Subprime 1-2-3

Don’t understand credit default swaps? Don’t worry—neither does Congress. Herewith, a step-by-step outline of the subprime risk betting game.

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Subprime borrower: Has a few overdue credit card bills; goes to a storefront lender owned by major bank; takes out a $100,000 home-equity loan at 11 percent interest

Lending bank: Assuming housing prices will only go up, and that investors will want to buy mortgage loan packages, makes as many subprime loans as it can

Investment bank: Packages subprime mortgages into bundles called collateralized debt obligations, or cdos, then sells those cdos to eager investors. Goes to insurer to get protection for those investors, thus passing the default risk to the insurer through a “credit default swap.”

Insurer: Thinking that default risk is low, agrees to cover more money than it can pay out, in exchange for a premium

Rating agency: On basis of original quality of loans and insurance policy they are “wrapped” in, issues a rating signaling certain slices of the cdo are low risk (aaa), medium risk (bbb), or high risk (ccc)

Investor: Borrows more money from investment bank to load up on cdo slices; makes money from interest payments made to the “pool” of loans. No one loses—as long as no one tries to cash in on the insurance.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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