Magazine article The CPA Journal

"If You Find Yourself in a Hole ..." "... Stop Digging!"

Magazine article The CPA Journal

"If You Find Yourself in a Hole ..." "... Stop Digging!"

Article excerpt

The collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the United States, followed closely by the banking crisis and credit crunch, has sparked many discussions among those seeking to determine where to place blame for the mess that has unfolded over the past year. Should it fall on the shoulders of the mortgage brokers, who encouraged highrisk borrowers to apply for loans they couldn't afford? Or does the fault lie with the lenders, who didn't provide adequate oversight because they were selling the loans' risk to investors through collateralized debt obligations (CDO)? What about the credit rating agencies, for not properly evaluating the economic soundness of the securities they were rating? Do we look to the government, for failing to implement and enforce adequate regulations on the financial industry? Or the borrowers, for digging themselves into a hole of debt?

Regardless of who's to blame, the "R" word-recession-has been mentioned more frequently of late. Some argue that we're not "technically" in a recession because we haven't had two consecutive quarters of negative growth in real gross domestic product (GDP), the commonly accepted definition of a recession. Most would agree, however, that even if we're not technically in a recession, it sure feels like one. The unemployment rate has risen over the past six months, while the cost of essentials is going up. Many people are using short-term credit to pay for necessities such as food, gas, insurance, and heating oil. Others are dipping into their retirement accounts to make ends meet without considering the many costs, now and later, associated with this wrong-headed strategy. While real estate prices were climbing, homeowners used their accumulated equity like a piggy bank-raiding it to buy items on their wish lists. Most didn't realize until much later that the interest and hidden borrowing fees associated with many of these loans brought the real cost of these items to more than double their nominal price. In a market of falling real estate values, that line of credit has essentially dried up.

We're also leading our children down the same path to financial ruin by promoting a culture wherein immediate gratification is paramount, regardless of cost or ability to pay. Credit card vendors set up tables outside college campuses and sell their "plastic money" to students, who are vulnerable to their marketing techniques. These young adults then carry their spending habits, learned early on, into their adult lives. As financial professionals, we all know that using short-term fixes for long-term problems is a recipe for disaster. …

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