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Americans somewhat less clueless

"The housing crisis has forced consumers to change the way they approach mortgage debt," she says. "An increasing number of consumers want to play it safe. For many people, peace of mind is valuable."

McGrigg says the higher percentage of homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages also likely reflects the fact that more programs are available now to homeowners who are struggling with increasing ARM payments to refinance to fixed rate loans.

Growing worries

This year's survey results reveal a notable increase in the level of concern Americans feel about their monthly housing costs.

Nearly one-third of Americans with mortgages say they sometimes or regularly worry about their ability to afford home payments over the next year.

Do you worry?
How often do you worry about whether or not you'll be able to afford your home payments next year?2008
Total
2007
Total
Regularly13%15%
Sometimes18%13%
Rarely17%17%
Never48%53%
Don't know3%2%

"The number is upsetting," McGrigg says. "I think the word 'worry' paints an accurate picture of our current state of mind."

For example, 31 percent of Americans said they regularly (13 percent) or sometimes (18 percent) worry about meeting their home payment obligations. In the survey, home payments were defined including mortgage, property taxes and homeowners insurance.

That marked a 3 percentage point increase from 2007, when 28 percent said they regularly or sometimes worried about making their home payments.

In particular, the percentage of homeowners who said they "sometimes" worry jumped from 13 percent to 18 percent, considered a statistically significant increase.

Also, the percentage of Americans who said they "never" worry about making their home payments declined from 53 percent in 2007 to 48 percent in 2008.

Growing homeowner concern about making the house payment makes sense, given the state of the U.S. economy, McBride says.

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"In recent years, too many homebuyers and homeowners stretched too far," he says. "With home prices falling, job losses rising, and inflation pressures evident in everyday staples, it isn't surprising that more people are worried compared to last year."

Reality vs. perceptions

Frank says that it's hard to tell whether the anxiety felt by Americans is grounded in reality or media hype.

"The large numbers of people who are worried about their ability to pay their mortgages may reflect a weakening economy and housing market, or it may be that people are panicked by media reports of foreclosures," Frank says.

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