Refinance searches peaked on March 15, and then began falling. For context, searches for “mortgage refinance” during the Great Recession were highest in December 2008, when they topped out at just 63% of March’s volume. And when searches for “mortgage refinance” began falling, those for “mortgage relief” were rising to meet them.
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Through refinancing, borrowers can save money by replacing their current mortgage with a new loan that has a lower interest rate. But refinancing isn’t free. In most cases, a homeowner will pay as much as 2%-5% of the outstanding principal in refinance closing costs, so the math doesn’t make sense for everyone.
People searching for “mortgage relief” are likely feeling a financial pinch or anticipating one. The term is frequently used to describe regulations or practices designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. However, search volume data doesn’t distinguish between people searching due to an increased need or those researching a term that’s experiencing increased popularity in the news. And mortgage relief is in the news: Lenders and some state governments are taking steps to provide help to borrowers, and on March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed, mandating mortgage forbearance terms for borrowers with federally backed loans.
But search volume confirms that interest in “mortgage relief” isn’t entirely new. It previously peaked in 2009, though only at a level 20% of where it peaked just a week ago. When compared with similar terms used during the housing crisis and Great Recession, the search interest for “mortgage relief” in March 2020 is unprecedented. Yes, that green line on the far right of the chart below is that peak.
Borrowers currently struggling to afford their mortgage payments — and those who see such a struggle in their near future — are encouraged to contact their lender. Mortgage relief provisions of the CARES Act require many mortgage lenders to pause payments for up to 180 days of forbearance whether the borrower is directly or indirectly impacted by the pandemic. Lenders may also offer loan modification to make payments more manageable over the long term.