Here are some resources:
From the website www.YouWalkAway.com
: Strategic default, also known as voluntary foreclosure is when the borrower decides to stop paying a mortgage even though they can still afford the payment. For many people who are upside down on their mortgage, the decision to strategically default is one that is difficult, but often times is the first step to financial freedom.
Wikipedia has an interesting discussion of the ethical issues at play http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_default
. One notation from an ethicist states that the economy is essentially amoral.
. A really well-considered discussion with good ideas about how the banking industry could take some responsibility for helping to fix the problem: “Zingales and Posner propose that lenders be required to give underwater homeowners the option of resetting their mortgages to the current value of their houses in exchange for giving the lender 50 percent of the house’s future appreciation. Enough with guilt-tripping underwater homeowners into holding on to their homes. Instead, let’s focus on equitable and practical solutions to the negative-equity crisis. The Zingales/Posner proposal would be a great start.”
My thoughts: The question “can they afford to make their payment?” is key. For example, it would obviously be a strategic default if you bought a house with 20% down, a good 30 year fixed loan at say, 5.5% interest, and you still have the same job, your family is fine, you have $20,000 in savings and nothing has changed except your $500,000 house is now worth maybe $400,000. You may not like that fact that your house is now worth less, but you can clearly continue to pay for it.
But say the same situation has one change: you were laid off from your job and the best new job you could find pays 60% what your last one did. You are spending some of your savings—not a lot, every month just to pay the bills. You could change your spending habits and squeak by. Do you bail?
Or try this: Same issue with your job, but you could take on an extra job and be fine, or save yourself the time and trouble and walk away.
Think about these scenarios within this same situation:
There are 5 other families on your street that are experiencing similar issues
There are 3 foreclosures on your block that are boarded up and overgrown with weeds
At what point do you draw the line?