Innumeracy leads to needless insolvency

In a recent NYT article about the increasing number of Americans (supposedly about 6 million) dependent on “food stamps”, I read some interesting details:

Ms. Bermudez, by contrast, tells what until the recession seemed a storybook tale. Raised in the Bronx by a drug-addicted mother, she landed a clerical job at a Manhattan real estate firm and heard that Fort Myers was booming. On a quick scouting trip in 2002, she got a mortgage on easy terms for a $120,000 home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. The developer called the floor plan Camelot.

“I screamed, I cried,” she said. “I took so much pride in that house.”

Jobs were as plentiful as credit. Working for two large builders, she quickly moved from clerical jobs to sales and bought an investment home. Her income soared to $180,000, and she kept the pay stubs to prove it. By the time the glut set in and she lost her job, the teaser rates on her mortgages had expired and her monthly payments soared.

She landed a few short-lived jobs as the industry imploded, exhausted her unemployment insurance and spent all her savings. But without steady work in nearly three years, she could not stay afloat. In January, the bank foreclosed on Camelot.

Let me get this straight: the bank foreclosed on a mortgage for an amount that, at one point, was 2/3 of her annual income? Sure, she’s down on her luck and I feel for her — but it seems that some innumeracy (mathematical/arithmetic illiteracy) was involved as well.

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