After reading about President Obama’s plan to cure the foreclosure epidemic, I wish I could say, “It’s about time!” For far too long, the federal government here in the United States has been focused on bailing out Wall Street rather than Main Street. I was hoping President Obama would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, his plan looks like more of the same.
Obama is setting aside $75 billion… of whose money? According to a treasury official, $50 billion will come from the remaining $350 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, and $25 billion will come from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is taxpayers’ money – Main Street money.
And where is that money ultimately ending up? To “subsidize” lenders and investors – that’s Wall Street – for doing what they need to be doing anyway – modifying loans.
The fact is that loan modification is a good business decision for lenders and investors. According to various estimates, lenders stand to lose an average of about $50,000 to $80,000 per foreclosure. A loan modification does not wipe out a lender’s profit. To the contrary, it helps lenders avoid taking a huge loss on foreclosure while at the same time allowing them to keep a performing asset on their books. As a result of a loan modification, the lender keeps collecting interest. The loan remains profitable, albeit less profitable than it would have been had the homeowner been able to afford the originally agreed-upon payments, but still profitable. So why are taxpayers going to subsidize lenders?
Last Sunday (February 15, 2009) 60 Minutes ran a segment entitled “World of Trouble,” in which investigative reporter Scott Pelley interviewed Paul Bishop, a former loan originator for World Savings Bank which, at the time, was the second largest savings and loan. Bishop reported witnessing rampant fraud throughout the organization in the origination and approval of mortgage loan. And as I have been reporting over the past two years, what was going on at World Savings Bank was the rule rather than the exception in the mortgage lending industry. Everyone knew what was going on. The few people who tried to stop it were silenced and either demoted or fired.
Mortgage lenders were well aware that they were approving mortgage loans that never should have been approved in the first place. Loan originators and banks were raking in profits leading up to the mortgage meltdown, and they weren’t exactly spreading the wealth to American taxpayers. Now that the time has come for them to pay the price for irresponsible lending practices, they are calling on the American taxpayer to subsidize their losses? This is absurd.
Don’t get me wrong. I applaud President Obama for focusing efforts on bringing relief to Main Street, but the government shouldn’t be using Main Street money to do it. I think a more prudent move would be in the form of an executive order demanding that banks modify loans to a level of affordability and end foreclosures until they have cleaned up the mess that they themselves have contributed so much to creating.
Ralph R. Roberts, GRI, CRS