though it is unlikely to be sufficient based on current performance.
The boom in interest-only loans

With a repayment mortgage, you repay a little of your debt each month, on top of interest. Thus, by the time your mortgage expires (usually after 25 years), your debt is completely paid off. On the other hand, with an interest-only loan, you pay only the interest on your debt. Of course, if you don't have the money to pay off the remaining capital debt after a quarter-century, then you have an almighty problem.

As house prices soared in a 12-year boom lasting from 1995 to 2007, buying a home became ever-more expensive. As a result, more and more homebuyers became unable to afford the higher repayments required by repayment mortgages.

Interest-only loans are inherently riskier, because they allow borrowers to have a huge debt hanging over them with no sure means of repayment.

But as house prices soared, lenders put these worries to one side and lent recklessly to borrowers via interest-only loans and 100% (no deposit) mortgages.
What can badly hit borrowers do?

Clearly, a large number of borrowers are in trouble. Some have interest-only loans with no visible means of repayment, some are in negative equity (where their outstanding mortgage is larger than the value of their home), and many are struggling to pay their monthly mortgage repayments in full.

What can you do if you're a struggling mortgage borrower?

1. Contact your lender

Be pro-active by contacting your lender as soon as you start having difficulty meeting your monthly repayments. If you drag things out and turn a setback into a crisis, then your lender will be far less lenient and understanding.

Ask your lender for a copy of its official arrears, forbearance and repossession policies, so you know how it can help you.

2. Pay vital bills first

When times are tough and money is short, you must pay priority bills first. To keep a roof over your head, avoid fines and stay out of prison, pay THEM FIRST, which stands for:

Tax (council)
Hire purchase
Electricity and gas
Maintenance and child support
Income Tax
Rent or mortgage
Second mortgage
Television licence

Every other bill -- including unsecured loans and credit cards -- should take second place to these core bills.

3. Seek state help

State support for homeowners is very limited, but you may be able to claim Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI). This is a benefit paid to mortgage borrowers who get income-related benefits such as Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, and Pension Credit.

Note that SMI provides help only with mortgage interest, not capital repayments, and is paid at a standard rate (currently 3.63% a year). It's also extremely difficult to qualify for and is paid for up to two years.

4. Lengthen your term

Increasing the term (duration or life) of your home loan won't reduce your repayments if you have an interest-only mortgage. Nevertheless, it will give you extra time -- perhaps five years or more -- to make new arrangements to being repaying your loan (and any arrears) as and when your personal finances improve.

5. Reduce your repayments

If you can't meet your full monthly repayments, then simply pay what you can. To gain agreement for reduced repayments, you will need to give your lender a complete breakdown of all your income and outgoings, assets and debts.

The more you can pay each month, the more likely your new payment schedule is likely to succeed.

6. Start a repayment plan

Once your situation improves, don't stop planning ahead after any arrears are paid off and your mortgage account is up to date again. Instead, take steps to create a proper plan to repay your entire loan when it ends. Otherwise, you may have to sell your home to pay off this debt.

7. Sell up and rent

Finally, one reason why lenders don't repossess more homes is that they actively encourage some borrowers to sell up, rather than have their properties seized. For struggling borrowers with some equity, this can be the best or only solution to ongoing payment crises.

Always remember that there is no shame in selling up and renting, especially in these troubled times!
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