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Keywords:

  • Mortgage default;
  • prepayment;
  • dependent competing risks;
  • mortgage pricing.

As applied to the behavior of homeowners with mortgages, option theory predicts that mortgage prepayment or default will be exercised if the call or put option is ‘in the money’ by some specific amount. Our analysis: tests the extent to which the option approach can explain default and prepayment behavior; evaluates the practical importance of modeling both options simultaneously; and models the unobserved heterogeneity of borrowers in the home mortgage market. The paper presents a unified model of the competing risks of mortgage termination by prepayment and default, considering the two hazards as dependent competing risks that are estimated jointly. It also accounts for the unobserved heterogeneity among borrowers, and estimates the unobserved heterogeneity simultaneously with the parameters and baseline hazards associated with prepayment and default functions. Our results show that the option model, in its most straightforward version, does a good job of explaining default and prepayment, but it is not enough by itself. The simultaneity of the options is very important empirically in explaining behavior. The results also show that there exists significant heterogeneity among mortgage borrowers. Ignoring this heterogeneity results in serious errors in estimating the prepayment behavior of homeowners.