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.