Default is defined as failing to repay a debt as agreed. Defaulting on an obligation can have serious consequences, including but not limited to:

  • lawsuits
  • eviction
  • collections
  • derogatory credit history
  • late fees
  • auto repossession
  • wage garnishment
  • home foreclosure
  • being forced into bankruptcy

Defaulting on a Mortgage

When borrowers default on mortgages, lenders must file a Notice of Default (NOD) or Lis Pendens (a notice that there may be litigation related to the property) before they can proceed with foreclosure. Once the notice has been filed, borrowers have a limited amount of time to “cure” the default by bringing their mortgage current or coming to some agreement with the lender. The NOD is a publicly recorded document.

If a homeowner defaults on a mortgage, the lender can add collection and legal costs to the balance owed. It can foreclose on the home, evicting the borrower and selling the property to cover its losses. In some states (called non-recourse states), the sale of the property wipes out the mortgage debt, even if the proceeds of the foreclosure sale don’t cover the entire amount owed.

In other states, however, the borrower can be sued if the foreclosure sale does not bring enough to completely repay the lender. The remaining amount owed is called a “deficiency,” and lenders can go to court to obtain a “deficiency judgment.” This means that even after losing their home, borrowers who default on their mortgages could still owe their mortgage lenders.

If a mortgage borrower is in danger of defaulting, he or she may have several remedies available. If the mortgage is government-backed, the agency guaranteeing the home loan should be approached. The VA, FHA or USDA has procedures for helping borrowers, including forbearance (being allowed to skip mortgage payments for a number of months), modification (changing the terms of the loan) and re-amortization (the loan is brought current by adding the missed payments to the balance).

Conventional (non-government) mortgage lenders also have foreclosure avoidance programs available. Borrowers can call their loan servicer and request a “workout” or modification. If the loan has mortgage insurance, the insurer may step in and bring the loan current.

Defaulting on a loan or credit card is serious business.  If you fail to make payments on your debts, you may be contacted by a collection agency and even taken to court.

Consequences of Default

Here are some other consequences of defaulting on a loan or credit agreement.

Collection costs
In addition to the amount you owe, you will probably also have to pay collection fees to the collection agency that handles your case.

Depending on what kind of loan you have, if you default, your lender can accelerate the terms of your loan, which means that the entire amount can be made due by the next scheduled payment.
Increased interest rates
You also run the risk of having your interest rates increased, not only for the loan or line of credit on which you have defaulted, but for other credit cards and loans as well.  Lenders use increased interest rates to offset the risk of lending to you.  By defaulting, you prove that you indeed run the risk of not repaying your debts, so your interest rates can be raised.

Lowered credit score
Defaulting on a loan can seriously affect your credit report and your credit score, so it can be quite difficult to get other loans or lines of credit.  This can be especially hard to face if you are planning on getting student loans for your children to go to college, or if you wanted to buy a house or a car.  Lenders use your credit report and credit score as a general indicator of creditworthiness, so if you default on one loan or credit card, they might think that you will also fail to repay them, which can cost them a great deal of money.  

Wage garnishment
In order to repay your debt, the government may be able to keep a portion of your income.  This can make your budgeting especially tight because you will have even less money for the things you want and need.

​Avoiding Default

You can avoid defaulting on a loan or a credit agreement by educating yourself and knowing how much you can afford.  For instance, to avoid defaulting on a mortgage, know what the different types of mortgage products mean for your finances.  That way, you won’t be tempted by offers for low monthly payments that drastically increase after five or ten years.  Also make a commitment to yourself to only charge what you can afford to repay.  Always pay on time and if you have pre-existing debt, at the very least, make your minimum payment.

If you are coming dangerously close to defaulting, talk to your lender or credit card company.  You might be able to arrange a different repayment plan, consolidate your debt or arrange for deferment.  You can also look into credit counseling so that you can make a plan that you can manage without defaulting.
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