This reverses a trend that began in September 2008 when the mortgage crisis drove consumers to pay their credit cards bills ahead of mortgages. Consumers have placed an emphasis on paying their auto loans before their mortgages and credit card payments by a wide margin - since at least 2003, TransUnion said. The study obtained anonymous consumer information from December 2002 through December 2012, and each monthly sample included about 2.5 million consumers.
"One of the biggest impacts of the Great Recession to the credit system was its influence on consumer payment patterns," said Ezra Becker, co-author of the study and vice president of research and consulting for TransUnion, a Chicago-based credit and information management company. "As unemployment rose and home prices cratered, increasingly more consumers were faced with financial constraints and had to make difficult choices and many chose to value their credit card relationships above their mortgages. This was a measurable result of the economic environment, wherein many consumers were underwater on their mortgages and at the same time needed the liquidity afforded by credit cards to make ends meet."