There have been comments on one of my email Listservs regarding the Department of Education Act, 2019 provision allowing federal student loans to be put into deferment during a borrower’s active cancer treatment. President trump signed this bill in September of 2018, and it was supposed to be effective “immediately.” Unfortunately, borrowers hoping to receive this relief have faced obstacles.

The primary problem is that the Department of Education still has not provided the application for borrowers to apply and to be given a deferment. If granted the forbearance, the student loans are on “hold” during active treatment, and then for an additional six months after treatment has ended. Instead, many borrowers have received “forbearance” from their servicers. The loan status of “deferment” is incredibly important (as opposed to forbearance) because in some instances the interest on the loans won’t continue to accrue on the balance. The Department of Ed has a webpage for the loan typeswithout interest accrual.

The most important thing, from my perch anyway, is that under many circumstances, an adjustment to an Income Driven Repayment Plan (IDR) may be a better long-term option for borrowers going through treatment. Putting loans in deferment, versus adjusting to a lower or “zero” payment, may be much more expensive in the long run, and the non-dischargeable status of these loans in bankruptcy has been confirmed over and over recently by the courts. For Parent Plus Loans, which do not receive an interest free deferment unless the parent also has other student loan where they are the student, placing them in Income Contingent Repayment(ICR) may be the better option for the future.

Of course, if you or a loved one are going through a cancer treatment plan, the LAST thing to worry about is student loan garnishment or tax intercept- so make sure you get them handled quickly. You can download my free eBook on Federal Student Loans, “Do You Have the Right Student Loan Payment” for step-by-step guidance on getting your options.

By Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom

There’s a great deal of conversation swirling around the possibility of creating a big-government loan forgiveness program to end the student loan crisis. Call us cynical, but the current student loan crisis originated as a big-government program. But is it cynicism or is it experience? You decide – because there just already happens to be a big-government Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
“Great!” you say. “How’s that working out?” you say.

Here’s where the experience part kicks in: “Terrible!” we say! Less than one-half of one-percent (0.005%) of all PSLF program applications have been approved. By the way, there have been over 41,000 applications and only 206 have had their loans forgiven!.

We’ve seen it in our coaching practice. One of our clients is an attorney for a non-profit who is 6 years into her 10 year loan forgiveness program. She has been hearing from peers who are a few years ahead of her that many of them are being rejected on technicalities. So big-government doesn’t mind messing with lawyers. Hmmm… that’s what we call a telling sign.

Between articles like the one above and our client’s experience, we generally recommend that people in PSLF programs be exceptionally attentive to meeting every detail of the repayment requirements. Servicers have misapplied payments or put people in forbearance “for a month or two”, meaning the borrowers do not have the required 120 “on time” payments”. But based on the actual numbers (the first PSLF borrowers were eligible for forgiveness in 2017!) people are taking a big risk in PSLF and they’d better have a plan B for paying it off – over years beyond the 10 years it takes to get to that supposed forgiveness point. However, that is a general recommendation for everyone in the program, the specifics must be personal to the circumstances surround the debt, the income, future increases in earnings, and other existing debts.

To get to a specific recommendation, we must assess the client’s overall financial situation, risk tolerance and goals. Below is a recent, real-world scenario in which we walked a client through two options for paying off their $106,000 of student loans, with the first payments starting this coming December. Everyone has a different scenario, and not everyone has this much student debt, but this illustrates HOW someone can reduce the risk of having student loans follow them around for the rest of their lives if the PSLF program goes away (and it could at any time).

Option 1:Starting in December, make 10 years of minimum monthly payments totaling $654 per month on each of 10 or 12 different student loans (they didn’t know exactly how many or what kind of loans, but they did know the minimum total payment) then hope against hope the remaining balance will be forgiven under the PSLF program. This is the option many people are counting on.

Option 2: Based on current income, projected income and all debt; pay off all non-mortgage debt, including their student loans, in 60 months and invest like they mean it the other 60.This is the option people in PSLF have a hard time with, but you’ll see the math- it’s the better option for long term finances!

Unpacking Option 1:
The 2018-2019 federal student loan interest rates are currently 5.05% for undergraduate loans, 6.60% for unsubsidized graduate loans and 7.60% for direct PLUS loans (2). Based on this, we used an average of 6.5% across their loans and derived the below calculations from this amortization schedule.

Using the June loan balance of $105,969 provided by the client, by the time they start paying on their loan 6.5% in December, it will have grown to $109,839.
In ten years of $654/mo. payments, they will pay $78,480 on the loan. And remember, Congress sets interest rates so it could easily change over 10 years. But let’s say it stays the same, and they pay the 120 payments at $654/mo. After all those payments, the balance on the loan will be $100,009. That’s right, people! $78,480 of payments over 10 years only reduced the loan amount by $9,830. But, they could have the $100,009 loan balance forgiven. THEY PAID $78,480! They just have to be one of the less than 0.005% who are approved. What could possibly go wrong!?

After all, let’s face it: $100,009 is a big windfall for the lender. So, one can see why they would be looking for ways to disqualify people. Might this contribute to why the terms and conditions of compliance with the numerous student loan agreements are really hard to understand and follow? But that’s probably just being cynical! So let’s just go ahead and assume they will have the loan balance forgiven without a hitch.

Unpacking Option 2:
Using this calculatorif they paid off the student loan in 5 years and invested the $654 per month at 12% (1); they would earn $53,946 over and above their student loan payoff. The faster you pay off those loans and the balances are reduces the loans are less subject to the interest they add.

However, there is another important piece of this client’s puzzle. They make a good salary and can pay off to pay off almost all of their other non-mortgage debt quickly, before the student loan payments start in December. The payments on that other debt alone is $1280 per month! Once those debts are gone, they free up that $1280 to add to the $654 minimum student loan payment. Their four wall budget won’t change, because the they’ve been paying debts every month with that money. Added together, they would throw $1934 per month at the student loans and pay them off in less than 65 months. And all of this math is before ANY of their soon-to-be-received significant pay raises this year (over $30K total); let alone any future pay raises over the five years (2).

Hypothetically, in the ten years they would make the large student loan payments, but only enough to pay it off in 60 months, but then invest their $1,934 for the next 60 months. They would have $159,529. In cash. In the same ten year span as someone waiting for the PSLF program to approve them.

So making minimum payments for 10 years while gambling on the long-shot of having the loan balance forgiven — instead of getting focused on paying off all debt in 5 years and investing the income they weren’t living on anyway because they were servicing all sorts of debt — while being exposed to multiple years of risk with way less cash reserves – is at least a $59,520 mistake.

Inevitable Math – 1
Servicing Debt – 0

But there’s one more factor which makes this early debt retirement and accelerated investment scenario even better: They have cut 5 years of financial risk out of their lives from a $100K+ loan hanging over their heads; a loan that can’t even be cleared by a bankruptcy! And, as frequently cited by one of America’s most trusted sources of financial wisdom, the nationally syndicated radio talk show host and multiple New York Times best-selling author, Dave Ramsey: In any 10-year period you have an 80% chance of experiencing a financial setback. So this risk factor is real and that makes it a big deal!
So, as you assess your own total debt load and options for getting your money back to work for you instead of the lenders, we hope this real-world scenarios helps. And if you want help assessing all the myriad details of your situation, consider contacting a Ramsey Preferred Coach. They are professionals with a mission to help you win with money.

(1) Based on the average return of the S&P 500 since its inception in 1926 of 11.69%.
(2) Given projected income increase, they could easily pay it off much faster than 60 months. But for the purposes of the illustration, we kept it to the more conservative 60 months of growth.

About the Authors:
Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom celebrated their 41st anniversary in December and their first great-grandbaby is on the way; due July 7th. Mitch spent more than 30 years of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and is now an IT professional on the largest financial system of its kind in the world. Cheryl manages money for the Physics Department at the University of Maryland. Prior to that, she managed multiple bank branches. As a young couple, they made babies faster than money; so they borrowed — a ton of it — which led to real-world money struggles. But they have been living out, teaching and coaching the Financial Peace University (FPU) principles since Sep of 2009 and it has changed everything!

They have led 70 of Dave Ramsey’s classes — not just Financial Peace University — and have taught and coached over 850 couples, singles, teens, co-workers and family members. They’ve held classes in churches, at companies, on military installations, in Mitch’s office and in their home; sometimes three at a time. In addition, they have run numerous financial wellness seminars and budgeting workshops, given talks on money and relationship issues at marriage conferences, and delivered corporate training to reduce financial drama in the lives of the workforce — all by word of mouth. They’re happily so busy; they haven’t bothered to create a web-presence.

Closer to home, they’ve been blessed to see five generations of both their families achieve dramatic improvements in their finances and most every relationship in their lives. So no one can tell them this doesn’t work. It’s not a theory. They are multi-generational practitioners who are passionate about helping others experience the same strength and hope.

They can be reached at:

Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom
Ramsey Preferred Coaches
Dollar$ense, LLC
301-466-7194
mecaekstrom@aim.com

DOLLAR$ENSE
Eliminate debt. Build wealth.
Gain financial speed going uphill.

I hope everyone is having an amazing summer! Can you believe July 4th has passed us already? Since we are now into July, I suspect that back to school ads and sales are coming soon. I need to let you know about a proposed rule that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released regarding debt collection.

Under the rule, even if you don’t owe any money to any collection agency, the CFPB is proposing that the collection agencies can contact friends and family to leave limited contact messages. Yup. One of the proposed rule changes will allow the collectors to contact you if anyone you know owes a collection account. This not only violates the privacy of the person with a debt in collections, but how about your privacy and peace?

The proposed rule has other issues, but that one is going to affect people who do not owe any debt. Here are some rule provisions for people who do have a debt in collection.
The Proposed Rule would allow debt collectors to:

1. Call seven times per week, per debt, and allow one contact per week, per debt. Have five student loans? 35 calls allowed. Three medical debts? 21 more calls. And on and on.

2. Allow unlimited text messages and emails to consumers.

3. Allow legally required notices to be embedded in emails as links, which consumers have been warned NOT to “click” because of the virus and malware dangers.

4. Require the consumer “opt Out” of electronic communications, with no clear procedure to do so, may be required by snail mail. We have to wait and see.

5. Allow collectors to “DM” consumer social media accounts.

6. Allow the collector to violate privacy by leaving “limited contact messages” with friends, family, and neighbors.

7. Not prohibit debt collectors from “tricking” consumers into restarting the statute of limitations on time-barred debts by making any small payment.

8. Has other impacts that may not directly affect local consumers, but may, for example, by allowing collection attorneys to violate the FDCPA with “safe harbor” protections against liability.

As someone who had an account in collection in the past, I personally find this intrusive and stressful. You want to DM my social media accounts? My SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS? And there doesn’t appear to be a limit- so Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all a few times a day? Seems like that’s okay under this rule. Sure, they cannot post anything to your page, but “accidents” happen, right? You want to text me however many times a day you want to? What if I am at work? Do I want to open my phone at lunch to a blast of ten texts? Really? Where would it end?

The good news, however, is that we can submit a comment to the CFPB regarding this rule, how it would affect us, and perhaps how we don’t want debt collectors to call us personally if a friend or family member is having a financial issue. If we all submit comments, respectfully and with a discussion of the impact on us, the CFPB must take these comments under advisement before the final rule goes into effect. Here are the links for the rule text (it’s over 500 pages!), the page to submit your comment, and the original release of the rule into the Federal Register. I’m a nerd, and I like to provide sources for everyone. And if you have insomnia, the proposed rule will knock you out in no time.

To submit your written comment:
regulations.gov/comment?D=CFPB-2019-0022-0001

More Information about this Proposed Rule can be found using the following links:
Open Notices Debt Collection Practices Regulation F
Federal Register Publication”

Please submit a comment and help me spread the word to others who may not be aware of this proposed rule. We all have the opportunity to make a public comment before August 19th. After that time, the “public comment period” is scheduled to close. We have over a month to get after this. We can positively influence this rule if we all raise our voices to the CFPB.

Enjoy your vacations and the rest of your summer!

By, Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom

Half of all Boomers (and the upcoming Gen Xers) have done little-to-nothing to prepare for retirement. Many have given up on the hope of a reasonably comfortable retirement. Currently, around half of them begin taking Social Security at age 62. The current maximum Social Security benefit at age 62 is $2,209 (1) – or $26,508 per year. As an hourly wage, it would be $13.25.  Nationally, boomers estimate their average annual cost of living in retirement at about $46,000 a year (2). If they have the Social Security benefit listed above, where will they get the $19,492 needed to close the gap to $46,000? Working? Maybe.  But there are other steps you can take NOW for those who haven’t yet reached retirement age, and some ideas for everyone, even if they have.

Imagine if a few small changes, just different choices immediately, could add $175,000.00 to the nest egg. Let’s take the example of a 50 year old couple who decide to get a plan to remove all debt and start saving the money they could by making just a few different decisions until they are 67. What if they invested the money for those 17 years, with a good portfolio of mutual funds. They would:

1. Stop Eating Out all the Time. The average person will save about $37.00 per week by eating in. Our couple has saved $295 per month. If they invest this at a very reasonable 7% annual growth until age 67, they will have built $116,239.00!

2. Buy Nice Used Cars instead of New Cars. Let’s have them stop buying new cars every three years. The average new car loses at least 20% of its value in the first year and 10%-15% per year over the next four years. (3) Let’s also say our couple was only buying inexpensive new cars at $25,000. Applying the lowest loss rate on inexpensive new cars, their car would lose $10,000 in value in three years. If they cut that depreciation in half, with a gently used car 2-3 year old car, they could save $5,000 every three years. The resulting $1,667 per year, if invested at 7% until age 67, would produce another $60,311.

Just these two changes, eating in more and driving used cars, would add $176,550.00 in savings to their nest egg.

Next, Paying Off Debt is the biggest step Boomers and Gen Xers need to take to save for retirement.

3. Lose the Credit Cards. The interest charged by credit cards averages 19.24%. (4) The average boomer carries $7,041 in credit card debt (5) So let’s get a solid plan to pay them off and invest the annual $1,354 saved on interest payments at 7% until age 67 — adding another $48,971. That is just the interest! Think of the monthly payments that are no longer owed!

Three steps, and they’re at $225,521.

4. Get Rid of the Mortgage. Today’s Boomers are carrying the greatest amount of mortgage debt into their retirement in the history of our country. (5) We have a few ways to save here. If our sample couple has a 7% rate on an average mortgage and refinance to 4.125%, their payments drop about $6,000 per year. If invested over 17 years at 7% they will add another $216,947 to their nest egg. That is just interest savings. We haven’t discussed paying the mortgage off, and investing that former payment!

So, four steps. Small decision changes that can add $442,468.00 in total!

Let’s assume they did all the investing in a traditional IRA and it didn’t grow from age 67 to age 70 1/2. Their required minimum distribution at age 70 1/2 on that amount is $16,697 ($442,468 / 26.5). (f) This amount added to the maximum Social Security payout at age 62, puts their annual income at $43,205 — just $2,795 away from their estimated $46,000 of annual expenses in retirement.

Imagine how much more they would close the gap if they got serious enough to give up $5 lattes, stops at the local pub, took staycations instead of vacations, eliminated unnecessary drives, did serious meal planning, operated only one car — and any number of other cost cutting measures. And paid off their mortgage.

Of course we haven’t spoken about the increased expenses that come with aging. But we also haven’t addressed the myriad of ways our couple could have increased income over these 17 years. So it seems there is money to be saved, earned and invested; and even if they make only half of the adjustments cited above, they’ll be way ahead of the, “…done little-to nothing- to prepare…”, crowd. The reality is that once you give your money to another person, both it and it’s time value are gone forever.

Difficult? Yes! But not compared to waiting! Each month of delay makes it tougher. And doing these things of their own accord is highly preferable to spending 20 to 30 years living in poverty or relying on children or charity or some combination of the three.

So it’s time to get smart about our spending, saving and investing. Let’s get our money back and put it’s time value to work for us instead of the lenders!

So get after it, Boomers (and the rest of us) and let’s do it now! You don’t have to be broke in retirement. If you need help putting a complete plan together to get started and/or make up for lost time, consider hiring a Ramsey Preferred Financial Coach. These hi-octane professionals are loaded with information, tools, training and strategies to help you.

Eliminate debt. Build wealth. Gain financial speed going uphill.

Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom are Ramsey Preferred Coaches and Financial Peace University Coordinators. They lead financial wellness courses to help people of all generations get debt free and save for retirement. Mitch and Cheryl turned their own finances around 10 years ago  and have witnessed first hand the financial knowledge now pass to five generations. They celebrated their 41st anniversary in December and their first great-grandbaby is on the way; due July 7th. Mitch spent more than 30 years of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and is now an IT professional on the largest financial system of its kind in the world. Cheryl manages money for the Physics Department at the University of Maryland. Prior to that, she managed multiple bank branches. They can be reached at:

Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom, Dollar$ense, LLC, 301-466-7194, mecaekstrom@aim.com 

(1) https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/10/21/heres-the-maximum-social-security-benefit-in-2019.aspx

(2) Bureau of Labor Statistics as cited by https://finance.zacks.com/average-cost-retirement-4951.html

(3) https://www.finance101.com/new-cars-lose-value/

(4) https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/average-credit-card-interest-rate/50841/

(5) The Stanford Center on Longevity report, Seeing Our Way to Financial Security in the Age of Increased Longevity, points to an increase in mortgage debt among older homeowners as a concern, noting that in 2012, one-third of homeowners over 65 were still paying off a mortgage – up from less than a quarter of homeowners in 1998. And, the amount owed on a mortgage has nearly doubled from $44,000 to $82,000 (as cited in https://www.housingwire.com/articles/47364-stanford-boomersare-entering-retirement-with-less-savings-greater-mortgage-debt).

(6) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p590b 

 

Anyone who saw the news this weekend saw the incredible act of generosity by billionaire philanthropist Robert F. Smith, the commencement speaker at Morehouse College, in Atlanta. Mr. Smith paid the student loan debt of the 2019 graduating class- a total grant of about $40 million dollars. For most graduates, however, student loans will follow them long after the diploma is received.

Many students are on the “Student Deferment” program for their loans, but after graduation, payments begin in six months. What do they do next?First and foremost, students must have a plan. They must have a budget. Then three steps: 1. get to paying as soon as possible on a repayment plan, 2. get out of the student deferment before it statutorily ends and, 3. stay out of forbearance in the future. Going into and out of forbearance is the fastest way to grow a student loan balance. Why? Because the interest capitalizes every time the loans go into and out of forbearance, and when students change payment plans. Capitalization means that the outstanding interest becomes a part of the principal balance, and you then pay interest on the new principal. This is a reason that student loan balances balloon.

The first issue, that few borrowers truly understand, is that during student deferment unsubsidized student loan interest already capitalizes quarterly for the length of the deferment. Four years of loans every semester, unsubsidized interest amounts capitalizing every quarter. This is why students graduate with thousands of dollars of student loan debt amounts over what they actually borrowed. So, during school, these loans are growing. After graduation, many students are faced with large payments they cannot afford on the “Standard Repayment Plan” over ten years, so they immediately put the loans into “forbearance” and a payment is no longer due. But once again that unpaid interest will capitalize every time the loan goes into and out of forbearance.

So, what to do? Here are a few first steps.

1. Have a budget and include in the budget the biggest student loan payment you can afford. Things may be “tight” again for a little while but getting right into payments and staying out of forbearance will make loan payoffs faster and less expensive.

2. Download the Student Loan Guide, “Do You Have the Right Student Loan Payment” from my website and follow the steps to retrieve your total federal student loan data from the National Student Loan Database (NSLDS). From there, check your loans CARFEULLY, to make sure they are, in fact, yours. Look at the disbursement dates, and make sure you were attending. Mistakes sometimes happen.

3. Use the Debt Snowball for the individual loans. If you can avoid consolidation, you can stack your loans from lowest total amount to highest, and attack the debt using a “debt snowball.” As each loan is paid, you will have a huge sense of accomplishment, and the motivation to keep going.

4. Avoid Forbearance. If you cannot make any payment at all AFTER your student deferment period ends- call your servicer and get into a payment plan, do NOT go into forbearance. If you graduate this month, you have a few months before the first payment is due. Get moving on these, but if there is an unavoidable reason you just cannot make the payment, get into Income Driven Repayment, or some other plan, and make sure you absolutely re-certify every year. When you go into and come out of IDR, guess what? Your interest capitalizes.

In my humble opinion, it is this interest capitalization that is making student loans hard to pay off. And when people enter into forbearance, it is because there is a short-term issue causing a hardship or some other issue. The servicers will happily put you into forbearance, “so you don’t have a payment due for six months” but in the long run, it actually hurts the borrower financially. We need stronger disclosures.

Best of luck to the class of 2019! May you find your joy and excitement felt during “Pomp and Circumstance” lasts for years as you leave college and embark on the rest of your journey!


image credit: gocollege.com

 

I had the amazing privilege to attend the Consumer Assembly last week in Washington DC, and there was a panel discussion on credit scoring. The panel was actually a discussion on a group of American consumers that are dubbed by the industry the, “Credit Invisibles.” These are people who cannot get a “good” credit score in the typical way, by having open lines of credit that are at least six months old. The industry that scores credit, including the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), the developers of the FICO credit scoring models, and Vantage Score Solutions, LLC, the developers of the Vantage credit scoring models, feel that “credit invisibles” are disadvantaged in receiving access to credit products. And they are, but this new model by FICO to address the credit invisibles and those with marginal credit is not good for consumers.

I first blogged on the new “UltraFICO” score back in October in a two-part article series. The first was an introduction to the scoring model and the second was on some unspoken dangers related to judgments and bank account attachment when the credit reporting agencies have you bank account information, which you must consent to disclose under this model.

During last week’s panel discussion I learned more about the purpose of the model, and some facts that have me re-thinking my original posts about how this score may be “OK” for a mortgage product. And I was wrong in my previous posts. The model is not “OK” for any credit. None.

Before I move on to the specifics, I have to take a moment and point out that the panelists, including the VP from FICO from whom I received the information directly, entered into the lion’s den of an audience of consumer advocates, and spoke openly and answered questions about their products. That was a very nice thing to do, and I am appreciative of their honesty. I also know that in their “heart of hearts” they believe that they are helping consumers. It is at that point, I cannot disagree more. Remember, the credit scoring businesses are in the business to help people get and stay in debt. Any model that they can create to help consumers access credit is good for them, not necessarily for you. They sell these models. You are denied under one, they offer a second. Here are five “Fun Facts” about the UltraFICO:

1. The “UltraFICO” will be marketed, and is intended, for all types of credit not just secured, collateralized mortgages. In my original post, I speculated that the releasing of banking information to show the history of cash transactions might be “ok” or even great for mortgage lending, the only good use I could envision for this model. Well, when you apply for a mortgage, the banks take your last months of bank statements anyway. So, for that credit product, this appears to be moot. The UltraFICO will be available to all creditors who wish to purchase it.

2. The UltraFICO is intended to be a “second chance” credit scoring model. This little piece of information was new to me, and this is the first indication that it is not good for consumers. I originally believed that borrowers could just “opt-in” to this model by consenting to include their banking info. Actually, this is intended to be an option for people who would be denied credit in the original model. The credit denial becomes a “maybe” and the borrower has the option to “consent” to include their banking info in the hopes that their credit score will go up and they can be approved.

3. The Premise of the UltraFICO by Fair Isaac is faulty. One telling thing about this model is the statement by the panelist that the checking account information would be reliable because, “Consumer’s are in control of those accounts.” I disagree. I had a debit card number stolen and used in a fish market in Mexico. Filed the report, got the money back, but in this day and age of data breaches, I would never make the statement that consumers are always in control. FICO assured us that their model would be able to determine these little situations and not count them, but the scoring models are not transparent. All types of situations can arise where a consumer, for a period of time, may not be in complete control of every transaction in their account.

4. The UltraFICO model needs two to three years of banking information. Ah, another tidbit of info I was previously lacking. To use this model, consumers must 1. not have bounced a check in the last twelve months 2. Have at least two to three years of checking account information available for the model and 3. Have an average balance of $400.00. Good to know. 78% of consumers live paycheck to paycheck. There are many consumers that cannot maintain an average $400.00 balance after bills are paid and groceries are purchased. The VP assured us that in the beta-testing, using Experian as the Credit Reporting Agency (CRA), most consumers had their score increase under this model. But this now provides the information that a consumer may know they do not have, and “opt-out” of the model, rather than be denied AND have a score decrease.

5. Your banking info will be out there to the CRA, including “new” Finicity, who will become a CRA to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. A fourth CRA will enter into the picture, Finicity who will be the CRA for these UltraFICO banking information providers to FICO for scoring. Because FICO never sees anything but the “raw data” they have zero, none, no liability for what happens to your info. Under this model, FICO assures us that it will be a “single use” calculation of the borrowers banking info. Okay, what happens then? The CRA and the creditors are responsible for protecting the data and are subject to the FCRA, so, it’s good. Or is it?

Data breaches have recently revealed sensitive info that an identity thief can use to create an account, such as social security number and date of birth. But now, a breach can put your banking info at risk, no need to create a fake account when they can raid yours, or use the UltraFICO themselves. How many additional hours will consumers add to the identity theft cleanup mess when the bank must investigate everything, and to close that account could subject the consumer to bounced checks and whatever else. But, you can file a dispute with the Credit Reporting Agency online. Eyeroll.

If you are purchasing a house, find a bank who will perform manual underwriting, and do not use the UltraFICO to provide your banking account information. Please. Your info will be out on the internet for who knows how long. Even if the CRAs pinky swear to delete it. For other types of credit, if you are going to be denied without this info- you are going to be denied. The interest rate is likely higher than you would expect anyway once the UltraFICO model is used. And for the car dealers and others who will “deny” people initially to access their banking information for approval, we know, we know. If you give a mouse a cookie, he will want a glass of milk. Protect your banking from the UltraFICO.

 

“The hospital is saying that if we need a lower payment, we have to take out a loan.” I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but that statement came from my client. I actually was at a loss for words. “So, if you do not make the minimum payment the hospital has set you up with on the “plan” they won’t accept any payment at all?”  Apparently, that is what the hospital told them. So, what to do if you are faced with this issue? Let’s talk about it.

First of all, the hospital is not required to carry your debt balances. They can decide that they will make payment plans with patients, provided the debt is paid in 12 months, or 6 months, or whatever. To be honest, medial providers of all types, private doctors, hospitals, labs, etc, are often very quick to turn an outstanding medical debt to collections. It is that fear of collections that can cause consumers to make mistakes in handling these debts.

About 18 months ago, on September 15, 2017, the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion changed the way they report medical collections on the consumer’s credit report. These changes were designed to help consumers who are paying medical bills on a payment plan or are waiting for insurance to pay some or all of the outstanding debt. I wrote about this briefly in an earlier article, it is not unusual for insurance claims to be filed with errors, and payment is delayed.

What to advise my client? Well, if you cannot afford the payment, and it was a very large payment, the bill will probably be sent to collections, but until it is, make your lower payment amounts to the hospital. Do not stop paying because you cannot afford the amount they are asking. And I gave them the same option I am going to share here. These are the things to consider if your hospital is threatening to send you to collections because you cannot afford their plan.

First, DO NOT take out a loan or put the balance of a medical debt on a credit card. It changes the “character of debt” from medical to “personal loan” or “credit card debt.”  The reporting agencies will not report a medical collection on the consumer’s report for 180 days, that’s six months, after the account is sent to collections. This gives consumers six months to pay the debt in full. If you change medical debt to anything else, you are adding interest, and any late payment can be reported.

Second, many medical collection accounts can be removed, once they are paid. In certain scoring models used by creditors, paid medical collection accounts do not factor in at all, even if the paid debt is not removed.

Third, there will be more flexibility to lower your payment each month with a collection agency. Collectors want a payment. Period. If it takes longer than six months, see above.

Fourth, do not make the medical debt payment at the expense of any of the family’s “four walls.” Food, utilities, rent or mortgage, and transportation are the priorities with your income. PLEASE do not put your “FICO” in front of the electric bill or pay the debt before you get food in the pantry.

The last little tidbit of news here is that the credit reporting agencies must remove any medical collection account within 45 days after it is paid in full by insurance. As I said earlier, mistakes in claim filing, not by the consumer, but by the provider, can delay payment beyond the six months.

 

 

We are in spring! As we make the transition from winter into the new season, I want to invite you to take on a personal goal to find and save as much money as you can in April. Think of it as the “grown up” Easter Egg Hunt. We all tend to have several places we spend money without really counting the cost. Once we really pay attention to our money and write down where it goes often we are surprised on how much “runs away” after the bills are paid. So, for the savings challenge, there are three basic steps that if you commit to for 30 days, you will surprise yourself by how much you get to keep in your pocket.

Step One: Make a grocery budget and a list. Then take cash and leave the debit card at home

This can seem very scary if you don’t normally give yourself a budget. We start at the grocery store because those guys are the GREATEST marketers and woo money away from us on a consistent basis with “Red Hot Buys” or those end caps with items on sale that aren’t on the list. Even if you use the item on sale, if you aren’t out, and it isn’t on the list, you will pick it up later. Save that $2.99 now. Do that for three items, and you have saved just about nine bucks. Skip the sale items you don’t need and watch the savings grow!

Another tip: When you shop the sales and the “buy one, get one free” (BOGO), the bottom of the receipt will indicate what you have saved. That is money you would have spent if you had not been a super shopper. Transfer that amount to savings for additional motivation.

Step Two: Give yourself a weekly budget for gas, lunches, kiddo, etc., and withdraw exactly that amount of cash once a week. Again, leave the debit at home”

If you know your family has a drive through dinner on Wednesday between sports and scouts, budget for it and pay cash. You will not be as tempted to add on an item or “up-size” anything when you order. And if you don’t have the debit card with you and make a commitment to stick to your budget of cash for that one week, you are likely to be more aware when you must give up your paper money, and not overspend. Even better? The rest of your money stays in the bank!

Step Three: Save your change. When you are out spending only cash, you will get change as you purchase stuff. Save your change for the month.

I have a few mugs around the house to collect change. One is by the front door, so you take the keys out and see the mug, you put the change in there. The one that actually gets the most coin is on the washer (right?). Once a week, collect the mugs and empty them into a centralized place, perhaps a jar, or a piggy bank. At the end of the month, count the booty.

If you are already doing the steps above to your money, here are a few additional tips that you may try for 30 days and get in to the savings challenge as well!

Challenge yourself to save a specific amount each week

Mike and I try to squeeze at least $8.00 off the budget each week, just on various things. Seems silly, but when we are successful, we are saving a little over $30.00/month, $360.00/year. We aren’t always able to do it, but we have a goal for that money.

Withdraw your cash for envelopes only once a week, instead of per paycheck

Withdrawing money only once a week means more stays in the bank, and if we have money left over from the previous week, we can take out less. Also, this ensures we don’t keep a lot of cash around for temptation. If it’s in the bank, we are less likely to use it mindlessly!

Save your singles

The next step after saving your change is to save your singles. Mike will break a five before he gives up his dollar. It adds up! Doing that each week for the month of April may accelerate your savings!

Calculate your savings weekly to really see the impact of implementing a few changes this month. Every dime you save is a win. No amount too big or too small. I’m in. If you want to see how we are doing, and let me know what YOU have saved, just like my Facebook page: dawnkennedylaw. Game on!!!

There should be a rant warning attached to this article, but I am going to try and provide some tips, so it’s a rant with tips. Odd, but utter frustration with the student loan servicers is the place where many of us are today. I know I am frustrated with the level of “service” many students are getting.

An audit reportby the Department of Education Inspector General was released back in February, and it was a doozy. Between 2015 and 2017 Federal Student Aid, which provides oversight for servicers, found that there were many instances where the servicers failed to meet requirements with respect to borrowers, follow the federal rules, and actually harmed borrower’s rights.

But my rant isn’t only with the government oversight failures. The servicers are contracted to “SERVE” borrowers. Taking payments, updating the accounts, making arrangements to change plans or prevent default, etc.  For weeks there have been reports within our listserv of borrowers waiting on the phone 90 minutes or more to get to a human. Or a fax number that isn’t working. In some cases there was no response from the loan servicer to any communication by a borrower (or lawyer) at all, be it email or fax.  I haven’t tried a carrier pigeon dipped in the blood of a virgin, but not sure who to address it to.

And while systemic problems with the system aren’t limited to only one servicer, NelNet has recently come under fire, again, for their servicing problems. A year ago Nelnet acquired another servicer, Great Lakes Educational Loan Servicers, and made themselves the largest of all the student loan guys. And they are currently in six lawsuits for their shenanigans… well done, guys.  Don’t get me started on FedLoan either- they also left the “service” out of “servicer.” 

So what can a borrower do? Know their rights. Keep trying to contact the servicer, and if they don’t respond, get help. Document everything. And know what your servicer cannot do. If you are getting the run around, or the servicer is doing any of the behaviors listed below, you can, and should, always file a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

1. They cannot threaten you with late fees.

2. They cannot just “steer” you into forbearance, there may be an affordable payment option available, they need to let you know about those.

3.  They cannot allocate your payments in a way that hurts you.

3. They cannot “thwart” your extra payments to reduce the loan or pay off early. It is in the servicers best interest to keep you in your loan as long as possible. If you are making extra payments, DO NOT let the servicer put you into a payment holiday, skipping payments ahead. Make them put your payment on principal. And keep records!

For more things loan servicers cannot do to you, read “9 Things Your Student Loan Servicer Isn’t Supposed to Do”. Here is the most current link to servicers with contact info. And here is the link to the complete list of phone numbers for the Department of Education departments that  “handle issues” related to federal student aid”

 

 

This is the final article in the “Consumer Lawsuit” series. Part I covered what happens when the consumer is defendant (served with a lawsuit) and what to do. Part II covered two instances “when” the consumer should consider suing a creditor, collector, or credit reporting agency. This article will cover what to expect when the consumer is the plaintiff, or the party that files a lawsuit. I am going to emphasize again in Part III – very few people like lawsuits. They can be stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. But sometimes they are necessary to protect legal rights.

I want to start with one of the biggest obstacles for consumers who should consider a lawsuit- attorneys and fees. Attorneys are often seen as the bad guys in consumer disputes. The creditors often have teams of attorneys, and many collection agencies employ attorneys to collect on debts. This is why collection notices may originate from a law office. For many consumers who want to fight, the thought and costs associated with legal representation are a huge issue. However, these concerns are directly addressed within the consumer protection laws themselves to make sure consumers can get relief.

Consumers can be Awarded Costs and Attorney Fees Under Fee-Shifting Statutes from Violators

For cases brought by consumer under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), there are provisions for plaintiffs “who prevail” against the collector or credit reporting agency who violated the law. In addition to “actual” damages the consumer suffered by the violation, there are “statutory” damages, meaning money damages available to the consumer within the law just for the violation, and under “fee-shifting” provisions, the law provides the collector or credit reporting agency pay, “costs” and “reasonable attorney fees.” Rarely is the client out of pocket “up front” for these cases, and many attorneys evaluate these cases without a fee. Also, once a consumer is represented by an attorney, the collector cannot contact them directly, the collector must only contact the consumer through their attorney.

Procedures in a Lawsuit Itself

When a consumer decides to file a lawsuit, there are procedures that must be followed under our system of laws and justice. There is an order to things, and this order must be strictly followed. This is another part of the frustration and emotional toll many lawsuits can take on consumers. Lawsuits may seem overly complicated, slow moving, and the other side has rights to file motions as well. As I covered in Part I, every defendant has the right to receive notice of the lawsuit filed against them and has the right to respond.

If we describe the process in the most basic order of steps, and not all suits are straight lines, there are four to five steps that are common. The lawsuit will contain the original complaint, or pleading to the court, service to and the answer by the defendant, motions and “discovery” around evidence, conferences before a trial with settlement talks, and then a trial. Not all lawsuits make it to trial, in fact most are resolved much earlier in the process. Sometimes settlement talks can occur right after the answer is filed by the defendant and the evidence of consumer law violations is produced. This is because the consumer protection laws under the FDCPA and FCRA are “strict liability” meaning, if the violation occurs, the collector or credit reporting agency is liable. There is no need to prove that the agency had bad intent or malice toward the consumer. Because there is a strict liability component to the laws, many consumers receive relief from the courts when they enforce their legal rights and defend themselves against abusive and illegal tactics to collect debts or credit reporting errors that the agencies refuse to correct.

And that’s really about it for the basics of the consumer lawsuit. If you missed Part I or Part II, you may want to go back and read them. If you have questions or comments about this series, please let me know. I want to re-emphasize that if a consumer owes money, there is a right way to collect a debt within the law, and a wrong way that violates the law. If a credit reporting agency makes an error, and refuses to correct it, there can be serious consequences for the consumer, whether it is being denied a job, having a security clearance revoked, or increased insurance rates. When agencies violate the law, consumers have rights, and they need to enforce them.