A growing number of American homeowners are falling into financial limbo: They're badly behind on payments, but their banks have not yet foreclosed.
The backlog of seriously delinquent mortgages, which so far affects about 1 million borrowers, is a shadow over hopes for a rebound in the nation's housing markets. It masks the full extent of the foreclosure crisis and threatens to depress prices even further just as some parts of the country are hinting at recovery. For lenders, it could portend even more financial losses tied to the mortgage meltdown.
"It just means foreclosure rates are going to keep rising," said Patrick Newport, an economist for IHS Global Insight.
Rising mortgage delinquencies were at the root of the recession, and many economists say an economic recovery will be difficult until the housing market recovers and home prices stabilize.
And even though a delayed foreclosure can be a blessing for some troubled homeowners, for others, it simply prolongs the financial distress, leaving them on the hook for the condition of the property. Even if they move out, they cannot move on.