Thursday, May 13, 2010

2005 Bankruptcy Reform Increased Mortgage Defaults By 200,000 Per Year

The 2005 US bankruptcy reform increased the severity of the financial crisis and caused the number of mortgage defaults to increase by around 200,000 per year.
Abstract: [The] U.S. bankruptcy reform of 2005 played an important role in the mortgage crisis and the current recession. When debtors file for bankruptcy, credit card debt and other types of debt are discharged—thus loosening debtors’ budget constraints. Homeowners in financial distress can therefore use bankruptcy to avoid losing their homes, since filing allows them to shift funds from paying other debts to paying their mortgages. But a major reform of U.S. bankruptcy law in 2005 raised the cost of filing and reduced the amount of debt that is discharged. We argue that an unintended consequence of the reform was to cause mortgage default rates to rise. We estimate a hazard model to test whether the 2005 bankruptcy reform caused mortgage defaults to rise, using a large dataset of individual mortgages. Our major result is that prime and subprime mortgage default rates rose by 14% and 16%, respectively, after bankruptcy reform. We also use difference-in-difference to examine the effects of three provisions of bankruptcy reform that particularly harmed homeowners with high incomes and/or high assets and find that the default rates of affected homeowners rose even more. We find that bankruptcy reform caused the number of mortgage defaults to increase by around 200,000 per year even before the start of the financial crisis, suggesting that the reform increased the severity of the crisis when it came.
From "Did Bankruptcy Reform Cause Mortgage Default to Rise?" May 2010, NBER Working Paper No. w15968, by Wenli Li, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Michelle J. White, University of California, San Diego - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Ning Zhu, University of California, Davis - Graduate School of Management; Yale School of Management; China Academy of Financial Research (CAFR).

Ungated version is available here.

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