I am writing this today from Main Street America, the very same street that we have heard about on the news as the $700 billion financial rescue package was being discussed. I can almost see the street from my desk, but not quite.
It is lined with trees and brick buildings with shops in them. There are several restaurants, some bars, coffee shops and antique shops. The business owners I have talked to tell me that business is slow, it has been for months, and will continue to be slow in the coming months.
Our country is in the midst of an economic catastrophe, fueled by huge amounts of consumer debt that cannot be paid back to the financial institutions that lent the money. I know this is an oversimplification, but it gets at the heart of the problem. If borrowers cannot pay back the loans, the banks that lent the money are in jeopardy of insolvency, which puts our global economic system at risk.
The Republicans blame the Democrats, who blame the Republicans, and we all blame the lenders. They lent money to people who could not pay it back. There were subprime loans, no-doc loans, interest-only loans, exotic loans and no-down-payment loans, as well as widespread mortgage fraud.
There are a lot of people in this country who are financially overextended. Our national government is overextended to the tune of $10 trillion. We are nation of borrowers. For some, it starts with student loans. They seem to be the gateway loans that kick off a future of borrowing for cars and houses and using credit cards to buy everything else.
Americans are in debt before they are old enough to legally drink. The credit industry has a role in all of this, as they mail credit-card applications to children, but they would be out of business if people did not want to borrow money.
Not everyone who has a credit card has too much credit-card debt and not everyone with a mortgage — even a subprime mortgage — is in foreclosure or will be in foreclosure. Some students graduate with little or no debt.
Borrowers have some responsibility for the loans that cannot be paid back. Borrowers do not always use credit responsibly. Some may have stretched a bit and bought houses they could not afford just because they wanted the house.
There are people who do not know how to manage money or use credit. They need to be educated. It is a shame the bailout bill did not include an educational component for consumers.
For every ad I see about getting a home mortgage at a "low, low rate" there should be a public service message about the dangers of abusing credit. As borrowers we need to make our own decisions instead of borrowing the largest amount the lender will allow.
Mortgages are not a bad thing and neither are credit cards or car loans if they are used properly. The people who live on Main Street are not going to be bailed out if they make a mistake. Even those who are not carrying a lot of debt are just one layoff or medical emergency away from financial oblivion, with no bailout in sight.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.