Family gatherings at any time of year are, in most cases, pleasurable. Reunion at its best involves emotion, revival, perhaps even restoration. And food and games, sharing. Love. Contemplation. Christmas, New Year’s.
They can also provide information and insights large or small, significant or inconsequential, important or simply interesting. So —
A nephew in the mortgage business tells me: “It’s coming.” I thought I knew what he meant. I was right.
Start with FHA mortgages, which are underwritten and guaranteed by the taxpayers, and are granted, typically, to those whose resources do not allow them access to the conventional market. An applicant may qualify for a home loan up to 56.99 percent (“Let’s call it 60 percent,” the nephew says) of the prospective borrower’s “back end ratio” — gross monthly income minus outstanding any auto loans, credit card debt, etc., as may appear on a credit report. The formula does not take into account the borrower’s tax liabilities: payroll, personal property, income, sales. It disregards basic living expenses: groceries, utilities, insurance, child care, clothing, out-of-pocket medical costs. It does not consider the human impulse to the occasional nicety, be it a weekend at the beach or merely a Big Mac. Even the most progressive tax system allows the FHA homeowner with a heavy mortgage little breathing room. An illness or injury depriving the self-employed of a couple weeks’ income; a two-month layoff of the assembly line technician; a job abruptly ended by automation: a cascade unleased can spin toward foreclosure.
None of this is especially new. But the pace of such underwriting is, my nephew tells me, arresting.
“Tell me how we’re doing these people a favor,” he asks.
Then there’s the push toward steadily larger mortgages on the conventional market, spawned by an increase in property values that mirrors the big build-up to the big letdown we remember as the Great Recession. As if we remember nothing. Toss in a stock market that is aflame — does “irrational exuberance” ring any bells? Then add international conflict or tension on a majority of continents and a contentious domestic political climate. Happy New Year.
“Come on, you’ll enjoy it,” a sister-in-law teased. She’s a nurse, so she added: “The exercise will do you good.”
This is in suburban Atlanta, where one side of the family had assembled. An outlet mall was troublingly near. Okay. And I was full of ham and pumpkin pie and other goodies less nourishing.
We split up in the parking lot. The nurse and a niece took off for candle stores and women’s shops and the like, leaving me to wonder as I would. I found myself in Brooks Brothers, the men’s clothing emporium that need not be described as legendary. Heck, I was in there only last Christmas. It was different this year. In December 2016 there were three spacious tables piled high with something called neckties. This year, one table.
Motoring back to the homestead I mentioned the two-thirds off, so to speak, to the nurse. She was no more surprised than me. She couldn’t remember the last time her husband, my brother-in-law, had been in any sort of setting — work, church, party — that required a tie. Well, one: a funeral. But even then perhaps only half the men wore a tie.
We’re losing something.
Another brother-in-law, with Arkansas roots, looked up from his computer the other day and exclaimed: “They gotta release it!”
“It” was the severance agreement between the Razorback Foundation and the football coach fired after the last game of the latest disappointing season. As is its custom the Foundation, privately supported but inextricably intertwined with the University of Arkansas, wants everything connected to its finances kept under wrap. The University would prefer it that way as well.
But Attorney General Leslie Rutledge opined, admirably, that the public ought to have access to such data, bonded as the Foundation and the University plainly are. The payout numbers will raise some Arkansas eyebrows though none in the collegiate athletic establishment. Division I coaches don’t come cheap and getting rid of them before their contracts expire is expensive. And the payouts include not only the head coach but his assistants, who the new guy is replacing; and the athletic director, dismissed only days before.
Bottom line: nobody who got fired will go hungry. Millions in go-away money. How much we may soon know.