Go Ahead, Walk Away From Your Mortgage!
Roger Lowenstein gives Americans permission to do what companies do every day:
1. Ask for a better deal, and/or
2. Walk away.
[V]oluntary defaults are a new phenomenon. Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage — forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?
Businesses — in particular Wall Street banks — make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral — perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with.
Lowenstein makes a good (if not open-and-shut) case: The specified penalty for failing to pay your mortgage is that you have to surrender the house. And you're doing that.
By the way, one advantage of this move, aside from saving underwater homeowners from pouring money down a rat hole, is that it will help fix the housing market faster.
If underwater homeowners walk away, the banks willl be forced to take a writedown on the bad loan instead of pretending that it's worth what they say it's worth. This will help the bank clean up its balance sheet faster.
So think of walking away as helping to force banks to do what the government refused to make them do--take their losses!