(ARA) - Owing more on your mortgage than your house is worth may seem like a bad investment. But the alternative - choosing to default on your mortgage even if you can afford the monthly payments - will take a significant toll on your credit rating.
"Strategically defaulting - deciding to stop paying your mortgage regardless of your ability to actually carry the debt - will have a far-reaching, long-lasting impact on your ability to secure future credit," says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for global information services company Experian, one of the three large credit reporting companies that receive and update consumer credit histories which are scored to help predict risk. "It's by no means a move to be undertaken lightly."
About 355,000 borrowers strategically defaulted in the first half of 2009, according to research conducted as part of the Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Reports. Interestingly, Experian and Oliver Wyman found that the homeowners most likely to strategically default were also those with the highest credit scores.
While it may seem like a good move to simply stop paying and walk away from a bad investment, keep several factors in mind when you consider strategic default:
- It's very final. Strategic default will lead to foreclosure by the lender. Foreclosure will negatively impact your credit report and scores. In fact, only bankruptcy will affect your scores more adversely than foreclosure.
- For more information on just how severe the impact can be, VantageScore LLC recently completed a study that evaluates the effect that foreclosures, bankruptcies, short sales, and various mortgage programs have on consumers' VantageScore credit scores.
- The default will remain on your credit report for seven years. Since credit scores are based on information in your credit report, the foreclosure will greatly impact your credit scores during those seven years. Securing other credit at reasonable terms and rates will be very difficult, if not impossible, during that time.
- Potential lenders aren't the only ones looking at credit reports these days. Insurers, employers and even cell phone companies are considering the creditworthiness of those who want to do business with them. By impacting your credit report, a strategic default may affect your ability to get a job, secure insurance and enter into important service contracts.
- Fannie Mae, the government-controlled mortgage giant, announced on June 23 policy changes that will make you ineligible for a new Fannie-Mae-backed mortgage if you walk away from a current mortgage that you actually could afford to pay. The ineligibility will last for seven years from the date of foreclosure.
- Finally, in some cases, the debt that foreclosure "erases" may be recorded as income, which means you will have to pay taxes on it.
"Strategic default may seem like 'walking away' from a bad debt, but it's really anything but," Sweet says. "While you will no longer have to pay the actual debt, you'll almost certainly 'pay' in other ways, in the form of lowered credit scores and a drastically curtailed ability to secure future credit for the next seven years. Higher interest rates and unfavorable terms could end up costing you more in the long run than continuing to pay on an upside-down mortgage."
To learn more about credit management, credit reports, credit scores and the factors that affect them, visit www.Experian.com.