inside the meltdown

Individual Borrowing, Mortgages and the Role of Consumers


Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • How credit scores impact consumer loans
  • The process consumers use to borrow in order to buy a home
  • How to determine an appropriate home price
  • How leverage was applied by banks and helped to bring about the subprime lending crisis


Materials Needed: Inside the Meltdown DVD or Internet access to watch video clip online


Time Needed: The lesson should take about 45 minutes. Watching the video clip and the discussion questions takes about an hour. Add another hour if you use the entire film. The subsequent student activities should take a class period to complete.



  • 1. As a class, if time permits, watch the entire video of Inside the Meltdown. If time does not permit, watch the segment about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that begins at 22:57 and ends at 27:10.
  • Review with students the timeline of events in the meltdown by visiting the following
  • Review the following with the class:
    • Homeowners get mortgage loans from lenders in order to buy homes. This has long been the so-called American dream. As homeowners pay off their mortgages over the years, they have an asset that they have paid for that is worth a great deal of money and has also gone up in value. In most years, home values have gone up.
    • The Federal Reserve (Fed) is responsible for making monetary policy decisions in the United States. When the economy suffers through a bad cycle, the Federal Reserve may lower interest rates in order to increase money supply in the economy and motivate businesses and individuals to start borrowing and producing more economic activity. After the dot-com bubble bust and the 2001 recession, the Fed kept interest rates very low in an effort to increase money supply in the economy and create easy credit. Easy credit was a factor in the 2008 economic meltdown.
    • Mortgage lenders sold home loans to other banks. This gave lenders more cash to make new loans, and with all the additional money available in credit markets, lenders had a lot of money to loan. This resulted in lenders making more high-fee, subprime loans and loans for big houses that even prime borrowers could not afford.
    • Investment banks borrowed a lot of money to create leverage so they could buy an increasing number of mortgage loans from the lenders for investors. Banks borrowed from other banks to do this.
    • Investment banks packaged the loans together to sell as bonds they could sell to investors. Banks used math models to put mortgages together in a way that bond-rating companies would rate as favorable.
    • Bond investors, including pension funds and big-money managers, wanted to buy the bonds to diversify their assets. They also wanted the bonds because they were rated as safe and they earned a higher return than Federal Reserve Treasury Bonds, which had low return rates because of the low interest rates.
    • Foreclosure is what happens when a homeowner can no longer afford to pay back his or her mortgage and the bank takes over ownership of the house and ceases to receive interest payments on the loan. As the foreclosure rate on risky subprime loans climbed from 3 percent to 10 percent, the supply of houses increased sharply and forced home prices down.
    • Investors stopped buying the bonds banks offered as the returns on investment went negative.
    • Banks then had a difficult time paying back the loans they took because of their high leverage and less money coming in from investors.
    • Lenders were left with very little money to lend, which created the credit crisis.
  • If computer access is available, a terrific 10-minute summary is available at the Get Rich Slowly blog site. This video clearly explains what happened and the risks of leverage. Have students watch (
  • Ask students to work with a partner to draw a graphic organizer chart to identify connections in the crisis among the following groups: banks, U.S. government, individual mortgage borrowers and investors. On the chart, students should identify one factor each group contributed to the crisis and one thing each group should do differently in order to avoid a similar situation in the future. Also, have students draw arrows along with an explanation that describes the relationship between different groups. (Possible responses to what can be done differently: better government regulation; more stringent lending requirements; allow less leverage; understand the terms of the mortgage before taking the loan; buy more affordable homes.)
  • Invite students to suggest steps consumers can take to manage their debts, such as personal loans and credit cards, wisely.
  • Explain to students that they are going to learn some practical information to help them understand how to get a good credit score and how to determine what price house they can afford.
  • Distribute the Credit Score Information and How Much House Can You Afford? student handouts as homework assignments.


Additional Resources:

This American Life from Chicago Public Radio has a series of interesting podcasts concerning the credit crisis. Follow this link to hear the episode, “The Giant Pool of Money.

Another helpful episode is “Bad Bank.


Method of Assessment:

Class participation
Completion of assignments


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