Home office in shade
Laurie Rubin/Getty Images

After I was diagnosed with stage two triple negative breast cancer last May, it wasn’t long until I also found myself falling behind on my mortgage.  

Between chemotherapy, radiation and a looming book deadline, I was frequently over exhausted and struggled to take on enough freelance writing assignments to make ends meet.

Today, I’m still struggling to get ahead, but I’m not alone.

Many cancer patients struggle to work during treatment, lose income and are heavily burdened by medical bills and stress. I know all too well how overwhelming it can be.

The good news is there is help available to those people falling behind. Here are some tips from financial experts who have dealt with these issues in the past.

Don’t wait too long to reach out for help

If you are worried you may not be able to make a mortgage payment, Vincent J. Averaimo, Esq. of Milford, Connecticut recommends contacting the bank right away.

“Where mortgage modifications are common place, a mortgage lender or servicer may be able to offer a forbearance agreement, repayment plan of arrearage or a modification, or some combination of all three to assist the borrower who is going to find themselves unable to make their mortgage payments,” he said.

If you’ve already missed a payment and haven’t contacted your lender, Averaimo said you shouldn’t be embarrassed to still reach out. “After approximately 120 days from default of the first payment, the foreclosure process begins and the likelihood of an agreement or other loss mitigation option being offered decreases because it is at that time that costs and expenses start accumulating at a rapid pace,” he explained.

It’s not uncommon for people with ongoing medical issues to struggle financially

There are options for people struggling to pay their mortgage. Tim Bicha, the Executive Vice President of mortgage servicing at SunTrust, says he assigns his clients with a delinquency period of 30 days or more to a Home Preservation Client Representative (HPCR) to find a workable solution.

Some options may include a short-term repayment plan; forbearance; loan modification or, if the borrower is not able to stay in their home, a home liquidation goal of either a short sale (selling the home for less than the balance owed) or deed in lieu (transferring ownership to the bank to avoid a foreclosure).

“Focus on what is affordable given your specific situation,” he said. “If you don’t have the income and don’t anticipate having the income required to sustain all of your debts and daily expenses, you need to be open to the idea that keeping the home may not be in your best interest but there are still options outside of foreclosure.”

Assuming you can come to some sort of agreement with your lender, Averaimo recommends getting the agreement in writing, either by confirmatory letter or actual agreement.

“For example, a modification of mortgage should almost always be recorded on the land records and be signed by both the borrower and the lender,” he said. “A forbearance or repayment plan may be a little different in that it may not have to be recorded on the land records, but more likely than not, the agreement should be reduced to writing and signed by all parties. If it is not in writing, it does not exist.”

There are also organizations that offer to help with mortgage payments when you’re in a pinch

Many local and national non-profits as well as government agencies have resources available to assist you if you can’t afford your current mortgage payment. Non-for-profit cancer organizations, for instance, sometimes offer day-to-day finance options that can be applied to your mortgage while waiting for your financial situation to improve.

“Our goal is to support our clients and our communities,” Birch said. “We want to try to help.”

As for me, I contacted my lender and we are currently working on a repayment play for the one month I’m behind. It takes that mortgage payment and distributes it among the next six months. This takes some of the pressure off me and allows me to focus on moving forward.