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The tale of a California loan that fed a global meltdown

SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ "Welcome," says the letter dated May 20, 2005. "It is a pleasure to have you as a new loan customer of Fremont Investment & Loan."

They were only 18 words written at the height of a housing boom.

But mailed to Erin O'Hagan of Sacramento, and multiplied hundreds of thousands of times elsewhere in the United States, they launched a financial crisis that is now rocking the world.

More than three years after getting that letter, O'Hagan said, "Who would have thought it all would crash and burn the way it did?"

Not just her own world.

The whole world.

O'Hagan's story is more than just a tale of her own life _ how she lost her job and then her home. It's how one mortgage on Hamilton Street near Interstate 80 and Madison Avenue contributed to the financial chaos we face today. The journey of a single loan, repeated countless times, helps explain why uncertainty has infected world banking and the stock market, why big financial companies want a government bailout to get losses off their books and to get the economy

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