Do your mortgage payments drift into the lender's office somewhere between the first and the 15th of each month?
Then you can stop feeling guilty.
Although virtually all mortgage payments are due on the first, those who pay a few days later -- during what is known as the "grace period," -- are rarely penalized.
"There are so many things to worry about in today's society. But making mortgage payments during the grace period isn't one of them," says Sam Lyons, senior vice president at Great Western Bank, with offices in Towson and Bethesda.
There's no cause to worry about being stuck with a late charge if you pay during the grace period. In Maryland -- as in most parts of the nation -- it's illegal for a lender to impose a late payment fee on a borrower who pays during the grace period.
There's also little cause to fear that your credit standing will be jeopardized by grace period payments.
Technically you're delinquent if you pay after the first of the month. But actually, lenders don't classify you as a "late payer" unless your check arrives a full 30 to 60 days late, Mr. Lyons points out.
"Custom and usage is such that we don't hold people to the standard that they pay on the first of the month," says Mr. Lyons, who notes that payments on his own home often don't hit the mailbox until the second or third day of the month.
Most lenders take the same approach as Great Western Bank.
"We love those people who get us their checks by the first of the month. But so long as you pay in 15 days, you're still considered an on-time payer," says Kenneth Ladny, who oversees mortgage servicing for Countrywide Funding, which handles nearly 200,000 mortgage accounts each month in Maryland and beyond.
Still, Mr. Ladny and other mortgage experts say there are solid, pragmatic reasons not to play games with your mortgage payments. They offer these pointers:
* Avoid going too far into your grace period if your payments
travel through the mail.
"Some people play post office roulette and that's a mistake," says Mr. Ladny, emphasizing the unpredictability of the U.S. Postal Service.
"Sometimes checks go to some pigeonhole," he said, "post office heaven."
You may calculate that it should take just a day or two for a payment mailed in Catonsville to make it to Towson, for example. But there's always the rare possibility that an errant envelope could take longer.
And the likelihood of facing a late charge for a check received after midmonth is great.
* Don't assume that claiming a timely postmark will make much difference when it comes to defending yourself against imposition of a late charge.
Most mortgage servicing departments are big operations that routinely shred envelopes at the end of each day. That means they have no record of the postmark on your envelope. Anyway, they don't care when you sent your check, only when they received it.
"We're in the business of collecting payments. We're not in the business of delivering mail. We're not responsible for what the post office does," Mr. Ladny says.
* Consider using express mail or another overnight service such as Federal Express if you must send your payment close to the midmonth mark.
Overnight parcel services are expensive, but not usually as expensive as late payment fees. And unlike regular U.S. mail, you can get a guarantee of next-day delivery.
Even though you can expect to pay $9 to $15 for such a service, that could still represent a savings of $20 or more over a late payment charge.
Be cautious about using an overnight company, however. Most such companies will not deliver to a post office box. You must provide the mortgage servicing department's street address if you expect your payment to reach its destination as promised.
* Don't bother predating your mortgage checks.
If you're late, you're late. No one is going to be impressed that your check bears a date prior to the grace period deadline.
Mortgage processing people aren't interested in the story of when you claim you wrote the check. They're only interested in the date they hold your cashable check in their hands.
* Don't kid yourself that you're beating the system by sending a bTC postdated check.
Some people believe a mortgage payment will be credited on the day it arrives, even though the check bears a later date. They postdate a mortgage payment to allow themselves more time to get funds in the bank to cover the check.
But the mortgage servicing department can't deposit a postdated check and will simply not credit your payment until the check becomes cashable.
"Until then I have a worthless piece of paper in my hand," says Mr. Ladny, noting that postdated checks are a source of aggravation for many lenders.
* Consider having your mortgage payments drafted automatically from your checking account if tardy payments have been a problem for you in the past.
You may have plenty of money in the bank to cover your mortgage payments, yet find yourself making payments late. Perhaps you're a working parent with little time to attend to your bills. Or perhaps you fall behind on your paperwork because you travel frequently on business.
Most lenders not only accept automatic bank drafts in payment for a home loan but actively promote the program as a time-saver for all concerned.
For the borrower, the only catch is that you have to make sure you have ample funds in your account when the lender comes to collect. Otherwise, you could face a late payment charge.
* Don't hesitate to fight the imposition of a late-payment fee even if you think it was legitimately imposed.
Contrary to what some mortgage clerks might tell you, there's no law that requires imposition of a late charge when a payment is late. A mortgage processing department can simply waive the charge if it chooses. Whether you're able to convince the lender to waive the charge depends heavily on your past payment record. Perhaps your payment arrived late because you were vacationing in Switzerland, you faced a one-time cash flow problem or your check went astray in the mail.
Assuming the records show that you normally pay before the grace period elapses, you stand a good chance of getting the late fee waived.
* Don't assume that you're always to blame for a late payment.
It can be very difficult to prove that the lender was at fault in the posting process, but such a contention will look less like an excuse if your payment history is good.
Someone with a good payment history is well advised to seek a late charge waiver, says Sidney Lenz, executive vice president at Countrywide Funding.
Much mortgage processing is highly automated, but there are still clerical functions performed by humans, Ms. Lenz notes.
"Any time you have people involved, there is the potential for something to go wrong," she says.
"For example, some checks could get pushed aside on someone's desk and not surface for three or four days. It happens rarely, but it does happen. We're not perfect."