An interesting paper* by the Harvard Economics Department looked at the Danish mortgage market and the fact that people tend to ignore the chance to save money when they can refinance their mortgage at any time without incurring a penalty. They identify those that are attentive to mortgage market changes and refinance their mortgage as ‘levelheads’. On the contrary those that are inattentive and experience inertia are seen as ‘woodheads’
The researchers found that many household characteristics move inertia and inattention in the same direction, so these attributes are positively correlated across households. Younger, better educated, and higher-income households have less inertia and less inattention. Almost three times as many homeowners refinanced in 2010, after rates had fallen sharply, than in 2011 when interest rates briefly spiked higher again. But woodheads were prevalent in 2010 as only 44% of those with a mortgage rate of more than 6% refinanced their loans even though rates of nearly 4% were available. On average woodsheds paid an extra 1.5% of interest as a result of their lethargic attitude.
The figure below illustrates the history of refinancing activity in our sample of Danish fixed-rate mortgages. In each plot, the bars (left vertical axis) represent the number of refinancing households, while the solid line (right vertical axis) shows the history of the mortgage interest rate. The top panel shades each of the bars according to the coupon rate on the old mortgage from which households refinance. The bottom panel shades each of the bars according to the coupon rate on the new mortgage into which households refinance.
*“Inattention and Inertia in Household Finance: Evidence from the Danish Mortgage Market” by Andersen S, Campbell JY, Meisner-Nielsen K, Ramadorai T. 2015