Realty Check

Hate Writing the Mortgage Check? Charge It!!


I love plastic. I know, I know, the petroleum issues. But today I learned one more reason to love plastic: I can pay for my mortgage with it. Yes, American Express is breaking new ground, allowing its card members to pay their monthly mortgage bills on the card. I know what you're thinking, but hold on... Amex is requiring that these be prime loans only, so you can forget that whole subprime mortgage implosion issue. And of course, they'll be charging you $395 to enroll in the program.

"Obviously you have to be approved for the loan and depending on your credit line, it's all governed by the same standards," Christine Elliott of American Express tells me.

The loans, for now, also have to come from American Home Mortgage Corp , the first lender to offer this Express Rewards Mortgage program, and oh to think of the rewards!! Christine tells me Indy Mac will be joining the gang this summer, and while she can't discuss others, she assures me there will be more.

Now my first concern here is the slippery slope thing. Granted, American Express Card holders are the crème de la credit of the charging brigade. Christine tells me that beyond using the card for cars and boats, it's become extremely popular for the jet set to put payments for fractional ownership of private jets on the Amex. I'm guessing those charges are more than the Southwest fare I just booked to Islip for my summer vaca.

Amex-ers are also using the card for exclusive resorts, where membership fees can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Amex allows card members to use plastic for luxury condo rentals as well.

"Given our card member base we have the lowest credit losses in the industry, and the people transacting in rent are even lower than our card member base," Christine assures me.

But what about the precedent? It's one thing for the gold standard, the inventors of the gold card, to offer this kind of perk to its pecuniary elite, but what happens when Visa and MasterCard jump on the bandwagon, and average folks who live entirely on credit start to see plastic stars in their eyes? Plenty of Americans have gotten into plenty of trouble using plastic to pay for items that should simply have walked on past. And we all saw what happened when the mortgage industry started offering "exotic" products that allowed people to use their homes essentially as credit cards: the economy and housing industry are now paying a hefty price for that.

Don't get me wrong; again, I love plastic and I love real estate, and a marriage of the two does sound slightly romantic. The question I'm asking though:  Is plastic really the kind of foundation you want for your home?

Questions?  Comments?