Unemployment, Negative Equity, and Strategic Default
50 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2013
Date Written: July 12, 2013
Using new household level data, we quantitatively assess the roles that (i) job loss, (ii) negative equity, and (iii) wealth (including unsecured debt, liquid, and illiquid assets) play in default decisions. In sharp contrast to prior studies that proxy for individual unemployment status using regional unemployment rates, we find that individual unemployment is the strongest predictor of default. We find that individual unemployment increases the probability of default by 5-13 percentage points, ceteris paribus, compared to the sample average default rate of 3.9%. We also find that only 13.9% of defaulters have both negative equity and enough liquid or illiquid assets to make 1 month’s mortgage payment. This suggests that "ruthless," or "strategic" default during the 2007-2009 recession is relatively rare, and suggests that policies designed to promote employment, such as payroll tax cuts, are most likely to stem defaults in the long run rather than policies that temporarily modify mortgages.
Keywords: unemployment, employment, job loss, assets, mortgage, modifications, default, strategic, strategic default, negative equity, trigger, single trigger, double trigger, liquidity constraint, mortgage default, delinquency, PSID, mortgage distress, financial liquidity, negative equity and unemployment
JEL Classification: E24, E30, G21, E60, D12, D14, E51, G33, L85, R31
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