In a story anticipating the home mortgage deal that was announced today, The New York Times conflates "the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure," many of whom presumably are delinquent because they can no longer afford their payments, with "borrowers owing more than their houses are worth," who may be perfectly capable of paying their mortgages, although perhaps not eager to do so given the crappy investments they have made. This seems to be a common error in press coverage of the housing market, perhaps because the decline in home prices and the recession are tied together in people's minds. But the fact that your house is suddenly worth half what you paid for it does not mean you are suddenly unable to make your payments, unless you have lost your job or suffered some other misfortune that reduced yor cash flow or increased your living expenses. Conversely, people whose mortgages are smaller than the value of their homes might nevertheless be struggling to make ends meet because of recent financial setbacks. Yet the Times says "about one in five Americans with mortgages are underwater," implying that all of them, including multimillionaires who bought mansions at the height of the bubble, are the intended beneficiaries of the loan modifications to which the banks have agreed.
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