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To date, none of the proposed homeowner-rescue plans acknowledges that a significant number of the homeowners who are in distress were the victims of predatory and illegal practices. Opponents of the plans currently on the table raise three serious objections: First, any massive loan rescue would be costly; second, borrowers in good standing might intentionally default on their mortgages to benefit from a bailout; and third, investors holding securities backed by subprime loans will balk at loan modifications that diminish their already depreciated investments and will sue to stop such efforts.

Going after the lawbreakers helps to address these concerns. It would not only lower the cost of the rescue plan by reducing the number of borrowers needing help, it would also direct assistance only to those people who were victims of illegal conduct and insulate the loan modifications from litigation by investors looking to preserve their investments. Investors won’t challenge loan restructuring when the underlying loans were made on illegal terms. You don’t lend your horse to Jesse James and then sue the stagecoach he robbed to get it back. Investors will have to redirect their fire from the borrowers to the brokers and lenders who did the fancy loan footwork—and perhaps the ratings agencies that blessed it.

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