Mortgages Reclaim Budget Priority Over Credit Cards: TransUnion
A new TransUnion study said financially stressed consumers are once again paying mortgage debts before credit card debts; but, it also found automobile debt has always remained their highest priority.
“The thing is, our study showed that automobile debt has always been paid first,” explained Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting for the nationwide credit bureau and data analytics firm. “We just had not looked at the question of how consumers prioritize payments as closely or over as long a time.”
Becker acknowledged the financial services industry has long assumed that in a financial hardship, consumers will pay their mortgage loans first, auto loans second and credit card bill last. He said Transunion's current study, which reviewed data back to 2003, showed consumers have always paid their car loans first.
Transunion does not interview consumers about why they make the payments they do, but Becker speculated consumers are more likely to pay auto loans first in times of reduced resources to protect their access to transportation which is key to many parts of their lives.
“After all, you might need a car to make sure you keep whatever employment you have or to help get to whatever new employment you hope to get,” Becker said. “The big news is that consumers have made the same choice when they have not been financially stressed as well.”
During the Great Recession, Becker said the study revealed a shift in payment priority between mortgage payments and credit card payments, as consumers paid credit card bills before mortgages.
Transunion researchers arrived at their conclusions by looking the spread in delinquency rates between mortgage loans, credit card loans and auto loans. In September 2004, well before the beginning of the recession, auto loan delinquency stood at 0.95%, credit card delinquency at 2.25% and mortgage delinquency at 1.26%. Becker said those figures indicated consumers faced with limited resources paid their car notes first, mortgage loans second and credit cards last.
But in September 2008, the height of the housing crisis and recession, auto loan delinquency stood at 1.65%, credit card delinquency at 3.29% and mortgage delinquency at 3.32%, showing that consumers were prioritizing credit card bills over their mortgages.
“What we suspect is that during time of stable or rising home values, consumers tend to see their homes as an asset and to prioritize their payments to protect them,” Becker said. “But in times of financial stress with home values dropping or perceived to be dropping, consumers may view their houses as a burden.”
By September 2013, however, while auto loan delinquency remained the lowest at 0.89%, credit card delinquency increased to 1.86% and mortgage delinquency decreased to 1.79%, a position that suggested consumers have returned to paying mortgage debt before credit card debt, Becker said.
The Transunion executive stressed that while the study looked at national numbers, payment patterns still showed significant differences depending on where consumers are located.
Becker observed that major variances were found across the country, with cities such as Los Angeles — which was greatly impacted by the mortgage crisis — experiencing different consumer payment patterns than cities such as Dallas, which had a more stable housing market.
The credit card-mortgage delinquency spread flipped in December 2007 in Los Angeles, and the pattern continued through the end of the study in December 2013.
In contrast, Dallas experienced the reversal in payment patterns much later — beginning in June 2011 — with the reversal coming more quickly, in September 2012, Becker explained.
“It’s been well documented that the Great Recession impacted different areas of the country to varying degrees,” Becker said. “While unemployment generally went up throughout most of the country, some areas saw more job losses than others. Markets that experienced extreme housing value increases and declines also saw the biggest shifts in payment dynamics. As unemployment gradually improves and housing prices recover, we expect every major metropolitan city will revert to the traditional payment hierarchy.”