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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Foreclosures and the Home ATM

by Calculated Risk on 6/02/2009 10:51:00 PM

"Credit is so loose today that I can buy the groceries I need on a credit card, eat the food tonight, discard the food by tomorrow at noon and finance my debt on a 30-year, amortized loan. How stupid is that? But people do it all the time - and then they wonder why they're in foreclosure."
Mortgage Broker quoted in Denver Post, March 30, 2005 (link no longer works)
And today from Peter Goodman at the NY Times: Promised Help Is Elusive for Some Homeowners. This article is about homeowners struggling to get loan modifications, but this section reminded me of that Denver Post article:
Ms. Ulery, 63, is the face of the latest wave of troubled American homeowners, a surge of people in financial danger not because of reckless gambling on real estate, but because of lost income.

Far from being one of those who used easy-money loans to speculate on homes proliferating across the desert soil of greater Phoenix, she has lived in the same modest, stucco-sided condo in suburban Mesa for a dozen years. She bought the two-bedroom home in 1997 for $77,500.
So far so good ... but:
Like tens of millions of other American homeowners, she added to her mortgage balance as the value of her condo swelled, at one point exceeding $200,000. She refinanced to pay off some credit cards and settle into a 30-year, fixed-rate loan. Later, she took out a home equity line of credit to buy a new Hyundai. She refinanced again in 2007, borrowing $20,000, mostly for a new roof.
Money is fungible, but a general guideline is to match the term of the debt with the useful life of the asset. A 30 year loan for a house. A 5 to 7 year loan for a car. Pay cash for lunch.

Then - if the useful life and debt term match - when it comes time to replace the asset, the debt will have been retired. But this article provides an example of buying lunch on your credit card, paying off the credit card with a larger mortgage and essentially financing lunch for 30 years!

And I'm sorry, but I'd call excessive use of the Home ATM as gambling.