In a historic wave of foreclosures, countless thousands of Americans have given up their homes, unable - or unwilling - to pay the mortgage. Plunging values left their homes worth far less than the amount of their loans.
Many borrowers let banks take the houses back, believing the lenders would simply resell them at a loss. Some borrowers even did so out of spite, angry that lenders wouldn't help them refinance or adjust their payments.
Who's paying the price?
But in many cases, banks lost little or nothing on those foreclosures.
Instead, the biggest losers have been market investors and the American taxpayers.
Most foreclosures now are on loans that were issued by banks but backed by government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Created to boost U.S. homeownership, the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Mortgage Corp. buy mortgages from banks and now own half of all mortgages.
It's a system that was built to encourage banks to make mortgages and keep being able to make more. But the system also means that when homeowners stop making mortgage payments, the lenders who issued the mortgages don't take the biggest loss.
"Fannie and Freddie losses are passed onto taxpayers," said Anthony Sanders, a former professor of real estate and finance at Arizona State University, now with Virginia's George Mason University.
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