Baltimore City Paper

On the House

Edmund L. Andrews is living mortgage-free, and he's written a book about it.

This is not as tasty as it first sounds. He has had panic attacks. He feels really bad about it. He annoyed the shit out of his second wife—though he reports that they've recently become closer.

But that facts are clear: Free $350,000 (formerly $500,000) brick colonial house in Silver Spring, Maryland for the past eight months and counting, while he waits for JPMorgan Chase to modify his delinquent mortgage. And Andrews has advantages that you and I do not have: This guy writes about money and finance for the New York Times.

So the fact that he is a debt idiot, as he confesses in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, is kind of irksome. That he acknowledges the irony helps very little.

The story is long, poignant, and potentially irritating to anyone who has been saving money, putting life plans on hold, or otherwise attempting to be fiscally prudent. After alimony and child support ($4,000 a month), Andrews had a monthly income of $2,777. His 2004-vintage no-doc, five-year exploding-adjustable-rate mortgage? $2,500 per month. Almost everything after the establishment of these two facts is completely predictable. There's the five-figure credit card debt, the overdraft fees, the spiraling interest rate, etc. etc.

But some surprises (or perhaps not): In the middle of all this, he's renting a beach house for $1,600, celebrating that the wife obtained a job. And then: The man turns his mortgage broker—the guy who smilingly ushered him into this debt coffin—into his financial advisor. Pays another $8,000 or $10,000 to that guy for digging the hole deeper.

Since we're in the spirit of journalistic confession here, I'm going to share: In salary, Andrews makes like three, four times what I make. He writes for (he gets paid overtime by!) the mighty New York Times. Via his news reporting, he advises me, and you, on matters financial.

Yet I have more money than he does.

Then again, I do not live in a $350,000 house, and I have to pay rent in order to occupy somewhat more modest digs.

So maybe he is way smarter than me after all.

Not buying that book though. Maybe I'll ask for a review copy.