California's Yuba County tops in U.S. for 'underwater' mortgages

The Sacramento BeeMarch 31, 2009 

There's nowhere tougher in America to be paying a mortgage than Yuba County, says a new lending industry study released Monday.

Nearly 78 percent of the county's mortgage debt is tied to houses that have lost value and are worth less than what's owed on them, said New Jersey-based SMR Research in its yearly "Giants of the Mortgage Industry" study.

"That was the worst on the hit parade," said SMR President Stuart Feldstein.

The report said 60.3 percent of the county's 10,558 mortgage borrowers owed more in February than their homes were worth. The phenomenon is commonly called being "underwater" or "upside down."

The statistics mean most struggling Yuba County borrowers can't refinance out of their troubles. The majority are ineligible, too, for President Barack Obama's plan to help underwater owners, which is limited to homes whose value is no more than 5 percent below what's owed.

"A lot of these people are better than 40 percent underwater," said Ruben Ramos, a county real estate broker.

Feldstein said Monday that most who are underwater nationally bought or refinanced from 2004 through 2007, when home prices were higher and lending standards lower.

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