Homeowners who can pay aren’t walking away

House floating on blue water

The banking industry has tried to lay the blame for the mortgage crisis on homeowners who abandon their homes just because they're upside down on their loans, not because they can't afford the payments.

It's certainly true that millions of Americans are upside down -- meaning they owe more on their home than it's worth. With home prices falling in most cities 8.8 million of us, or 10.3% of all homeowners, actually owe more than our homes are worth.

But there's no evidence that many borrowers who can afford to make their payments are just mailing in their keys -- a practice that's now called "jingle mail" -- and taking off because they think their homes have become bad investments.

Government-chartered mortgage company Freddie Mac says that only 0.14% of the defaulted loans in its portfolio involved properties borrowers abandoned, according to the New York Times.

John Mechem, a spokesman for the Mortgage Bankers Association, told the Los Angeles Times that he believed walkaways by homeowners who could afford their payments were "becoming more prevalent."

But he conceded that was based on "anecdotes we're hearing from our members and what we're reading in the newspapers."

Neither the Mortgage Bankers, nor any of the major banks the Los Angeles Times contacted, could back that up with any data that show "ruthless defaults" (which is what economists call them) are playing a significant role in the record wave of foreclosures.

So, what do we have here?

Could it be a cynical attempt by the banking industry to divert attention from itself and blame homeowners for the mortgage crisis?

We have certainly heard from borrowers who want to walk away from their homes.

But it's because they're saddled with adjustable-rate mortgages and skyrocketing payments they can't possibly afford. Their lenders won't do anything to lower those payments, so foreclosure is just a matter of time.

For them, it's a matter of moving out before they're evicted.