Homeowners are increasingly relying on forbearance programs to avoid going into foreclosure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around 37,000 mortgages were added to forbearance programs in the week ending Dec. 15, which means the total now stands at 2.787 million loans. That’s about 5.3% of the U.S.’s total of 53 million mortgages, Black Knight data shows.

The number of FHA and VA loans increased by 18,000 to 1.139 million, or around 9.4% of all U.S. loans. It noted that just 3.2% of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed loans have entered forbearance.

Those with Federal Housing Administration-insured loans were first told they need to contact their lender by Dec. 31 to request forbearance, which may explain this month’s big increase. But on Monday, the FHA said it’s extending that deadline until February 28 next year.

Borrowers are able to request an initial period of forbearance that lasts 180 days, followed by an extension of the same length. During the forbearance period, borrowers don’t have to make any payments on their loan, and will make up for them over time by agreeing a plan with their lender after the period ends.

For many borrowers, that period is coming to an end. More than 550,000 forbearance plans are set to expire at the end of December, Black Knight said.

Many of those who’re exiting forbearance have opted to modify their home loans by changing the terms of their mortgage, enabling them to bypass refinancing, The Motely Fool reported.

For now, foreclose activity has remained low due to the moratoriums in place. The Federal Housing Finance Authority and Department of Housing and Urban Development said this week that it’s extending its moratorium on evictions and foreclosures that was set to expire at the end of the month until Feb. 28 2021. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have instigated similar extensions to prevent people from losing their homes.

“Extensions ensure borrowers can continue to seek assistance and avoid eviction and foreclosure while maintaining temporary policy flexibilities for lenders and servicers,” the FHA said in a statement.

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