From Wall Street to Main Street, lots of people are asking for help. So far, the government's response has been very positive: "Ask, and you shall receive."

For investors, the first 10% correction in years for the stock market brought on near-panic, leading to demands for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. The Fed obliged, going beyond many expectations and giving those investors the best thing to happen to stocks this year.

Now homeowners are getting in line, hoping for financial assistance in the form of easier refinancing terms from the Federal Housing Administration and greater flexibility for government-sponsored agencies like Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) and Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE) to buy more mortgages on the secondary market. And there's every indication that politicians will give in to those demands, too.

Taking responsibility off the table
Obviously, many people are suffering from financial troubles caused by the slumping housing market. Stories like yesterday's New York Times article about families who were allegedly tricked out of their homes by shady mortgage brokers and real estate agents are enough to get even the most jaded reader angry.

But in many cases, people like this could have prevented these problems from happening in the first place. Common sense could have told them that buying a $750,000 house when you could only afford to pay $2,500 a month wasn't likely to work out in the long run.

For whatever reason, however, many people just don't treat financial professionals the same way they treat salespeople in other professions. If you agreed to pay full sticker price for a car, you'd never expect to be able to sue your car salesman for not giving you the invoice price. You know that when you buy a car, you need to negotiate to get the best deal.

Yet when it comes to their finances, these same people believe the marketing pitches of big financial firms. They think that they can let down all their defenses and trust any professional they're working with. They choose to ignore the fact that like car salesmen, their advisors are charged with responsibilities to their employers as well as their clients.

Be smart
Unfortunately, politicians often encourage this behavior. The government's bailout of Chrysler (NYSE:DAI) in 1979 and the post-9/11 assistance given to air carriers and freight haulers like Southwest (NYSE:LUV), Continental (NYSE:CAL), and FedEx (NYSE:FDX) are just a few examples of actions taken to rescue companies from the risks of doing business. Concerns over the "moral hazard" of these bailouts evaporated quickly after the Fed's rate cut. Yet as long as people expect to get help when they need it, they'll continue to make mistakes and take on too much risk.

In managing your own finances, you can't afford to count on a bailout. By understanding the consequences of your financial decisions, you can avoid many devastating setbacks. And even though some of those decisions may be tough to make, you owe it to yourself to be smart with your money.

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