June 11, 2013
Too Many Homeowners Still Underwater
With house prices rising smartly, homeowners should be celebrating. Right?
Wrong. To be sure, a 10 percent jump in house prices in the first quarter, compared with a year earlier, pushed more people out of the red and into the black. But one in four U.S. homeowners with a mortgage still has “negative equity:” the mortgage exceeds the value of the home, according to new data from Zillow.
These 13 million U.S. homeowners will need more price appreciation before they can feel that the housing-market downturn of the previous decade is truly over.
Negative equity is prevalent not just in obvious places like Las Vegas, once the poster child for the go-go real estate market that went bust. The painful aftermath lingers in Chicago and Minneapolis, where about one in three owners has negative equity.
Seattle, Cleveland, and Baltimore also each have a larger share of owners in negative territory than the national average.
Zillow computes a second, broader measure of underwater homeowners. It adds together people with negative equity and those who have some equity, though not enough to pay a real estate agent and related costs to sell their house and move. When this second group is included, the share of home borrowers in a financial bind increases to 44 percent, from 25 percent, Zillow said. …Learn More
May 23, 2013
Student Loans = No House, No New Car
Here’s what Will Flannigan, 26, would rather do with the $401.58 he pays on his student loans every month.
• Buy a house: the mortgage payment on a house he looked at was the same as his rent, but renovating or fixing anything would be unaffordable.
• Replace his 2006 Ford Focus – it’s red but he calls it a “lemon.”
• Buy new clothes – thrift shops are standard.
• Eat dinner out at someplace other than a fast food restaurant.
Flannigan is getting married in August – to a woman who pays about $250 per month for her college loans.
Three out of four people now paying off student debt – whether graduates or their parents – are just like Flannigan: they’re delaying important life goals in order to make their payments, according to a new survey by Harris Interactive sponsored by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). About 40 percent also said they have delayed saving for retirement or buying a car, to name just two deferred goals.
This survey, which was random and based on telephone interviews, illustrates the reason behind the growing concern among financial advisers, 20- and 30-somethings, and their parents that paying for a college education has become a burden with financial implications for years, even decades.
“It’s indentured servitude – that’s what it is,” said Flannigan, a Kent State graduate (2010), whose loan payments equal one-quarter of his salary as the online editor of Farm and Dairy, in Salem, Ohio, near Youngstown. Payoff horizon for his $62,000 loans: more than 25 years, according to his loan documents, he said….Learn More
May 7, 2013
Retirement Countdown: Sheila Downsizes
Sheila Taymore could not afford the $2,200 mortgage and home equity loan payments, the enormous heating bills, and the repairs – so many repairs – on the home she’d owned for decades.
Sheila Taymore, 60, of Salem, Mass.
But selling it was emotional: she and her first husband had raised two sons in that house in the seaside town of Swampscott, north of Boston. Her decision to move was triggered by a recent divorce and came about two years after the death of her mother.
“I walked around and cried and said, ‘Who cares about this house?’ I make all this money, and all my money was going towards my house,” said Taymore, a Comcast Cable salesperson – last year was her best year ever.
She is like millions of U.S. baby boomers struggling, often imperfectly, to prepare financially for their imminent retirement. Wall Street may tout investment savvy as critical to ensuring a comfortable old age, but less lofty decisions can be more helpful to those with too little savings and too few working years left to make it up.
Taymore is also planning to delay her retirement to age 70. That will give her a larger monthly check from Social Security and fewer years of retirement to pay for. That was an easy call, she said, because “I just love my job.”Learn More
March 21, 2013
White-Black Wealth Gap Nearly Triples
Over the past 25 years, the difference in wealth held by white and black households in the United States has nearly tripled, to $236,500.
In December, Squared Away wrote about the difficulty that black families have in trying to accumulate wealth so they can pass it on to their children. New research out of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy now finds that the gap between the median net worth for white and black households has widened to a chasm, as blacks have fallen farther behind.
The study also quantified the reasons for the widening gap and found that the difficulty of building up housing equity is the largest factor.
A house is usually the single largest asset owned by middle-class American families. But starkly different homeownership patterns between blacks and whites – ownership rates are lower for blacks, who also own their homes for fewer years than whites – accounted for 27 percent of the increase in the wealth gap.
Housing’s impact has been “incredibly large” and is the “key driver” of the growing black-white wealth gap, said Thomas Shapiro, the institute’s director. “It’s part of the disadvantage that keeps working its way through the life course” from one generation of a black family to the next, he said. …Learn More
March 12, 2013
Feeling Poorer? Blame the House!
The American psyche gets a lot of credit for fueling the boom in U.S. home prices, which ended in 2006. As houses increased in value, homeowners felt richer, and they spent more. Similarly, falling house prices led to declines in consumer spending as households found themselves poorer and less able to access credit, according to a new paper, “Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012,” by economists Karl Case, the late John Quigley and Robert Shiller.
In this interview, Case explains this “wealth effect.”
Q: Why were our spending decisions influenced by our psychology during the housing boom?
Case: The increase in house prices was like magic. They went from the 1950s until 2006 without ever falling nationally. The numbers are astonishing. If you look at the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds Accounts, the value of the owner-occupied housing stock in the United States increased from $14 trillion to $24 trillion. All of a sudden the collective balance sheet of U.S. households had $10 trillion worth of assets that it didn’t have before. That’s a very big number.
The first thing I asked myself is, How did I behave? I bought a house in Wellesley [Massachusetts] for $56,000 in 1976. When I sold it in 1991, it was a $240,000 asset. I know my behavior changed. I was in my 40s, and I found myself with a quarter million dollars that I didn’t know I had. It made me feel wealthier, and I spent more and saved less than I otherwise would have. Home equity loans and second mortgages made it possible for homeowners to withdraw their newly acquired equity to finance a higher level of spending and/or a new or bigger home.
Q: How do we decide we’re feeling richer?
Case: Household wealth is made of many things: houses, cars, and financial assets. The value of any asset, including housing, is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. What determines that? Our expectation of whether it will go up in the future. If you have a house I think is going to go up 10 percent per year, I’m willing to pay more for it than if I think it’s not going up at all. That’s how psychology drives the housing market.
In annual surveys for another paper, we asked 5,000 people going forward 10 years, what do you expect the average annual increase to be in the value of your house? They said 8-10-12 percent per year. They were feeling better because their house was worth more. That leads to more spending.
Q: Is it fair to say the housing market was one of the primary influences on the economy?
Case: Absolutely. Our finding has been very controversial. Some people say housing’s wealth effect doesn’t exist. Our own earlier work suggested that it works when the housing market is on the way up but not on the way down. We now have evidence that it works in both directions. …Learn More
December 11, 2012
Black Families Struggle to Build Wealth
It is extremely difficult for black Americans to accumulate wealth they can pass on to their children.
Getting to the heart of this concern is new research by the Urban Institute. The Washington think tank found that while blacks excel at converting the gifts and inheritances they receive into even more wealth, the size and frequency of these bequests are much smaller than for whites, perpetuating a wealth gap that has existed since emancipation.
“In the news, you hear about the racial income gap, but the racial wealth gap is so much larger, and it’s not improving,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the new study. Smaller inheritances and gifts in African-American families “are hindering their opportunity and wealth accumulation,” she said, about her findings.
Median wealth for black families is $18,181 – white family wealth is $122,927, and Hispanic wealth is $33,619.
But the real question is, why is white wealth seven times larger than black wealth? The researchers found that blacks are five times less likely to receive family bequests than are whites, and their inheritances are $5,013 smaller.
McKernan’s research employed standard statistical methods by holding factors such as income and education constant in order to highlight the racial aspect of differences in wealth.
But Lester Spence, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University who sometimes conducts statistical analysis in his research, said such analysis fails to fully capture the significant impact of factors such as the social and cultural barriers facing black Americans. …Learn More
October 18, 2012
College Educated Take On More Debt
Americans with college degrees are more likely to overuse their credit cards, home equity loans and other debts than are people who didn’t attend college, according to research in the latest International Journal of Consumer Studies.
“I was really expecting the reverse,” Sherman Hanna, a professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus, said about the results of his research, conducted in conjunction with Ewha Womans University in Seoul and the University of Georgia in Athens.
The study also reveals the increasing fragility of Americans’ finances, particularly in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis when overall debt levels surged amid what Hanna called a “democratization of credit” that made it easier – critics said too easy – to borrow.
The percent of all U.S. households with monthly debt payments exceeding 40 percent of their pretax income rose from 18 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2007. (Consumers have slashed their debt during the recent recession.)
Based on education levels, Americans with a bachelor’s or graduate degree had more than a 32 percent likelihood of being heavily in debt. That compared with 24.5 percent for people who graduated from high school and did not attend college, according to the study, which tracked U.S. households from 1992 through 2007. To make their comparison, the researchers controlled for the effect of incomes.
The researchers designated households in their sample as being heavily in debt if their monthly loan payments and other debt obligations exceeded 40 percent of their pretax income. That is a high share of income to devote every month to paying off loans, rather than buying groceries, saving for retirement, or utilities…Learn More