Owning a home may be a hallmark of the American Dream, but is homeownership really an option in today's uncertain economy?
For many, the answer appears to be no, according to a poll out this week from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). While 82 percent of those surveyed agreed that owning a home is still a critical element of building wealth, about 20 percent of respondents don't believe taking on a mortgage is worth the risk.
"The housing crisis, recession and continued economic instability appear to have shaken the confidence of many Americans, particularly when it comes to big-ticket items such as a house," Gail Cunningham, an NFCC spokesperson, said in a news release.
The Foundation says its survey results are consistent with recent U.S. Census data showing that the current rate of homeownership in the first three months of the year, at 64.8 percent, is at its lowest level in nearly 19 years.
Cunningham notes that not taking on a mortgage may be a wise financial choice for some Americans, "as many borrowers have learned the hard way that homeownership does not come with a guarantee of continually increasing equity."
Certainly, the economic and psychological toll of the recession on housing still lingers. In testimony before Congress last month, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said slowing growth in the U.S. housing market continues to pose a potential threat to the nation's economic recovery.
Some analysts are staying cautiously optimistic when looking at the nation's housing market, however.
Research group Capital Economics predicts the U.S. housing market will recover later this decade. The firm acknowledges declining home sales and housing states have dragged down America's GDP recently, but it does not believe the risk mentioned by Yellen will materialize.
"More fundamentally, the 100 basis point rise in 30-year mortgage interest rates since mid-2013 has hit housing market activity," it said in a recent note to clients. "Despite the latest decline, mortgage rates will rise by a similar amount over the next couple of years. But the hit to activity is a temporary adjustment rather than a permanent constraint. After all, rates are low in an historical context and affordability is favorable."
Meanwhile, the FNCC suggests renting might remain a more attractive housing option for financially struggling Americans - as it allows people time to save money for a home downpayment. And, of course, there are less funds needed upfront for a 12-month lease, compared to a 30-year mortgage.