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Higher-income Americans benefited more from mortgage forbearance

August 2, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC

There are only about 1.74 million homeowners left in mortgage forbearance plans these days, down from the highs of over 4 million Americans in these emergency relief programs last summer. 

As part of the CARES Act, the U.S. established a foreclosure moratorium and made borrowers with federally backed mortgages who experienced COVID-19-related hardships eligible for forbearance programs that would defer their monthly mortgage payments for up to 360 days. In addition to helping borrowers who used federal agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. encouraged other lenders to offer homeowners ways to avoid defaulting.

But looking back, who received the most help from these programs? New York Fed economists analyzed data from the August 2020 Survey of Consumer Expectations and found that higher-income households actually benefited in greater numbers from these programs than households with incomes of less than $60,000. 

Economists asked borrowers if they obtained any type of forbearance or payment relief on their mortgage during the pandemic. About 5.5% of households surveyed responded that they had. When broken down by income, about 5.8% of higher income respondents (earning over $60,000) reported receiving forbearance, compared to just 2% of households earning less than $60,000. 

This is a different trend than seen in rental, credit card, and auto loan assistance programs, in which lower-income Americans were more likely to take advantage of relief measures. 

Yet while more higher-income households took advantage of the mortgage forbearance programs, rental, credit card, and auto loan programs were more popular as a whole. About 9.8% of renters, 11% of credit card users, and 13.6% of auto loan borrowers received some type of payment relief, according to the survey data analyzed. 

Researchers, however, found that it was generally households that experienced job loss or decreased income who took advantage of these programs the most—in line with what most of these programs aimed to accomplish. 

Of course, it remains to be seen how Americans who are still in these relief programs will fare as these programs end. The eviction moratorium, for example, was allowed to expire on July 31, 2021, meaning an estimated 11 million renters are now at risk of losing their home. 

Meanwhile, many of the federal mortgage forbearance programs are set to end this fall for many homeowners. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a final rule in June that provided more protections for struggling homeowners but declined to outright ban foreclosures

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