Consumers Continue to Choose Credit Cards Over Mortgages

A new TransUnion study shows that the usual payment hierarchy of mortgages over other debts, like credit cards, remains reversed, with consumers paying down cards before worrying about mortgages. It augurs many more housing defaults ahead.

"Conventional wisdom has always been that, when faced with a financial crisis, consumers will pay their secured obligations first, specifically their mortgages," said Sean Reardon, the author of the study and a consultant in TransUnion’s analytics and decisioning services business unit. "However, a recent TransUnion analysis has found that increasingly more consumers are paying their credit cards before making mortgage payments. This analysis reaffirms the results of a previous TransUnion study that examined data between the third quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2008."

The percentage of consumers current on credit cards and delinquent on mortgages first surpassed the percentage of consumers current on their mortgages and delinquent on credit cards in the first quarter of 2008. This "flip" is representative of the change in the conventional wisdom around the payment hierarchy, or which debt obligations consumers would choose to pay first.

The latest study, conducted on consumers that had at least one credit card and one mortgage, examined 30-day credit card and mortgage delinquency data between the second quarter of 2008 (Q2/2008) and the third quarter of 2009 (Q3/2009). Although many industry analysts believed that a reversion to the conventional payment hierarchy would ensue once we had passed through the worst of the recession — that has not, in fact, been the case. To the contrary, this study found that the hierarchy reversal has become even more widespread, with the percentage of consumers who are delinquent on their mortgages and current on their credit cards rising to 6.6 percent in Q3/2009 (from 4.3 percent in Q1/2008). Conversely, the percentage of consumers who are delinquent on their credit cards and current on their mortgages has decreased to 3.6 percent in Q3/2009 (from 4.1 percent in Q1/2008).

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