Saturday, May 16, 2009


Wow. This explains so well a critical part of why we are where we are right now - and why we simply have not seen the end of it all.
As an economics reporter for The New York Times, I have been the paper’s chief eyes and ears on the Federal Reserve for the past six years. I watched Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, at close range. I wrote several early-warning articles in 2004 about the spike in go-go mortgages. Before that, I had a hand in covering the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Russia meltdown in 1998 and the dot-com collapse in 2000. I know a lot about the curveballs that the economy can throw at us.
Think he makes a lot for a NYC to DC corridor guy? Skippy can do the math.
Having separated from my wife of 21 years, who had physical custody of our sons, I was handing over $4,000 a month in alimony and child-support payments. That left me with take-home pay of $2,777 (wife #2 had a job bringing in ~$2,400 a year)...
You need to read it all, but here is a peek at the trainwreck.
Within a few weeks, an appraiser valued our house at $505,000, almost 10 percent above the original purchase price two years earlier. On June 12, Patty and I signed a new mortgage for $472,000 with Fremont Investment and Loan in Santa Monica, Calif.

Fremont gave us a classic subprime loan. Our monthly payment jumped to $3,700 from $2,500. If we kept the mortgage for two years, the interest rate would jump as high as 11.5 percent, and the monthly payments would ratchet up to as high as $4,500.
We were still loaded with debt, but we weren’t paying 27 percent interest rates on our credit cards.
All I know is praise the attitude towards debt that Mrs. Salamander and I have soaked in for most of the last decade - we are watching this not playing in it. We drive cr@ppy cars and don't care. We like to cook at home and don't care. I like to eat a lunch Mrs. Salamander made and don't care. I don't use hair jell and ... well ... I ain't Italian or nut'n .....

... and as you would expect in our age .... we reward poor behavior.
When I first called Chase in October, a representative named Sarah said I didn’t qualify for a loan modification because I wasn’t yet 90 days past due. The only “loan modification” she could offer me was a “repayment plan” under which I paid $400 more per month for six months until I was current again.

“It sounds as if I would be better off waiting to fall 90 days behind,” I said. “I think I’ll wait for that.”

It took a while, but Patty and I found we could get past blaming each other. We had seen each other’s worst sides, but we were still together, and that helped us to get closer. We started listening to each other. Patty began to find her way in the work world, and I was learning that I didn’t have all the answers. And we saw how our children were thriving. My three sons transferred to schools in our neighborhood and made scores of friends. Emily, Patty’s daughter, was a sparkling 10-year-old who loved her home and her school as well as all her brothers. Even if we lost the house, we had gained in other ways.

I called Chase back in January, when I was 90 days past due. Another representative told me that I would automatically be evaluated for a loan modification.

“You should just wait until you hear from one of our negotiators,” he told me politely.

Another two months passed without anyone calling, so I tried again in late March.

“I’m sorry, but our analysts have been backed up,” yet another Chase rep told me, even more politely than the previous one. She said each analyst had about 500 distressed borrowers to deal with, and it had been taking about five weeks for customers to get a direct response. The delays seemed to be getting longer.

I was actually beginning to feel sorry for Chase. It seemed to be so flooded with defaulting borrowers that it didn’t have time to foreclose on my house. Eight months after my last payment to the bank, I am still waiting for the ax to fall.
No, this isn't over - not by a long shot. Harumph.

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