Small Time Crooks Vs. The True Masterminds Of The Economic Collapse

Recently two mortgage brokers and a real estate appraiser in Minneapolis were indicted on fraud charges for allegedly inducing lenders to make more than 1 million dollars in mortgage loans on properties based on false information regarding the properties’ values.

Over and over, we see stories like this play out across the United States, and yet the true criminals, the Wall Street financiers, the orchestrators of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, have  gotten away virtually scot-free with their ill gotten gains while the country continues to drown in foreclosures.

Now, I am not saying that the small timers aren’t guilty of fraud nor that they should not be gone after: of course they should. By the same token, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Jamie Diamond of Chase certainly have dirty hands, and the scope of the fraud these men were involved in numbers in the billions of dollars, if not trillions, at this point.

Every day, I read stories about how the U.S. housing market continues to decline. Every day, I hear about more people losing their homes to foreclosure. Every day, I hear about the millions of unemployed who simply can’t find work because there is none to be had.

Contrast the plight of ordinary Americans with fortunes of the prime Wall Street movers, whose bank accounts are overflowing with cash, mostly owing to their ill-gotten gains made during this time of crisis. How can it be right that the very people who brought down our economy can profit nicely and get away with it?

Sure, some of the small timers, like the guys out in Minneapolis, are getting their just desserts for the crimes they committed, but the true atrocities remain unanswered.

Foreclosures Are Dragging Down The Economy

Typically, construction jobs and more specifically, new home construction jobs spur economic growth and herald the end of recessions past. This is not happening today, and for very good reason. A recent Huffington Post article cited that thirty percent of home sales were of foreclosed properties. To put it another way, close to a third of all home sales taking place today involve foreclosures. That’s huge, and until foreclosures stop driving the housing market and until the huge inventory of available homes is reduced, home values will continue to decline and developers will not be inclined to build new housing developments.

The foreclosure crisis is a national emergency and clearly, none of the government programs designed to help families in foreclosure are helping enough people to make a difference. The problem is that all of the programs currently available remain voluntary on the part of the banks and are designed to ensure that the banks continue to profit, even if the underlying loan is so poorly underwritten and so poorly constructed as to be ultimately designed to fail.

Priority number one has got to be to stabilize the housing market, and that means stopping foreclosures. I don’t just mean delaying them, because all that does is kick the can down the road, I mean actually doing something that will stop them and keep families in their homes. To do that, the banks are going to have to lump it and a mass loan modification program needs to be implemented.

This will definitely mean that some banks are going to go under. Some banks are so seriously over-leveraged that it is only through governmental efforts to aid them in concealing the true state of their balance sheets that they remain open and profitable. Yes, profitable. The worst banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase) remain open and profitable while drowning in a sea of foreclosures. How is that? Because current efforts to staunch the foreclosure crisis have resulted in massive delays that have allowed the banks to essentially ignore “mark to market” rules and over-report their assets and diminish their liabilities. Let’s face it, a thousand homes for which the value has dropped by hundreds of thousands of dollars are not assets. No, they are  huge liabilities, and the banks get to hide this fact. Banks like this deserve to go under.

Now, we’ve heard the arguments against mass modifications: it will create a moral hazard; it will keep people in homes they shouldn’t have been able to buy anyway, it will reward deadbeats, etc. The time for recriminations and blame has passed. The foreclosure crisis is crippling the economy and is in large part the reason why unemployment remains so high and why growth is stagnating.  So what, if a few people get to keep homes that they shouldn’t have been able to buy. Let’s weigh that against the certainty that the United States is falling into a depression the likes of which has not been seen since the 1930’s.

Elizabeth Warren Stops Obama From Signing Foreclosure Friendly Bill

 

You might be wondering why would our government would try to loosen the documentation standards to make it easier for banks to foreclose on homeowners in the the midst of the worst foreclosure crisis in the history of the United States. Yeah, I am wondering about that, too.

See, both houses of congress passed a bill that would have made it easier for banks to foreclose across state lines by easing notarization standards. President Obama was going to sign the bill, too. Another win for the banks who are awash in profits while millions of homeowners flounder under the weight of the sagging economy and the bad loans that Wall Street pushed on them.

Elizabeth Warren who has been given broad authority in shaping the new watchdog agency within the Fed dedicated to making sure that all financial products are safe for the American consumer, and who reports directly to President Obama, persuaded him to veto the bill, and so he did.

Wall Street and the financial industry do not like Ms. Warren. She pulls no punches and tells it like it is. She also understands the plight of the middle class and how hard it is for American families to make it these days and she is the champion of average every day Americans long missing from Obama’s Administration.

Lessons Learned: The Frugal Future

Prior to the recession, I thought my husband and I were managing our finances pretty well.  Sure, we had some credit card debt, but we’d already paid off a couple of cards and were starting to make inroads on the balances of those that remained.

Then the recession hit and my husband’s job disappeared with the demand for new homes as the foreclosure wave drowned the housing market. My business, which up to that point, had been doing well, was suddenly floundering and we were left with facing the harsh realities of having too little income to make ends meet.

What had been manageable on our prior income was no longer manageable and the delinquencies began as we started to prioritize our expenses. Obviously food, shelter, and the utilities were priority number one. Everything else, including those credit cards that we had been diligently paying down, would have to wait.

Today, after two years of financial devastation, the money picture looks better. My husband is working and my business is picking up. We had to move to Canada to make it happen, but we are much better off financially now than we were six months ago.

The funny thing is I don’t want to spend money, now that I have it to spend. I still cringe even when we’re buying groceries and I see the numbers on the cash register terminal inching toward that $100 mark. My husband wants to buy me warm winter clothing because of the much colder winters here. I  know I probably do need the warmer clothes, having come from California, but I can’t help feeling guilty about buying a sweater. I would rather keep that money in the bank.

While I hope I don’t spend the rest of my life afraid to spend money where it needs to spent, I am glad that I have learned a new respect for the value of a dollar and that I will always think twice before spending. I think that this new found frugality will help us to never, ever again have to relive the devastation that were the last two years of our lives.

What about you? What lessons had this recession taught you and how were you changed by it?

Thank You, Captain Obvious!

Ok, so I haven’t been updating here much lately, but I am back, and I came across this post at Crooks and Liars today about the testimony at yet ANOTHER foreclosure crisis hearing in the House. Yet another financial expert is telling our Congressmen that the Treasury is all about protecting the banks and not the American people.

Umm..let’s see. The foreclosure crisis started in late 2007 and rapidly picked up steam when it finally took a tumble off a cliff in the fall of 2008. There have been  plenty of congressional and senatorial hearings during this time, with our representatives and senators wringing their hands about what can be done to fix the mess. Since then, millions of families have been foreclosed on, most of them, I might add, wrongfully, given the fact that we now know the extent of the mortgage fraud on the parts of servicers, Wall Street, and the brokers that sold these crappy, crappy loans to the American people.

Since then, what do we have to show for it? Bush tried Hope For Homeowners, and that didn’t work because no one who was in trouble could qualify. Then Obama comes along and he tries HAMP. Although HAMP has done better than Hope for Homeowners, it must still be classified as a complete failure because it is at best a band aid over the gaping wound that is the U.S. housing market. Millions of families have lost their homes since the advent of the crisis and millions more will lose their homes before its over.

So, why has nothing changed? Why can’t the government keep our great nation from bleeding out? As Adam Levitin put it “The federal regulators don’t want to get info from the servicers, because then they’d have to do something about it.” and “The prime directive coming out of the Treasury is ‘protect the banks and don’t force them to recognize their losses.”

As I have said many times, the only way to fix the foreclosure mess, which by the way, is one of the major impediments to a full and thriving economic recovery, is to tell the banks they’ve got to take their lumps, and modify every single distressed loan in the nation. Sure, this will cause  some banks will fail, but other, more stable banks will rise up to take their place. That’s capitalism. The bankers were the ones to take enormous risks with our money and the financial stability of the entire nation and they should be made to pay for their folly. The American people have already paid in blood, sweat and tears for what was largely not their fault.

Frugal Living: Survival Mode

Most personal finance blogs are filled with wonderful advice, provided that you’ve got a stable source of income that is adequate to support yourself and your family and enable you to save money at the same time.  While this advice is great for those in stable financial shape, it doesn’t work quite so well for those who are struggling to survive day by day. To that end, I would like to write a post aimed at those of you who are barely getting by.

Let me start off by saying that the advice herein comes from the school of hard knocks. I was there as recently as a few months ago and I can readily empathize with how you feel and your day to day struggles. I know what it is like to spend a day on the phone making payment arrangements with the utility companies for this month’s payment because I had just made last month’s payment a few days ago. I know what it is like to receive call after call from collection agencies hounding me for money I just don’t have. I know what it is like to be at the brink of foreclosure and that sick, sinking feeling you get when you know you’ve given all you can and there is nothing left inside you to give. And yet, you must go on. You must spend your hours figuring out how best to parcel out what little bit of money you have to keep a roof over your family and keep the lights on.

The first step is to figure out how much income you currently have coming in. Once you have that, then you can prioritize your expenses and debts.

Obviously, the most important expense is your rent or mortgage. If you can keep paying it, even if it takes a huge chunk out of your available money, then that is payment number 1. If you can’t make your rent, be sure to let your landlord know. How understanding your landlord is depends on him or her. If you’re only renting, you can also always find cheaper accommodations. If you have a mortgage that you can no longer afford, then that is a stickier issue. If you intend on keeping the house, then contact your lender right away and ask for a loan modification. The earlier you get started on this, the better, because, let me tell you, it can take a year or more to get into a successful loan modification!

Next are the utilities. Most utility companies are very good at working with you on payment arrangements. Just explain that you are having financial difficulties and they will be willing to work with you. Sometimes you get a representative on the line who won’t cooperate. If this happens to you, ask for a supervisor and more often than not, that does the trick. As a shout out, the Verizon folks were always pretty good with me, barring a few individuals, as was Southern California Edison.

Following that is food. There are some tricks here to help you get by with less, and many of you probably already know them, but I am going to share them here anyway:

1: Check the mail for your weekly circulars. These will have the sales that are happening that week. The basic idea here is to look for items that you use that may be on sale. Many times you can get decent cuts of meat like london broil (top round in Canada) for as little as $1.77 a pound. Similar sales will be on for ground beef and chicken. You can shave off a good $20-50 off your weekly grocery bill by hitting up all the grocery stores with the best sale prices.

2: Chicken is your friend because it  is pretty cheap. It is also healthy, and eating healthy will be quite challenging on a limited budget. You will probably find yourself eating a lot of it. To help with the boredom of eating the same foods week in and week out, search for recipes on line or try different marinades. (These will often be on sale for cheap as well.)

Next, this is a no brainer, but cut out any unnecessary expenses such as cable or satellite tv. You don’t have to cut it out all together, but you can drop down to the basic package to cut costs.

Finally, consider moving away from your current location. Even in the States, there are regions that have not been as hard hit as some other areas have. The northern central region of the country is doing ok, and so are some southern states. Both coasts have been buried by the economy as well as the sunbelt region. You may have better luck finding work in areas where the ratio of workers looking for work and available jobs is a better percentage.

Cross My Heart, Smack Me Dead, Stick A Lobster On My Head!

Just because I am feeling silly today:

 

 

The funny bit is about 3:35 into the video. Back to our regularly scheduled programming now. 🙂

If You’re Poor, Forget College

Ok, I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I was browsing through my Google Reader today and in comes this post from Frugal Dad.  It’s a post about student loan debt, which I can agree with the author is too high. However, the guy actually says this nonsense:

Do you need to go to college? A college degree not only doesn’t guarantee a job, but it also doesn’t guarantee a high paying job. Before you go to college because “it’s expected of you,” or “that’s what the cool kids do,” you should take a few minutes and try to determine your career goals, what is required to achieve those goals, whether or not you need a college degree, and if it is worth the expense. Many times college isn’t the answer and taking student loans while you try to determine your career goals is a recipe for disaster.

Well, instead of throwing a bunch of opinion out there without any facts to back it up, let’s take a look at some hard numbers. The unemployment rate for those with no degree is 10.1% as compared to only 4.5% for those with a bachelor’s degree. The numbers don’t lie. While the author is correct: a college degree doesn’t guarantee you anything, it just may make finding work a little easier for you. You need every edge you can get these days!

Here’s another fact: many jobs that previously did not require a college degree now require one. For example, an entry level manager trainee position at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which really is a glorified sales position, requires a college degree.  Not having a degree can seriously limit the number of jobs available to you today.

What troubles me more than the stupid platitudes espoused in this post as well as many other similar ones I have seen since the economy went into the ditch is that we now seem to be “ok” with telling people with humble backgrounds that they need not even try to reach beyond the station to which they were born. Think about what posts like these suggest: you should not go to college if you cannot afford to pay for it yourself, or if your parents cannot afford it. Furthermore, you ought to evaluate any degree you do pursue by its dollar value, not by personal interest or by the desire to look at a career as more than just a way to make money.

Look, I am not going to suggest that college is the answer for everyone or that it can guarantee you anything, because it isn’t and it can’t. However, if you want to go to college and you need to take out a loan to do it, then you ought to be able to do so, regardless of the cost later. Student loans need to be reformed to be in line with what they used to be: an investment in the future. Investments may not pay off and that’s the risk the banks take in loaning the money. Furthermore, repayment terms need to be made easier and interest rates capped. Half the problem with student loans today is how onerous they are to pay back. You shouldn’t have to indenture yourself to the banks for the rest of your life for a chance at a piece of the pie.

Finally, I just want to say that employers also need a reality check. Is it really necessary to require a college degree for a job that pays $30K? Do you really need to limit your pool of qualified employees to those with college degrees? A bit of common sense here would be welcome about now.

Speaker Pelosi and 30 California Democrats: “Banks Need To Be Held Accountable.”

Today, Speaker Pelosi and 30 California Democrats told the justice department that “it is time that the banks were held accountable for their practices.” Really? You guys are just figuring this out? Wow, Congress is sure slow on the uptake…or maybe it’s all that Goldman Sucks money flowing into the pockets of elected officials that’s clogging up their brains.

Let’s see: over the past two years, we have seen the foreclosure rate continue to rise and hundreds of thousands of Americans have been kicked out of their homes in spite of programs designed to help them. Going through the HAMP process is a nightmare in and of itself, aside from the trauma of foreclosure itself, because the banks just don’t want to cooperate. They won’t even cooperate on short sales most of the time! Recently, we’ve had the Ally Bank signature debacle and another company, Lender Processing Services (LPS) has been in the news lately because apparently they’ve been having their employees sign authorized employees’ signatures to foreclosure documents.

Read the rest of this entry »

Should College-Age Kids Have Their Own Credit Card?

Should college-age kids have their own credit card? That’s a difficult question to answer and a lot depends on the maturity level of the kid. One 18 year old may be vastly more mature and financially savvy than another, so making the blanket statement that no college-aged child can manage his or her own credit card isn’t quite correct.

There is no doubt that giving a credit card to someone who doesn’t yet have a stable income is risky, but, if your college-aged child is otherwise responsible, then allowing them to begin to build that all-too important credit history early may be a good choice.

Regardless of whether your child is a spendthrift or a miser, be sure to comparison shop for the best card for him or her, and along the way,  provide a little financial education as well. It is too bad that high schools don’t offer money management classes and sadder still, colleges are all too willing to lend money to their students without educating them on the interest they are accruing and the repayment terms. In this, you, as the parent, need to take the lead on this.

The CARD act of 2009 has some special provisions regarding the issuing of credit cards to those under the age of 21. Among these is the requirement no credit card may be issued to someone under 21 unless they a.) have a cosigner, or b.) they can demonstrate the ability to repay the credit card balance. In addition, no “prescreened” credit card offers may be sent to those under the age of 21.

Having good credit is of vital importance these days, and young people need to be taught sound money management practices early so that they can avoid credit troubles down the line. Having a credit card and using it wisely is a good way to start learning these principles.

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