The Mortgage Rescue Plan: Will It Work?
Government to subsidize interest payments, reward bad behavior.
The Obama administration's scheme to help troubled borrowers centers on subsidizing interest payments, which would help borrowers make ends meet without angering those investors expecting full payments each month. This marks the first time the government is intervening directly with taxpayer funds to ease the burden of monthly mortgage payments.
Bloomberg reports the plan will be voluntary for lenders like Wells Fargo (WFC), Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), and will employ many of the tactics previous modification efforts have used (ineffectively), such as loan extensions and principal reductions. Modifications identified as having a net present value will be targeted, where foreclosing would be more expensive than changing the loan terms.
The program aims to establish a standard for loan modifications that can be used industry-wide. That's an absurd claim, which demonstrates the extent to which lawmakers misunderstand the scope of the problem. It's a bit like saying every American must cut their hair the same way: It would be laughable it weren't so sad.
Each mortgage, each borrower, each lender, each home is unique; each situation is different. Individual banks can barely standardize the documents required to close a loan, so the notion that there can be one standard for approving a loan modification -- an intensely complicated procedure involving countless interested parties -- is ridiculous.
It would be one thing if the plan offered even the remotest possibility of stabilizing the housing market. It doesn't. The few borrowers who may be helped will have little effect on a massive, disjointed housing market that remains determined to run its course despite government efforts to stop the bleeding.
The societal implications of this program are downright frightening.
Washington cutting checks to borrowers who can't make their mortgage payments sounds like a benevolent act attempt to reach down to struggling families -- and in some cases, it may certainly help. But it also fosters dependency on the federal government and incentivizes bad behavior.
It now appears we've reached a point in this crisis where differentiating between those worthy of help and those left to pick up the tab is determined primarily by how poorly one managed their personal finances. The worse the decision, the greater the federal assistance - and it's true for government bailouts of bad choices on the part of individuals and institutions alike.
The message this sends to the rest of us - those who are still living up to their obligations and trying in good faith to eke out a living during tough times: Throw in the towel.
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