Tag Archives: Ideas for Action

Does Your Credit Card Provide The Protections Of The Credit Card Accountability Act of 2009?

Capital One and Citibank are out to trick you by offering cards intentionally designed to be free of the constraints imposed by the new 2009 Federal Law known as the “Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009”.

The Credit Card Accountability act of 2009 seeks to prohibit issuers from controversial billing practices such as hair-trigger interest rate increases, shortened payment cycles and inactivity fees–but the Credit Card Accountability Act of 2009 does not apply to so-called “professional cards”.

Here are the perils and tricks of accepting a credit card that is exempt from the provisions of the “Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009”:
(1) Card issuers can apply any payments in excess of the minimum to balances with the lowest interest rate; e.g., the credit card company can apply your payments to the 14.0% purchases balance without applying any of the funds to the 24% cash advance balance.

(2) Issuers are not required to provide a minimum of 21 days to pay from the date of the billing statement; e.g., you can receive your bill and then only have six or seven days to pay the bill!

(3) Issuers can raise the rates on your existing balance if they find out that you made a late payment to some other credit card, car payment or home loan; e.g., if your mortgage payment is six or seven days late because you were out of town on vacation, your credit card rate can jump from 14% to 29% without notice.

(4) Issuers can fine you with a big fee if you exceed the credit limit on the card, even if by a small amount.

(5) Issuers can change the credit card agreement terms without giving you any advance notice at all.

Since the Credit Card Accountability Act of 2009 was passed in March of 2009, companies have been inundating ordinary consumers with applications. In the first quarter of 2010, issuers mailed out 47 million professional offers, a 256% increase from the same period last year, according to the research firm Snynovate, reports Jesica Silver-Greenberg in the Wall Street Journal.

Consumer advocates note that card issuers are easing their application requirements for “professional” cards, thus turning a blind eye to those applicants who really do not own a business. A January 2010 Chase application for an “Ink From Chase Cash Business Card” asked that (1) applicants provide the name of their business (2) the nature of the business (3) the business address and to (4) provide a business Federal Tax Identification Number.

In contrast, the July 2010 application sent out by Chase for the same card had been “dumbed down” considerably. The July 2010 version of the application (a mere 6 months later) for the “Ink From Chase Cash Business Card” merely asked the applicant to check a box that said “Yes, I am a business owner” or “Yes, I am a business professional with business expenses.”

Read the full story by Jessica Silver-Greenberg of the Wall Street Journal, dated August 28, 2010.

Ideas for Action: Before considering applying for any credit card, ensure that it is a card which must offer you the full protections of the Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. Disregard and destroy all applications which do not clearly indicate that the card for which you are applying is covered by the Credit Card Accountability act of 2009.

Fed and FDIC Testimony on Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Legislation: Lessons Learned

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke praised the new Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation and offered a frank appraisal of his mistakes since 2006 in September 2, 2010 testimony before the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

It should be noted that September 15, 2008 (just next week) marks the two-year anniversary of the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers. NY Times columnist Sewell Chan notes that the Lehman failure was the “nadir”, or lowest, moment of the financial crisis.

“The Dodd-Frank legislation gives the Federal Reserve Bank oversight over the largest financial institutions, including those that are not banks (such as American International Group, or “AIG” – JHM). It gave the Fed a prominent role in the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a body of regulators with the power to seize and break up a systemically important company if it threatens economic stability. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation would manage that [breakup] process, known as resolution.” writes Mr. Chan.

Mr. Bernanke recounted his errors, indicating that he was wrong in 2007 when declaring that the subprime mortgage crisis could be contained and would not infect nor destabilize other parts of the financial system. Mr. Bernanke denied allegations that the Federal Reserve bank was at least partly responsible for the housing price bubble by keeping interest rates too low during the 2002-2004 period. An implication of Mr. Chan’s summary of Mr. Bernanke’s testimony before Congress appears to be that Mr. Bernanke now believes that trying try to identify a “bubble” in the economy early enough is part of the Fed’s charter. If such a “bubble” could be identified early enough to justify Fed action, the Fed could decide to increase interest rates so as to slow down the growth of the bubble.

Here is the link to the interesting NY Times, September 3, 2010 article.

Ideas for Action: Few of us have the resources and knowledge available to Mr. Bernanke. However, starting to keep a family budget, carefully monitoring your spending, and creating a savings plan for both retirement and “rainy days” are among the prudent steps that we all can take to keep financial problems from becoming too big to handle.

American Bankruptcy Institute–14% increase in bankruptcy filings during Jan to June 2010 compared to same period in 2009

According to an article posted on the American Bankruptcy Institute website on 8/23/10:

“The total number of U.S. bankruptcies filed during the first six months of 2010 increased 14% over the same six-month period in 2009, according to data released today by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Filings were up 20% over the past year to 1,572,597, up from 1,306,315 filed in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009. Total filings reached 810,209 during the first half of the calendar year of 2010 (January 1-June 30), compared to 711,550 cases filed over the same period in 2009. The totals represent the highest number of filings for the first six months of a calendar year since 2005, when the Bankruptcy Code was amended.

The 422,061 new cases filed in the second quarter represent the highest total since the fourth quarter of 2005. Business filings decreased 4% for the six-month period ending June 30, 2010, to 29,059 from the first-half 2009 total of 30,333.

Chapter 11 business reorganizations registered the sharpest decrease, as the 6,152 filings during the first half of 2010 represented a 17% drop from the 7,396 total chapter 11 business filings during the first half of 2009. Chapter 7 business liquidations remained nearly unchanged, as there were 20,385 in the first half of 2010, a half percent increase from the 20,375 business chapter 7 filings during the same period in 2009.

Filings by individuals or households with consumer debt increased 15% to 781,150 for the six-month period ending June 30, 2010, as compared to the 2009 first-half total of 681,217. Consumers filing for chapter 7 protection increased 17% to 571,417 during the first half of 2010 from 489,128 during the first six months of 2009. Consumer chapter 13 filings increased as well, rising 9% as 208,778 consumers filed for chapter 13 in the first half of 2010 from 191,458 during the first half of 2009.”

Full disclosure: The Law Firm of James MaGee, Washington Bankruptcy Attorney, is a proud member and supporter of ABI, the leading national bankruptcy professional organization.

Ideas for Action: It’s no secret that many people and families are struggling in today’s economy. Bankruptcy is a Prudent Step Towards Rebuilding Your Life. You should not feel guilty or embarrassed for having filed bankruptcy. Popular folklore holds that Henry Ford filed for bankruptcy five times! Psychologists say families, relationships and marriages fail most often because of financial pressures. If financial strain is damaging your health and personal relationships, you should consider bankruptcy.

“Business” bankruptcy is often a waste of time for mom & pop businesses–just file a personal bankruptcy case and move on, says Wall Street Journal columnist

Here is the link to a short but helpful article about small business bankruptcies in The Wall Street Journal. I am pleased that what I have suggested for many years finds favor with a Wall Street Journal columnist.

With most of my small service-based business customers, including businesses as varied as residential construction and restaurants, it usually makes sense to look at a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case filed as a personal case. I recommend this approach because in most cases, the small business’ debt is personally guaranteed by the business owners, whether the debt consists of Small Business Administration guaranteed loans, vehicle title loans or credit cards. Frequently, the business can keep right on operating, but of course you should consult with a qualified attorney before launching off into any sort of bankruptcy filing.

Ideas for Action: how do you find a qualified bankruptcy attorney? I suggest three ways.

First, ask the attorney how many cases he or she filed in the calendar year January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006; the attorney can easily consult the computer program used to prepare the documents to find out how many cases were filed each year, and if fewer than 70 or so cases were filed by the attorney in 2006, then I say beware. You may have an attorney who just started out after the 2005 law change took effect but didn’t attend any of the important 2006 era seminars when the best education about the new 2005 law was then available.

Second, ensure that the attorney is “connected” professionally via memberships in both the American Bankruptcy Institute as well as NACBA, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney.

Third, ensure that over the past five years, the attorney has attended no fewer than five seminars for a total of no fewer than 50 hours of bankruptcy education since 2005.

These three suggested standards should help you ensure that you have engaged an experienced, professional attorney.

Mortgage modifications well below target: Americans need more help says NY Times 300,000 foreclosure filings for third month in a row — 92,858 homes repossessed in July, 2010

“As repossessed homes are put up for sale, house prices are likely to fall further. As prices fall, more borrowers end up “underwater”–they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s a big risk factor for default.

Moody’s Economy.com estimates that 1.9 million homes will be lost this year, down only slightly from 2 million in 2009.

So far only 398,198 loans have been permanently modified, and only $321 million of the $30.1 billion allocated to the home modification program has thus far been spent.

Part of the problem is poor administration. Homeowners, who apply to their bank or mortgage service company, complain about confusing procedures and lost paperwork. Banks have complained of frequent rule changes from the government.

Another big problem is that many lenders, whose participation in the program is voluntary, have been reluctant to aggressively rework bad loans. Reducing a loan’s principal balance–rather than lowering interest levels or extending pay out periods–is often the chance of keeping underwater borrowers in their homes. Banks have been loath to accept the bigger losses that come with lowering principal. Fearing that banks will drop out of the program altogether, the Treasury has not pushed them hard enough.”

The August 20, 2010 NY Times OpEd piece proposes that the use of the states to give money directly to temporarily unemployed or under-employed individual homeowners to make mortgage payments through the Hardest Hit program (part of HAMP, which is part of TARP), through about which 4.1 billion has thus far been disbursed, may be a better route than the loan modification programs emphasized thus far to date.

Ideas for Action: Don’t expect to modify yourself out of a bad situation. You will never see a mortgage loan principal balance deduction. If you don’t mind a temporarily lower payment but still remaining underwater on your home, then I suppose a mortgage modification is not so bad. You might want to consider a “lien strip” through Chapter 13 bankruptcy if you have a second mortgage and if the value of the home is less than the amount owed on the first mortgage.

10 Cents on the Dollar: How to pay off your home equity line of credit

NY Times columnist David Streitfeld’s article entitled, “Debts Rise, and Go Unpaid, as Bust Erodes Home Equity”, published in The New York Times on August 12, 2010, asserts that most investors expect less than 10 cents on the dollar for defaulted home equity lines of credit such as second mortgages.

“Lenders wrote off as uncollectible $11.1 billion in home equity loans and $19.9 billion in home equity lines of credit in 2009, more than they wrote of on primary mortgages, government data shows. So far this year, the trend is the same, with combined write-offs of $7.88 billion in the first quarter. Even when a lender forces a borrower to settle through legal action, it can rarely extract more than 10 cents on the dollar. ‘People got 90 cents for free,’ Mr. Combs said. ‘It rewards immorality to some extent.'” Mr. Combs is a realty lawyer in Phoenix, AZ, who tries to negotiate deals with home equity line of credit HELOC loans.

Utah Loan Servicing chief executive Clark Terry buys defaulted home equity loans from lenders, and reports that he does not pay more than $500 for any one loan, regardless of how big it is, “Anything over $15,000 to $20,000 is not collectible. Americans believe that anything they can get away with is O.K.”

The delinquency rate on home equity loans was an astonishing 4.12% in the first quarter of 2010, down slightly from the fourth quarter of 2009, when it was the highest in 26 years of such record keeping, according to Mr. Streitfeld.

Mr. Streitfeld reports that during the “great boom” homeowners nationwide borrowed a trillion dollars from banks, using the soaring value of their homes as loan security. With the money now spent, some homeowners cannot pay. Surprisingly, it seems that delinquencies on this type of debt is greater than all other types of consumer loans, including auto loans, boat loans, personal loans and even bank cards like Visa and MasterCard. Mr. Streitfeld cites info from the American Bankers Association on this point.

Ideas for Action: Is it time to contact your second mortgage company and negotiate–offering 5 to 10 cents on the dollar?