Many homeowners have received temporary relief from making mortgage payments, but lenders and homeownership advocates are urging them to understand their obligations so they don't lose their housing.

The federal government has imposed a halt to foreclosures for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has also ordered a two-month foreclosure moratorium for homeowners affected by coronavirus.

The federal government is also looking to help homeowners with federally backed mortgages with a potential three- or six-month forbearance period, during which they do not have to make their usual payments. Homeowners with mortgages through other companies have been urged to call their lenders to explore their options.

While national, state and local officials are launching programs to help renters and shore up emergency assistance, homeowners and mortgage lenders are trying to anticipate how the pandemic will change their landscape.

It's important for homeowners to realize that the forbearance plans being announced by lenders and the federal government are "not a 'get out of jail free' card from paying your mortgage," said Julie Gugin, president of the Minnesota Homeownership Center, which operates a help line for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage or who need help understanding their rights under foreclosure.

Gugin said people need to talk to their lenders to understand how missed payments or forbearance periods will work, including timelines for repayment and if the payments will be tacked on to the end of their mortgage. Gugin said her organization is bracing for more calls in the next several weeks.

"One of my biggest fears is that consumers won't have the opportunity to fully understand what their options are," Gugin said. "Despite the relatively simplistic nature of the messages that we're hearing from the federal government, the nuances of how these programs are implemented underlying that are far more complex."

Bill Urick, chief operating officer for Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, said it has suspended foreclosures and taken many calls from members worried about their ability to make payments.

The difference between the economic crisis now and the Great Recession of 2008-09 is there are more resources available to help consumers, said Keenan Raverty, vice president of Bell Bank Mortgage.

He pointed to the federal relief package that will help employers keep payroll going and the checks that households will receive in the next several weeks, all resources that can help people pay their mortgage. While lenders are offering forbearance periods for homeowners, he pointed out that the industry is facing potential problems with handling mass forbearances.

For lenders, the big question is, "How do I follow through and make those payments that I'm obligated to make as a lender, even when I don't have the income coming in or mortgage payments coming in from the consumers?" Raverty said. "That's where you see just a pleading and an appeal by the Mortgage Bankers Association to help infuse liquidity into the industry so that we can continue on with making those payments even during a crisis like that."

Marissa Evans • 612-673-4280