Lots of creditors are offering forbearance deals right now. The thing to remember about a forbearance is that it doesn’t erase the debt — and that can be either a useful tool or an anchor around your future neck.
The first thing I will tell you about any forbearance agreement is to read it — all of it. Ask questions, especially about the pay back and especially about interest rates and fees. What will it ultimately cost you? Then consider what it is that you are forbearing and what are your other options.
Credit cards are offering forbearance plans, and they can be really nice tools. Ask all the questions, and then ask yourself one more. What is the likelihood that I will be filing for bankruptcy before I get this account paid in full? Remember, forbearance agreements are intended to be repaid, but if it is an unsecured debt and you wind up filing for bankruptcy anyway, the balance owed at the time that you file for bankruptcy is not likely to be repaid regardless. So, doing a forbearance deal with credit card companies can be a useful tool, especially if it frees up cash for you to stay current on your home, your car or your utilities.
I will caution you that borrowing money with the intention of filing for bankruptcy and not repaying it is called bankruptcy fraud, and it is seriously illegal. So, don’t enter into any agreement with the intention of not following through. Understand, however, that intentions and future realities can differ for many very real reasons — including the simple fact that we are living in very uncertain times.
Many utilities are offering forbearance options as well. Do what you have to do to keep the lights and the water on, but do stay informed about the policies and regulations governing shutting off service. Knowing that can help you negotiate a better deal. Also, if you wind up filing for Bankruptcy, the utility companies have some special rights. They can require a new deposit in order to continue providing service after the case is filed. Of course, you will have to pay for all service as the bills come due after you file as well.
Mortgage forbearance offers are different. They frequently simply defer a few months payments with the expectation that they will all be repaid in a lump sum at the end of the forbearance period. Sorry, but that is neither likely nor helpful. A second option can be to apply for some type of permanent loan modification at the end of the forbearance period. That would be more helpful (depending on the terms of the modification), but it can be difficult to predict at the beginning of the forbearance period what the likelihood is of getting a favorable modification some months in the future.
Counting on a future modification can wind up with a mortgage account falling further and further behind with not just missed payments but also a host of fees assessed by the mortgage company.
A mortgage forbearance may also add the missed payments to the end of the mortgage term. Consider carefully how the accrual of interest will effect this. I am frequently surprised by the number of people who don’t do the math to figure out just how much that forbearance will cost them. It may still be the right decision, but once your future straightens out a bit, it may be very wise to start making small payments every month towards getting those payments paid sooner.
Another thing to consider is that a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is one of the best tools for getting current on a mortgage. So, if you take a forbearance agreement hoping that you will get a loan modification or an extended time to get the payments current — and that doesn’t work out. A Chapter 13 filing can give you up to five years to cure a mortgage arrearage. A Chapter 13 filing can also deal with credit cards that have forbearance balances and give you limited abilities to get utility services back in good standing.
Always remember, no matter how bad things look, it is always worthwhile to know your options, and that includes knowing what a bankruptcy will or won’t do for you.