Of all mortgage delinquencies in the second quarter of 2009 (Q209), nearly one in five — or 19% — were considered strategic defaults, according to the latest study of default trends by information services firm Experian. The study, conducted jointly with management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, defines strategic default as a borrower remaining delinquent for six months after the initial date of delinquency, although other characteristics apply. For example, the study found that strategic default occurs more often in areas affected by steep home price declines, indicating the presence of negative equity plays some part in deciding to default strategically. In California, strategic default occurred in early 2009 at a rate 80 times higher than in 2005, Experian said. In Florida, strategic defaults ran 53 times higher in the same time frame. A higher number of first mortgages (think: investors) correlates with a higher incidence of strategic default, the study found. Higher mortgage balances also go in-hand with a higher likelihood of strategic default. Additionally, strategic defaulters tend to have higher credit scores. In the first half of 2009, 28% of delinquent borrowers considered “super-prime” — with a VantageScore (the credit score compiled by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) between 901 and 990 — became strategic defaulters, a 50% higher rate than in the overall delinquent population. “Both delinquency and strategic default — as we define these terms — continue at high levels, but in Q209 we see the first evidence of a break in the upward trend,” said Oliver Wyman partner Peter Carroll in a statement. “After a seasonal reduction in both measures from Q408 to Q109, the Q2 numbers then declined further, breaking the historical trend of quarter-over-quarter increases; however, we will need to analyze the data from Q3 and Q4 to validate this.” Separate studies of borrower mentality indicate nearly one in four borrowers may consider strategic default when enough negative equity is present. Less than one-quarter, or 23%, of consumers recently polled indicated that opting for foreclosure is justifiable when a borrower is underwater, owing more on a home than its worth. But borrowers with mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNM) could face financial ramifications if strategic default is pursued. The GSE said last week that if it determines someone strategically defaulted, the borrower could be held accountable for all associated costs of getting the house back on the market, in areas that lawfully allow deficiency judgments. Write to Diana Golobay. Disclosure: the borrower holds no relevant investments.
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