Go ahead. Break the chains. Stop paying on your mortgage if you owe more than the house is worth. And most important: Don't feel guilty about it. Don't think you're doing something morally wrong.Scenario #1: You walk into a bank and take a bunch of money that doesn't belong to you. This is called theft.
That's the incendiary core message of a new academic paper by Brent T. White, a University of Arizona law school professor, titled "Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis."
White argues that far more of the estimated 15 million American homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages should stiff their lenders and take a hike. ...
Better yet, you can default "strategically." Buy all the major items you'll need for the next couple of years — a new car, even a new house — just before you pull the plug on your current mortgage lender.
Scenario #2: You take out a loan, promising to pay it back. Then, after you have the money, you decide not to pay it back. How is this not also theft?
I can completely understand not paying back a loan if you lose your job and are unable to pay back the loan. I can also understand if you get sick and end up with huge medical bills that make it impossible to pay back a loan. I can even understand not paying back a loan if the bank deceived you regarding what your payments would be.
However, if you decide not to pay back the loan simply because you overpaid for your house, then I consider that the moral equivalent of theft.
Keep in mind that being underwater doesn't mean you can't afford the monthly payments. It just means that the value of your house has fallen by more than the amount of your down payment (and any subsequent principal payments). A person who stiffs their lender because their investment didn't turn out as expected is scum. Just because you can steal from a bank doesn't mean you should steal from a bank.
Update: This is not just a moral issue. It's a practical one, too. Mortgage interest rates contain a risk premium. A society in which homeowners eagerly stiff the bank is a society in which it is riskier to lend. A society in which homeowners feel a moral obligation to repay their debts is a society in which it is less risky to lend. More risk means a higher risk premium, and thus higher interest rates. Less risk means a lower risk premium, and thus lower mortgage interest rates. Society as a whole benefits when everyone feels a moral obligation to fulfill their end of agreements.