First thing is to understand that the guy you signed your mortgage with and the credit card company who's logo graces your card is probably not the company that cares whether or not you make your payments. These companies make the transaction and then sell these mortgages and credit cards as securities on the markets. For the last 5 years, a lot of people have got mortgages and credit cards that shouldn't have and are now defaulting on these loans. These securities that were once so good have turned sour very quickly. The investment banks and other financial institutions that bought them were okay as long as this housing market stayed hot and rates low. They are now stuck with a security that is worthless right now because no one in their right mind would buy them. Thus the financial crisis you see on the news.
Is this the only cause? No. But it's a big one.
So our government has said to these big investment banks with a lot of bad debt (Lehman Brothers filed chapter 11 with $618 Billion dollars worth of bad debt) that the American taxpayer will be the buyers of these worthless securities and exchange good money that they just printed for bad securities so that these bad mortgage securities don't appear on their balance sheets any more. The government will then hold these securities until they are again marketable and sell them when the markets come back. I would hope there to be some tangible asset behind these dead securities.
The dollar amount has yet to be disclosed but is thought to be at least $500 Billion and maybe as much as a Trillion. That's a one with 12 zeros. Put that into perspective-If our treasury scattered that much money on a football field in $100 bills, it would take a person picking them up at an average on one bill per second 1180 years to pick up that much money. We are talking 20 times the net worth of the richest man in the world. I have my doubts that this will not cause a "bit" of inflation.
All being told, I find myself torn. I understand the devastation that this debt could cause our financial markets if nothing is done. At the same time, when the government is now involved in essentially a state run economy, I see something that resembles communist China where all the banks are controlled by their central government. I believe in the free markets but it scares me to know that if our government, who is already in debt $9 Trillion dollars, can write a check or extend phantom credit to whom it pleases, they can.
If i remember correctly, the problem stemmed from when people who had no business buying a home or were no good at managing their money in the first place were granted this debt. Now the federal government is extending credit in the same way. These companies can neither manage nor are they trustworthy in their "credit past."
I am not claiming to have the answer here. I will leave that to the experts. I am merely stating my claims that it seems to be a completely ironic situation that resembles a very socialist country.