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Pew: 36% of public approves strategic default as an option

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According to a Pew Research Center survey, 36% of Americans said it is acceptable to stop making mortgage payments, even if it is affordable. Pew surveyed more than 2,900 adults on the subject of strategic default. More than one-in-five, 21%, said they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. These underwater borrowers are at the highest risk of strategically defaulting, because they lack the incentive to make the payments. According to Deutche Bank, 14 million borrowers were underwater as of the first quarter of 2010, but with another 10.8% decline in house prices expected, another 6 million could slip into negative equity as well. The problem has grown so dire Fannie Mae is suing some homeowners it believes strategically default on the mortgage. Some programs such as the Federal Housing Administration's Short Refinancing program launched last week, and the RH program are attempts to help borrowers in this situation. Nearly half of homeowners said the value of their home declined during the recession, but these borrowers are not more tolerant of strategic default than those in positive equity. According to Pew, 18% of underwater homeowners said it's acceptable to walk away, while 17% of respondents still with equity in their home approved of the practice. Those who aligned themselves with the Democratic party were twice as likely to accept strategic default, at 23% compared to 11% of Republicans. "Caught between big mortgages, sinking home values and the financial strains associated with periods of high unemployment, many homeowners have stopped making mortgage payments and opted to 'walk away' from their loans and their homes," according to Pew. Pew reached the respondents through telephone interviews, and believes the views of the the respondents represents the views of the entire population. Write to Jon Prior.

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