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Fear the reaper

Yeah, I know, it's been awhile. October is a busy month, what with ignoring garden maintenance, forgetting to put up my Hallowe'en decor, and watching white-knuckled as the economy turns out to be run...well, about as well as we manage the finances of the CrazyStable.

Actually, a whole lot worse.

This morning's New York Times has an article about the phenomenon I call, "Satan in Our Mailbox." (Mailbox, left;  Satan, above, in front of a more impressive manse than ours--probably one that's in foreclosure.)

The funny thing is, even as each day brings fresh reports of "credit freezes," bailouts, and the catastrophic global toll of lending billions to people no more able to repay it than a colony of naked mole rats, we are being wooed incessantly by Satan to dig ourselves even deeper into our own not-inconsiderable hole. Every day, Satan steps elegantly out of our mailbox and offers us a plethora of "attractive financing options" for our cash-poor lives: zero-percent-APR credit cards. Home equity lines. Personal loans. "Checks" that we can "spend any way we like." (Sometimes Satan even makes helpful suggestions, like, "Treat yourself to that vacation you deserve!" Wow, how did he know?)

Why do they keep offering us more debt? Are they crafty predators, hopeless stooges, or what? The Times article sheds a lot of light on this counterintuitive flood of offers. In a nutshell, it would seem that crafty predators (the credit bureaus) sell our names and financial profiles to hopeless stooges (the banks and credit-card companies), who are still eager to lend money to overextended debtors because--hey, who's a bigger sucker for more debt than debtors? The Crafty Predators like Equifax slice and dice their databases with cute nicknames, like "Oodles of Offspring." (We, I believe, would fall into the category of "Midlife Munchkins." Presumably because we can be popped down the throat of the financial crisis like balls of sugared dough.)  “They get people who they know are in trouble, they know are desperate, and they aggressively market a product to them which is not in their best interest,” said Jim Campen, director of a fair-lending advocacy group. “It’s the wrong product at the wrong time.”

As the child of Depression-era parents who paid off their $30 credit-card bill the day it arrived (to avoid the awful possibility of a 23-cent finance charge), I take these sulphurous documents with tongs and deposit them straight into the recycling bin. We signed plenty of contracts with Satan years ago, during various income-sucking catastrophes. The mortgage is bigger now than when we bought the house in 1985; it is like a tumor with teeth and hair inside it, all the "options" we reluctantly took in the course of two perfectly sensible refinancings. (Our helpful mortgage broker on the last re-fi was apoplectic with frustration that we didn't "treat ourselves" to still more "equity" as the paper value of the CrazyStable ballooned insanely.) By the time we pay off that 30-year fixed-rate, we will be in our seventies.

Yet somehow, things have gotten so bad that we look like paragons of  prudence--not for knowing when to stop, but for stopping at all. For years, we attributed our struggles versus the rollicking afflluence of, seemingly, everyone else in the universe to our own financial ineptitude. Now we are awash in...not schadenfreude, but amazement that total disaster really would have been as easy as we suspected.

(Well, okay, some schadenfreude--probably more than we deserve, considering the role of luck in our could-be-worse predicament. If the catastrophes had been major health crises instead of boiler and car deaths, we might be getting profiled in the Times today, too.)

Gotta go now; time to pick up the mail. [Hands over ears] NO! No, no, no, a thousand times no!


Photo: The CW


Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 10:29AM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Yeah, while the wash of 'home equity line of credit' offers has slowed, it hasn't stopped. Fortunately we don't get as much junk mail as we used to. We did the junkmail opt-out, as well as signing up with 41 points ( http://www.41pounds.org ). The latter donated 1/3 of the fee to our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

In any event, the concept that endless credit may not be a good thing doesn't appear to have gotten through to everyone yet.
October 22, 2008 at 01:32PM | Unregistered CommenterGene
There's not much Freud in the Schaden when the truth is that we'll end up paying for the people to stay in their new houses while we pay for our drafty (but character-filled!) abodes. At least we only have 1,350 sf to heat (and five humans in 2 bedrooms). Still, most of us were wise enough not to sign up for more of a mortgage than we could afford. Right?
October 22, 2008 at 05:09PM | Unregistered CommenterLenise

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