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Deliberately being late on mortgages: Is it a growing trend?

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POSTED January 11, 2013 12:49 a.m.

Here’s a sobering thought: There are as many as 1.58 million mortgages nationwide that are 90 or more days delinquent but not in foreclosure.

Lender Processing Service’s body count of seriously delinquent mortgages as of Nov. 30 signals what could be a catastrophic attitude shift in debt payments.

There was a time when folks made their mortgage payment on time even if it meant cutting back on necessities.

Now - thanks in part to shear volume as well as politicians’ efforts to “protect” borrowers - a growing number of people believe they are coated in Teflon when it comes to the consequences of late mortgage payments.

Little wonder. It takes an average of 1,072 days - almost three years - for a lender to foreclose on a delinquent buyer in the State of New York. For once, California is better with the average now coming in at just under 300 days.

Once you add the time it takes a loan falls behind until it enters and completes the foreclosure process, it will take almost 13 months in California for a typical home to be taken back by a lender.

That means a borrower could have a free roof over their heads for 13 months at the expense of lenders.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by unscrupulous borrowers. Unlike in a rental, falling a month or two behind doesn’t mean being kicked out onto the street. Banks simply can’t aggressively deal with borrowers two to three months behind because of the number of homes in the foreclosure pipeline.

So what happens is fairly predictable. People make other payments before the mortgage. You don’t want to let past bills for cable TV linger as they will cut off service. The same is true for cell phone and Internet service bills. Why wait for the latest iGadget or cut back on dining out? You have wriggle room with your biggest debt when you know they’re not going to start foreclosure proceedings for months. That gives you plenty of time to get your mortgage current.

But what happens is something derails the catch-up plan and - bingo - the house goes into foreclosure.

Some economists believe it is happening in a great enough frequency to effectively weaken the housing recovery.

It’s like buying a major item such as a new living room set with zero percent interest for two years. People who try to play the arrangement for maximum personal cash flow and make minimum payments, saying to themselves they’ll pay a larger chunk in several months when they have more money. But what happens is people run into unforeseen problems. So after 24 months, they have a balance and the remaining amount has 36 percent interest tacked on top, retroactively and going forward. It happens inn enough cases for a lender to be able to make a profit with such a credit offer.

It is why those 1.58 million loans 90 days or more past due but not in the foreclosure process are scary to contemplate.

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