I remember being alarmed last year to learn about the number of people using negative amortization to finance their homes. In some areas it was over half of all home loans and the highest rates of negative amortization loans were nearly 2/3. Negative amortization comes in the form of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) where the payments during the first years, before the rate is fixed, do not even cover the full interest on the loan so that after the three or five years when the rate gets fixed, the payments balloon and you owe more on the house than when you bought it. The bet for the borrower is that the house will appreciate more than the loan so that you can refinance.
At the time I thought of how that was a sad way to get in to more house than you could actually afford. Today I found an article on foreclosures in the New York Times. The cause of these foreclosures is not necessarily negatively amortized loans, but it is because of sub-prime lending and a combination of careless borrowers and greedy/predatory lenders. Lest anyone think I am heartless, I think that the bulk of the blame – especially in the cases covered in this article – lies with the lenders.
I could rant about how disgusted I am about lenders who would capitalize on those who are least knowledgeable and least able to protect themselves or afford the losses that they face. Instead I would like to point to the root cause of this plague. It is greed – the love of money.
When I purchased my home I dealt with a mortgage broker who had my needs and values central to his decision making process. When I estimated what I could afford in monthly payments he cautioned me against estimating too generously. After pre-approving me for a certain level of mortgage he suggested that it might be to my benefit not to try to find the most house I could fit under the limit. The end result was that my payments are lower than I thought I could afford. I pay what I estimated that I could afford and I am paying off the house faster because of it. This is not the attitude displayed by the broker who would exaggerate your income to look larger to get you into a larger loan so that he can get a larger commission.
It’s too bad that we have so many people (not just in the real-estate business) who claim to provide a service but who only service their own pocketbook. The fact is that the broker has nothing to lose if you default on the loan. Generally speaking, the lender can recoup their costs between the payments you make and the money they get from the foreclosed property. The loss is almost entirely the borrowers loss, and in the case of most of these loans, the borrower does not know enough to protect themselves when dealing with greedy and knowledgeable brokers.