Nobody Knows How to Ever Get Out of This Mess

Nobody Knows How to Ever Get Out of This Mess

“Extend and Pretend” forevermore. By Wolf Richter.

Until a few months ago, most Americans didn’t even know what “forbearance” was. Now, roughly four million home mortgages, or about 8% of all home mortgages, are in forbearance. Those four million households with mortgages in forbearance might still not fully understand what forbearance is, but they know one thing: They don’t have to make mortgage payments for a while, and they get to spend that money on other things instead of sending it to the bank.

There are forbearance deals offered by lenders for credit cards and auto loans. I don’t owe any balances on my credit cards and I don’t have an auto loan, but my inbox gets blasted with offers of forbearance anyway, by every bank I do business with.

My WOLF STREET media mogul empire too. It’s just a tiny business, and it doesn’t owe any money, but sure enough, my bank is offering “assistance” with those debts that my business doesn’t have.

When a lender agrees to grant the borrower forbearance, the lender agrees to not exercise its rights when the borrower doesn’t make the loan payments. There is an agreement both parties sign, and this forbearance agreement determines, among other things, the period of forbearance, and what happens afterwards. And afterwards those missed payments will have to be made up somehow. Forbearance is not forgiveness.

But a forbearance agreement can be extended, if both parties agree to do so. In banker’s lingo, it’s called “extend and pretend.”

So, the borrower is not making payments, and the bank doesn’t receive interest and principal payments, but since the loan is in forbearance, the borrower is not deemed in default and the lender can continue to show interest income on the loan, though no interest is being paid.

That’s the motivation for lenders: Rather than having to show the loan in default, and taking a hit on their earnings, they can continue to book unpaid interest as income, and show the loan as performing.

Some people want forbearance because it would be nice not to have to blow a bunch of money on mortgage payments or credit card payments or auto-loan payments, and instead be able to spend all this money on other things.

Other people want forbearance because they lost their job or businesses, and financially all heck has broken loose in their lives.

Other people again want forbearance because they lost their jobs, and even with the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits, they still can’t meet their mortgage payments. This is a real problem in expensive markets with high salaries.

In its latest report last week, the Labor Department said that nearly 32 million people continued to claim either state or federal unemployment benefits. 32 million people is a lot of people on the unemployment rolls. That’s 20% of the workforce.

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Wolf Richter

In his cynical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he muses on WOLF STREET about economic, business, and financial issues, Wall Street shenanigans, complex entanglements, and other things, debacles, and opportunities that catch his eye in the US, Europe, Japan, and occasionally China. WOLF STREET is the successor to his first platform… TP-Title-7-small-200px …whose ghastly name he finally abandoned in July 2014. Here’s the story on that. Wolf lives in San Francisco. He has over twenty years of C-level operations experience, including turnarounds and a VC-funded startup. He earned his BA and MBA in Texas and his MA in Oklahoma, worked in both states for years, including a decade as General Manager and COO of a large Ford dealership and its subsidiaries. But one day, he quit and went to France for seven weeks to open himself up to new possibilities, which degenerated into a life-altering three-year journey across 100 countries on all continents, much of it overland. And it almost swallowed him up.