Homeowner blues: 92,500 Minnesotans facing foreclosure

  • Article by: KARA MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2009 - 6:07 AM

Mortgage delinquencies reach an all-time high in the state and the nation. Experts doubt the trend will turn around until jobs are created.

Economists say the recession is over, but tell that to the 92,500 Minnesota homeowners who are facing or are in foreclosure. The Mortgage Bankers Association announced Thursday that 6.98 percent of nearly 900,000 Minnesota mortgage holders, or about 62,000 Minnesotans, were behind on their payments in the third quarter. That's a record high.

Nationwide, roughly 4.3 million, or 9.94 percent of all loans outstanding, have mortgages that are at least 30 days past due. That's the highest since the association started tracking this data in 1972.

Loans in the process of foreclosure rose in the state and the nation from July through September of this year. Minnesota ranks 39th in the number of delinquencies but 15th in foreclosures started. States where speculation was rampant during the housing boom -- Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada -- led the nation in mortgage problems.

"They're terrible numbers and they just keep getting worse," said Scott Anderson, a senior economist for Wells Fargo.

Julie Gugan, executive director of the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, which provides housing counseling, is seeing demand for her organization's services grow. The group counseled 12,000 individuals last year. They expect to serve 15,000 consumers by year-end and anticipate that demand to keep pace beyond June of 2010, when some of their federal funding is set to run out.

Of concern to the state's housing experts is the shift from the bulk of troubled loans being the subprime variety to being prime loans -- a sign the rising unemployment is crimping the ability of some homeowners to keep current on their loans. Prime loans are available to borrowers who can prove their income, have good credit histories and who have shown that they pay their bills consistently and on time.

The number of delinquent prime loans in Minnesota climbed 5.17 percent in the third quarter compared with the second quarter and the percentage of prime loans in foreclosure grew 2.41 percent. Nationally, prime delinquent loans rose 6.94 percent and foreclosures grew 3.2 percent. The association's numbers aren't seasonally adjusted.

"We're talking about people who really, truly want to pay their bills on time and are having trouble," said Tim Swierczek, president of the Minnesota Mortgage Association.

To Gugan, it's a sign of the times. "It is a reflection of the economy that even people who perhaps were not victims of subprime lending or predatory lending are now being impacted by a lack of job or decrease of income," she said.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in October. In Minnesota, the number climbed slightly to a seasonally adjusted 7.6 percent that month. Wells Fargo's Anderson is forecasting a national unemployment rate that could reach 11 percent before it peaks in the first or second quarter of 2010. And he doubts that the delinquency and foreclosure rates will reverse course until the unemployment rate declines.

The common practice during the housing boom of stretching to afford a home is another contributor to these higher numbers, experts say.

"People stretched to buy housing and took on more debt than they should have," Anderson said. Swierzcek, who has a window into the financial stability of his mortgage clients with every loan or refinancing, said he thinks several little economic hits are adding up to cause big pain. For example, credit card companies have been increasing minimum payments for many customers. "You get these little changes across every credit card, and all of a sudden we're talking about several hundred dollars a month. ... Then their insurance goes up a little bit and the next thing you know, there just wasn't enough room in their budgets,'' he said.

He's also heard of a small number of cases where homeowners who can afford to pay their loans are choosing not to because they paid far more for the home than it's worth in today's market. But on a positive note, he's seeing clients being more cautious about how much debt they can handle.

Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293

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