Significant number of borrowers are unaware of relief options

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Most Americans were still unfamiliar with either mortgage or rent relief options in the second quarter as the economic hardships of the pandemic ramped up, a Fannie Mae survey found.

The survey, conducted between April and June, found that 56% of Americans were not familiar with either their mortgage or rent relief options, while another 4% replied don't know.

For mortgage holders only, slightly more than half, 53% said they were familiar with options like the forbearance process. Furthermore, in this group there were knowledge disparities based on income differences and among different racial groups.

While 56% of white borrowers and 86% of Asians said they were familiar with the mortgage relief options being offered to those impacted by COVID-19, just 47% of Black borrowers and 31% of Hispanics surveyed replied they were familiar.

Meanwhile, of borrowers with a household income under $50,000 — one of the groups most likely to be economically impacted by the pandemic — just 39% were familiar with their relief options, versus 57% whose income is over that amount.

Among those in that lower income bucket, 52% expressed some level of concern about paying their monthly bills, while a third said they were concerned about losing their job.

However, 68% of those earning over $50,000 were not concerned at all about paying their monthly bills, and 81% were not concerned about losing their jobs.

Among all of the survey respondents, both borrowers and renters, 26% said they were concerned about losing their job, the highest level since March 2011.

Fannie Mae asked respondents about their attitudes towards shopping for a home and a mortgage online. The end of the process, the loan closing, has seen a huge burst in online activity as a result of the pandemic.

While consumers still prefer to interact with their lender in person during all or parts of the transaction, there was a shift in each month's results, leaning further toward a preference for online engagement at the end of the second quarter.

When it came to selecting a lender while buying a home, the split in preference went from 65% preferring in person and preferring 30% online in April's responses to 57% and 35% respectively in June.

Asked about completing a mortgage or rental application for their next home, the responses shifted from 59% preferring in-person and 37% online in April to 52% and 44% respectively in June.

"Consumer awareness campaigns and borrower and renter outreach should continue in order to help ensure those who suffer a financial hardship are aware of their options," Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan said in a blog post accompanying the results. "The industry should continue to ramp up digitization efforts but not overestimate the pace of growth in demand for and usage of digital resources."

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Distressed Fannie Mae Coronavirus CARES Act Digital mortgages Housing affordability Economy Digital Mortgage 2020