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Strategic Default on First and Second Lien Mortgages During the Financial Crisis

Strategic Default on First and Second Lien Mortgages During the Financial Crisis

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Strategic default behavior suggests that the default process is not only a matter of inability to pay. Economic costs and benefits affect the incidence and timing of defaults. As with prior research, the authors find that people default strategically as their home value falls below the mortgage value (exercise the put option to default on their first mortgage). While some of these homeowners default on both first mortgages and second lien home equity lines, a large portion of the delinquent borrowers have kept their second lien current during the recent financial crisis. These second liens, which are current but stand behind a seriously delinquent first mortgage, are subject to a high risk of default. On the other hand, relatively few borrowers default on their second liens while remaining current on their first. This paper explores the strategic factors that may affect borrower decisions to default on first vs. second lien mortgages. The authors find that borrowers are more likely to remain current on their second lien if it is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) as compared to a closed-end home equity loan. Moreover, the size of the unused line of credit is an important factor. Interestingly, they find evidence that the various mortgage loss mitigation programs also play a role in providing incentives for homeowners to default on their first mortgages.
Strategic default behavior suggests that the default process is not only a matter of inability to pay. Economic costs and benefits affect the incidence and timing of defaults. As with prior research, the authors find that people default strategically as their home value falls below the mortgage value (exercise the put option to default on their first mortgage). While some of these homeowners default on both first mortgages and second lien home equity lines, a large portion of the delinquent borrowers have kept their second lien current during the recent financial crisis. These second liens, which are current but stand behind a seriously delinquent first mortgage, are subject to a high risk of default. On the other hand, relatively few borrowers default on their second liens while remaining current on their first. This paper explores the strategic factors that may affect borrower decisions to default on first vs. second lien mortgages. The authors find that borrowers are more likely to remain current on their second lien if it is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) as compared to a closed-end home equity loan. Moreover, the size of the unused line of credit is an important factor. Interestingly, they find evidence that the various mortgage loss mitigation programs also play a role in providing incentives for homeowners to default on their first mortgages.

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Published by: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on Feb 02, 2011
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WORKING PAPER NO. 11-3STRATEGIC DEFAULT ON FIRST AND SECOND LIENMORTGAGES DURING THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
Julapa JagtianiFederal Reserve Bank of PhiladelphiaWilliam W. LangFederal Reserve Bank of PhiladelphiaDecember 9, 2010
 
Strategic Default on First and Second Lien MortgagesDuring the Financial Crisis
Julapa Jagtiani
Special AdvisorSupervision, Regulation and Credit Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
William W. Lang
SVP and Chief Examinations OfficerSupervision, Regulation and Credit Federal Reserve Bank of PhiladelphiaDecember 9, 2010Abstract 
Strategic default behavior suggests that the default process is not only a matter of inability topay. Economic costs and benefits affect the incidence and timing of defaults. As with prior research,we find that people default strategically as their home value falls below the mortgage value (exercisethe put option to default on their first mortgage). While some of these homeowners default on bothfirst mortgages and second lien home equity lines, a large portion of the delinquent borrowers havekept their second lien current during the recent financial crisis. These second liens, which are currentbut stand behind a seriously delinquent first mortgage, are subject to a high risk of default. On theother hand, relatively few borrowers default on their second liens while remaining current on their first.This paper explores the strategic factors that may affect borrower decisions to default on first vs. secondlien mortgages. We find that borrowers are more likely to remain current on their second lien if it is ahome equity line of credit (HELOC) as compared to a closed-end home equity loan. Moreover, the sizeof the unused line of credit is an important factor. Interestingly, we find evidence that the variousmortgage loss mitigation programs also play a role in providing incentives for homeowners to default ontheir first mortgages.
 
 JEL Classification Codes: G28, G21, G18, G01Key Words: Mortgage, Home Equity Loan, Default Behavior, Strategic Default, Loan Modification,Financial Crisis
------------------------The authors thank Mitch Berlin, Larry Cordell, Kris Gerardi, Chris Henderson, Bob Hunt, SougataKerr, Andreas Lehnert, Leonard Nakamura, and participants at the Federal Reserve SystemCommittee Conference for their comments. Special thanks to Kris Gerardi for his extensive andhelpful comments, Joanne Chow for her dedicated research assistance, and to Bob Hunt for dataaccess and support for this project. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal ReserveSystem. This paper is available free of charge at www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/working-papers/.Please direct correspondence to Julapa Jagtiani, FederalReserve Bank of Philadelphia, Ten Independence Mall, Philadelphia, PA 19106, Tel: 215-574-7284,e-mail: Julapa.Jagtiani@phil.frb.org.
 
1
Strategic Default on First and Second Lien MortgagesDuring the Financial Crisis
Julapa Jagtiani and William W. Lang
I. Introduction
The housing and mortgage crisis dramatically changed the consumer credit landscape. Thesequence of a major housing price boom followed by a collapse of housing prices was accompanied by amajor shift in default behavior as many households began defaulting on mortgage debt while remainingcurrent on other forms of consumer debt (e.g., credit cards and car loans).While the change in priority of defaults between mortgage and non-mortgage debt has receiveda good bit of attention (see Edmans (2010), Guiso, Sapienza, and Zingales (2009), and Sapienza andZingales (2010)), this paper focuses on an issue that has not received much attention: priority of defaultbetween first mortgages and second lien mortgages on the same home. Second lien mortgages arehome equity loans that are either closed-end home equity loans (HELOANs) or home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). At first glance, it might appear that consumers (as opposed to creditors) should makeno distinction between the lien positions of their mortgages, since lenders have the right to foreclose ineither case. If default on either mortgage obligation results in the same eventual outcome (foreclosure),why would a consumer default on one mortgage obligation without defaulting on the other? This paperexplores several hypotheses to explain actual household behavior where borrowers may strategicallydefault on one mortgage obligation while remaining current on another.Why might households default on their first mortgage but not default on their home equityloans? One explanation for this behavior is that households do not act strategically but rather defaultbecause they are unable to make loan payments
 –
 
the “inability to pay” hypothesis
. Since first mortgagepayments are typically much higher than payments on home equity loans, a household may be able tomake the home equity payment but not the payment on the first mortgage.

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