Strategic Defaulters Tend to be Credit Savvy
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Strategic Defaulters Tend to be Credit Savvy

A strategic default is basically when a homeowner decides to walk away from their mortgage payments because they owe more on their home than what it is worth. Are these borrowers deadbeats? Or are they just making a good financial decision?

There is a common misconception that underwater homeowners who walk away from their mortgages are irresponsible with money and they have bad credit. But a recent study shows that to be false. According to a recent article in USA Today, strategic mortgage defaulters are not necessarily the deadbeat debtors that many people think. Here are some findings reported in the article that was gathered from credit bureau information:

  • The majority of underwater homeowners who walk away from their mortgages have above average credit scores. Most of their scores are above 620. In today’s world, a score of 620 and above is very good.
  • At least 35 percent of underwater homeowners who do not strategically default on their mortgages have credit cards that are maxed out to their limit. Only 10 percent of the strategic mortgage defaulters have credit cards that have reached their limits.
  • Many strategic defaulters have not been in their home for too long.
  • A large number of strategic mortgage defaulters look for new lines of credit before they default on their mortgage.

Andrew Jennings, the chief analytics officer with FICO, made the statement that strategic mortgage defaulters are “getting their life in order.” He said that FICO is going to begin using new tools that will help banks and lenders identify people who are in danger of strategically defaulting before it actually happens.

There is no way to find out exactly how many of the defaulted mortgages are strategic defaults. However, according to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, those estimates are about 35 percent of the total number of defaults. That figure is for September 2009. That’s a 9 percent estimated increase in strategic defaults when compared to the 26 percent in March 2009. The Nevada Association of Realtors did a study in its state which showed that about 23 percent of homeowners in Nevada admitted to strategically defaulting on their mortgage.

The reason it is so difficult to identify strategic defaulters is because they are homeowners who can typically pay their mortgage payments and their other bills. Banks and lenders cannot tell that they are strategic defaulters until the homeowners start the defaulting process. With the new tools introduced by FICO and other companies, banks and lenders may be able to identify these homeowners before the default process begins so they can offer other options to them, such as rewards for paying off their mortgage loans.

Are you considering a strategic default? If so, it may be best to contact your bank or lender before you begin to default. There may be favorable options available to you that will help you stay in your home without ruining your credit.

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  • roenick

    May 24, 2011

    We have our first child on the way in less than 4 months and need to move immediately from our 1 bedroom condo which has been on the market for over 3 years. In those three years we've dropped the price over $50K to a point where we'd have to pay over $20K at closing just to sell our condo. In addition, there have been so many foreclosures in our area that our assessed value would come in $30K below our asking price and buyers would not be approved for a loan. Selling this place has officially become impossible.

    Because of this, we know we have 2 options - (1) Stay in the condo that's underwater and now too small for our needs or (2) strategic default and move into another place before we foreclose. Obviously, we have no real choice other than to explore strategic default.

    We did contact the bank before we went through the strategic default process. They refused to entertain any options like short sale or loan modification until we were 60 days behind in our mortgage payment, which we refused to do since it would negatively impact our FICO scores. We called again and pleaded to work with them and were told unequivocally that they would not work with us until we were in arrears on our mortgage.

    We paid our mortgage until we found a new house, closed on the new property and immediately stopped paying our condo bills. The bank and the housing bubble backed us into a corner and forced us to make this decision. My wife and I both had credit scores above 780 and hadn't missed a monthly payment for anything in 10 years. But we weren't going to let the bank dictate how we're going to live our life or raise our children, so we made the only rational decision possible. And it has worked out great for the entire family.

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