Against Mortgage Company Bailouts
It seemed like the party would never end – the American dream could become an American reality for those of us invested in the idea of an ownership society. Millions of us bought into it, heavy and hard, and because so many of us were willing to buy into it, businessmen saw a way to profit. Soliciting customers via mass-mailings and television ads mortgage companies made loans by the millions, booking first-time buyers and second-mortgages under sight-unseen conditions.
Loan officers encouraged borrowers to fudge their incomes so that an underwriting committee could more easily approve loans applied for. Some borrowers didn’t need to be coerced into lying about their professions, loose standards in income and employment verification allowed home-buyers to say anything short of being God and being able to make infinite payments. Mortgage companies and borrowers share an equal portion of blame when it comes to honesty of loan applicants. When loans were booked without the appropriate verification, people who once had little buying power now had the ability to own a home.
Further compounding the problem is the issue of adjustable-rate mortgages. These mortgages offer low initial payments, with borrowers being offered a low introductory interest rate that would adjust at some point in the future. Most of these borrowers were able to make payments for the initial period prior to rate adjustment, but wittingly or unwittingly would not be able to make the monthly payments after that point.
Not all of these loans were originally very risky – subprime, per the current standards – and lenders began to lose money when people who had signed these adjustable rate mortgages, signing at a low rate and getting booted into an usurious rate after a certain amount of time, were no longer able to make payments. Some customers entered into bankruptcy, some arranged agreements with their lenders to re-enter new loans at lower fixed rates, and others bailed on the properties entirely.
Normally mortgage companies would act on the liens against the properties and re-coup the money lost on the mortgages via repossession and resale of the property. However, this would not happen in markets impacted by significantly declining home values, and mortgage companies, their investors, and other agents of securitization would be forced to eat the loss. With defaults on payments in declining markets increasing, mortgage companies began to find themselves in deepening troubles.
Now segments of the market are asking for the government to interfere and help prop up the companies being adversely impacted by the current market. They are requesting billions of dollars in taxpayer-provided aid to alleviate the problems of their companies, these same problems that they themselves caused through unwise business practices and extraordinarily risky lending. The government, by offering bailouts of these companies, provides an incentive for poor business practices by large companies to continue. These bailouts have already cost taxpayers billions of dollars and will likely cost billions more before this mortgage crisis ends.
Congress should not offer to bail out any company, but rather Congress should take a further step and assume control of any mortgage company on the verge of collapse, secure it, conduct a mass audit, and determine whether or not one of three steps should be taken. Those three steps shall be: 1) to return the company to previous management, 2) to return the company to public control by selling off the assets and liabilities to other, more secure mortgage providers, or 3) to assume control of the company in full and service only the mortgages held on the books until all mortgages and liens are satisfied, provided that there are regularly scheduled audits done on the company while under government control.
Moreover, the government must put into place regulations prohibiting lenders from levying excessive interest on borrowers. In an ideal world, fixed-rate mortgages would be the rule and adjustable-rate mortgages would be rare exceptions to the rule instead of the common corollary to the rule.