Lower-income households suffer twice as many mortgage delinquencies as richer households

Mortgage delinquency remains contained, despite the brutal rise in the Euribor caused by the European Central Bank (ECB) raising official interest rates to combat high inflation. Home-purchase loans, the Bank of Spain reminds, are the last thing people stop paying: they dip into savings and benefits and do not stop paying the instalments for two years on average after they have suffered a significant drop in income, usually due to job loss. This explains why NPLs are at low levels in historical comparison, far from the peak of 6.28% in March 2014, despite rising slightly from 2.33% of the mortgage balance in March to 2.44% in June. But this reality hides notable differences: lower-income households have twice as high a default rate as wealthier families.

According to data from the Bank of Spain, the 20% of households with the lowest gross income (less than 26,695.09 euros per year) recorded a fall in their mortgage delinquency from 3.69% in December 2021 (when the ECB began to tighten monetary policy) to 3.27% last June. But despite the decline, they have a default rate that is double that of the 20% of households with the highest income (more than 40,775.85 euros per year), in which it fell from 1.99% to 1.63%. The data thus confirm the intuitive fact that the lower the income, the more payment difficulties: 3.12% of households with an annual income of between 26,695.09 and 30,735.5 euros, 2.86% of households with an annual income of between 30,735.5 and 34,728.27 euros, and 2.44% of households with an annual income of between 34,728.27 and 40,775.85 euros are in arrears.

All groups of families have seen their average monthly mortgage repayments rise by between 19% and 21% from the end of 2021 to last June, from 453 to 542 euros in the case of the lowest incomes and from 716 to 869 euros in the case of the highest incomes. However, the impact of these increases on family finances has been uneven depending on their economic level. Mortgage repayments have gone from absorbing 23.22% of the gross income of the lowest-income households in December 2021 to 26.23% last June, while in the wealthiest families the rise has been from 17.14% to 19.66%. In other words, it is confirmed that the richer the household, the more margin it has to meet the rest of its expenses once the mortgage has been paid.


The data also show that the weight of mortgage payments in the income of all groups of households is below the threshold considered “prudent” (less than 30%). The Bank of Spain has not detected “alarm signals” in this variable across the board. However, as this is an average, it implies that there are families with mortgages above this level. And bearing in mind that households with lower incomes are those with a rate closer to the barrier (26.23% compared to 30%), it is foreseeable that in this group there is a greater number of families in a more vulnerable financial situation and with a higher risk of defaulting. 

Another indicator in the same direction: the 40% of lower-income households only account for around 11% of the total balance of mortgage loans, due to their lower access to loans because of their lower level of savings to pay the down payment (banks normally require the buyer to contribute 20% of the value of the property), as well as the lower price of the properties they can afford to buy. However, their weight in the nearly 11,000 million euros of doubtful mortgages (defaults of more than 90 days or other subjective characteristics that make non-payment likely) is 16%, higher than what would correspond to them according to their weight in total credit.

This greater financial weakness makes low-income households more vulnerable to the “expected deterioration in credit quality” (i.e. an increase in non-performing loans) that the Bank of Spain foresees. In its recent financial stability report, it noted that the “favourable evolution of the labour market and economic activity, together with moderating inflation, has translated into a notable recovery in household incomes in the first half of the year”. This is what explains why mortgage delinquency has continued to fall. However, it also warned that, although the average mortgage balance rate has already risen from 1.1% at the end of 2021 to 3.5% in September, “a greater pass-through of the increase in (benchmark) interest rates to the cost of households’ outstanding debt is to be expected, which would contribute to an increase in the proportion of indebted households with a high financial burden”.

The institution estimated that just under a third of variable-rate mortgages still have to face a revision of more than one percentage point (plus the differential fixed in the contracts) between June 2023 and June 2024. And it warned that a rise of five percentage points in the Euribor (somewhat higher than that recorded since December 2021), fully passed on to credit, could increase the number of indebted households in a vulnerable situation (interest payments exceeding 40% of income) to represent 14.6% of the total (1.63 million families).

Original Story: Activos |Pablo Allendesalazar 
Photo: Photo by Blues57 in FreeImages
Translation: Prime Yield