The Consequences of Walking Away
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
Have you had a conversation with someone in the last 30 days about the consequences of walking away from your mortgage?
If the answer is yes, you are not alone.
With an estimated 11 million people underwater on their mortgage, (owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth), even the most credit-worthy consumers are considering walking away from their mortgage.
“Walking away from a mortgage,” or what’s known as a strategic default, usually results in either a short sale or foreclosure and many people in this position are asking one simple question:
What are the consequences of walking away from a mortgage?
Walking Away from a Mortgage: The Consequences
Generally speaking, if you are considering walking away from a mortgage the major consequences will include:
- Impaired credit
- Deficiency risks
- Tax consequences
- Moving costs
- Professional implications
Most people are aware that walking away from a mortgage will mean their credit score will take a hit. What most people may not be aware of is between short selling and foreclosure, there is very little difference in how much your credit score is impacted. The main difference between a short sale and foreclosure is how soon you can qualify to buy a home again after the event, not how many points your credit score went down.
In addition to your credit score taking damage points, it is also common for credit card companies to cancel credit cards or lower your credit limit as a result of missing mortgage payments. It is also common that it will become more difficult to obtain financing for larger ticket items such as autos or furniture — or any other type of revolving account after walking away from a mortgage.
Depending on which state you live in, there are varying deficiency risks associated with walking away from your mortgage. (See anti-deficiency laws by state)
Translation: Your lender may sue you for the difference between what you owe and what your short sale or foreclosure proceeds were.
Anti-deficiency protection is limited to a minority of states and for most states in the U.S., there is no protection for homeowners from a lender pursuing the difference between what they owe and what the home sells for in foreclosure.
Further, even if your state has anti-deficiency laws in place, don’t think you are free from deficiency risk. Whether you have deficiency risk or not, depends on factors such as: whether you have a second mortgage; did you refinance and take cash out; is your mortgage the one you got when you originally bought the house, and more.
Which is why when it comes to managing your deficiency risk, keep this saying in mind:
Nothing is more expensive than cheap legal advice.
If you are concerned that you may have deficiency risk, you should speak with a real estate lawyer who can provide legal advice for your particular situation. Only a real estate attorney can accurately provide you the specific advice for your situation. Don’t rely on your neighbor’s advice or your brother-in-law who just short-sold his house and recommends that you should be okay by just walking away.
If you are considering walking away from a mortgage on your primary residence, there is a chance that you may have some tax liability. If you are considering walking away from a mortgage on a second home or investment property, there can be a significant tax liability and you should consult your tax accountant.
One of the commonly under-estimated consequences of walking away from a mortgage is the expense and process of moving. Some of the common concerns related to moving include:
- Moving into a rental — perhaps after decades of being a homeowner.
- Possibly explaining to the landlord any credit report concerns as a result of missed mortgage payments.
- Paying for moving expenses. Utilities, deposits, moving trucks and other expenses can add up fast.
- Moving family members school, work or community activities they have gotten used to.
Many of the people I have talked with who have went through the process of walking away from a mortgage cited “moving” as the one consequence they hadn’t fully considered before actually doing it.
Depending on what you do for a living, you may have professional consequences as a result from walking away from a mortgage. The number of professions where your credit profile matters has grown over the last decade and if you are in a situation where your credit profile matters, you should know what the professional implications are before you walk. After all, you don’t want to lose your house and your job at the same time.
Walking Away from a Mortgage: The Single Biggest Mistake You Can Make
When making the decision to walk away from a mortgage, the consequences are certainly something to consider as part of the decision process. And in my own personal experience of short-selling a house, there is one big mistake that you can make in the process:
Not being fully informed of what the consequences are of walking away from a mortgage.
Once you have educated yourself about the consequences and researched all of the possible options…
… the choice is still yours.
Justin McHood works for Academy Mortgage and is based in Chandler, AZ. He is a contributor to Zillow Blog and has conversations about mortgages whenever he can. Learn more about Justin at http://www.mortgagecommentator.com.