For millions of Americans, keeping current on mortgage payments is a constant challenge. However, missing a payment or getting more than a few payments behind may lead to a painful spiral downward that is worth avoiding at all costs.

When payments are made on time every month, the bank or lender considers this “being current” on your loan. But if you miss just one payment, your “current” status is immediately gone. Even if you manage to catch up again quickly, your credit rating takes a hit.

Missing a mortgage payment is one of the fastest ways to erode your overall credit score.

Of course, missing a series of payments will result in delinquency and could result in the loss of your home. Not only will you be out of a house, but you will also still be liable for all the debt you legally owe. If things go this far, your credit rating is damaged for years to come, even if you clear up your debt.

The worst possible tactic for those struggling with mortgage payments is to avoid confronting the problem directly. The first step suggested by financial experts is for the mortgage borrower to contact his or her banker and make arrangements for some kind of payment schedule that is more manageable.

It’s usually possible to modify the condition of the loan until the borrower gets through a rough patch. If this is not possible, seek what is called forbearance to reduce the amount of payment even further or even cease them for a short period.

One way to stave off difficult scenarios as described above is to refinance your current home loan. If this is possible, you can “come out the other side” with a lower monthly payment.

Keep in mind that refinancing has some challenges as well. For example, after replacing your current mortgage you will be faced with new obligations, such as paying closing costs for the new loan. This process also tends to produce a lot of add-on fees.

Very often, staying current on mortgage payments comes down to making sober and difficult decisions, including possibly selling a home you can no longer afford.