It's time to pull the bandage off America's foreclosure problem. The economy is ready to emerge from its recent dark period, but to make it happen soon we need to speed the resolution of millions of troubled home loans. Six years have passed since the crisis began, yet instead of accelerating, foreclosures have slowed.
Lenders look at potential borrowers from many angles before extending credit: How much of its income will a household need to put into debt repayment? How large is the down payment? Does the borrower have a job with a stable income? What is the borrower's credit score?
There is no better way to quickly buoy hard-pressed homeowners than helping them take advantage of the currently record low fixed mortgage rates and significantly reduce their monthly mortgage payments.
The Bush tax cuts should be extended permanently for families with annual incomes of less than $250,000 and should be phased out slowly for those making more than that. Raising taxes on anyone now, when the economic recovery is so fragile, would be a mistake.
Defaulting on the nation's debt would be cataclysmic. The U.S. Treasury's Aaa rating is the one constant in the world's financial system. When times are bad anywhere on the planet, global investors flock to Treasury bonds because they know they will get their money back.
President Obama's reelection started the countdown for lawmakers to address the fiscal cliff and the statutory debt limit. Unless the President and House Republicans can agree on changes to current law, the U.S. economy will be in recession by spring.
The biggest culprits in the housing fiasco came from the private sector, and more specifically from a mortgage industry that was out of control.
In a forbearance, the homeowner pays interest and principal on a smaller mortgage, at least for a time, but still owes the full amount. The lower monthly payment helps with affordability, giving stressed homeowners a break.
Housing was ground zero for the Great Recession. Between early 2006 and Obama's inauguration in 2009, average house prices fell by a third across the country. In certain areas, including cities as diverse as Akron, Orlando and Las Vegas, house prices fell by more than half.
Too-easy credit and millions of bad loans made during the U.S. housing bubble paved the way for the financial calamity and Great Recession that followed. Today, by contrast, credit is too tight. Mortgage loans are particularly hard to get, creating a problem for the housing market and the broader economy.
The key to house prices is the share of foreclosure or short sales in the total housing market. When that share rises, house prices will fall, because distressed properties sell for significantly less - currently around 25 percent below non-distressed houses.
Our economy isn't going to recover until the housing market finds its footing.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the U.S. housing bubble, but not much of it belongs to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two giant housing-finance institutions made many mistakes over the decades, some of them real whoppers, but causing house prices to soar and then crater during the past decade weren't among them.
The clearest way to cut some of this fiscal drag would be to extend the current payroll tax holiday and increase it - as proposed by President Barack Obama. This would cut the fiscal drag by almost half.
The extension and expansion of the payroll tax holidays for workers would be number one on my list and key to avoiding recession.
It is hard to be enthusiastic about the economy's prospects when house prices are falling: Households spend less, small business owners can't use homes as collateral for loans and local governments are forced to cut jobs and programs as property-tax revenue disappears.
Investor demand for distressed property has been healthy, as rents rise to levels that can cover investors' costs while they wait for properties to appreciate. Giving investors a small tax break should further juice up demand, supporting prices for distressed homes and the market in general.