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Mortgage Default, Foreclosure, and Bankruptcy

  • Wenli Li
  • Michelle J. White
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    In this paper we examine the relationship between homeowners' bankruptcy decisions and their mortgage default decisions and the relationship between homeowners' bankruptcy decisions and lenders' decisions to foreclose. In theory, both relationships could be either substitutes or complements. Bankruptcy and default tend to be substitutes because homeowners' budgets are limited and, if they spend less on payments to unsecured lenders, then they have more money to pay their mortgages. But bankruptcy and default may also be complements if homeowners use bankruptcy to reduce the cost of defaulting on their mortgages. Bankruptcy and foreclosure similarly may be either substitutes or complements. In fact we show that both relationships are complementary, although homeowners reacted to the 2005 bankruptcy reform by treating them as substitutes. We also show that bankruptcies, defaults and foreclosures all tend to spread, i.e., higher bankruptcy rates in the neighborhood raise homeowners' probability of filing, higher default rates raise homeowners' probability of defaulting, and higher foreclosure rates raise homeowners' probability of foreclosure. We provide estimates of the size of these effects. The paper argues that these relationships have important public policy implications. In particular, foreclosures have very high social costs, and some of these costs are external to both borrowers and lenders. As a result, there is a social gain from discouraging bankruptcies, since fewer bankruptcies mean fewer defaults and foreclosures. We show that these considerations shift optimal bankruptcy law in a pro-creditor direction, because pro-creditor bankruptcy policies reduce the number of filings and therefore reduce foreclosures. But the same considerations shift other policies that affect bankruptcy in a pro-debtor direction. This is because pro-debtor shifts in, for example, wage garnishment policy reduce the number of bankruptcy filings and therefore reduce foreclosures.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15472.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15472.

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    Date of creation: Nov 2009
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    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15472
    Note: LE
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    1. Manuel Adelino & Kristopher Gerardi & Paul S. Willen, 2009. "Why don't lenders renegotiate more home mortgages?: redefaults, self-cures, and securitization," Public Policy Discussion Paper 09-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Hülya Eraslan & Wenli Li & Pierre-Daniel G. Sarte, 2007. "The anatomy of U.S. personal bankruptcy under Chapter 13," Working Paper 07-05, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
    3. Igor Livshits & James MacGee & Michele Tertilt, 2005. "Consumer Bankruptcy: A Fresh Start," Discussion Papers 04-011, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    4. Piskorski, Tomasz & Seru, Amit & Vig, Vikrant, 2010. "Securitization and distressed loan renegotiation: Evidence from the subprime mortgage crisis," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(3), pages 369-397, September.
    5. Michelle J. White, 2007. "Bankruptcy Reform and Credit Cards," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(4), pages 175-200, Fall.
    6. Gropp, Reint & Scholz, John Karl & White, Michelle J, 1997. "Personal Bankruptcy and Credit Supply and Demand," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 217-51, February.
    7. Larry Cordell & Karen Dynan & Andreas Lehnert & Nellie Liang & Eileen Mauskopf, 2008. "The incentives of mortgage servicers: myths and realities," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-46, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    8. Lin, Emily Y. & White, Michelle J., 2001. "Bankruptcy and the Market for Mortgage and Home Improvement Loans," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 138-162, July.
    9. Richard K. Green & Michelle J. White, 1994. "Measuring the Benefits of Homeowning: Effects on Children," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 93, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
    10. Giglio, Stefano & Pathak, Parag & Campbell, John Y., 2011. "Forced Sales and House Prices," Scholarly Articles 9887623, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    11. Michelle J. White, 2007. "Bankruptcy Reform and Credit Cards," NBER Working Papers 13265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Donald P. Morgan & Benjamin Iverson & Matthew Botsch, 2008. "Seismic effects of the bankruptcy reform," Staff Reports 358, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    13. Michelle J. White & Ning Zhu, 2010. "Saving Your Home in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(1), pages 33-61, 01.
    14. Scott Fay & Erik Hurst & Michelle J. White, 2002. "The Household Bankruptcy Decision," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(3), pages 706-718, June.
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