If You Let Me Stay

Some days, it pays not to pay. Hundreds of days:

492: The number of days since the average borrower in foreclosure last made a mortgage payment.

Banks can’t foreclose fast enough to keep up with all the people defaulting on their mortgage loans. That’s a problem, because it could make stiffing the bank even more attractive to struggling borrowers.

Imagine that: Overwhelmed foreclosure procedures are creating an entirely new kind of moral hazard — cheating on the payments because you know time is on your side.

Actually, that hazard isn’t entire new. Back when gas prices shot up to four dollars a gallon, some people simply stopped making payments on their gas-guzzling SUVs. The reason was simple: The banks couldn’t hire enough repo men to collect them, and couldn’t sell them for enough money to cover the outstanding debt. And prepping a car for eventual sale costs money, too. In short, it was cheaper to let people keep the cars they were too cheap (or too broke) to pay for.

What’s the solution? There probably aren’t any good ones. Although a good start might be to streamline and standardize foreclosures. If TARP had actually worked as advertised, it might have been feasible to transfer the bad loans to an FDIC-type corporation, one dedicated to selling off the toxic assets for whatever they could get, then turning the proceeds over to the Treasury.

But the banks never were relieved of their troubled assets, and the public is in no mood for TARP II — and who could blame us?

My own gut tells me that the freeloading homeowners, however, should be the least of anyone’s worries. True, keeping those home off the market is helping to keep prices artificially high, but the home-owning public isn’t exactly in the mood to face the truth of what their houses might actually be worth, either. Still, they’ve got nothing on the corrupt pols and their Wall Street pals who got us into this mess.