According to a survey, 68 percent of homeowners surveyed saying they would not be able to pay their mortgages if unemployed for more than nine months. That's a lot of potential foreclosures in today's economic climate.

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Nationally, the average duration of joblessness in America is roughly 40 weeks, which is a record high since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the data in 1948. Worse, more than two million Americans have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer.

Could you weather extended unemployment?

A quick and dirty way to calculate your gap is to look at which changes to your monthly income and expenses would occur if you lost your job. For example, unemployment checks are lower than wages, but you also might be able to eliminate child care or commuting costs and income tax. Medical insurance costs would likely increase, and if unemployed you might be unable to pay for non-essentials like gym memberships or even your credit card bills.

Here's an example.

Expenses today:

  • Income: $3,000
  • Commuting: $150
  • Income Taxes: $800 
  • Medical insurance: $100
  • Savings: $200

Expenses if unemployed:

  • Income: $1,500 (decrease cash flow by $1,500)
  • Commuting: $0 (increase cash by $150)
  • Job search: $75 (decrease by $75)
  • Income Taxes: $0 (increase by $800)
  • Medical insurance: $250 (decrease by $150)
  • Savings: $0 (increase by $200)

If the above situation were yours and you became unemployed, you'd have $475 a month less than you would while working. Divide your savings by that amount and you can see how long you'd be able to pay your bills, including your mortgage, if you lost your job. To weather 10 months of unemployment in this case, you'd need savings of $4,750.

Strategies if you lose your job... or are about to

That's only part of the picture, however. What if you exhaust your benefits? Your shortfall gets a lot bigger and your savings eaten up much faster. The longer you can stretch out your savings, the better your chances of hanging onto your home. Here is a list of some tactics you can use to avoid bad credit and pay your mortgage:

  • If you think you might lose your job, behave as though you already have. Get a roommate, drop HBO, carpool, get a cheaper data plan, pack your lunches. You know what you are buying right now that you'd cut if you had to. If you dodge the pink slip fairy, the worst thing you've done is save some money. You can alwys take it to Vegas later!
  • However, don't stop saving. Or stop buying medical insurance.
  • Shop 'til your rate drops. Now is the time to find a lower mortgage rate if you can, to raise your insurance deductible, sell the second car, or take on some extra paid work. Use your gains to beef up your savings.
  • If you lose your job, apply immediately for a mortgage modification under HAMP, a short sale arrangement or for a forbearance from your lender. If your home's underwater, you have a decent chance of getting one. If it isn't, you may have to sell it.

The earlier you get into survival mode, the more likely that you'll survive a layoff.