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Biggest Loser Turns Biggest Winner. The Little Known History of the Credit Card.

Between 1979 and 1981, Citibank lost over $500 million on its credit card operations. By 1990, this had changed and credit cards were suddenly profit leaders at the bank. What happened?

Easy answer: Citibank (and many other banks) realized that they were pitching credit cards to the wrong market segment. Since nearly the inception of credit cards, banks had been offering credit cards almost exclusively to the financially well-off; but after years of lackluster profit performance with credit card operations, the banks finally realized that the truly big gains were to be made by offering credit cards to lower income and middle income market segments. They began to market to the elderly, the student and to most anyone of modest or lower income, specifically targeting low-wage clerks, young professionals, clerical support staff, struggling teachers and many laborers. The banks saw it as a matter of survival—theirs, not yours!

Banking was at a troubled crossroads in the late 1970s. Bank industry profits were flat or in decline as traditional business and mortgage lending suffered losses associated with the troubled economic times. Compounding the profitability problems, the usually more glamorous and profitable areas of banking business such as third world lending and commercial realty lending were also then of hit-or-miss profitability. The banking industry needed a new profit source. Credit cards issued to middle/lower income borrowers were then introduced to fill the profit void.

The best explanation of this shift in credit card marketing focus to the less well off might be found with Robert D. Manning’s year 2000 book, “Credit Card Nation”, published by Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04366-6. The following quotes from the book appear in chapter 1, pages 9, 12-13 and 20: “During the 1980s, the credit card industry’s marketing campaigns successfully expanded into middle-class markets, including blue and white-collar workers who suffered unexpected employment disruptions due to corporate downsizing and recession-related layoffs. This profitable linkage with lower-income households early in the decade emboldened banks to target other nontraditional niche markets such as unemployed college students and retired senior citizens in the mid-1980s, then the working poor and the recently bankruptcy with secured credit cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The results were impressive. The profusion of credit cards generated rapidly escalating consumer finance charges, merchant discount fees, and, of course, profits. Between 1980 and 1990, the charges of the average U.S. household jumped sharply from $885 to $3,753 per year, or more than twice as fast as disposable income, while average cardholder debt soared from $395 to $2,350. Credit card issuers earned between three and five times the ordinary rate of return in banking in the period 1983-1988.”

“By the end of 1994, the typical American card holder had amassed nearly $4,000 in revolving debt on a total of three of four bank credit cards with an annual interest rate of about 17 percent.”

Credit card marketing budgets concurrently exploded, too. Marketing expenditures by Visa, MasterCard and American Express had climbed to $75 million by 1985. The big three then more than doubled marketing expenditures by 1994, with a 1993-1994 2-year total combined expenditure of $385 million, (plus another $40 million spent by Discover) over the two-year period 1993-1994. Then combined credit card industry marketing budgets doubled again within a mere four-year period, climbing to $870 million total expenditure for 1998.

So, in a mere 14 years ending in 1994, the average household credit card revolving indebtedness had increased by about 1,000 percent (a 10 fold increase!) from $395 to nearly $4,000, and credit card industry marketing budgets had increased by something approaching 400% (a 4 fold increase).

So, does credit card marketing contribute to bankruptcies and indebtedness? Quite possibly.

1998 saw 1,441,891 bankruptcy filings. 1980 filings stood at about 300,000.

So putting it all together, average household revolving debt increased by 10 fold (about 1000 percent) 1980 through 1998 to a high of $4,000 as 1980s and early 1990s marketing expenditure of credit card products (much of which was to lower and middle income households) concurrently increased by a nearly similar 1000 percent (10 fold) 1985 to 1998 to $870 million. Following suit, bankruptcy filings in roughly the same period 1980—1998 increased nearly 5 fold (a little less than 500 percent) from 300,000 to about 1.4 million.

The banks found a way to turn the biggest loser in their stable of operations into the biggest winner of profits. The banking industry turned a broken-down, sway backed and under appreciated old nag of a pony into a Kentucky Derby jackpot winning thoroughbred—in part by feeding it what grew into an $870 million annual diet of marketing. Profits jumped and a whole new industry was created: the modern credit card. This led to an amazing turn around for the banks, mostly at the courtesy and expense of middle and lower-income America.

If you are struggling under a mountain of debt and do not see much hope of completely escaping from the debt within the next 24 months, then you should strongly consider consulting with us regarding a bankruptcy filing. Your initial one-half hour consultation is completely free!

After your bankruptcy filing, get discovered (and rich!) with Kickstarter.com part 2

Kickstarter is no gimmick: Amazingly, since 2009 Kickstarter.com has received pledges of $450 million dollars for more than 35,000 projects.

Kickstarter.com provides a valuable payment platform and portal for people to donate financially to the development of your idea. You promote your idea yourself, and then direct people to pledge funding to it by promising to permit a credit card charge when your idea reaches its funding goal. In todays world of Facebook, email, Linked In and Twitter, there are many ways to get the word out about your Kickstarter.com project, and to seek donations.

But Kickstarter.com is for the proactive inventor – If the project is not successful in reaching its stated funding goal by a stated funding deadline, then the credit card of the donor is never charged and the project terminates off of Kickstarter.com and is never funded. If using Kickstarter.com, you have to get off your duff and promote your project to potential donors, lest the project die unfunded for failing to meet the donation pledge goal by the stated deadline.

Here is how it works: So once you place your project on Kickstarter.com, then you start phoning all of your friends and family and asking them to phone their friends and family to make Kickstarter.com pledges. You also dun your Facebook “friends” to check out your Kickstarter.com project and to make donations…..and the idea is that you create “buzz” about your Kickstarter.com project with twitter posts and other social media, seeking more interested donors.

What do the donors receive for making a donation to your kickstarter.com project? Well, nothing, unless you promise the donors something. They do not receive any ownership interest or share nor rights to dividends or royalties on down the road in your invention or production. The donors have no future claim on you nor your invention or production.

The project to which you donate has a stated promised completion deadline, and donors are to receive RSS updates from you the developer as the project proceeds along, so your donors do learn what is going on with their money.

Also, some project promotors placing their project on Kickstarter will promise “rewards” – such as a free T-shirt saying “I donated to George Washigton nude” or perhaps an autograph of the soon-to-be-famous writer/artist to whom the donation was pledged, once the project is funded.

What do you get from Kickstarter.com? Well, money to pursue your dream project! If you are seeking riches, and should you prove to have a lucky good idea, then you may be “discovered” by an investor, promotor, supporter or backer who offers to further back your project or to buy the rights to continue along with your idea.

Any project you promote for donations on Kickstarter must be a project with a clear goal. “Fund my life” projects for further education or a vacation are not allowed. Whether it be creating a work of art, creating a music album, editing and publishing a book or completing a technology invention prototype, there must be a definable completed product to be eligible.

Examples: Some projects of all different sizes have been suprisingly successful at receiving funding, and some have been done by very local people here in the Pacific Northwest:

– Morgan Stinson of Olympia, Washington is creating a game called “Dracula: Judicial Inquest” for which he has received $340 in Kickstarter.com pledges, and he will thus likely meet his goal of $400 in pledges, for as of February 28, 2013, he still had 15 days left to gather pledges before his project pledge expiration deadline of March 14, 2013. Morgan is offering t-shirts as a reward for pledges over a certain level.

Others are bigger and receive amazing levels of pledges:

-Development of a “nano lightbulb” hoping to be the most efficient lightbulb ever has received donation pledges of $240,967, which is 1,204% of the requested $20,000 in donations – as as of February 28, 2013, there were still 7 days left to pledge.

-Amazingly, the development of an “affordable desktop 3-D printer” received $2,945,855 in pledges, which was 2,945% of what was requested as only $100,000 in pledges was requested. Simply amazing.

Many projects are modest and yet receive suprising levels of funding:

– “Growgarden: a simple hydrogarden in a jar” has received pledges of $6,823, which is 1,364% of what was requested in pledges, and as of 2/28/13, there are still seven days remaining to make a pledge.

Where does bankruptcy come into this? Since this is after all a bankruptcy blog……

If you have an idea, keep it in your head and do not develop it and do not post it on Kickstarter.com until AFTER you file for bankruptcy. Intellectual property like ideas and inventions can be taken away from you in bankruptcy and sold to the highest bidder by the bankruptcy court trustee.

As a precaution, you should list in your bankruptcy papers that you have an idea or a concept for a “growgarden” or other such invention, but that there is not even a prototype. In a bankruptcy case, the court trustee has to quickly decide whether it wants to take away and promote your idea – and if it chooses not to do so, then the idea and all rights to it are returned to your full right and ownership without limitation. I am almost certain that in the overwhelming majority of cases your idea will receive no interference or expression interest. When the bankruptcy court trustee takes a “pass” on taking and promoting your idea then the idea/product is returned to you free and clear.

So, if you have an idea like the “nano lightbulb”, the “growgarden” or “Dracula: Judicial Inquest” you should first get rid of any troublesome debts by way of bankruptcy filing before you further formulate the prototype model and you should certainly file for bankruptcy to get rid of troublesome debts before you post the idea on Kickstarter.com seeking donations towards the prototype development and subsequent marketing.

But returning to the “smartwatch” idea which was promoted and discovered on Kickstarter.com: Mr. Pogue of the New York Times liked the “Martian Watch”. I liked it too: here are a few highlights: eventually, it will have a “find your iphone app” whereby you can make your iphone ring to locate it when lost by activating a function on the watch. Likewise, your smartphone will broadcast (via bluetooth) text messages, facebook posts and e-mails for viewing on your “Martian Watch”.

The “Martian watch” can also be configured to announce and read aloud incoming text messages and it can set off your smart phone’s camera remotely. The “Martian watch” also functions as a speaker phone, so you can really be just like Dick Tracy, the famous comicbook detective, and speak directly into your watch….

And you can use Apple’s Siri function to tell your “Martian watch” to “dial mom’s cell phone” and then have a wristwatch speakerphone conversation with mom… without ever touching your cell phone… pretty cool!

One last thing – the Pebble Watch (a competitor of the “Martian Watch”) raised $10 million in development funds on Kickstarter.com.

Ready to dust off that idea?

After your bankruptcy filing, get discovered (and rich!) with Kickstarter.com

David Pogue, personal-tech columnist for The New York Times, states that 2013 is the year of the “smart watch” in his “State of the Art” column entitled “Dick Tracy, Your Watch Is Ready, Almost”, published February 27th.

The apparent market leader in “smart watches” will be the Pebble Watch. The next products to challenge for the lead will have names like the Cookoo, I’m Watch, Meta Watch, Casio G-Shock GB-6900 and Martian.

Come on! What does a discussion of new “smart watches” have to do with a bankruptcy blog? It has lots to do with bankruptcy!

First, every single one of the “smart watch” products have something on common, says Mr. Pogue. The concept behind each prototype was first floated on Kickstarter.com, a website where people with an idea seek donors who would contribute to their prototype.

Second, if you have an idea for something like the smart watch and you file for bankruptcy, what happens to your idea? Can your idea be taken away from you as intellectual property to be sold with the proceeds distributed to your creditors? If you have an idea, when should you post it on Kickstarter.com for funding requests?

The answer is “yes”, you can lose rights to your great ideas in bankruptcy. Your idea can be taken away by the bankruptcy court trustee and sold to the highest bidder. So if you are on to something big like the “smart watch” at the same time you are struggling with debts, you might want to file for bankruptcy before you do any significant marketing or development work on your invention, and you should certainly file for bankruptcy before you ever post your idea or invention on Kickstarter.com.

Could an idea of yours find funding on Kickstarter.com and even lead to post-bankruptcy riches if you are “discovered” by the right people? Very possibly yes, as Kickstarter.com does not limit participation to technology and physical inventions, but welcomes performance artists, musicians, authors, and fashion designers. Kickstarter.com wasn’t established just to help inventors to make money by finding a financial backer to buy your idea. Kickstarter.com may enable you to develop something of benefit to humankind that you otherwise would not have the resources to pursue. It is a platform for sharing ideas and for connecting ideas with crowd sourced funding.

Don’t discount your ideas. Even seemingly weird ideas might find funding on Kickstarter.com. Venture capitalists and Fortune 500 companies now regularly scan Kickstarter.com to find promising ideas and concepts that they might fund and develop. This is how the “smart watch” idea was discovered, says Mr. Pogue.

Check back soon for part two of this blog post that will include actual success stories from Kickstarter.com and more great ideas!

Hollywood secrets: 7 big stars and their almost unknown bankruptcies and bonus: 8 best uses for the first $1,000 of your tax refund

Even after a long day of sympathizing with clients as they share financial troubles, I still have ample appetite to consume the latest news story of a celebrity’s financial train wreck.   I cannot pass up a headline announcing the latest financial woes of the famous and telegenic.  Even after a 20 client day, I will still pause to read about a celebrity debt default.   I sometimes ask myself:  How could all of that talent, fame and fortune leave one insolvent? How ever did it happen?

 The layout of this blog post is unique:  following every (ho-hum, yawn) financial inspiration tip of what one might do with the first $1,000 of any tax refund is a little tiny tidbit of irresistible celebrity financial muckraking.

 You will get seven celebrity financial crashes and eight financial advice tips about how you might spend the first $1,000 of your tax refund – all mixed in one package.  I think that is a square deal.

Enjoy!

The average tax refund is $2,913.00 – some of this is understandably might used for “catch-up” on household obligations or to repair aging vehicles.  But if you can spare $1,000.00 of the refund, consider using the $1,000.00 for the benefit of your financial future – so I present eight tips about how to best use $1,000.00 of your 2012 tax refund.

 But on to the crashing celebrities:  We almost all know about Mike Tyson’s 2003 filing for bankruptcy protection and Anna Nicole Smith’s two filings.   But did you know about Walt Disney’s bankruptcy filing?  After bankrupting at age 21, he went on to found a company that grossed $38 billion in revenue last year.

Some of our most loved and respected celebrity entertainers have faced financial woes and were able to reconstruct their lives and finances with the assistance of the US Bankruptcy Courts.

If you are besieged with bills and collectors (or know someone who is) – then reach out to us for a consult and let us open the door to a bright post-bankruptcy future.  Just consider Walt Disney…. he did just fine after bankruptcy.

1.   Tip:  Use $1,000 of your tax refund to open a Roth IRA for yourself, a child or a grandchild (or even a nephew or niece!).  If you, your child or grandchild had taxable income for the year (even if no tax was due or paid) you can usually contribute up to $5,000.00 into a Roth IRA for yourself or that child or grandchild.  But lets take it easy, as $1,000 would be more than a generous.  The Tax Code provides the rest of the generosity as this contribution will grow tax-free year after year, and it can be withdrawn tax-free after age 59.5 years.  What greater gift than to begin the creation of a nest egg for yourself, a loved child or a grandchild – so toss in $1,000.00 and watch it grow!  Even if you or your loved one has financial troubles in the future, the money in the Roth IRA is virtually unreachable by creditors.  Now on to the celebrity financial woes……

2. Celebrity bankruptcy:  Actor Sherman Hemsley “a/k/a George Jefferson” filed for bankruptcy protection in June 1999.  He was unable to repay a $1 million dollar loan and had IRS issues to boot.  After some time he did withdraw his bankruptcy petition after negotiating repayment arrangements with his creditors.

3. Tip: Use $1,000 of your tax refund to replenish your emergency fund – set up a separate savings account for this purpose at a bank where you don’t normally do business.  If you want to REALLY  go for it, set up a paycheck allotment or auto-deposit of $100 monthly into the same emergency fund.  In just two years, this fund will grow to nearly $5,000.00.

 4. Celebrity bankruptcy: Actress Kim Basinger filed in 1993 after a town she purchased in 1989 (at the encouragement of relatives) turned into a financial nightmare.  She had hoped to turn the whole town into a theme park of some sort, partnering with investment company Ameritech.  Also compounding her financial challenges was an $8.1 million dollar judgment against her for withdrawing from the film “Boxing Helena”.  Eventually Kim bounced back well, winning an Academy Award for her film role in “L.A. Confidential” and eventually settling the $8.1m lawsuit for about half of what she owed.

5. Tip:  Get a Professional Review of Your Finances from a fee-only non-commissioned financial advisor – which usually costs less than $1,000.00.  How is this different from calling Edward Jones or Charles Schwab?  There is a big difference, as your local stockbroker is a salesperson, not a truly neutral financial advisor.  Contact the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for a local referral.  A note of caution: if you have not yet filed your own bankruptcy to be rid of burdensome debt, I doubt that your friendly financial advisor will be able to instantly resolve financial woes.  But once free of hopeless debt, you may have a little extra in the household budget – and this could be wisely invested  in mutual funds, IRAs, GETT educational credits or other funds to suit your family’s long-term needs as recommended by your professional (non-commissioned) Personal Financial Advisor.

6. Celebrity bankruptcy: Crooner Wayne Newton  “a/k/a Mr. Las Vegas” filed for bankruptcy protection in 1992.  His woes then included $20 million in unpaid bills related to a libel lawsuit he had filed against ABC for claiming that organized crime was involved in some of his casino dealings.  By 1999, Mr. Newton was doing better, but again faced financial problems by 2005, including a $1.8 million IRS taxes and $60,000 in unpaid airplane storage bills.

 7.  Tip:  Improve your home’s curb appeal with a $1,000 tax refund trip to Home Depot.  Yes!  You get to go shopping!   $1,000 will buy a trip to Home Depot for some new landscaping shrubs, a stylish new front door with fancy door knocker, a gallon of paint and three pink yard flamingos.  There are two reasons for sprucing up your home: If you have to suddenly relocate and sell your home to chase a new job, you will be glad you took care of this “sprucing up” when you had the extra funds and time.  Plus, coming home to a pretty home after a long day of work or job hunting is truly gratifying.  Don’t own a home?  Then plan “B” for those not owning a home is a little weird – spend $500 on professional wardrobe items and save the other $500 for your emergency fund – because should you eventually want to purchase a home or change apartments,you are going to need that $500 you placed safely in your emergency fund!  Likewise, looking professional at work is never a poor investment.

8. Celebrity bankruptcy: Singer Vince Neil a/k/a Heavy metal band “Motley Crue” frontman.  Mr. Neil has actually filed for bankruptcy twice, the most recent time in 2010.  One of his creditors was his lawyer, to whom Mr. Neil owed $16,000.00, for getting him out of many a heavy metal jam.

 9. Tip: Hire a lawyer to write your will for $1,000.00 from your tax refund.  Yes, you can cheaply use an online form downloaded from the internet from legal zoom or worse and avoid the lawyer fee – but watch out!  There are many issues you might overlook, and legal situations are treated differently state to state, so your Florida oriented form might not work so hot in Washington.  Here are a few examples of subtle issues a lawyer might better address:  Nominations in your will of a guardian to care for minor children, care for pets upon your passing, “health care directives” which direct when the medical establishment should back-off providing medical care to you and finally, addressing confusion between the death division of “non-probate” assets such as life insurance policies, IRAs and 401k’s and “probate assets” such as homes and realty investments.  Special note: if you have not revised your will or changed financial asset beneficiary designations since completing a divorce, you had better get on it!

 10.  Celebrity bankruptcy:  Baseball player Jose Canseco walked away from his 7,300 square foot Encino, CA mansion in 2008.  While technically not a bankruptcy, abandoning your mansion seems pretty darn close to bankruptcy to me.  Jose retired from baseball in 2002 after a long and highly compensated career with the Oakland Athletics.  In 1988, he was the first player in major league history to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season.  Two costly divorces and a steroid scandal laid low Jose’s finances and his mansion was foreclosed.  He tried out for the L.A. Dodgers in 2004, but was passed over.

 11.  Tip:  Hire a personal fitness trainer and diet coach with $1,000.00 from your tax refund.  Try two sessions per week (one hour per session) at between $50 and $75 per hour to learn modern fitness technique.  This seven to ten week investment may be the best money you ever spend.  Fitness trainers and diet coaches are not just for movie stars any longer.   I know that trainers work: Before starting with my trainer, I had never heard of “short burst cardio” – “burpees” – “bosu balls” – “kettle bells” – “arnolds” or “skull crushers”.  With a richer vocabulary, a slimmer midsection and a much more positive mental attitude I strongly recommend a fitness coach.  I revolutionized my diet with the trainer’s help and went from 219 pounds down to 201, dropping six inches off of my waist from 38 to 32.  If not for the personal trainer, I would still been stuck in the same old unsuccessful exercise rut.  Try the trainers at the YMCA for economy – but if you want the best, then try “The Club at Gig Harbor”, where I meet my trainer.

 12. Celebrity bankruptcy: Mark Twain filed for bankruptcy in 1894 after a failed investment in an automatic typesetting device called the Paige Compositor.  The investment cost Mark Twain his fortune (and also cost much of the inherited fortune of his wife), but he bounced back after bankruptcy.  He went on to replace at least a portion of his fortune as a lecturer.  Ironically, the man who coined the phrase “the Gilded Age”, Mark Twain, went broke.

 13. Tip:  Spend $1,000.00 of your tax refund to beef up career skills.  Consider courses at community colleges or some on-line courses to strengthen the weaker portions of your resume and experience.  A stronger resume can ease a transition into a new position with your current employer, or provide you with a new classroom learned skill that will be a focal interview “talking point” if you are interested in reaching out to new potential employers.

 14. Tip:  If you have not yet paid off your debts in full, then invest $1,000.00 of your tax refund money in the bankruptcy services of James H. MaGee.  Each year that you toil along with debt means one less year to accumulate adequate retirement savings and one more year of hope-robbing and health-corroding stress.  A bankruptcy case can often mean quickly restored creditworthiness – call us for a consult, and I can explain how and why!  253-383-1001 www.washingtonbankruptcy.com

5 Financial Scams That Target Your Money

Financial strain combined with busy lives can compromise the ability to make sound financial decisions. Are you a generous person with precious little time to research charities? Are you too busy to carefully monitor your online profile? If “yes”  to any of these questions is your answer, then I caution you: be aware of these five financial scams.

The financial scams that we will review can be categorized as either “get ahead” scams or “help” scams.

In nearly 20 years of law practice emphasizing bankruptcy, I have been very impressed by the generosity of my clients. At the same time, my clients are generally hardworking people, and are exceptionally busy. They often provide substantial financial help to family as well as support to charitable causes like disaster relief, religious groups, or charitable organizations—sometimes in combinations. Balancing families, commitments to others, and workplace responsibilities, it is no wonder that my clients sometimes don’t take the time to investigate whether an opportunity or a request for help is truly legitimate, or whether it is an exploitative scam.

The “help” scams that touch the hearts of my generous clients make me sad. Unfortunately, the best of intentions and most generous of natures are exploited from time to time by unscrupulous shysters.

When it comes to “get ahead” scams, I sometimes sadly learn that their efforts, and drive to get ahead financially have been exploited by equally shady characters.

Both types of scammers are very active now. They know that many innocent, good-natured people may have a little extra cash this spring. The scammers step up their efforts in late February, March, and April because their targets may receive federal tax refunds.

Even if you aren’t expecting a tax refund this year, you may still be a target for the scammers. The “get ahead” variety will attack whatever funds you’re willing to part with in the hopes of investing in bettering your life in some way.

We all remember the old internet email scams of yesterday; clumsily written, and misspelled email come-ons offering huge windfalls in exchange for helping some long-lost offspring of exiled monarchs move a still larger fortune from some small country to ours with your help. All you need provide is a complete personal dossier that enables identity theft and a raid on your bank accounts.

Today’s newer scams are often better written, and sound more plausible, than the offers of a huge commission for helping someone move funds from overseas. These new scams are still every bit as dangerous to your family’s finances and identity as those that originated in the mid-90s.

Three Questions

Let me ask you three difficult questions:

  1. If you are under either financial stress or have an unexpected need for income, would you consider an offer to “get ahead” quick?
  2. Has your good nature and willingness to sacrifice a bit of your worldly goods—perhaps feelings of guilt for the conditions that you see the needy in when compared to your own—led you to consider doing something—anything—that could “help”. You may feel that you are either too busy or that it is rude to question the veracity of those who make such plaintive entreaties for urgent financial help?
  3. Are you too preoccupied or does it seem too confusing to properly monitor your profiles on social media? Unprotected, open profiles provide scammers the best hunting grounds for opportunities and information.

If you don’t consider yourself at risk in any of the aforementioned areas, do you know of a friend or loved one who might be financially pressed or overly generous, and may more easily fall prey to one of the scams we described above? If under financial strain, you can always contact with us for a free and confidential consultation. If a friend or loved one is in need, we welcome you to accompany them so that you can provide moral support and encouragement. After all, that is why we have friends—for support and encouragement.

If you or a friend or loved one owes money on medical bills, taxes, credit cards, collections or court fines, by all means call us. If you or a friend or loved one is struggling under the weight of a costly mortgage or vehicle payment, then please come in for a consult. Don’t fall prey to the allure of a scammer’s “get ahead” story.

The Five “Big Ones”: The Hottest Scams of 2012-2013

  1. Over payment/Fake Check/Car Ad scams: – A “get ahead” scam. The online ad says: “Get Paid Just for Driving Around”—naming a prominent and reputable company offering $400 or more per week to drive around with the company’s logo on signage placed on your vehicle. The scammers are convincing; they even mail you a check with strict instructions to wire-transfer part of the money to the “appointed” graphic designer who will create, customize, and deliver the advertising banners which will be later mailed to you for placement upon your vehicle. When the check mailed to you bounces a week later, the “graphic designer” is long gone, you are out the money which you wired over to the “graphic designer”, and you have a nice overdraft situation to deal with at your local friendly bank or credit union. Exasperating!
  2. Emergency Scam: Grandchild or friend in trouble overseas! Help! I am in London and lost my wallet so can’t even pay for a phone call to explain, so I am contacting you by text message or email to send me $500 (or more) by wire transfer. Some nice person lent me their computer or this text messaging capable cell phone which can’t make nor accept overseas calls. That’s why—and how—I am able to contact you only by text message or through this new email account I just set up at the local Internet cafe. I need to pay an overdue hotel bill, and to make travel arrangements, so if you could please wire $500.00… You get the picture of course.
    Thanks to social media sites, the scammers can feed you back a more plausible story by extracting personal details from your social media profile. For example, you might receive a very factually specific “help” scam message like, “Yeah, remember the video camera Jane got me for Christmas? I was so excited to take that new video camera I received last Christmas on this spontaneous trip to Denmark. I am so bummed that just after arriving, I was mugged, lost my cash, credit cards, and phone, and I can’t even pay my hotel bill. By the way, not paying your hotel bill here in Denmark is punishable by imprisonment. They have given me two hours to get the funds to pay the hotel bill or else the Danes are going to imprison me along with a huge bail obligation I won’t ever be able to afford.”
    “Emergency” is an old “help” scam, but the new twist is that real events and names are used in the communication to make it more believable. This information is skimmed from unguarded social networking profiles.
  3. Mystery Shopping: a “get ahead” scam. Mystery shopping can be legitimate, but to learn how it really works, visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association www.mysteryshop.org site. You might avoid falling prey to a scam.
    The mystery shopping scam is really just a variation of the over payment fake check scam described above. As a scam, the mystery shopping “employer” hiring you first sends you a check. As your first project, you are assigned to “evaluate” the customer service quality of a money transfer wiring service. You are supposed to cash the check on your own bank account, then you are to wire back some significant portion of the proceeds to the mystery shopping “employer”. They toss in a legitimate sounding requirement to complete a questionnaire about the money transfer wiring service staff—whether they were professional and courteous, etc.
    When the check you received from your mystery shopping “employer” bounces, and you are left holding the bag for a large overdraft obligation, you will realized that you are the victim of a scam. Good luck tracking down your mystery shopping “employer” to make good on the bounced check.
  4. Advance Fee/Prepayment scam: a “get ahead” scam. We all need a little extra cash from time to time to provide for family or household needs. The fraudsters know this. Watch out for “no credit check” or “easy repayment terms” for a loan advertised online. You will find there is a catch to such a great deal in that you have to first send in a payment for a “loan insurance policy” or to “secure” or “process” your loan.
    Of course, once you send in the payment for the “loan insurance policy” or to “secure” the loan or to “process” the loan, you learn that there was never any loan to be made, and you have lost the funds you paid.
  5. Charitable contribution to help those who suffered through tragic events: a “help” scam. Now, this one is really sick. While not necessarily a financial benefit/gain scam, it is among the lowest of the low. Reports abound of entreaties through social media and email seeking donations which are (falsely) dedicated to the suffering victims and their families. There has allegedly been at least one FBI arrest related to one of the many scams preying upon national sympathy for the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims.
    If you do wish to donate to Sandy Hook Elementary related causes, perhaps you should first review the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance site www.bbb.org/us/charity to help you confirm that a charitable organization that interests you is legitimate.

Incautious generosity, financial strain, and family/work time pressures can lead to scam vulnerability and potentially to a financial disaster. Take the time to think carefully. Am I or someone I know truly vulnerable to a “financial gain” or a “help” scam? You may still be confused about some aspect of these offers, or some other major financial decision that could have life changing consequences. If so, a free 30 minute consultation with me, consumer/small business bankruptcy attorney James H. MaGee may be of help. Every situation is different, and the options may vary according to the details of the case, but as it is a free 30 minute consultation, why not take advantage of my expertise with no obligation?

Rebuilding the financial foundation for your life after falling behind on bills, or after a life changing event, is complex, no two cases are exactly alike. I may be able to help you understand your situation more clearly; I can certainly help you by discussing certain trade-offs and options concerning your situation, including bankruptcy chapters and their applicability to your situation. You can email my scheduler through our website for your free 30 minute consultation at www.washingtonbankruptcy.com or e-mail directly at staff1@washingtonbankruptcy.com. To schedule immediately, you can reach a member of our friendly staff by calling at (253) 383-1001. Our office hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 9 AM until 5:45 PM, and on Fridays from 9 AM until 12 PM.

Who is Robert Shiller and why are his recent comments on housing price recovery so important? What does he have to say?

Robert Shiller says that values in the housing market are not poised for an overall recovery, notwithstanding spring-summer 2012 housing price increases in a some cities.  He says that today’s low interest rates alone are not enough to spur a housing price recovery.

Why should we care what Robert Shiller says?

Well, this guy is big – really big.  In fact, he “invented” the perhaps most widely watched economic indicator of housing market price movement in the United States.

He is “Shiller” of the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller 20-City Housing Price Index.  So, when Robert Shiller talks about housing price movements, people listen, and listen very closely.

Mr. Shiller notes that there was in fact a 9 percent increase in housing prices over the time period March – September 2012 in his eponymous Case-Shiller housing price index.  Some optimistic pundits have said that this good news shows near certain promise that we are “turning the corner” in the housing price slump.

Strongly disagreeing with these optimists, Mr. Shiller says in so many words that this 2012 Spring-Summer uptick doesn’t mean a thing in terms of predicting a long term positive trend of housing price recovery.

Mr. Shiller is more than pleased to splash the optimists with a few buckets of cold water reality.

Mr. Shiller offers well reasoned responses to the optimism of others.  Mr. Shiller doubts that housing price optimism is well placed.  Let’s examine three expressions of optimism and compare Mr. Shiller’s three down-to-earth responses:

  • 1.  Optimism: Concurrent with the housing price increase nemployment rates dropped from 8.2% to 7.8% March – September 2012

  • Mr. Shiller’s cautious response:  No big deal; unemployment rate declines simply continued a trend inexistence since 2009 and unemployment tends to decline in the summer season anyway.

  • 2.  Optimism: Housing start permit applications have increased and the National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Index of traffic of prospective home buyers increased over the summer and fall of 2012.

  • Mr. Shiller’s pessimistic response:  No big deal; the more important spring 2012 study/survey by Wellesley College’s Karl Case and McGraw-Hill Contruction’s Anne Thompson contradicts that there was no increased optimism or enthusiasm expressed by prospective homebuyers.

  • 3.  Optimism: Foreclosure activity decreased in 2012, thus presumably making less inventory available on the market.

  • Mr. Shiller’s discounting response:  No big deal; this just continues a longer term trend in existence as reported by Realty Trac and thus should not by itself be seen as the kickoff of any long term trend of housing price increases.

Finally, Mr. Shiller presents five reasoned and discouraging response to optimism concerning housing price recovery:

  • 1. Mr. Shiller says that the 86 percent increase in housing prices 1997 through 2006 was an historical anomaly, unlikely to be repeated by now wary investors.  Such anomalies have eventually reverted to keep the long term growth in housing prices pegged to and indexed to an inflation adjusted consistent value says Mr. Shiller.  The recent “housing price boom” was almost completely reversed by 2012, putting housing prices back on an inflation adjusted consistent value curve at just a point or two above ongoing inflation rates.
  • 2. Mr. Shiller notes that there has only been one other major national housing price boom in the last century – 1942 to 1953 in which housing prices in real terms rose 68% nationally.  It took 44 years (to 1997) for the next “boom” to kick in – and on that metric, the next boom is going to kick in at about the year 2050. Care to wait around for it?  (Note:  I, James MaGee will be 92 years of age when it starts to kick in….)
  • 3.  Mr. Shiller notes that home ownership is actually in decline, at 69% in the third quarter of 2006, down to 65.5% in the third quarter 2012.
  • 4. Mr. Shiller notes that the wild lending that fueled the boom is more reigned in now by (a) new ability-to-pay standards announced by mortgage lenders and (b) the oversight of the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • 5. Finally, the Zillow-PulsenoicsHome Price Expectation Survey (involving the input of 100 housing price forecasters) was predicting very modest inflation adjusted housing price growth increases of only 1 to 2 percent per year over the next half-decade.

Mr. Shiller’s final word:  Don’t expect an increase in your home price to bail you out of any problematic financial situation, and don’t do anything dramatic or difficult such as over-reaching financially to buy an expensive home or buy a home for short term use if you expect to have to move fairly soon, as there is too much uncertainty to justify any aggressive speculative moves right now.

Much thanks to the New York Times, Sunday, January 27, 2013 edition, page 1, Sunday Business Section: Economic View, by Robert J. Shiller; Titled, “A New Housing Boom?  Don’t Count on It.”

Can you reach the max?

Retirement is coming, if it is not already here for you.  If you have income for which to fund a 401k or to contribute to an IRA, I would like you to think about these three questions I answered in this article, and the list of tips I also present in this article.

If you already have a 401k or IRA for retirement savings, you should read carefully, because a “game plan” concerning how you are going to use your retirement savings- or not use your retirement savings- is a very important foundational building block when it comes to retirement savings.  Decisions about your 401k and decisions about bankruptcy are intertwined for many people.

  • Question 1: Should I file for chapter 7 bankruptcy to wipe out debts? Or in the alternative should I not file for bankruptcy but instead cash out my 401k to pay off debts?
  • Answer:  With only a few exceptions, I strongly recommend a bankruptcy filing over 401k withdrawals.
  • Question 2:  Should I file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization over cashing out a 401k account with the purpose of staving off a foreclosure or preventing vehicle repossession?
  • Answer:  With few exceptions, I strongly recommend a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization over cashing out a 401k account with the purpose of staving off a foreclosure or preventing vehicle repossession.
  • Question 3: Should I take out a loan or cash out a 401k or IRA in order to pay Federal Income Tax debt?
  • Answer: You can almost always pay back the federal income tax debt interest and penalty free through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization, or alternatively you often can enter into a very reasonable tax repayment plan with the IRS.  Sometimes, very old Federal Income Tax debt is even erased by bankruptcy.  Thus, for many people tax repayment though chapter 13 plan can make more sense than a 401k loan or IRA cash out.  There is an additional benefit: although most people don’t realize it, if your income is not super-high, you still can often wipe out credit card debts, eliminate second mortgage obligation and write off medical bills without any repayment of these debts by filing a chapter 13 case, so in many regards, a chapter 13 case can wipe out debt much like a chapter 7 case, with the added benefit of an easy cheesy Federal Income Tax repayment plan- and state tax can be repaid easily though chapter 13 too!

These are some more very important tips about how to handle your 401k, IRA, VIP, TSP or other tax deferred retirement savings, courtesy of a great article from Forbes.com which you can find here:

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/lmf45ekmg/can-you-reach-the-max/

Can You Reach The Max Part 2

Should I file for chapter 13 bankruptcy to save my house from foreclosure or my car from repossession or should I cash out my 401k to get the money to pay the mortgage or car payment? People ask me this question all the time.  Here is my answer: With few exceptions, I strongly recommend a chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization over cashing out a 401k account with the purpose of staving off a foreclosure or preventing a vehicle repossession.

Here are the next five Forbes.com steps to help you boost your 401k:

  • 5.  Taking loans out of you 401k is hard because many times you have to pay the money back.  But hardship withdrawals can be allowed.  If you are behind on payments such as your mortgage that would be a loan you would have to pay back but if your house was foreclosing you could be able to take out a hardship withdrawal.  Not everything is a hardship though so just make sure you know the rules.
  • 4.  Many times if you make a lot of money you can only contribute a certain amount to your 401k as to prevent discrimination.  If your spouse has access to a 401k, they should be saving as much as they can as well.  If you or your spouse have access to saving for a 401k, take advantage of that especially if one of you has limitations on your savings part.
  • 3.  If you have an old 401k account, you should combine the two in most cases.  Add the old account to the new; it is much easier to keep track of one account.
  • 2. When you first sign up for a 401k you pick investments and many times don’t get around to changing, or revising it to make the best choice for your savings.  For example don’t just choose company stock because it’s there, don’t forget to revise your 401k and choose your best options.
  • 1.Don’t cash out your 401k as soon as it is available to you.  Leave it as long as it is still invested in good options.  Just because it reaches the penalty free mark or you retire, doesn’t mean that’s the best time to cash out for you.

I might also add that under most circumstances you should not take a 401k loan or cash out a 401k or IRA to pay off federal income tax debt because you can almost always pay back the federal income tax debt interest and penalty fee though Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization, or often enter into a very reasonable tax repayment plan with the IRS.

If you have already taken out a big 401k loan or cashed out an IRA (or taken a large withdrawal or fully or partially cashed out a 401k) you really need to begin to rebuild.

 

Dating, Marriage and Credit Scores: A New Twist in the Road To A Happy Life

He was tall, religious, well employed in finance and had great teeth.  Even better, he came from a nice family background, and was brought up similarly to her.   She was attractive, peppy and fully employed as a flight attendant.

But Chicago’s Jessica LaShawn was dumped after a first date when somewhere between salad and dessert Jessica truthfully answered a question about her credit score.  Jessica’s FICO score was subprime (below 660), as she had paid late on some bills and had some lingering unresolved debts.  A couple of days later, Jessica received an apologetic text message from her potential prince charming – no second date –  it wasn’t Jessica, it was Jessica’s credit score which caused him to decline a second date with her.  Good bye prince charming.  Good bye, white picket fence…

Credit Scores are newly becoming a relationship metric, as many people are deciding who to consider and who not to consider for marriage based in part upon credit scores.  Dating site executives report that they are receiving more inquiries and interest about when and how to bring up the issue of credit scores when deciding whether to date or pursue a relationship with a potential suitor.

Similarly, many marriage counselors relate that improving credit scores is a frequent topic of discussion with marital and relationship counseling clients.  Dissimilar levels of concerns about maintaining an acceptable credit score can lead to significant friction in a long term relationship.
So how does bankruptcy fit into the universe of dating, marriage and credit scores?
Credit scores affect us all.  Credit scores are kept on about 200 million Americans by FICO.  More than 34% of these Americans (68.6 million) tracked by FICO have subprime credit scores of less than 660.  FICO is short for Fair Isaac Corporation.
About 18.5% of Americans (37 million) enjoy the highest credit score range of 850-900, another 19.0% (38 million) enjoy very good credit scores of 750-800.  About 16.0% of Americans (32 million) enjoy “good” credit scores of 700 – 750 and 12.2% of Americans (24.4 million) have borderline FICO credit scores of 650-700.

If unpaid bills, high credit card balances, lingering tax debts, old foreclosures and unresolved vehicle repossession deficiency obligations are keeping you in the “below 700” catagory with respect to FICO scores, what can you do?

How about a bankruptcy?  What? Doesn’t bankruptcy ruin your credit, you ask?

Well, sometimes you have to go down before you can go up.

Many experts recite that a bankruptcy will temporarily dump your credit score down to 550, but then in many circumatances you will automatically start a very steady and sure climb back to a level of 700 (good), 750 (very good) or maybe even higher.

The New York Time (April 12, 2012) reports that the car loan or credit card for which you were unable to qualify right before bankruptcy can very likely immediately be yours right after a bankruptcy filing.  This might suprise you, but after bankruptcy, many creditors will actively and very aggressively again solicit your business.  This sounds very counterintuitive and maybe even a bit crazy, but strangely it is true.
After almost 19 years, I keep thinking that some day I will have seen it all when it comes to Creditors.  However, the Creditors keep suprising me with new ideas and schemes, and these are often to your benefit, so check out this new shocking twist:  I have had a few Chapter 7 clients show up at Court bearing letters that recite in essece the following:
“Dear Newly Bankrupt Potentially Valued Client: We have reviewed that you have a vehicle financed with another lender.  We want you talk to your lawyer at court about giving up that old financed car in a voluntary repossession, thus giving the car back to your lender.  If you do this, then on your way home from bankruptcy court just stop by our car lot and secure quick financing for a newer and better car.”

How does that grab you?  Stop by the car lot on the way home from bankruptcy court and pick up a new car?  Strange, but often true.
If your marriage relationship is suffering the stress of not meeting financial and mateiral goals due to chronically low credit scores, then consider a bankruptcy filing to charge up the material needs which, face it, are an important part of living with some contentedness in a long term relationship.
We all like to say that love is enough, but we all know that every marriage has material needs and material aspirations.  Even if such material goals are modest, such as replacing that aging car, starting to save for retirement or college, moving up to a more suitably sized home, getting on a cell phone data plan instead of being stuck with an expensive “prepaid phone”  or maybe even renting a little nicer place to live – we all have needs and aspirations.  Chronically low credit scores can take away some of the material comforts that we look forward to enjoying with our mate in a long term relationship, and these disappointments can take a little of the joy out of your daily walk of relationship and marriage.
And in Jessica’s LaShawn’s date with Mr. Right, he had her at hello…but it was quickly goodbye due to Jessica’s chronically low credit score.  If Jessica had filed for bankruptcy well before her dream date appeared and had thus already started the amazingly quick post-bankruptcy credit score recovery process, she would probably have received that offer of a second date.  But she was not proactive and did not file for bankruptcy.  Jessica just ignored her declining credit situation because it was too uncomfortable to face.  The result?  Sadly, for Jessica the story is “white picket fence postponed”.
Get on with your life and start living now: Consider bankruptcy as a strategic tool for your long term dating, relationship and marital hapiness. You will be shocked at how quickly your creditworthiness is restored post-bankruptcy.
And while you are at it, spread the good news that there is hope for the future through bankruptcy- people need to know, and if you won’t tell them, they will never learn.
[Special thanks to Jessica Silver-Greenberg, for writing “Perfect 10? Never Mind That.  Ask Her for Her Credit Score.” NY Times, Page A1, Wednesday, December 26, 2012.]
Considering the need for a bankruptcy filing to get your credit back on track?  Contact us at 253-383-1001 for an appointment in Tacoma, Puyallup, Olympia, Chehalis, Renton or Bremerton.

Retirement But Not Totally Overview

The economy has had a great impact upon those people facing retirement.  Many have lost jobs, or been forced to take jobs paying much less then pre-recession employment.  In addition, many people have lost homes due to foreclosure, feeling compelled to walk away because of mortgages balances which greatly exceed their home’s value.  Bankruptcy filings in the pre-retirement demographic are skyrocketing, and have been high for many years.

With rising medical costs, rising food costs and expensive gasoline, many people are worried whether social security and perhaps a small pension will provide a comfortable retirement.

One way to improve the quality of life in retirement is to continue to work, and some places in the country offer better working opportunities for retirement age people than do other locations.

Is retirement on the horizon for you?  Are you worried whether your retirement income will stretch to provide a quality lifestyle?  If these are concerns for you, consider relocating to one of these 25 havens for retirees who might wish to continue to work past retirement age.

Forbes magazine compiled a list of places to where a retiree or a person facing retirement might want to consider relocating if there is a need or desire to work past retirement age.  Below is the “James Magee short list” of the top three places for a quality retirement.

  •  1.  Iowa City, Iowa: With Iowa Medical School in its midst, Iowa City’s doctor count is six times above the national average.  Also unemployment is at 3.8% and job opportunities are growing.
  • 2.  Corvallis, Oregon: Corvallis is a college town which helps the strong economy, this city has a 5.8% unemployment rate and room for even more economic growth.  There’s no state sales tax, and has plenty of doctors and a low violent crime rate.
  • 3.  Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: Unemployment is at 6.6%.  Although the winters here are extremely cold, the cost of living is 6% below the national average and homes are going for $121,000. Also the doctors per capita ranks at one of the nations highest.

Retirement is a lot different then it was many years ago.  In this country’s current economy, it is much harder to retire and retirement occurs at an older age.  A wonderful alternative is to pursue a working retirement, keeping a job but still enjoying the retired life.  Any of the 25 cities on Forbes.com’s list are wonderful alternative cities to relocate to.  If you are so far in debt but you have bankruptcy as an option, it may be your best option.  Your debt can be taken care of by filing for bankruptcy and once debt free you can easily relocate and start a fresh retirement in one of these cities with low unemployment rates, nice climates and so many other perks.

The Forbes.com article can be found here:

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mjd45idmk/retirement-but-not-totally/