Eminent Domain as a Mortgage Fixer?

The housing crash of 2008 is still sitting heavy on many homeowners.  Many who bought a house during the peak of the market were left with houses that they’d bought at nearly twice the current value of the home.  Much has been said about the dilemma that those homeowners find themselves in.  As the economy receded, so too did their jobs, and their pay, causing many to simply walk away from their homes when they could no longer afford the mortgage.

Foreclosure is a bit of a messy deal.  The bank takes the home back, and then sells it, attempting to recoup some of the value of the mortgage.  We’ve seen many different methods of attempting to avoid the bulk foreclosure of homes in America.  From Government sponsored programs that help with restructuring of the loan, to banks voluntarily restructuring the loan, to what is a rather disturbing new program in Richmond, CA.

The program is laid out in this recent article on CNN Money. (California city’s drastic foreclosure remedy: seizure)  In the article, the City has started a program to attempt to purchase the mortgages of many underwater loans in the city.  It’s an attempt to avoid the decline of low-income neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods already hit hard by the economy.  Seems pretty normal, until you read a bit further.

But if the holders of the loans, who are mostly investors, refuse to sell by Aug. 14, the city said it will invoke eminent domain to seize the mortgages so it has more control over the process of making them affordable.

Eminent Domain Mortgage FixerThat’s right.  If the investors refuse to sell by August 14th, the city will invoke eminent domain and seize the mortgages in order to bring those mortgages into the program.

There are several things at play here.  I don’t argue that there are many who are nearing foreclosure, and that in many cases, they were preyed upon by the banks and investors by being given loans for houses they couldn’t afford in the first place.  I don’t think that excuses the buyers from not knowing that they couldn’t afford the mortgage.  I’m sure there are those that could afford the house at the time of purchase, but have since fallen on hard times.  In some cases, I do think that there should be something in place to help people ease the pain of their mortgage.  But, that’s another article.

Back to Richmond, CA, and their silly new program.  They plan on using eminent domain to seize the mortgage.  As is pointed out in the CNN Money article, eminent domain is usually used by public entities to seize physical properties to make way for public parks, malls, and right-of-ways for transportation initiatives.

The article alludes to the fact that eminent domain, to be legal, must be used for that are in the public interest.  Meaning that the people of the city (or neighborhood) must have something to gain from the seizure. I think this is a bit of a grey area, and is likely to end up in court.  It’s legality, in the seizure of only certain mortgages, and not the mortgages of the entire neighborhood, makes its usage for the public interest somewhat shaky.  After all, who among us wouldn’t want to participate in a program that cut our mortgage in half and reduced the payments by the same?  Absolutely!  But, who among us has anything to gain by having our neighbor across the street participate in the program, and not us?  Yeah.  Even if I can afford my mortgage, I’d be a bit jealous.  If I really wanted to cause a scene, I’d sue the city.

Legality aside, I still think the program is a mistake.  Many places around the country are facing the same dilemma, and many are trying to find innovative solutions to fix the problem.  The city of Detroit just declared bankruptcy because the population of the city, and thus it’s tax-base, has dropped so drastically over recent years.  Perhaps the city of Richmond fears the same problem.  What they should be spending their time fixing, however, is their local economy.  They’ll spend all kinds of money executing this program, then defending it in court, only to still have the same economy.

If they can find ways to improve the economy by pushing local businesses, promoting local producers, and making improvements to the structures to do so, I think they’ll find that many of those foreclosures start getting picked up by new homeowners.

Maybe I’m wrong.  I’m certainly not an expert in economics, least of all economics in California.  What do you think?  Is the usage of eminent domain here a valid one?  Will it be challenged legally?  How would you feel if your city had a program like this?

Original image credit: End Eminent Domain Abuse by Paparutzi, on Flickr

Lending Club Return Update 2Q13

Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lending service.  People (like you and me) sign up for their site, and list a loan to be funded by investors (like you and me).  I like to think of it as replacing the bank in a loan with me.  (Except I’m not “too big to fail”.)  Of course, with that comes the same risks that the bank assumes when it issues a loan.  There’s a risk of late payments, missed payments, and default and it’s associated collection activities.  Luckily, Lending Club and Prosper (another p2p lending site) take care of most of the paperwork for the lenders (and borrowers).  This post is the second quarter update on my Lending Club account, and the return I’m getting on my money.

If you’d like to catch up a little, here’s links to the last few quarterly updates. (1Q13, 4Q12, 3Q12)

Beating Broke Lending Club Update

First Lending Club Default

I’ve been mentioning in the last several updates how lucky I’ve been that I haven’t had a loan go into default yet.  Well, that streak ended recently.  I knew it was only a matter of time before one of the notes defaulted, and one has.  Luckily, the loan that defaulted was a small one, and my portfolio has grown enough that the value of the default didn’t really affect the account too much.  The value of the defaulted loan is about 1% of my Lending Club portfolio.

There’s also a loan that is in the 31-120 days late category, that has the possibility of going to default, but at this point, the borrower is making attempts to pay the loan.  The reason it’s still in the late category at all is because the most recent payment was only a partial payment.  This loan is a larger loan than the defaulted one, so I may have to consider taking the loss on it and selling it at a discount to get it off my books.

Diligent Reinvestment

One of the things that I like most about Lending Club, and p2p lending as a whole, is that you get a relatively high churn on your money.  It’s not a buy-and-hold scenario, per se.  Yes, you invest in a note with the expectation of holding that note until it is fully paid off, but, as the payments come in monthly, that money is available for reinvestment.  In my 1Q13 update, I mentioned that I’d been a bit lazy in my reinvestment of those funds.  I was slightly better with that in the second quarter, and was able to keep most of the money pretty actively invested.

Passive Income from Lending Club

Many people (myself included) call p2p investing a form of passive income.  While not strictly meeting the criteria in that it does still require some activity on the investors part, it’s pretty close.  Maybe we need to start defining passive income in terms of it’s passivity?  Something like levels.  Each level is achieved by it’s decile of passivity.  For instance, I think p2p investing could be somewhere around 90-95% passive.  That would make it a Level 9 Passive Income source.  With about 15 minutes of work a month, I’ve earned almost $60 in interest payments as of the end of June of 2013.  Last year, with the same amount of work, I earned $75.37 in interest payments.  If I had significantly more money, that amount would be larger, but I think that the time spent each month to earn it would be a bit larger as well.  Still, a pretty close to passive means of making some money.

Lending Club Return Update

We’ve talked about most of the rest of the account, but the title did say that it was a return update, right?  Yes.  In my 1Q13 update, I mentioned that the rate of return then was being shown as 14.63%.  As of 8/3/13, it’s being displayed as 14.08%.  The combination of the defaulted loan, and the payoff of a couple of higher interest paying notes is bringing the rate down.  I’ve been happy with the return I’ve been getting, but I truly think that a more reasonable expectation of return is somewhere in the 10-13% range.  I’ll take the 14%+ returns I’ve been getting though.

Click here to learn more about how I select my Lending Club investments.

Overall, I’ve been really happy with my results at Lending Club.  And, with the p2p lending industry as a whole issuing over 200 Million in loans in July, it would appear that there are plenty of other happy users too.

Have you gotten your feet wet in p2p lending?  Why or why not?

Are You a Financial Pessimist?

A few weeks ago, I shared that we’re all financial optimists, and it’s hurting our bottom line.  Like many, I’m guilty of thinking that my experience is common of most people.  Because I’m a financial optimist, I assume many people are, too.

How Financial Optimism Affects Our Finances

We’re digging our way out of some serious debt, and part of why we have that debt is because of financial optimism.

Four years ago, we took out student loan debt so my husband could finish his Ph.D.  We knew once he finished the long haul of finishing the degree and then completing a two to three year post-doc that finally he would begin to make a good salary.  That’s still true today, but we’re slowly trudging that long path.  Two more years until the post doc is over.

What we didn’t anticipate in our financial optimism is how long the road would be and how painful these years of low income and high student loan payments would be.

But I digress.

Financial Pessimism Isn’t Much Better

Clearly I shouldn’t have stated “we’re ALL” financial optimists because the comments on the post made me start thinking about the flip side–financial pessimism, which is nearly as bad as financial optimism.  Financial optimists make their decisions based on a bright future that may or may not come.  (That’s how we justified taking out $30,000 in student loans.)

Financial pessimists often make their decisions based on fear and assumptions of what might go wrong in the future.  Though this seems like a much better place to be than a financial optimist because the pessimist is protecting what they already have, it’s not really.  Pessimism can stagnate your growth.

My friend’s dad (I’ll call him Tom) inherited $100,000 when his uncle died.  (His uncle had never married and didn’t have children of his own.)   Tom had never seen that much money at once, and the idea of putting it in the stock market scared him.  He was afraid he would lose it.  Instead, he promptly put it all in a 10 year CD and earned a measly amount of interest.  Plus, that money was locked up for years!

His fear and pessimism cost him money.  Yes, he kept the money safe, but it was unavailable for 10 years, and he only made enough to cover the cost of inflation.  He didn’t let the money work for him and grow because he was driven by fear.

Financial pessimism can also cause you career stagnation.  Elizabeth has been at her job for 20 years now.  She finds the job exhausting; over the last few years, more and more people were cut from the staff, but those positions were never filled.  Elizabeth is now doing the work of several people; she often doesn’t get to go home early enough to see her young children before they go to bed.  She wants a change, but she’s afraid that she won’t find a job that pays as well or has such good benefits.  Her fear leaves her stuck in a position she doesn’t like, working too many hours, counting down to retirement that is another two decades away.

Financial optimism can hurt your bottom line by giving you confidence to spend money you assume you’ll make in the future.  Financial pessimism can hurt you because you’re often fueled by fear which can cause stagnation and limit your financial growth.

What do you think is the best strategy to remedy financial optimism or pessimism?