Foreclosure occurs when a homeowner can't make mortgage payments and the bank seizes the home, which was acting as the collateral or security on the loan. The bank then sells the home to try to recover their losses.
The foreclosure process generally begins when a homeowner falls behind in making their required mortgage payments. A mortgage is a secured loan, unlike credit card debt or a personal loan. The debt is secured by the house, which means that the house guarantees the loan and can be taken if the homeowner doesn't pay.
As soon as a homeowner misses a payment, the lender will generally send a letter to the homeowner. The notice will request payment be made and will often include a late fee or other such charge.
If the individual pays at that point, the foreclosure process stops. If a payment isn't made, then lenders may continue with the foreclosure process. Usually, this involves phone calls attempting to collect the money.
If the homeowner still doesn't pay, at some point the bank or lender will generally send a demand letter demanding payment in full by a set date. If the homeowner does not make payment in full, the home is in danger of being taken.
The exact process by which the home is taken varies depending on the state.
See foreclosure in Webster's New World College Dictionary
See foreclosure in American Heritage Dictionary 4
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