How Many Mortgage Payments Can You Miss Before Foreclosure?

Quick Answer

In general, a lender begins foreclosure after you miss four consecutive mortgage payments. However, procedures vary by state and jurisdiction, so it can take longer.

Portrait of a couple with financial problems looking at document in financial adviser's office.

Mortgage contracts typically allow lenders to begin the pre-foreclosure process after a borrower has gone 90 days without making a scheduled payment. After a total of four missed payments, or 120 days after your first missed payment, the lender places a lien on the property and can force you to vacate. Foreclosure procedures can differ by state and jurisdiction, so the timeline in your locale may be longer.

What Happens When You Miss a Mortgage Payment?

Missing the due date on a mortgage payment can have a range of outcomes, largely depending on how much time has passed.

  • Grace period: Mortgage payments submitted up to 15 days late often fall within a grace period during which they are accepted without penalty.
  • Late fees: If your payment is still unpaid after three to four weeks, you'll likely receive notice from your loan servicer (the company that takes your payments, which may or may not be the original issuer of your loan) that your payment is late and that you've been charged a penalty or fee.
  • Delinquency: Once a payment is 30 days late, it is considered delinquent. Your mortgage servicer will likely report the late payment to the national credit bureaus, which leads to a 30-days-past-due entry appearing on your credit reports. This can have negative consequences for your credit scores as long as it remains on your credit reports. If you continue to miss payments, expect your loan servicer to step up efforts to reach you with letters, emails and text messages.
  • 60 days past due: A second missed payment will add a 60-days-past-due notice to your credit reports, bringing additional negative consequences for credit scores.
  • Default: A third missed payment adds a 90-days-past-due notice to your credit reports and typically prompts your mortgage servicer to send a notice of default, indicating their intention to foreclose within 30 days. In accordance with local law, the servicer may also file with the appropriate court to begin foreclosure proceedings, place your name in a public notice listing borrowers facing foreclosure and seek a date for selling the property at public auction. This phase of the process, known as pre-foreclosure, is typically your last chance to avoid losing the house by bringing your loan current or working out other arrangements with your loan servicer. More on those options below.

How Many Payments Can You Miss Before Foreclosure?

Foreclosure is typically triggered after you miss three payments—that is, you go 90 days past due on your mortgage. A final foreclosure order, requiring you to vacate the property, takes at least another 30 days, by which time you'll have missed a total of four payments. In some jurisdictions, a policy known as right of redemption gives foreclosed homeowners a year or more to buy back their property after foreclosure by paying more than the high bidder at a foreclosure auction. Homeowners may be able to stay in the house during this redemption period, so that even if the effort fails, it may be possible to miss 15 or more payments before facing eviction.

How Late Payments Can Impact Your Credit

Payment history is the single most important factor contributing to credit scores, and payments made 30 days or more after their due date can do significant harm to your credit scores.

The first missed payment on an otherwise unblemished credit report can be especially damaging to credit scores, and every missed payment has additional negative credit score consequences. Missed payments remain on your credit reports for seven years and tend to lower your credit scores as long as they appear, although their negative effects lessen over time.

How Foreclosure Can Impact Your Credit

Foreclosure is seen as a major negative event in your credit history. A foreclosure entry remains on your credit reports for seven years from the date of the first missed payment that led to foreclosure and hurts your credit scores as long as it persists.

The number of points by which a foreclosure reduces your credit scores depends on factors including how high your score was before you began missing mortgage payments, how many other negative entries you have (or don't have) on your credit reports and how severely your scores may have been reduced by payments you missed prior to foreclosure. Regardless of your credit score, some mortgage lenders may require that a certain amount of time has passed following a foreclosure before they'll consider your application for a new mortgage.

What to Do if You Can't Afford Your Mortgage Payment

If you cannot afford your mortgage payments, or anticipate missing one or more payments, consulting a HUD housing counselor may help you sort out alternatives. Once you've done so, it's in your best interest to reach out to your loan servicer to discuss next steps. Options if you can't afford your mortgage payment include the following:

  • Home sale: If you're in a hot real estate market, you may be able to sell the house relatively quickly, use proceeds from the sale to pay off your mortgage and put any remainder toward a more affordable home or rental unit. If you owe your lender more than the house's market value, putting it on the market would be considered a short sale, and you'll need your mortgage servicer's permission to proceed.
  • Mortgage forbearance: If your difficulty making payments is due to a temporary financial setback, such as a short-term loss of income or an unexpected expense, your servicer may offer mortgage forbearance—a temporary reduction or suspension of your payments. You'll need to convince your lender that you'll be able to resume regular payments—and make up any you've missed during forbearance—within a short time, typically no more than 12 months.
  • Loan modification: If your credit and payment history are good, your loan servicer may agree to a loan modification that restructures your mortgage to reduce your monthly payment. This typically involves extending the number of payments you must make on the loan, and often results in greater total interest costs over the life of the loan.
  • Deed in lieu of foreclosure: If the preceding options aren't viable for you, a deed in lieu of foreclosure arrangement can spare you the most severe consequences of foreclosure. In exchange for vacating your house, leaving the house in good condition and and turning the keys and your title deed over to the loan servicer at a prearranged time, you may even be able to negotiate a "cash for keys" stipend that gives you some money to put toward new living arrangements.

The Bottom Line

Depending on the laws in your location, your house could be foreclosed upon after you miss as few as four mortgage payments, or you might be able to stay put for more than a year's worth of missed payments. But since just one missed mortgage payment can do major damage to your credit scores and start you on the path to foreclosure, it's best to do all you can to avoid missing any payments.

If making your mortgage payments becomes impossible, working with your lender to avoid foreclosure is your best option. When you're ready to seek a new mortgage, or if you're rebuilding credit damaged by foreclosure, you can see where you stand by checking your credit score for free from Experian.