Bail on an underwater mortgage?

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For those who owe more on their mortgage than their home is now worth, walking away may be tempting. But think it through — the consequences of doing so can be severe. I’m Claes Bell with the Personal Finance Minute.

The biggest drawback to mailing your keys to your lender and moving out is that it ruins your credit score for years to come. Damage from a foreclosure typically lasts seven years, during which time it will be difficult to get a credit card, auto loan, or any other type of credit.

Underwater homeowners can also get out using a short sale, but that also creates a black mark on your credit report, and getting a lender to agree to sell the house for less than the balance of a mortgage can be difficult.

Things may get even more complicated for short sellers next year. Unless a temporary tax break is extended by Congress, homebuyers may have to pay tax on any mortgage debt forgiven by their bank through a short sale in 2013.

The bottom line is, if you can afford to make your mortgage payments and you don’t need to move, staying put may be your best bet.

For more on this and other personal finance topics, visit I’m Claes Bell.