When a foreclosure is finished and the home is sold or assessed by an appraisal, for the loss on the mortgage, the deficit amount the bank will not get back from the mortgage balance and expenses due, is called a deficiency. In most states, the lender has an option to get a judgment in this amount against the borrower and this is called a "deficiency judgment". In addition to the loss of the homeowner's home he also has the potential of having to repay this judgment in the future.
Even if the bank accepts a "deed in lieu of foreclosure" they can still get a deficiency judgment against the borrower. The borrower is the one responsible for the mortgage or deed of trust payments and he may or may not be the homeowner. If the homeowner has a co-signer, the co-signer will be as legally responsible as the borrower to pay back the deficit due. Depending on whether the foreclosure is judicial or non-judicial, and the specific terms of the mortgage, the bank may not be able to seek a deficiency judgment. These laws vary state-by-state and should be reviewed carefully to determine which applies to the reader.
The bank doesn't just have the amount of the unpaid loan balance due but also legal fees, accelerated interest payments, back principal payments, in some cases pre-payment penalties, and other expenses as part of the judgment amount. This is why a homeowner who has had his mortgage a couple of years could owe more than he borrowed originally. As an example, the homeowner borrowed $200,000 in June of 2006 and in January of 2008 he goes into foreclosure and the final judgment against him could be $218,000! This is because of the additional expenses and the fact that he pays mostly interest in the first 10 years of his mortgage.
The largest loss the lender has is his loss of the ability to loan about 7 - 10 times the unpaid mortgage balance. This is because the Federal Reserve requires the banks to put cash into a non-interest bearing account to cover potential losses. Since the bank can no longer use these funds to get additional loans from the Fed, he is losing tremendous loan power. This loss of revenue to the lender can not be passed on to the homeowner or borrower.
The major factors in deciding whether the lender will pursue a deficiency judgment are whether the lender feels he can collect the judgment and the cost to collect it. In the process of working with the homeowner, the lender pulls his credit and can see what other outstanding bills he has and whether they are being paid timely. The lender can not see what assets the homeowner has but can sometimes see where he works. The homeowner will be asked to fill out a Net Worth Statement ("NWS") which will disclose these assets to the lender. This document is a major part of the decision to pursue the judgment or not. If the lender has no reason to believe the homeowner has extensive assets, they will issue the IRS Form instead. A note of caution - falsifying the NWS can be bank fraud in some states so be careful if you intend to return the NWS to the lender.
The deficiency judgment is determined by the court-approved "Final Judgment" amount in most states. However, in some states, the property must be sold or an appraisal done to determine the "expected" net loss. If your state does this procedure by appraisal, contest the appraisal and have the judgment lowered if you believe it was not correct.
The lender usually chooses not to get a deficiency judgment and instead report the loan deficiency amount on IRS Form 1099. The result to the homeowner is a "phantom income" requires him to pay income taxes on this amount. In this situation the final cost of the guarantor's foreclosure is the amount of income taxes he pays the IRS instead of the entire deficiency judgment. This is a substantial savings to the homeowner and the lender also benefits because there is no collection on his books that is counted as a liability. Unless there is suspicion of fraud in the original loan, the lender will issue a 1099. In December of 2007 legislation was enacted that allows a maximum exemption amount a homeowner who resides in his property can write off for this deficiency amount.
Carefully weigh your rights and options when you make a decision to allow your home to be lost to foreclosure, as there are solutions besides foreclosure and deed transfer to the lender. Do not be paralyzed with fear that the lender will follow you forever to collect the deficiency judgment, as you have a number of options to fight this including attacking the validity of the original loan.