It’s been eight years since the global financial crisis sent American homeowners into a tailspin. Many were fighting tooth-and-nail to keep their homes, and millions lost that fight. For a significant number, it was an uphill battle as they coped with job losses and stagnant wages on top of the plummeting value of their homes and toxic mortgages. tighteneddollarroll.jpg

And now, private equity firms and hedge funds have found a way to exploit the holes left in these communities. Wall Street is snapping up distressed properties from Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and HUD at an alarming rate, according to a new report from housingwire.com.

In fact, researchers discovered that some of the very same corporations responsible for the housing market crash are now buying and selling those vacant houses and delinquent mortgages created by the fallout.

Collectively, Wall Street has raised more than $20 billion to purchase notes on more than 200,000 U.S. homes.

These companies are seeing a new market for single-family rental units. Those same people who lost their homes to foreclosure have been forced to rent because they don’t have the credit to buy. Even when they do, they are edged out of the market by large firms that plunk down cash offers before families even have a chance.
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Retirement is supposed to be about enjoying those “Golden Years.” Those who have spent a lifetime working, raising families and contributing to society are supposed to be able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of all their labor – perhaps with travel or gardening or simply spending more time with loved ones. handscompassion.jpg

Of course, some financial perils may be expected, particularly on a fixed income. There is always the concern of outliving the savings or paying for long-term care or even the possibility of being lured in by some scam. But of all of these, straining to make monthly mortgage payments shouldn’t be one.

And yet, it is. Following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, an increasing number of retirees and elderly Americans are struggling to pay housing costs. People in their 70s, 80s and beyond are forced to dip into retirement savings just to make sure they keep a roof over their head. The problem is more glaring in Florida, where nearly 19 percent of the nearly 20 million people in this state are over the age of 65. The national average is 14 percent. That figure is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

In trying to keep pace with their mortgage payments and avoid a Miami foreclosure, these individuals often work until very deep in retirement. In some cases, they are more likely to seek assistance from the government or local charities and even their children.
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One might have thought we had seen the worst there was in terms of bankers’ greed at the height of the housing bubble. Banks were recklessly packaging toxic mortgages to unsuspecting investors, saddling homeowners with unrealistic mortgages and generally cutting whatever regulatory corners they had to in order to make a buck.
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Since then, banks have reluctantly conceded some degree of contrition in the form of sweetheart deals extended by the U.S. Department of Justice and a smattering of state attorneys general. Yes, these deals cost banks billions, but they were structured in such a way that no real consequences were suffered – certainly not by individual bankers.

It’s that “too big to jail” mindset that seems to be tainting whatever remorse bankers may have had. A recently-released study conducted by the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business suggests to us it’s not going to get better. In fact, it’s getting worse.
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If you or I were convicted of a felony crime, we would almost certainly lose our freedom. We’d be facing prison time. We’d likely lose our job. We would also no longer have the right to a host of civil liberties, including the right to vote.
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But we are not large financial institutions. If we were, we might expect far different treatment for felony convictions.

A recent New York Times report details how the process is unfolding for five of the world’s biggest banks, which are expected to plead guilty to a lengthy list of charges, including fraud and antitrust violations. What type of penalties are they likely to face?
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For years, Wall Street sympathizers have defended actions of bankers in the lead-up to the collapse of the housing market and subsequent financial crisis.
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While many practices within the financial industry have drawn criticism, under special scrutiny was the practice of packaging shoddy mortgages and then selling them to unsuspecting investors prior to 2008. Some have danced around bank’s liability, with many suggesting it was in fact the fault of consumers, who took on loans far in excess of what they could afford.

But in a recent decision that spanned more than 360 pages, a federal judge issued a scathing assessment of bankers’ actions that directly conflicts with their version of history.

The ruling, against the Royal Bank of Scotland and Nomura Holdings, a Japanese financial firm, was part of a government case that started with 18 defendant banks over deceptive loans. All other defendants settled the claims out-of-court before they went to trial. Those included Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, which collectively shelled out $18 billion. In so doing, they avoided the public delving into their dealings prior to the crisis.

Judge Denise L. Cote of the Federal District Court of Manhattan, ruled the scope of the lies – even when conservatively measured – is “enormous.”
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In recent months, there has been good news on the housing economy front. Specifically, housing prices are rising once again to levels that reflect their actual value, a sign of overall economic recovery and growth after the Great Recession.
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But there is a downside to all this too.

That recession, one of the most devastating financial downturns in U.S. history, created a huge share of renters. Many are people who lost their homes to foreclosure or suffered some other consequence as a result of the housing market implosion.

A new report from CNBC indicates 90 percent of housing markets in metropolitan areas show a drop in rates of home ownership. Home values are on the increase, but incomes are flat. What’s worse, the wealth gap is widening.
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That high interest rate on your credit card could be giving you more than a headache. It could potentially make you clinically depressed.
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That’s the conclusion of a recent study conducted by the researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.

Gleaning information from the National Survey of Families and Households in the U.S. and a series of regression models, study authors discovered household debt is positively correlated with a higher number of depressive symptoms. This was more true of short-term unsecured debt – like credit card debts or payday loans – as opposed to mid- or long-term debts, like mortgages or car payments.

Long-term debts might actually be considered a positive for some people, as they may be deemed good investments in the future. However, it should be pointed out that this data was collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which means housing debt might now in fact be a source of significantly more stress, especially if the home is not worth nearly as much as it used to be. That sense of financial security may no longer be what it was before the recession.

Also interesting was that the association was especially acute for those adults between the ages of 51 and 64 (those nearing retirement) with a high school diploma or less. It was also true for those not in a stable marriage for the duration of the study period (which was two separate two-year time frames).
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In what strikes many consumer rights activists as a dangerous trend, more than a quarter of all renters in the U.S. must shell out at least 50 percent – often more – of their family’s income for rent and utilities.
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The revelation came as the result of a study conducted by Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit housing resource and think-tank that utilized U.S. Census data to reach its conclusions. In all, the partners discovered the number of households struggling in this way shot up by more than 25 percent in just the last eight years. Meanwhile, average hourly wages are up just 2.1 percent in the last year.

What that means is there are right now approximately 11.25 million households that are using more than half the money they earn just to put a roof over the family’s head.
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There is no question the foreclosure process can be a stressful one. Even when homeowners prevail, the emotional toll can be enormous, and sometimes, that translates to physical ailments as well. ropebreaking.jpg

Recently, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a case in which a South Florida man, awaiting a hearing on the pending of his home foreclosure, collapsed in the courtroom and died. He was 67. His wife, 10 years his junior, was by his side when it happened. Deputies rushed to the man’s aid and performed CPR until emergency services arrived and transported him to a nearby hospital. There, he was pronounced dead at 9:45 a.m.

While court officials say medical calls are not uncommon, none could recall anyone dying.
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The trial lawyers at Jacobs-Keeley have often noted the civil court system is skewed toward banks and other deep-pocketed entities. Even though courts are supposed to be one of those places where the playing field is even – justice being blind, and all that – there is much to suggest that is not the case.
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Just take the recent editorial penned by Sue Bell Cobb, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from 2007 to 2011. In a long, detailed piece in Politico Magazine, she delves into the dangers of requiring judges to undergo cash-soaked elections. She says the amount of money and favors exchanged in state judicial races made her “ashamed” to have participated.

She took note of how she had no choice but to accept nearly $2 million from lobbyists and lawyers in order to win the 2006 race. Her opponent raised more than twice that much. Although she won, she says a question from a reporter left her disturbed. The reporter asked how it felt to have won the most expensive race in history, and how the people of the state could rest assured those contributions wouldn’t affect her decisions on the bench.
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