The New York Times has an article that tells the unfortunate tale of Diane McLeod and her love affair with debt. She started out “debt free” when she got married, but after a divorce she’d managed to accrue $25,000 in credit card debt. Despite not having a down payment or any assets, Diane was given a $135,000 mortgage. Over the next few years, illness, underemployment, and shockingly irresponsible spending combined disastrously with the bank’s willingness to refinance her loan as her home appreciated (for a fee, of course). 5 years later, Diane owes $237,000 on her mortgage. She’s in foreclosure now, and a recent sheriff’s auction of the home did not draw a single bidder. A similar house down the street recently sold for $84,000 less than she owes on her home.
The NYT says there is a bright spot at the end of the tunnel for Diane. She’s still getting credit card offers from “Urban Bank.”
Recently an envelope arrived offering a “pre-qualified” Salute Visa Gold card issued by Urban Bank Trust. “We think you deserve more credit!” it said in bold type.
A spokeswoman at Urban Bank said the Salute Visa is part of a program “designed to provide access to credit for folks who would not otherwise qualify for credit.”
The Salute Visa offered Ms. McLeod a $300 credit line. But a closer look at the fine print showed that $150 of that would go, as annual fees, to Urban Bank.
Why are Americans so willing to do this to themselves? The article explains that as few as 40 years ago, we were a thrifty nation full of “savers,” and that banks were focused on whether or not you could repay your loan and not the “fees” they could get from loans before they were sold to investors. We know that there were changes to the financial system. What happened to our values?