Each day this week, a different writer from TheStreet.com will make the case for why one of five prime culprits -- the banks, Congress, irresponsible home buyers, the Federal Reserve or the rating agencies -- is most to blame for the credit crisis and ensuing economic meltdown.

It's tough to wag a finger at those in pursuit of the American Dream: The big house and the white picket fence to call your own.

Yet it flies in the face of reason that someone who earns $50,000 a year could actually believe they could afford to make payments on a $650,000 home. It's a very simple point, a concept that should be easily grasped. Even Saturday Night Live gets it , evidenced by their great skit with a simple instruction: "Don't buy stuff."

But as Paul Nolte, director of investments with Hinsdale Associates, points out, the reckless assumption that housing prices would always rise has brought us to the precipice the economy currently rests on, in danger of falling over.


"The borrowers thought they were getting something for nothing," Nolte said. "They could lever it up because housing prices have always gone up. As it was with the tech bubble, when everyone thought tech was safe, it's the same thing in the housing market. Investors were not conservative in the housing area, just as they weren't conservative in technology in the early 2000s."

Not every borrower is to blame for where the stock market and the economy are now. Some responsible homeowners have always lived well within their means, but a layoff in the household or some other tragedy turned into the tipping point that drove many into foreclosure. These specific cases require some understanding and compassion.

Who is most responsible for the credit crisis and the recession?

Federal Reserve
Ratings agencies
Irresponsible home buyers

Beyond that, it's tough to find sympathy for unscrupulous borrowers that, simply put, should have known better. There are several types of irresponsible borrowers that need be held accountable: Buyers who took out a mortgage they could never afford, buyers who tried to ride the housing wave without educating themselves well enough, buyers who committed fraud in hopes of netting a quick profit, and buyers who attempted to flip more homes than they ever could manage.

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