A new study from TransUnion, a credit information company, found that consumers in 2011 were more likely to pay their auto loans before their credit cards and mortgages. This is a sign of an economy that has not yet recovered, according to financial experts.

Looking at a sample of approximately four million American consumers in each quarter of last year (with at least one car loan, one mortgage and one credit card bill), the auto loan was seldom the first choice when a consumer had to choose which payment to miss. Credit cards ranked second, with mortgage last.

"Many people place a very high value on having their car available," said Maury Randall, Chairman of the Finance Department at Rider University. He noted cars are the way people get to work, and are the middlemen for people to gather what they need to survive, like food.

With an improving car market, the value of a car has increased. Meanwhile, with a struggling housing market, many homes are worth less than what their owners owe.

"It takes much longer for a foreclosure to take place," Randall explained.

He added, "There's all sorts of plans that exist today where people can work out something with the bank."

In the past, consumers put their mortgages before anything else. The recession and its aftermath has, somewhat, turned bill-paying upside-down.

"This is a clear indication that the economy still has a way to go to get back where it was before the 2008-2009 recession began," Randall said.

He said this has become a real problem; instead of staying current on payments, people are choosing which bill to pay.