Review the details

Start by reviewing all correspondence you’ve received from your lender. The letters—and phone calls—probably began once you were 30 days past due. Also review your mortgage documents, which should outline what steps your lender can take. For instance, is there a “power of sale” clause that authorizes the sale of your home to pay off a mortgage after you miss payments?

Determine the specific foreclosure laws for your state. What’s the timeline? Do you have “right of redemption,” essentially a grace period in which you can reverse a foreclosure? Are there deficiency judgments that hold you responsible for the difference between what your home sells for and your loan’s outstanding balance allowed? Get answers.

Pick up the phone

Don’t give up because you missed a mortgage payment or two and received a notice of default. Foreclosure isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it’s heading in that direction if you don’t call your lender. Dial the number on your mortgage statement, and ask for the loss mitigation department. You might stay on hold for a while, but don’t hang up. Once you do get someone on the line, take notes and record names.

The next call should be to a foreclosure avoidance counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of these counselors can, free of charge, explain your state’s foreclosure laws, discuss alternatives to foreclosure, help you organize financial documents, and even represent you in negotiations with your lender. Be wary of unsolicited offers of help, since foreclosure rescue scams are common.

Be sure to let your lender know that you’re working with a counselor. Not only does it demonstrate your resolve, but according to NeighborWorks, homeowners who receive foreclosure counseling are 1.6 times more likely to avoid losing their homes than those who don’t. Homeowners who receive loan modifications with the help of a counselor also reduce monthly mortgage payments by $454 more than homeowners who receive a modification without the aid of a counselor.

Discussing alternatives

The most attractive option that’ll allow you to keep your home is a loan modification that reduces your monthly payment. A modification can entail lowering the interest rate, changing a loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, extending the term of a loan, or eliminating past-due balances. Another option, forbearance, can temporarily suspend payments, though the amount will likely be tacked on to the end of the loan.

If you’re unable to make even reduced payments, and assuming a conventional sale isn’t possible, then it may be best to turn your home over to your lender before a foreclosure is completed. Your lender can approve a short sale, in which the proceeds are less than what’s still owed on your mortgage. A deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, which amounts to handing over your keys to your lender, is another possibility. The earlier you begin talks with your lender, the more likelihood of success.