Foreclosures & Credit Card Debt

Credit Cards

Paul S. Calem, Julapa Jagtiani and William W. Lang have posted Foreclosure Delay and Consumer Credit Performance to SSRN. Effectively, it argues that long foreclosure delays may have reduced the credit card default rate because homeowners in default were able to pay down their credit card debt while living for free in their homes. The abstract reads,

The deep housing market recession from 2008 through 2010 was characterized by a steep rise in the number of foreclosures and lengthening foreclosure timelines. The average length of time from the onset of delinquency through the end of the foreclosure process also expanded significantly, averaging up to three years in some states. Most individuals undergoing foreclosure were experiencing serious financial stress. However, the extended foreclosure timelines enabled mortgage defaulters to live in their homes without making mortgage payments until the end of the foreclosure process, thus providing temporary income and liquidity benefits from lower housing costs. This paper investigates the impact of extended foreclosure timelines on borrower performance with credit card debt. Our results indicate that a longer period of nonpayment of mortgage expenses results in higher cure rates on delinquent credit cards and reduced credit card balances. Foreclosure process delays may have mitigated the impact of the economic downturn on credit card default.

The authors conclude,

our findings indicate that households do not consume all the benefits from temporary relief from housing expenses; instead, they use that temporary relief to cure delinquent credit card debt and reduce their credit card balances. Interestingly, we find that payment relief from loan modifications has a similar impact to payment relief from longer foreclosure timelines; both are associated with curing card delinquency and reducing card balances.

These households, however, are likely to become delinquent on their credit cards again within six quarters following the end of the foreclosure process. Thus, the results suggest that there may be added risk for nonmortgage lenders when foreclosures are completed and households must incur the transaction costs of moving and incur significant housing expenses once again. This implies an additional dimension of risk to credit card lenders that has not been observed previously. (23)

I am not sure what to make of these findings for borrowers, regulators, credit card lenders or mortgage lenders. Would a utility-maximizing borrower run up their credit card debt while in foreclosure? Should states seek to change foreclosure timelines to change consumer or lender behavior? Should profit-maximizing credit card lenders seek to further limit borrowing upon a mortgage default?  What should profit-maximizing mortgage lenders do? I have lots of questions but no good answers yet.

First-Time Homebuyers, You’re Okay

Couple Looking at Home

Saty Patrabansh of the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at the Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted a working paper, The Marginal Effect of First-Time Homebuyer Status on Mortgage Default and Prepayment.

While this is a dry read, it yields a pretty important insight for first-time homebuyers: you’re okay, just the way you are! The abstract reads,

This paper examines the loan performance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac first-time homebuyer mortgages originated from 1996 to 2012. First-time homebuyer mortgages generally perform worse than repeat homebuyer mortgages. But first-time homebuyers are younger and have lower credit scores, home equity, and income than repeat homebuyers, and therefore are comparatively less likely to withstand financial stress or take advantage of financial innovations available in the market. The distributional make-up of first-time homebuyers is different than that of repeat homebuyers in terms of many borrower, loan, and property characteristics that can be determined at the time of loan origination. Once these distributional differences are accounted for in an econometric model, there is virtually no difference between the average first-time and repeat homebuyers in their probabilities of mortgage default. Hence, the difference between the first-time and repeat homebuyer mortgage defaults can be attributed to the difference in the distributional make-up of the two groups and not to the premise that first-time homebuyers are an inherently riskier group. However, there appears to be an inherent difference in the prepayment probabilities of first-time and repeat homebuyers holding borrower, loan, and property characteristics constant. First-time homebuyers are less likely to prepay their mortgages compared to repeat homebuyers even after accounting for the distributional make-up of the two groups using information known at the time of loan origination.

So, just to be clear, being a first-time homebuyer is not inherently risky. Rather, the risks arising from transactions involving first-time homebuyers are the same as those involving repeat homebuyers:  loan characteristics, property characteristics and other borrower characteristics.