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Debt Management Guide 2008
Debt treadmill
Savings are at an all-time low in America, while the debt load continues to climb. How bad is it?
Debt treadmill
How bad is mortgage debt?

One in every 25 American homeowners is more than one month behind in their mortgage payments, according to recent statistics from Moody's and Equifax.

That rate is "sky high" in comparsion to historical norms, says Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody's

Another chilling fact: One in every 100 homeowners is defaulting on his or her mortgage, according to Moody's research.

"It's ugly," says Hoyt.

While some families are trying to hang on to their homes with both hands, others "are defaulting quasi-voluntarily because the house is worth less than the mortgage," says David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's.

Nationwide, home prices are down 12.7 percent from last year, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index.

"This is just hitting much harder than we thought it would," Wyss says.

Even though some experts quibble over the exact count of homeowners in trouble, "no matter how you slice those numbers, none of them is terribly exciting," says Rick Sharga, vice president of marketing for RealtyTrac Inc., an online foreclosure marketplace. "This is probably the highest rate we've ever seen."

But homeowners who can are still refinancing. And many are opting to cash out equity while they've got it.

Cash-out arrangements account for 56 percent of refinancing loans, according to recent numbers from Freddie Mac. But that's down from 83 percent one year ago.

Some homeowners are "drawing down lines of credit even if they don't need it," says Hoyt, "because they're afraid they won't be able to down the road."

Is your mortgage debt a problem? Check these tips to see what you can do about it.

Click on a category below.
How bad is it?
-- Updated: June 16, 2008
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