Report: More Than a Third of Americans OK with Strategic Default

Mon, Sep 20, 2010


By: Carrie Bay

With housing woes capturing front-page headlines in the United States, the odds of distraught homeowners becoming even more frustrated and opting to abandon their mortgage obligations has become a growing concern within the industry.

Still-falling property values are pushing more homeowners underwater, and the social stigma attached to foreclosure is steadily eroding as delinquencies become almost commonplace – such factors can fuel the fire for so-called strategic defaults.

A survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than a third – 36 percent – of Americans believe the practice of “walking away” from their mortgage payments and their home is acceptable, at least under certain circumstances.

Of the nearly 3,000 people polled by Pew Research, almost six-in-ten, 59 percent, say it is wrong for homeowners to

deliberately stop paying their mortgages and surrender their homes to the mortgage lender.

Two-in-ten, or 19 percent, feel it is “acceptable.” An additional 17 percent volunteered that it depends on the circumstances, an answer that wasn’t given as a choice in the survey, according to the nonprofit think tank.

Twenty-one percent of the survey respondents say they owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth. Their assessment is strikingly close to the latest estimates from CoreLogic, which finds that some 11 million borrowers, or 23 percent, are underwater. Analysts warn that the farther a homeowner falls underwater, the more likely they are to throw in the towel.

According to Pew Research, nearly half, 48 percent, of all homeowners say the value of their home declined during the recession. As a group, these individuals are more likely than those whose home did not lose value to say it’s acceptable to renege on a mortgage (20 percent vs. 14 percent, the survey found.

Rich Morin, a Pew Research senior editor in Washington, says caught between big mortgages, sinking home values, and the financial strains associated with periods of high unemployment, many homeowners have stopped making their mortgage payments. They feel their best-case scenario is to bail, take a big credit hit, and lose their home.

The dilemma has become so widespread and the practice increasingly common that Fannie Mae recently announced it plans to go after strategic defaulters and sue them for deficiencies

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