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Underwater Mortgage


An underwater mortgage is a home loan with a higher balance than the fair market value of the property. This situation occurs when property values fall and the homeowner owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth. This is also referred to as having negative equity.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Underwater Mortgage” is “ʌndərwɔ:tər mɔ:rɡɪdʒ”.

Key Takeaways

  • Underwater Mortgage Definition: An underwater mortgage is a home loan with a higher balance than the free-market value of the home. This situation happens when property values decrease, leaving the homeowner owing more on the mortgage than the home is currently worth.
  • Effects of Underwater Mortgage: Homeowners with an underwater mortgage have limited options for refinancing or selling their home. It can result in negative consequences like foreclosure or short sale, causing a significant drop in the homeowner’s credit score.
  • Solutions for Underwater Mortgage: There are potential solutions for homeowners experiencing an underwater mortgage. These include loan modification, refinancing under government programs like HARP, or negotiating with the lender for a short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.


An underwater mortgage is an important term in business and finance as it refers to a situation wherein the remaining balance of a mortgage loan is higher than the market value of the property. This usually occurs when property prices fall significantly. It’s significant because homeowners with an underwater mortgage may face serious financial challenges. They would be unable to generate profit by selling the house, and if they encounter difficulties in meeting mortgage payments, they can’t simply get out of their obligation by selling the property. As a result, underwater mortgages are often associated with increased risk of foreclosure for homeowners and can potentially indicate broader economic issues, such as housing market crashes or economic recessions.


An underwater mortgage, as a concept in the financial sector, is designed to represent circumstances where homeowners owe more on their home loans than the current market value of their property. This situation typically unfolds when there is a significant drop in the home value, often due to a downturn in the real estate market. The term “underwater” symbolically refers to the homeowner being stuck beneath the original loan amount, due to the decreased value of the said property.

The purpose of identifying an underwater mortgage is to assess the financial health of homeowners and impacts their capability to sell or refinance their property. It influences decision-making processes such as whether to hold on to the property in anticipation of the prices going up or attempting a sale and bearing a loss. For the lenders too, it helps in predicting the risk of default by the borrowers, as homeowners with negative equity on their properties are more likely to default on their mortgage payments. Thus, the concept of the “underwater mortgage” plays a crucial role in shaping both homeowners’ strategies and lending policies.


An “underwater mortgage” is a term used in the finance industry to refer to a situation in which a homeowner owes more money on a mortgage than the existing market value of the home. Here are three real-world examples:

1. Housing Market Crash 2007-2008: Many homeowners found themselves with underwater mortgages during the housing market crash of 2007-2008. For instance, a homeowner could have purchased a house for $300,000 with a mortgage loan of the same amount. After the market crash, the home’s value could have dropped to $200,000, but they still owed $300,000 on their mortgage, making them “underwater”.

2. Detroit’s Real Estate Market: In regions where property values have declined significantly, underwater mortgages are common. In Detroit, for example, the auto industry’s decline had a substantial impact on home values. People who bought their houses when the economy was strong found themselves in an underwater mortgage situation when home values declined and the mortgage amount owed was more than the reduced property value.

3. Natural Disasters: Natural disasters can create underwater mortgages when they cause substantial damage to property lowering its value. For instance, areas heavily impacted by hurricanes, floods, or wildfires can suddenly see property values plummet. If the homeowner purchased their home with a mortgage loan, they could end up owing more than their home is worth if severe damage from a natural disaster reduces the home’s value significantly.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is an Underwater Mortgage?

An underwater mortgage is a home purchase loan with a higher balance than the free-market value of the home. This situation prevents the homeowner from selling the home unless willing to lose money on the deal.

How does a mortgage become underwater?

Mortgages typically become underwater because the home value falls, the mortgage debt rises, or both. This often happens when the housing market collapses or slows down.

What are the main causes of underwater mortgages?

Usually, underwater mortgages occur as a result of declining property values, high initial loan-to-value ratios, and short-term homeowner ship.

What options do homeowners have if they have an underwater mortgage?

Homeowners with an underwater mortgage have several options. First, they could continue making payments and await property values to increase. Second, they could attempt a short sale, in which the lender accepts the revenue from selling the house, even if it does not cover the full mortgage balance. Lastly, they could opt for a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, where the homeowner voluntarily signs over the deed to the house to the mortgage company.

Is it possible to refinance an underwater mortgage?

Refinancing could be challenging when a mortgage is underwater. Some government and private programs can assist homeowners by offering refinancing options to those with underwater mortgages.

What is the impact of an underwater mortgage on a person’s credit?

An underwater mortgage itself does not affect a person’s credit score. However, if the homeowner opts for solutions like a short sale or foreclosure, it may have a negative impact on their credit score.

What role does negative equity play in an underwater mortgage?

Negative equity is the outstanding balance of a mortgage that exceeds the property’s current worth, meaning the homeowner owes more to the lender than the house’s current market value. This situation is synonymous with an underwater mortgage.

Can a person sell a house with an underwater mortgage?

Yes, A person can sell a house with an underwater mortgage through a short sale. However, this necessitates lender approval and often leads to the lender forgiving the remaining balance of the mortgage.

Is an underwater mortgage the same as bankruptcy?

No, an underwater mortgage and bankruptcy are not the same. An underwater mortgage means that you owe more on your house than it is worth in the current market. However, bankruptcy is a legal process where you declare yourself or your business unable to pay your outstanding debts.

Related Finance Terms

  • Foreclosure
  • Negative Equity
  • Loan-to-Value Ratio (LTV)
  • Mortgage Refinancing
  • Short Sale

Sources for More Information

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