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Oil spill victims get a break on mortgage payments

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Mortgage borrowers hurt by the Gulf oil spill may qualify for temporary relief from paying their mortgages, without fear of losing their homes.

Citigroup's (C, Fortune 500) CitiMortgage unit announced Wednesday that it would suspend all foreclosure sales and filings for 90 days, through Sept. 17, on its Gulf properties. The policy applies only to first mortgages that Citi owns on homes that are within 25 miles of the coast.

Fannie Mae, the government-supported mortgage company, also touted its own relief policy Wednesday, saying that servicers of Fannie-backed loans may immediately suspend or lower payments on mortgages for borrowers whose income or property were affected by the spill.

"This was a reiteration of special relief policies that Fannie Mae has had for a while," said Janis Smith, a spokeswoman for Fannie.

"Borrowers who hope to obtain relief under this policy should call their servicers right away," Smith said. "They should not sit around waiting for a call."

Under the Fannie Mae program, servicers can offer to postpone or lower payments for up to 90 days, during which the servicer is expected to verify the borrower's income loss or the damage the oil spill may have done to their property.

Freddie Mac, the other government-supported mortgage giant, will grant up to six months forbearance to victims of the oil spill.

Other lenders have similar policies in place; all of them are trying to get the word out so that borrowers hit by the disaster know that these options are available.

During these forbearance periods interest continues to accrue, so borrowers aren't exactly getting a free lunch.

It is, however, an opportunity for these homeowners to avoid laying out cash when they can least afford to do so.

They'll eventually have to pay the money back -- if they keep their homes. To top of page

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