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Rising Debt Ratios may Level

Census Bureaus releases survey

November 9, 2006


photo of Paula Parisot
Paula Parisot

California led the nation with the highest debt-to-income ratios last year, according to a recent government report. But economists predict that leveling house prices, moderating interest rates and increasing incomes will push debt ratios lower.

Nearly 35 percent of America's 50.5 million homeowners are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, according to the 2005 Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Mortgage Bankers Association senior economist, Mike Fratantoni told MortgageDaily.com the survey data was interesting but not surprising, and credited the mortgage industry for innovatively creating new loan products to keep up with an inflated housing market.

"New buyers and prospective buyers are seeing prices increase faster than income, this means higher front-end ratios," Fratantoni said. "The industry has been responsive to this trend with nontraditional products; interest only, deferred amortization, payment option, greater variety."

Fratantoni noted that most of the coastal markets have been hit with higher housing costs due to zoning, tighter restrictions and other builder concerns.

California topped the list for housing debt-to-income with almost half of its homeowners spending at least 30 percent of their income on housing, ranking number two for the monthly amount -- $1912, according to the survey data.

On the East Coast, New Jersey homeowners are spending the most on housing costs -- an average of $1938 per month. They placed third on the list for debt ratios with almost 41 percent paying almost a third or more of their income on housing costs.

All fifty states saw an increase from the year prior except for New Mexico and Alaska; whose numbers dropped 0.6 percent and 0.3 percent respectively. Washington, D.C., also saw a decrease of 0.2 percent, the survey data revealed.

Economic experts are hopeful for the U.S. economy and the housing market.

Knight Kiplinger recently forecast a "Goldilocks" economy for the U.S., saying that it would be not too hot, not too cold -- with "moderate interest rates that won't choke off housing sales" or "tank the economy."

And Fratantoni told MortgageDaily.com that unemployment rates have dropped to 4.4 percent. Barring a national recession, he gave a positive forecast for America's fiscal future that includes a solid economy and "good job market."

"We anticipate economic growth of about three percent a year," he said. "Affordability should be improving because home prices will level, incomes will grow faster."

Paula Parisot is a MortgageDaily.com feature reporter and a blogger at CloserBlog.com who has also worked in the mortgage industry.

e-mail Paula at: [email protected]

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