Houses Up

5&7 Plan

The idea is so simple, it is surprising that no one (that I have heard about) has proposed it.  One big problem the US government faces is the enormous pile of mortgage-backed debt held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Another problem is that many “home owners” are underwater with their mortgages.  [How can you be a home owner if you have negative equity?]  Finally, the popping of the housing bubble continues to be a drain on the US economy.

The solution I propose is making interest on mortgage-backed securities tax free for five years.  This plan would immediately drive up the value of these “toxic” assets and drive down mortgage interest rates below historic lows.  This would provide a tremendous boost to Fannie and Freddie and even the Federal Reserve.  Increased demand for tax-free MBS would spur banks to issue more mortgages under easier terms, which would help prop up home prices.  Naturally, fewer home owners would be under water.

This would also be a boon for investors, giving them access to another tax-free asset class.  The incentive of tax-free MBS would be so powerful, it would threaten to take money away from tax-free municipal bonds.  To help offset this risk, part II of my plan would make long-term capital gains on municipal bonds tax free for seven years.  Like Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan, my plan would have a numeric title, the “5&7 Plan”.  (To avoid confusion with the 5-7 Pistol, the “&” symbol is used rather than a dash.)

The long-term capital gains provision gives investors an incentive to hold municipal bonds for at least one year.  The extra two years for municipal bond gains gives investors an added incentive to hold long-maturity municipal bonds.

The 5&7 Plan would expand the tax-free bond universe and introduce the concept of tax-free interest investing to a new group of investors… the middle class.  Typically only high-income earners benefit from tax-exempt bonds because they offer lower interest rates than taxable bonds.  Because high-income taxpayers face higher marginal tax rates, tax-free municipal bonds make sense despite lower interest rates.  If the 5&7 Plan becomes law, higher-yielding MBS will become lucrative to savvy middle-class investors.

I encourage the 2012 presidential candidates to consider adopting the 5&7 Plan.  I could see Romney offering the 5&7 Plan as a way of “cleaning up Newt’s Fannie and Freddie mess.”  Similarly I could see Gingrich pitching the 5&7 Plan as a way of “fixing the Democrat’s Fannie and Freddie problems.”  Finally, I could see Obama selling the 5&7 Plan as “an innovative way to clean up America’s mortgage crisis”.

If the 5&7 Plan gets enough press, it will revitalize the mortgage debate.  It will help turn the debate towards real solutions and away from political blame games.  And, if passed, 5&7 will energize the mortgage and housing markets in explosive ways compared to the tepid response all the other failed legislation of the past 3 years.  If you like the 5&7 Plan, share this link.  If you don’t, please share why.  I will publish all non-spam replies.  Let’s get the 5&7 debate started!

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3 Responses to Simple Plan to Tackle the Home Mortgage Crisis

  1. Bob says:

    Why is there no way to leave a response to your 5&7 plan?

  2. Dave says:

    You just did leave a response to the 5&7 Plan (AKA the 5 & 7 Plan) :)

    Just reply here (click the 5 & 7 Plan link) or simply post below:

  3. Frank says:

    I believe your plan misses the problem of the toxic asset. The asset is toxic because the face value is well above the true value. In the case of a mortgage, the borrower has no economic reason to pay back the note (I would argue that people who quickly walked away from these mortgages at the start of the crisis will be vastly ahead of those paying into a negative principle). Banks keep the face value of the asset on their books to make their reserve requirements even though they are swimming in losses. The federal tax on a loss is zero. The 5&9 plan doesn’t change anything. Also the federal tax on all interest payments on your primary home are also tax free if you itemize. Tax policy cannot solve this problem. We have a lot of “assets” on the books that are not real. Forcing recognition of the true value by forcing many rapid short sales quickly will drive down the value of the asset even further. Or in the 5&9 plan, trying to market them to investors would require marketing them at true market value.

    Under the basic principles of capitalism this is moral hazard and the banks
    should be liquidated and the investors should lose their money. But several
    economic theories believe that this would destroy the economy. The government
    could step in like they did with GM and broker a transition of the losses but this is politically unacceptable. It is also somewhat unrealistic since the government through various insurance programs with the banks would also take a large loss. Politically, it is also better to blame the banks then have the government assign losses to underwater home owners.

    Most people are hoping that the crisis will clear up naturally since most home mortgages last approximately 7 years. Either through short sales, refinancing or people/banks deciding to eat the losses, the bulk of the value in the toxic assets will be correctly recognized by the market and the uncertainty of hidden losses will pass. The 5&9 plan as I understand it, would delay this recovery.

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