The Housing Crisis Is Officially Over

But if you're still struggling, here's how to get above water.

The financial crisis was a decade ago, and many Americans have recovered. At the peak of the economic downturn, more than 30 percent of American homeowners owed lenders more than the value of their homes. Now, that number has finally dropped to under 10 percent.

However, millions are still reeling from aftershocks of the housing crisis: Nearly 4.5 million homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, according to a new report from Zillow.

Click to read more about which states are still being hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

In the late 2000s, the housing bubble burst sent home values into a freefall, with the typical U.S. home losing more than a quarter of its value when the market crashed, sending millions of homeowners into negative equity.

Know: 19 Reasons Your Mortgage Loan Could Get Rejected

The situation is improving, but the outlook can appear bleak for Americans with underwater mortgages. Relief can be found with some options that exist for homeowners to avoid foreclosure:

  • Stay and pay: Don’t continue to throw money at a bad investment, but if the sense of obligation pulls you, you can continue to pay your mortgage bill month after month in the hope that your situation improves.
  • Consider a short sale: The goal is to get out of your home quickly and for the bank to forgive remaining debt. Homeowners should be prepared to sell their houses for a lower price than they paid for it.
  • Walk away: Only pull this strategic default card if you’re prepared for the consequences of a drop in credit score, a credit report blemish and guaranteed difficulty in securing a future loan.
  • Refinance your home: A lower interest rate and lower monthly payment through refinancing your mortgage might give you the relief you need in the short and long term.
  • Get a deed in lieu of foreclosure: This allows you to give the house to the lender and avoid foreclosure proceedings altogether. Chief among the benefits is that you are immediately released from most or all indebtedness associated with the defaulted loan and your credit suffers less.
  • Get a reverse mortgage: Available to individuals ages 62 and older, eligible homeowners can access a portion of their home equity by borrowing against it. Seniors can take the money in a lump sum, receive monthly payments, draw on it like a line of credit or use any combination of the three. The homeowner’s obligation to repay the loan is deferred until the homeowner dies or the home is sold.
  • Home loan modification: With a loan modification, lenders lower the interest rate and payment, either temporarily or permanently. It is also fairly common for lenders to extend the term of the loan or to allow borrowers to make up missed payments by tacking them on to the end of the loan or spreading them out over the remaining loan.

Read: Pros and Cons of Getting a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure

The best option to avoid foreclosure is to stay ahead of your bills, if possible. Research government mortgage assistance agencies like Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for free guidance on how to prevent a foreclosure.

Click through to read more about the pros and cons of buying a foreclosed home.