Jesus Creed

We don’t often enter into the business side of life or discuss loans and mortgages and foreclosures and bankruptcy, but this article — HT: RJS — suggests to me that there is something to be discussed here and we need some financial folks to speak up. The issue is that many people today are “strategically” deciding to default on their loans; they are “shrewdly deciding” that defaulting and going belly up will help their financial situation. What do you think? Is this wrong? Or this is just shrewd? 

So, here’s a clip from a recent article in the NYTimes:

And given that nearly a quarter of mortgages are underwater, and that 10 percent of mortgages are delinquent, White, of the University of Arizona, is surprised that more people haven’t walked. He thinks the desire to avoid shame is a factor, as are overblown fears of harm to credit ratings. Probably, homeowners also labor under a delusion that their homes will quickly return to value. White has argued that the government should stop perpetuating default “scare stories” and, indeed, should encourage borrowers to default when it’s in their economic interest. This would correct a prevailing imbalance: homeowners operate under a “powerful moral constraint” while lenders are busily trying to maximize profits. More important, it might get the system unstuck. If lenders feared an avalanche of strategic defaults, they would have an incentive to renegotiate loan terms. In theory, this could produce a wave of loan modifications — the very goal the Treasury has been pursuing to end the crisis.

No one says defaulting on a contract is pretty or that, in a perfectly functioning society, defaults would be the rule. But to put the onus for restraint on ordinary homeowners seems rather strange. If the Mortgage Bankers Association is against defaults, its members, presumably the experts in such matters, might take better care not to lend people more than their homes are worth.

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