Discussion Paper

Racial Differences in Mortgage Refinancing, Distress, and Housing Wealth Accumulation during COVID-19


Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated racial disparities in U.S. mortgage markets. Black, Hispanic, and Asian borrowers were significantly more likely than white borrowers to miss payments due to financial distress, and significantly less likely to refinance to take advantage of the large decline in interest rates spurred by the Federal Reserve’s large-scale mortgage-backed security (MBS) purchase program. The wide-scale forbearance program, introduced by the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provided approximately equal payment relief to all distressed borrowers, as forbearance rates conditional on nonpayment status were roughly equal across racial/ethnic groups. However, Black and Hispanic borrowers were significantly less likely to exit forbearance and resume making payments relative to their Asian and white counterparts. Persistent differences in the ability to catch up on missed payments could worsen the already large disparity in home ownership rates across racial and ethnic groups. While the pandemic caused widespread distress in mortgage markets, strong house price appreciation in recent years, particularly in 2020, means that foreclosure risk is lower for past-due borrowers now as compared with the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession. Furthermore, borrowers who have missed payments have significantly higher credit scores now than those who were distressed in the 2007–2010 period, largely due to the widespread availability of forbearance for federally backed mortgages.

Keywords: mortgage refinancing; mortgage repayment; home equity; racial inequality.;

JEL Classification: G21; G51; E52; J15;

https://doi.org/10.21799/frbp.dp.2021.02

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Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Part of Series: Consumer Finance Institute discussion papers

Publication Date: 2021-06-22

Number: 21-02