NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- When faced with a financial crisis, consumers more often are opting to pay their credit-card bills first before turning to their mortgage payments, according to a report released by Trans Union Wednesday.
In the past, strapped consumers typically would let their credit cards slide and make sure their mortgages were covered, said Sean Reardon, the study's author and a consultant at the Chicago-based credit bureau. But those priorities flipped in the first quarter of 2008, according to the study, and the trend has been picking up steam.
In fact, 6.6% of consumers were delinquent on their mortgages, but current on their credit cards in the third quarter of 2009, according to the most recent data available. Meanwhile, just 3.6% were behind on their credit cards and current on their mortgages.
Why the change? A "perfect storm" of deteriorating housing prices and rising unemployment is likely the reason, Reardon said. It's much easier for consumers to walk away from mortgage payments when their homes aren't building equity, he said, than to neglect their credit cards when that may be the only way they're covering daily expenses.
Just two years earlier, in the third quarter of 2007, the situation was reversed: 3.95% of consumers were delinquent on their mortgages, and current on their credit cards, while 4.6% were behind on their credit cards and current on their mortgages.
In California and Florida -- two of the states hit hardest by the burst housing bubble -- consumers were even more likely to pay their credit cards before their mortgages.
In California, 10.2% were delinquent on their mortgages but current on their credit cards in the third quarter of 2009, vs. 2.7% in the reverse situation. In Florida, 12.4% were behind on their mortgages and current on their credit cards, compared to 3.9% in the opposite situation.
Trans Union conducted the study among consumers that had at least one credit card and one mortgage, and examined 30-day credit card and mortgage delinquency data between the second quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2009.
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