Subsidizing Reckless Behavior

Politicians specialize in bad law, but sometimes they go above and beyond ordinary incompetence in their search for foolish policy. The mortgage bailout is a good example. As an article in the San Francisco Chronicle explains, feckless government policy creates an incentive for people to default on their mortgages:

Should you keep paying your mortgage?

If you have significant equity in your home, absolutely.

If you don’t, it’s getting harder to answer that question, especially when our government keeps giving people who owe more than their homes are worth so many reasons not to pay.

Last week, the government announced a program that will substantially lower payments for many homeowners who have little or no equity, but only if they are at least 90 days delinquent.

Critics say the plan, which applies to loans owned or guaranteed by government wards Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac among others, could encourage people to suspend payments.

…Last year, Congress started removing some financial hazards of default when it passed a bill that temporarily waives the income tax on mortgage debt that is canceled when a homeowner is foreclosed upon, sells a home for less than the remaining debt (a short sale) or gets a loan modification that reduces the principal balance.

…Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, predicts that many homeowners who have little or no equity will stop paying their mortgage and then reduce their income to get the biggest payment cut possible. They could stop working overtime or, if two spouses work, one could quit.After the modification, they could try to boost their income again.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Schiff says. “People are going to feel like complete morons if they don’t participate. The people getting punished are the ones who never made an irresponsible decision to buy a house they couldn’t afford.”

The government is offering loan servicers $800 for every homeowner they get into the plan.

Schiff predicts that loan agents “will be cold-calling people trying to get them into it. Just like they encouraged people to overstate their income to get a bigger loan in the first place, now they will encourage them to understate their income to qualify for a smaller loan.”