A few months ago I worried that many subprime borrowers were concerned parents terrified of losing a bidding war for places in good school districts. Today Robert H. Frank, with his usual perspicuity, explains that dynamic in a concise and convincing op-ed:
In a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided move to help more families enter the housing market, borrowing restrictions were relaxed during the [decades leading up to the subprime meltdown]. Down payment requirements fell steadily, and in recent years, many houses were bought with no money down. Adjustable-rate mortgages and balloon payments further boosted families’ ability to bid for housing.
The result was a painful dilemma for any family determined not to borrow beyond its means. No one would fault a middle-income family for aspiring to send its children to schools of at least average quality. (How could a family aspire to less?) But if a family stood by while others exploited more liberal credit terms, it would consign its children to below-average schools. Even financially conservative families might have reluctantly concluded that their best option was to borrow up.