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Living free in a million-dollar house

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Keith and Janet Ritter moved into a five-bedroom, 4,900-square-foot home in 2006, purchasing it for $1.29 million with almost no money down.

They have never made a mortgage payment, according to a report by The Washington Post’s Annys Shin.

Shin reported that the Ritters make no apology for using every tactic available to them to avoid foreclosure and stay in their house.

I’ve talked to and helped a lot of homeowners facing foreclosure, and the Ritters don’t appear to be victims to me. The facts as presented by Shin tell the story of a couple who are gaming the system.

Such stories fuel many peoples’ view that taxpayers shouldn’t be helping people fight off foreclosure, that those in trouble are either deadbeats or con artists. It gives weight to criticism that state or federal efforts to help people are hurting the housing market.

My experience with homeowners is that most are not like the Ritters. They are not living in million-dollar homes. I worked with people who were trying to stabilize their housing costs or provide a decent home for themselves or their family. I’ve counseled single parents who wanted a better life for their children. I see people in mortgage trouble by no fault of their own. They lost their jobs or became ill.

Did some of the troubled homeowners sign mortgages they shouldn’t have taken out? Yes. But does that mean we shouldn’t help them?

And helping homeowners does not mean keeping them in a home they can’t afford. I, as well as housing counselors, have advised people to bring in roommates or sell the homes even at a loss so they can move into housing they can sustain. But many other families could afford their home if the terms of the loan were adjusted. This is in the best interest of the lenders, too.

If you’re still not moved by these arguments, then think about this: The Post’s Suzy Khimm reported on Wednesday that there are too many vacant houses and not enough people who want to buy them.

What do you think this glut of homes will do to your property value? The number of foreclosures is expected to rise significantly in 2012, adding to a housing overhang that has depressed prices and held back the recovery, Khimm wrote.

By aiding homeowners, states and the federal government are helping to stabilize neighborhoods, which is in the best interests of everyone. Our housing market probably is much stronger because of it.

This week’s Color of Money Question: Do you think state and federal policies are hurting the housing market? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Living Free in a Million-Dollar House” in the subject line. Please include your name and city.

Lessons From the Duped

Texas businessman R. Allen Stanford was found guilty of swindling investors out of more than $7 billion using a Ponzi scheme that lasted two decades.

Stanford promised people safe investments that would help them retire comfortably or pay their children’s college tuition. All the while, he was pulling their money out of his Caribbean bank to pay for a string of failed businesses and a jet-setting lifestyle, the Associated Press reported.

During the trial, prosecutors showed how Stanford took billions of dollars over 20 years from certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua. They said he lied to investors from more than 100 countries, telling them their funds were safe.

I have a home assignment for you. Go to the Web site of Stanford Victims Coalition.

Read as much as you can about what happened to the victims in this Ponzi scheme. Watch the videos in which victims tell their stories. Use their experiences as a reminder to check, double-check and then triple-check how and with whom you are investing your money.

“The Revolution”

I’ll be holding court again on the new ABC daytime program

“The Revolution.” Take a look at one of my money court segments.

For an upcoming segment, I’m looking for a couple who can’t agree on how to handle their finances in some way (joint vs. separate accounts, spender vs. saver, etc.). If you want me to help mediate your financial differences, send an e-mail to casting@the-revolution.com, and put “Michelle’s Money Court” in the subject line. You can also e-mail me at colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “The Revolution” in the subject line.

Are you a snob?

During a campaign speech, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said that President Obama was a snob for suggesting that people should go to college.

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Are we pushing college on people – who could wind up stuck with decades of debt -- because we think it’s the only answer to the high life?”

“Yes, both my wife and I are college snobs,” wrote Troy Farnham of Longview, Wash. “In fact, we are such snobs that we were also the first in our families to not only graduate from college but also earn graduate degrees. Neither of my in-laws had a college degree while they supported my wife as she earned her Bachelor’s degree in education. It was only 10 years ago that my mother-in-law proudly followed both of her daughter’s foot-steps and earned her bachelor’s in education degree.”

Kelsey Reed of Laurel, Md., said, “I think two of the reasons why a college education has become so important in the U.S. are because wages without a degree are not large enough to support a family, and because our middle schools and high schools produce students with very few job skills.”

“It’s not snobbery to be educated,” wrote Carole Paynter of Queens, N.Y. “I think in a global economy, college is an important tool for any person who is looking to enter into the work world. I have always thought that President Obama looked at college education as a way to secure a better future and to make America more competitive in the world.”

Spend Well, Live Rich

I’m very excited about my new PBS special, “Spend Well, Live Rich with Michelle Singletary.” The pledge special is airing this month on various PBS-affiliated stations. Here’s a link for a video preview of the PBS special.

Watch for the program in your local area. Here’s a list of some of the stations carrying the program:

-- In the West Virginia area, the special airs today, Thursday, March 8, at 10 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

-- WETA, serving the greater Washington, D.C. area.

-- KCPT Kansas City Public Television

-- WQPT, Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois

-- WDSE/WRPT Duluth-Superior Minnesota

-- WEDU, Tampa, Florida

-- KCTS 9, Washington State and Canada

-- CPT 12, Colorado

-- Basin PBS, West Texas

Upcoming Events

On Saturday, March 24, at noon, I will be speaking at the Jacksonville (Fla.) Public Library as part of a series of free programs to help people navigate financial issues. Click on this link

to find out more information or call (904) 630-2665 for more information.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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