"Mortgage delinquency" describes any situation in which a homeowner's mortgage payments are not current. Every home foreclosure begins with a delinquent mortgage--but not every delinquency will lead to foreclosure. If you wind up with a mortgage delinquency, be proactive. You can save your home, but you have to work with your lender to come up with a plan.
The typical mortgage payment is due on the first of the month. Payments that come in a few days after the due date are late, but lenders usually offer a grace period of 10 to 15 days. If you can't get your payment in within the grace period, you'll be charged a late fee. If the late payment was a simple oversight or a one-time occurrence, you may be able to get a late fee waived. But if you're chronically delinquent, your lender will be less understanding.
The foreclosure clock really starts ticking once your payment is 30 days past due. At this point, your mortgage is not just delinquent but in default. The sheriff isn't coming to kick you out of your house just yet, but be assured that your lender has taken notice. You'll probably get a letter or phone call notifying you of the delinquency, and your lender will report you to the credit bureaus as delinquent. If you miss a second payment, you can expect your lender to step up its efforts, by phone and by mail, to get you to pay. If you can scrape together the money to make a payment, do so now, because once you are three months delinquent, things really start to snowball.
Once you're 30 days late, be aware that you can't really just "skip" a house payment. For example, your mortgage payment was due Jan. 1, but you didn't have the money, so you just didn't pay. Now you do have enough money for a payment, so you send it in by Feb. 1. The lender may take the money and apply it to your January payment--not your February payment. Your February payment is now past due. This can go on for months, and your credit report can end up showing a series of late payments. This is why, if you think you can't make a payment, it's critical that you contact your lender. It may be possible to "move" your missed payment to the end of the loan term to get you back on schedule.
Once you fall three months behind, you'll get what's known as a "demand letter," sometimes called a "notice to accelerate," which tells you how delinquent you are and how much you owe, and orders you to pay the balance due within 30 days. If you miss that deadline, you'll be hearing from your lender's lawyers. Foreclosure has begun.
Keep in mind that your lender would rather have your money (in the form of payments) than your house (in foreclosure). If you've become delinquent, gone into default, even gotten a demand letter, there may still be time to work out an arrangement with your lender to get your loan current and prevent foreclosure. But you have to talk to your lender in order to make it happen. Answer the phone when the lender calls--or, better yet, you call the lender. Don't let the phone ring and hope the delinquency will go away on its own. It won't.