Long Islanders with home loans are twice as likely as their counterparts nationwide to fall behind on their payments, new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show.
Across Long Island, 5.9 percent of homeowners with mortgages were at least 90 days delinquent during the last three months of 2014, compared with 2.9 percent nationwide, the New York Fed reported.
What's more, Long Islanders carry a heavier debt load. The average mortgage balance on Long Island was $263,900. That's almost $45,000 more than New Yorkers as a whole, and roughly $78,000 more than all Americans. The study found that 29.4 percent of Island residents had mortgages, compared with 21.9 percent of New Yorkers and 26.3 percent of Americans.
The report underscores Long Islanders' perennial complaints about their housing bills. It's pricey to live on the Island, and wages aren't keeping pace, said Irwin Kellner, Port Washington-based chief economist for MarketWatch.com.
"The fundamental problem is that the cost of living here is much more expensive than in the rest of the state and the rest of the country, and yet the jobs that are being created out here are not the high-paying jobs that enable people to afford this higher cost of living," Kellner said. "Long Islanders, probably more so than others, are using debt to make up for their lack of buying power."
Wages can't keep up
The blame falls largely on Long Islanders' property-tax burdens, as well as higher prices for consumer goods such as groceries, Kellner said.
The median property tax bill in Nassau County in 2010 was $9,289, and in Suffolk County it was $7,768, according to the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. By contrast, the median tax bill across New York was $4,090, and in the United States it was $2,043.
Long Islanders did not earn outsize wages to match their hefty housing payments.
In Nassau County, the average weekly wage was $1,022, and in Suffolk County it was $1,031, during the third quarter of 2014, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March. That's higher than the national average $949, and lower than state residents' average $1,145.
Long Island's economy added 15,200 jobs in February, compared to the same period in 2014, the state Labor Department reported last month. However, the highest-paying sector, financial activities, shed jobs, while the lower-paying retail and health care sectors added workers.
Back in 2004, only about 1 percent of Long Islanders were behind on their mortgages, lower than the national rate, according to the Fed report. In 2009, the year the Great Recession ended, the local delinquency rate began to exceed the rate throughout the country.
"Coming out of the recession, there was no doubt that Long Island was experiencing a sizable amount of housing stress," said Claire Kramer-Mills, assistant vice president at the New York Fed. Delinquency rates on Long Island have dropped from a recent peak of about 8 percent in 2012.
In addition to their primary mortgages, 8.3 percent of Long Islanders took out home equity loans, compared with 5.8 percent of New York residents and 5.1 percent of those nationwide. The average home equity balance on Long Island was $98,000 -- about $22,000 more than in New York and $36,500 more than across the United States.
Long Islanders were also somewhat more likely to borrow for college and credit card purchases. Those loan balances were far smaller than housing debts: an average $32,600 in student loans and $6,800 in credit card debt, slightly more than the state and national averages.
Long Islanders took out an average $16,000 in auto loans, compared with $15,200 for New Yorkers and $17,200 for all Americans. Local residents were more likely than their state and national counterparts to be current on non-housing debts.
The New York Fed compiled the report using a representative sample of detailed Equifax credit reports. The figures reflect residents with a credit report and a Social Security number.