You must have read the recent post about the New York Times economics reporter who is facing foreclosure himself. Edmund Andrews covered the US economy and Alan Greenspan for over six years, but despite his financial accumen still got suckered into a loan he couldn’t really afford. He hasn’t made a mortgage payment in 8 months and is wondering when the bank is going to throw him out of his house. Instead of making his payments, he has been busy spending money on a beach rental, clothes, gifts and other necessary expenses. At some point, I think foreclosure is inevitable.
But could he have avoided foreclosure?
I think so. Let’s review some of the financial mistakes he made. The real ones, not the excessive spending that set in once he stopped making house payments!
1. He divorced his wife of 21 years
This is always grounds for economic disaster. No matter who you are, the longer you stay married, the more it’s going to hurt you financially. If you are going to divorce, do it like Tom Cruise and get out before the magic 10 year mark or before you have kids.
2. He paid almost 2/3rds his net income in child support
Ouch! Paying $4,000 in alimony and child support when your net income is $6,777 is a lot. Effectively, his take home income is $33,000 per year or about $16/hour. I think most people on that wage move back home to their parents basements.
3. He bought a house he couldn’t afford
If there’s one major recipe for disaster, it’s buying a $500,000 house when you’re only taking home $16/hour. He really should have known better. But then again, he outsourced the analysis of his finances to his mortgage broker instead of doing it himself. He was set up to fail from the beginning. I’m sure his broker knew in the back of his mind there was a chance Ed would face foreclosure at some point. But Ed really should have bought a cheap house instead.
4. Not spending enough time understanding the most expensive purchase of your life
A home mortgage is the most complex financial transaction you’ll probably ever undertake. So it’s easy to blow it off or let some one else do the heavy lifting for you. However, the mortgage broker doesn’t necessarily have your best interest at heart. They get paid on commission for every loan they close and are directly incentivized to get you into the largest, most outrageously expensive home loan possible. There is a tremendous conflict of interest and you should not let them dictate what you should do. Many people claim that a home loan is just too difficult too understand. True, but only if you don’t take the time to understand it.
I strongly recommend Randy Johnson’s stellar book How to Save Thousands of Dollars on Your Home Mortgage. If you don’t know what Yield Spread Premium (YSP) or Paid Out of Closing (POC) means on a HUD-1 you definitely should read this book. If you own a home and don’t know a HUD-1 is then get your spouse to smack you and then go buy the book! I promise you’ll save thousands of dollars on your mortgage.
Just in case, you missed that last paragraph, BUY THAT $12 BOOK ABOUT SAVING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON YOUR HOME MORTGAGE. You should buy it before you buy a house, before you even think of buying house, maybe before you even graduate from college. If you’ve already read it, you should buy a dozen copies of the book and gift it all your friends, co-workers, in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews for Christmas. Unless you hate them.
The best way to prevent foreclosure from happening to you is to buy a house you can afford with a mortgage that is the cheapest over the life of the loan. That may mean paying extra points to buy down your interest rate, which means the cheapest loan is not necessarily the loan with the lowest closing costs. Learning about your finances, and how mortgages actually work is probably the best way to save money in the long run.