Once upon a time, say, before the recent housing crisis, homeowners made every possible effort to make their monthly mortgage payment, even if that meant they couldn't meet other financial obligations.
Now, however, there's a new payment priority in which many homeowners choose to let the mortgage slide into delinquency and default while they continue to make the payments on their credit cards, according to a new study by TransUnion, which operates one of the largest U.S. credit-reporting bureaus.
The study, based on data from 27 million consumers' credit files, found that the "hierarchy reversal" had become even more widespread than had been expected. What's more, the pattern has continued for the past three straight years.
The percentage of consumers whose payments were current on their credit cards, but at least 30 days past due on their mortgage, declined in the most recent quarter studied. However, the percentage of people who paid their mortgage over their credit card was still 72 percent higher than it had been at the beginning of the recent recession, according to Sean Reardon, a consultant in TransUnion's analytics and decisioning services business unit.
Reardon said in a statement:
The latest data from our study show that the new payment hierarchy has persisted for longer than many industry experts initially believed, and provides evidence that consumers continue to adjust their payment behavior in response to their economic and personal financial environment.
An earlier survey, by Zogby International and commissioned by TransUnion, found that 79 percent of adults said they would prioritize their mortgage if they could make only one payment in the current month. Nine percent said they'd pay their credit card bill first, and 5 percent said they'd make their auto loan payment their top priority.
Yet in fact, 52 percent of consumers who defaulted on their mortgage in the fourth quarter of 2010 kept up their credit card payments while only 22 percent defaulted on credit cards and kept their mortgage payments current.
Comments, please: If you could make only your credit card payment or your mortgage payment, which would it be?
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