Pundits are trying to put a finger on why Americans are so angry these days. In most cases, it's not one thing but an accumulation of irritants.

Our explosions expand exponentially with the degree of government involvement, and produce a huge mushroom cloud when a bank is also in the mix. Especially when the issue becomes personal, as it did for me.

It couldn't have happened at a worse time, just days before my mother died on Labor Day. In fact, my planning of her funeral was affected. Let me explain.

Weeks earlier, I had applied for a credit card so I could get rewards points with every purchase. I didn't really need the card, but was disappointed when my application was denied. I was sure a mistake had been made, but I was told I had a delinquent debt. I didn't yell "You lie!" into the phone. But I felt like it.

I didn't understand why the credit-monitoring agency that I use hadn't sent me an alert. But that came in the next day's mail. It said I was 60 days past due on my note to GMAC Mortgage. What a foul-up, I thought. I don't have a GMAC loan.

I went online and downloaded my credit reports from Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. They all had been recently updated with the GMAC debt. I asked all three to investigate, and within days they all reported that the delinquency had been confirmed.

Meanwhile, I frantically called GMAC's customer-service number. The first counselor said she didn't see my name on a mortgage. But that obviously wasn't what someone with GMAC was telling the credit agencies.

I suspected I was a victim of identity theft and asked that a fraud alert be issued to all of my credit card holders. But there was no fraud.

As the debt delinquency became known, the banks holding my credit cards rushed to cut the limits on them - and in one case canceled my card altogether.

It's one thing to be told in a restaurant that your credit card is no good. Quite another when you're trying to purchase the casket for your mother's funeral.

It took several more calls over a period of days before I finally got someone at GMAC to tell me what was going on. It was holding me responsible for the mortgage on a house in Alabama that I had sold in 1994.

The current homeowner appeared headed to foreclosure and GMAC was trying to squeeze a payment from me. On what basis? Well, here's the cautionary tale that every seller of a home needs to know. It's all about assumption agreements.

When I sold my house 15 years ago, the couple that bought it signed a contract to assume my mortgage. They sold the house two years later and that buyer assumed the same mortgage. For some reason, maybe he couldn't qualify, he never refinanced for a better interest rate.

I couldn't believe that GMAC would ignore that I had no contract with the current debtor, whom I had never even met, and try to hold me responsible for his debt. I had received no warning, was never forwarded any past-due notices, just woke up one day to find out I had been branded a credit risk.

The assumption agreement that I was a party to did say that I might be held responsible if the assumer of the mortgage defaulted within five years - but that would have ended in 1999.

During one of several subsequent conversations with GMAC representatives, I was told that I could be released from liability and have my credit reports cleared if I would pay the late mortgage payments. It sounded like blackmail. Is that how banks are doing business in the recession?

I asked to speak to someone in higher authority and hit the mother lode, someone at GMAC who was both sympathetic and helpful.

I told her I had documents showing I didn't own the house, including copies of the deed to the couple who bought it from me, the assumption agreement they had signed, and even the deed to the man who bought the house from them.

It wasn't my house, and I didn't think I should have to pay the note on it.

The woman asked me to fax the documents, and after a few more days in which my credit ratings sunk ever lower, she called back to say GMAC was removing me as a debtor on the mortgage and would inform all of the credit agencies. That's great, but I'm not sure how long it's going to take to repair the damage to my credit.

Fordham University law professor David A. Schmudde, author of A Practical Guide to Mortgages and Liens, says GMAC was within its rights. It didn't sign my assumption agreement, so it could continue to hold me responsible for the life of the mortgage.

GMAC said it had sent default notices to me, and also in 2004 when the loan became past due. But those were mailed to an address in Maryland that I vacated in 1995. They weren't forwarded, so I never got them.

So, here's the lesson: I had a "simple assumption" agreement, which was between me and the purchaser of my house. Instead, make sure you have a "full assumption," in which the mortgage company agrees to the contract and releases you from liability up front. And hold on to all your paperwork.

All of this was quite a distraction as I made my mother's funeral arrangements. But it got done, and I believe she would have been pleased. Janye Lee Wilson Jackson lived 93 years on Earth, and I wanted to give her the respectful send-off to heaven that she deserved.

And even though I got angry at GMAC, and the banks that were so quick to slash my credit, something else occurred during this time that kept me smiling. Three days before Mama died, my first grandchild was born - Jayla Edith Denice Wolff. When she's old enough, I'll tell her to always pay cash.

E-mail Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson at hjackson@phillynews.com.