The Stages of the Foreclosure Process

Custom image shows a woman writing in a notebook with images of a foreclosure sign in front of a house.

The Balance / Alice Morgan

Key Takeaways

  • The foreclosure process varies by state, but it typically looks like this: default, notice of intent to foreclose from the lender, foreclosure filing and trial, notice of sale, sale of property, and eviction.
  • Lenders are required to send borrowers notice of their intent to foreclose, and potential loss-mitigation solutions that can help them avoid foreclosure.
  • A lender can't contact you until you're at least 36 days overdue on your mortgage payments.
  • Per rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), you must be at least 120 days behind on your mortgage before foreclosure.
  • Once your home is foreclosed on, you will be evicted from the property. The eviction process also varies by state.

The process of foreclosure comes with a few stages and the entire process can take months from start to finish. While the foreclosure process may look different in each state, it generally starts when you default on mortgage payments. After that, if you continue not to pay your mortgage, your lender will send you a notice of intent to foreclose. Next, there will be a foreclosure filing and maybe a court hearing. You may have the chance to contest the action and even raise defenses. In other states, your lender can foreclose on the property without any judicial intervention. Eventually, you'll lose your home because the property will be sold and you'll be evicted.

Foreclosure can have a lasting impact on your family and your finances, so take the time to understand the stages of foreclosure so you can take steps to prevent it from happening. And if you do go through a foreclosure, learn how you can find housing and help to get your finances back in order.

Stages of Foreclosure

The exact foreclosure process is different in each state, but generally, you can expect it to look something like this:

  • Default and notice of default
  • Foreclosure filing and trial
  • Notice of sale and sale of property
  • Eviction


Not all borrowers will go through the same stages of foreclosure. A foreclosure filing and trial are only necessary for states where a judicial hearing is required.

Default and Notice of Default

The first thing that happens in the foreclosure process is that you enter into default. Defaulting on your loan essentially means you’re late on your mortgage payments—what most lenders refer to as being delinquent.

The law dictates that a lender must reach out once you're 36 days behind on mortgage payments. By 45 days, the lender must provide written notice of the default, including details about any loss mitigation or repayment options that you may be able to use.

You need to be at least 120 days behind on your mortgage for the lender to start the foreclosure process legally.


If you receive a notice of default, it’s important to contact your lender or servicer to discuss potential options as soon as possible. You may be able to modify your loan, get on a repayment plan, ask for a short sale, or surrender your property instead of foreclosure.

Foreclosure Filing and Trial

If you’re in a judicial foreclosure state, the next step is foreclosure filing. The lender will file a foreclosure lawsuit against you, also called a “complaint.” In some states, lenders need to prove that they offered you loss-mitigation options before filing suit. 

The foreclosure suit will go before the court and you have a right to contest the foreclosure and raise defenses. If the court rules in favor of the lender, the property can be scheduled for sale.

Notice of Foreclosure, Sale 

In nonjudicial foreclosure states, there is no trial. Lenders simply issue a “notice of intent to foreclose,” alerting you that the foreclosure process has begun. They will also need to advertise the sale for at least a few weeks before the scheduled sale date.

The property's actual selling is done via auction, and usually by the local sheriff’s department. In many cases, banks and lenders are forced to purchase the properties back due to a lack of buyer interest

These are then dubbed “bank-owned properties” or “real estate-owned properties” (REOs), and the lender then makes efforts to sell those directly to a buyer. Many banks and larger financial institutions list their REO properties somewhere on their website. For example, Wells Fargo has a site dedicated to REO and bank-owned homes.


Unfortunately, being evicted from your home isn’t the only downside of a foreclosure. Borrowers who have been foreclosed on will also see their credit score fall, and the foreclosure will remain on their credit report for up to seven years. 


Once your foreclosed property has been sold, you must vacate the premises. If you don’t, the new buyer legally can have you evicted from the home. The eviction process varies by state.

What To Do After the Foreclosure Process

Foreclosure is not an easy thing to go through—financially or emotionally. If you've gone through the stages of the foreclosure process and have lost your home, it's important to know there is help out there for you and your family.

First, you may not be able to buy another home right away when you go through foreclosure. Some lenders have waiting periods of a few years. If you have extenuating circumstances, you may be able to buy sooner. If not, it may be best to rent an apartment or house until you can buy again.

If you're in the middle of the foreclosure process, see if you can secure a rental before the foreclosure is complete. This may allow you to rent before the foreclosure shows up on your credit report.

If you foreclosed because you lost your job or didn't have enough money to make the mortgage payments, see if you can secure a higher paying job or at least some type of employment to begin getting your finances back on track. A co-signer may also be the best way to secure housing after you go through foreclosure—this can be a family member or friend who has strong credit.

Lastly, consider talking openly about the foreclosure with someone you trust. If you need legal advice, consult a lawyer. And if you need someone to talk to, see if your insurance covers therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When is it too late to stop foreclosure?

It's too late to stop a foreclosure when the property is sold at auction. During the weeks and months prior to that—usually about 120 days—you may be able to stop the foreclosure by making all of your missed mortgage payments and working with a lawyer to ensure the lender stops the foreclosure.

How long is the pre-foreclosure process?

The pre-foreclosure process takes about 120 days. That's because you need to be at least 120 days behind on your mortgage payments before your lender can start the foreclosure process legally.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Federal Housing Finance Agency. "An Overview of the Home Foreclosure Process."

  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Foreclosure Avoidance."

  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. "What Are Real Estate Owned Properties?"

  4. Wells Fargo. "Buying a Wells Fargo Real Estate Owned Property."

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