Monday, August 18, 2014

Will You Sit Quietly and Be Hoodwinked?

Good girls and boys are told to sit quietly and speak when spoken to, at least that's what many people of a certain age were told. No longer boys or girls, they may still be thought of as children in adult bodies and the knaves are circling like so many sharks in the economic waters and it can be terrifying.

What knaves you say? How about the ones who, in these extremely tenuous economic times, when anyone over 45 or 50 or so loses their job and is looking for a life preserver to keep them afloat, come forward with proposals? Who will come to your rescue?

Of course, it's time (or so the cheery magazine/blog items will tell you) for you to reinvent yourself, circle your wagons and march bravely into those mysterious waters called "institutes" or "colleges" or technical something or other. You'll be able to find a new job, a new career and new economic freedom and all you have to do is to sign on the dotted line. Or why not become an entrepreneur or open a franchise? A vineyard even. Yeah, why not take out a loan to do that?

Government grants, student loans and a bit of part-time employment and you'll be all set. What a wonderful picture they paint! You'll be valued again and you'll be able to lift your head up and stave off bankruptcy, that ever-present spectre. Purpose and pride will return to your life and you won't have to hide in the local library from opening until just after 5 when everyone else is leaving work.

The charade can be over and with it the awful, stomach-churning stress you've endured for two years now. No more going to the unemployment office only to be told there are no openings for your skills or to be sent to shot-down-before-you-open-the-door interviews because of your age. Losing weight, coloring your hair and putting on a fresh outfit won't change that birth date they demand on your application and that's the arrow in your heart.

And they're only one aspect of this new breed of being that is intent on squeezing you until you can't give anymore. I find it almost too hard to believe that the U.S. Government created both Federal and State programs to help with training and education for the unemployed but forgot one thing. What did they fail to do? How about some oversight of these "schools" that offered non-traditional approaches suited for adults with family and work obligations. No one looked at the dismal completion rates, the dropout problem, the failure on student loan repayments?

Oh, and BTW, some of the schools will offer a rosy picture of their low rates of non-repayment. How do they do this? They don't include any "students" two years out from the programs in question. So, if you default on a loan three years out, you are miraculously omitted from the statistics. I think this is a lot like gaming the system. See, not everyone playing Three Card Monty works on a street corner anymore.

Healthcare we're told is the growing area of future employment and anything that smacks of being in or somehow related to healthcare would seem like a sure bet. Well, not exactly. Take the example of a man, who lost his business and needed to "reinvent" himself. He was advised by one of these career counselors to sign up for a program that would train him to work as a cardiology technician. I guess that means you work, in some capacity, in a physician's or hospital's cardiology department. Just what you'd actually do, I don't know.

But this man was desperate, he was assured there'd be a job and the school had great success in placement of graduates. Sounds too much like "the car was only driven by a teacher on Sundays who drove it to church" to me. He owes $20K in student loans and two years out he has no job as a cardiology tech and, seemingly, none are being offered to him.

Desperation pushes people to make decisions and to listen to supposedly unbiased authorities about money and career matters.  Today, it's been reported that there is over $1.2 trillion in student loans outstanding and it could mean yet another financial crisis. But, don't worry, because student debt relief companies tell you that your entire student debt can be forgiven, so no need to worry, just sign on the dotted line. You've come to someone who can help you with that pesky student loan problem. The loan that never got you a job after you received your certificate or "degree." Another group of sharks waiting for fresh meat after the schools got you on the hook for the loans.

While you wait for that relief to come and that job to appear on the horizon, why not up your credit card limit so you can pay off some bills? Forget about those old usury laws; they were tossed out two decades ago. Do that and the noose only tightens. The bankruptcy laws have been reworked against you in their latest iteration.

Or, if you're in a certain age bracket, how about getting a reverse mortgage or a second mortgage on your home or your parents' home? Cash now and you don't have to leave the house. What did P. T. Barnum say about suckers? I don't believe anyone should be called a sucker or any other unflattering name, but Barnum was a cynic and he knew how to work the system as cynics do. Honest, trusting, hard-working people are their prime targets. Reassurances and fast talking helps them, too. You'll hear them urging you to sign now because this offer won't be there for long. It's only for a limited time. Yes, but you WILL suffer for a long time if you go along with their charlatanesque tactics.

Where can you turn? How about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Here's a page with useful information for older citizens, but don't let that "older" stop you from looking at its materials. There are ways to protect yourself from the predators and this is material to put in that magical quiver that you will use for your own financial arrows. A listing of state agencies that offer consumer protection information can be useful. Do your homework and don't let anxiety take over your ability to delay and carefully consider before you sign for any goods or services. Everyone wants to make a sale and they want to close the deal now.

Lastly, a great resource regarding finances and bankruptcy is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, an expert in the area. Read her books, her articles and educate yourself.  Remember that line from the film, Network, where the actor says something like, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Find a way to get the help you need. You don't have to be helpless but I understand that you may feel that way.