Aren’t loans what got us into this mess?

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hallelujah, I think I can score some cash, and I’m going to buy something.

No, I didn’t win the lottery as some may think; although, I will confess I enjoy a quick run down to Florida for some scratch-offs as much as the next person.

I heard the Federal Reserve has launched a program it hopes will spur lending for autos, education, credit cards and other consumer loans by providing up to $200 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) in financing to investors to buy up debt.

The Fed says the program has the potential to generate up to $1 trillion of lending for businesses and households. It will be expanded to include commercial real estate, though that won’t be part of the initial rollout.

The program, dubbed the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, will start off by providing $200 billion in loans to investors with the goal of jump-starting lending to consumers and small businesses.

According to the Fed, if the program succeeds, it should help make it easier for Americans to finance both large and small purchases at lower rates; that, in turn, would help revive the economy.

The way it’s explained is that under the program, the Fed will buy securities backed by different types of debt, including credit card, auto, student and small business loans. The credit crunch — which is reported to be the worst since the 1930s — has made it much harder for people to obtain such financing, and those that do, can be hit hard with high rates.

Before the financial crisis, banks relied on packaging such loans into securities and selling them to pay for additional lending.

Ah ha.

To me, this program sounds like a double-edged sword. It’s still bright, shiny and pretty but has the ability to cut two ways. If wielded right, it can do exactly what it is designed to do. If wielded wrong, it has the ability to cut the lifeblood of our economy.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we get into this whole nasty mess that the economy is in by loaning money — be it in the form of a mortgage, credit card or auto loan — and people couldn’t pay for what they got?

I don’t understand why now would be different.

And by creating new debt, don’t we perpetuate the cycle, but on a much larger scale?

If this program will make it easier for a shopkeeper to borrow more money to add more merchandise, what will happen if the consumer doesn’t have enough money to purchase that merchandise.

We already know. The shopkeeper will default on his or her mortgage and close the doors, leaving behind hundred of thousands of dollars of debt and countless employees without a job.

It truly is a perpetuating cycle, and one that will never stop until we realize we cannot live beyond our means.

I admit I was being a bit facetious when I said I was going to score some cash. The only cash I have is the cash I earned.

And I’m going to keep it that way.