Accounting Crisis Response

Major David Ebel, of the Escondido Salvation Army, is one of the moderators of the Emergency and Disaster Responders Support web site.  I spoke to him about training as a volunteer to help people in crisis.

“You may think of fires and earthquakes when you talk about disaster relief, but if you were in Escondido, I could use your accounting skills right now,” he said.  Ebel went on to describe the financial challenges some of the people he serves face.  “If you could help people figure out how to live on $22,000 per year, you would be making a big contribution to their quality of life.”

Ebel continued, “Some of the people I work with have never seen a raw potato.  They don’t realize that they can buy five pounds of potatoes for the cost of two boxes of processed potato flakes.  They have never made mashed potatoes from scratch in their life.”

In the financial area, I see a similar lack of exposure to the basics.  In my grandfather’s day, if a young couple came to the bank for a mortgage they couldn’t afford, the loan officer would quietly explain the situation to them and refuse to advance the money.  Fast forward to today, where the bank employee will help you minimize your payment by reducing the down payment and extending the amortization period from 20 years to 35 years.  The problem is, they don’t tell you the consequences of those decisions.

Let’s say you have a $100,000 20 year mortgage at 5%.  Over the course of the mortgage, you will pay $57,710 in interest, at $657 per month.  If you extend that mortgage to 35 years, then you will pay $110,600 in interest (more than the original mortgage!), at $501 per month.  That extra $150 per month makes a huge difference spread over 20 years.  Here’s the part they don’t tell you:  if you get the 20 year mortgage when you’re 20, then it’s almost paid off at the time when your children may need college tuition or are considering getting married, etc.  If you go for the 35 year option, then you haven’t paid off the house until you’re 55 years old!  Who needs that kind of stone around their neck?!

The point of all this is simply that when budgeting for mortgage payments, the right question to ask is “What’s the MAXIMUM I can pay?”  As odd as it sounds, reducing mortgage payments makes mortgages LESS affordable, not more.

The sub-prime mess is still with us.  People have been badly wounded and those wounds are no less real for being financial.  Grab your spreadsheets and get out there!  If anyone reading this blog knows of ways to help counsel people or places to volunteer, please note them in the comments.

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7 Comments on “Accounting Crisis Response

  1. I volunteer with a group call Junior Achievement where professionals give presentations to high school and middle school students about financial topics.

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