Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Challenge – Day 5

I added “Crunchy Bugs on A Log” - celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins/granola to dinner tonight. Barbara and I liked it, Andrew said it is different. Note to self, to increase time spent during morning workout to increase my caloric burn.

I am happy to report that I’ve saved $3 by bring my own coffee into work and not supporting Starbucks. While I do like the crew at "my" Starbucks, I read that I could save over $350 dollars annually if I brought my coffee from home rather than at Starbucks. Like my grandmother said, “Dimes roll up into dollars.”

Did you know that it will take you 41 years to pay off a $2,500 balance on a credit card with 19% interest if you make only the minimum monthly payments. At the end of that 41 year period you will have paid the credit card company $10,598 on top of the $2,500.

½ cup of coffee
1 bottle of water
Lunch: bowl of tomato basil soup w/two rolls and glass of ice water
Dinner: cold chicken salad w/low fat French dressing and unsweetened ice tea.

December 1, 2009 @ 749 hrs
BP: 124/93
Pulse: 93
Weight: 229.0 lbs

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Challenge – Day 4

Back to work. Not complaining, just not that much freedom to do as I please – but that’s why they call it work. Otherwise it would be play.

½ cup of coffee
1 bottle of low-cal Gatorade
Lunch: Thanksgiving leftovers: turkey and stuffings w/gravy, snow peas. Unsweetened ice tea
Dinner: Thanksgiving leftovers (again): turkey and stuffings w/gravy, snow peas, mashed sweat potatoes. Unsweetened ice tea.

November 30, 2009 @ 2135 hrs
BP: 127/93
Pulse: 94
Weight: 229.5 lbs

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Challenge – Day 3

A little treat today because our grocery chain over stocked (?) on turkeys. Fresh turkeys were on sale $.99/pound. I had to buy one! So we’re having turkey for dinner tonight with stuffing and gravy. I’m wondering if this is going to put me well over 233, since I bounced up to 233 on Thanksgiving and back down to 230 by Saturday.

I need to look at recipes that reduce the amount of fat and calories that we’re eating. I saw an entertaining and interesting item on food and fat today. This story is so me!!! Here is
a link to the story

It begins “when I was growing up there was no one skinnier than me! I could eat anything I wanted and I would not put on weight. As a result I never learned how to eat…” The video goes on to explain food, weight, and BMI (Body Mass Index). Your BMI is an estimate of your body fat, based on your height and weight. So my BMI is in the obese range - but I already knew that. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk of developing such conditions as heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and type 2 diabetes. To calculate your BMI you can use this
BMI calculator at aarp.org

Breakfast: four cinnamon rolls five bacon strips w/glass of orange juice
Dinner: a full Thanksgiving dinner (again): turkey w/stuffing and cranberry sauce, snow peas, sweet potatoes with unsweetened ice tea

November 29, 2009 @ 1335 hrs
BP: 137/99
Pulse: 94
Weight: 230.5 lbs

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Challenge - Day 2

Saturday is always filled with errands and grocery shopping. I wanted to be better prepared. I really wanted to have identified 4 or 5 dinner recipes listed their ingredients and THEN go grocery shopping. I am doing this BACKWARDS which may be the reason I have so few choices when it comes to cooking dinner during the week. I’ve got to get my act together.

My sister-in-law (doctor) applauded my desire to lose weight, but she was really concerned when she read my blood pressure. My doctor was monitoring it at the beginning of this year and prescribed Lisinopril 20mg daily. Lisinopril is standard treatment for patients with
high blood pressure (hypertension) and considering that my BP was clearly in the 140/90 range on a daily basis, this treatment was recommended for 120 days. He also prescribed Lovastatin 20mg for the treatment of high cholesterol. It is sold under the brand name Mevacor® but is also available as a generic called Lovastatin tablets. He wanted to reduce my LDL cholesterol levels into a normal range. This treatment lasted 90 days, which ended about 15 days ago.

My thinking here is to reduce my weight which will have an impact on my LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. The goal is to REDUCE my weight + dependence on medication.

½ cup of coffee
Lunch: 2 wings, 2 legs and 2 chicken breast grilled with 4 rolls with water
snack: 15 Oreo cookie
Dinner: chicken melt sandwich with French fries with unsweetened ice tea

November 28, 2009 @ 1036 hrs
BP: 147/111
Pulse: 89
Weight: 230.5 lbs

Friday, November 27, 2009

Challenge - Day 1

Day 1
20 sit-ups and 5 push-ups. I didn’t expect that it would be so difficult to get to either number. I’m told that it will get easier after each day – I wonder. If today was a work day, I wouldn’t be wondering if I should eat breakfast and skip lunch, so I might eat a banana and think about a salad for lunch. I don’t have a plan for dinner, since cooking Thanksgiving leftovers seems to be the easy answer. I am disappointed that the scale shows a 3.5 pound increase, considering I didn’t eat lunch yesterday – however I did down about twenty pigs-in-a-blanket before our Thanksgiving dinner.

Lunch: ham+cheese+bacon sandwich plus a cup of New England clam chowder soup with water.
Dinner: leftover turkey+stuffing with gravy with 8 oz bottle of sweeten ice tea.
No snacks.

Friday, November 27, 2009 8:20AM
BP: 137/102
Pulse: 88
Weight: 233.5 lbs

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Thanks Giving challenge

It seems that today, one should reflect on what one has to be thankful for, before racing off at 4AM to take advantage of Black Friday sales. I have much to be thankful for: I am happily married to a woman who loves me more than I love myself; I have two well-adjusted sons (emphasis on the “adjusted”). I have a fairly normal relationship with my family and friends and I try to give more than I take. There are a few missing items: enough money to get ahead of the bills, a HD motorcycle, and the freedom to visit the Pyramids of Giza. So while I would like to have more money, or at least an 2009 FLHT Electra Glide, I think is might be easier to adjust my attitude and my weight.

I am bombarded with daily messages that I should lose weight. It will reduce the strain on my heart, it will reduce the threat of diabetes, and it will add years to my mortality meter. But the difficultity that I find in getting this weight off, is well…a challenge. I’ll have to adjust my diet. I’ll have to exercise.

So here is my challenge: to lose 60 pounds….

Every day I will post my weight, blood pressure, pulse and menu for dinner + lunch. I don’t know if you want to take this journey with me, but I figure that the Biggest Loser is number one in its time slot, there are probably many people out there who might be interested in my weight management. I will greatly appreciate your feedback and suggestions on my blog
http://whyalmost50.blogspot.com Wish me luck.

Thursday 11/26/20098:44 AM144/10094230.0 lbs

Monday, November 23, 2009

Know When to Hold 'Em

How playing poker taught me almost everything I know about running a not-for-profit
by Nancy Lublin

I used to play a lot of poker. Every Friday night for nearly three years, I was at the May fair, a poker club in a Manhattan basement. There were big games in the other room—with Joey Bagels (he became Joey Knish in the semi-fictional film Rounders) and dotcom kids. I played in a small 5-10 stud game with Big Phil, Arnie the Garmento (he always wore the same sweater with holes in it), Gracie (she brought class to the place), Trichter, Scott (our fish), and a bald Aussie math major.

I made shoe money. One day, I spotted some gorgeous $550 cream-colored, patent leather, knee-high Nancy Geist boots. I had to have them, but that wasn't going to happen on my Dress for Success salary. It took me nearly 20 hours of play over two weeks, and those people bought me the boots.

Ultimately, those boys from Staten Island and South Philly gave me more than sexy boots. They taught me nearly everything I know about running a not-for-profit. With apologies to Kenny Rogers, here are four lessons.

You've got to know when to hold 'em .. . Every poker hand is like a fund-raising pitch. Your first bet needs to be high enough to garner respect from the other players, but not so high that you scare them all away. It also can't be so low that you make them think you're desperate. And that first bet has less to do with your cards than with who's at the table, where you're seated (are you the first to bet? the last?), your reputation, and chutzpah. I've heard foundations say they ignore requests for under $100,000, but a first-time ask for $5 million won't get a second look either. Every entrepreneur knows that chasing early funding is similar: What can you request with a straight face and still get a "yes"?

Know when to fold 'em ... You should fold about 80% of the hands you're dealt. That's hard to do—you get itchy to play or you're tempted to see if you can string something together. Dress for Success was once asked to provide suits for women seeking restraining orders in court. We wanted to help. We had the inventory. But our purpose was to support women looking for work. Our board debated it passionately and decided that we shouldn't muddy our mission by getting involved in something complex that we didn't fully understand. That slope would have been too slippery—we wanted to say yes, but we had to say no.

Know when to walk away. And know when to run. Sometimes you suffer a bad beat and you have to move on. In the office context, this is especially relevant to personnel. Firing an employee is never fun, especially if you hired the person. It's like starting out with a nice pair in the hole. You're starting strong, but it never gets better. The best thing is to just cut your losses quickly. If that new employee turns out to be a loser, better to fail fast.

This has been the hardest lesson for me: I fall in love with cards, and I fall in love with potential in employees. Do Something, my current not-for-profit, once hired a successful tech entrepreneur to be our CTO. He took a huge pay cut, which made us feel lucky to have him. He wanted to redesign our site. This was a bad use of our time and resources, but he kept arguing for it. I'd be crazy to ditch the genius, right? Wrong. He didn't understand our priorities or our agenda. Delaying a decision to cut bait is expensive and affects your head. We finally let the guy go.

You never count your money when you're sitting at the table. There'll be time enough for counting when the deal is done. Don't gloat. Even when you win a gigantic pot, you don't want your benefactor to feel cheated—or stupid— because you want to play with her again. And counting your chips is distracting. Every second spent examining your own stack is a second you're not using to suss out others' cards and nerves. In the not-for-profit context, droning on about how much money you've brought in doesn't help bring in more. Plus, it's off-topic. Your goal is to build a more effective organization and reach your group's goals, right? So communicate your strategy for change, not how much change you've got.

About seven years ago, I had my first-ever straight flush—and two dumb, beefy guys stayed in with me until the river. It doesn't get sweeter than that, so I no longer play. But I still have my boots and my lessons. Every day at the office, I remember that it's not about the hand you're dealt, but how you play it.

Nancy Lublin is CEO of Do Something
Fast Company, September 2009, p62

Monday, November 16, 2009

How to Win an Argument About Vaccines

The anti-immunization crowd clings to well-worn myths.
Arm yourself with facts.

MYTH: Vaccines cause autism.
FACT: Until 2001. vaccines included thimerosai, a preservative containing ethylmercury. Mercury, of course can cause neurological damage. But there's scientific consensus that the amount once used in vaccines—around 50 micrograms per 0.5-ml dose was far short of toxic. And autism rates have continued to climb, suggesting that there's either a different cause or, more likely, that a better understanding of the condition has increased diagnoses;. A comprehensive review of the research, conducted in 2004 by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, found no evidence of a connection between vaccines and autism. None.

MYTH: Giving too many vaccines overwhelms a child's immune system.
FACT: This argument echoes the "too much of a good thing" chestnut. but there's no science behind it. With millions of vaccines administered every year, a handful of allergic reactions do happen. But severe cases are so rare that the CDC cannot calculate a statistical risk for the population - the numbers are just too small.

MYTH: Vaccines cause diabetes.
FACT: This idea relies on the flawed work of one doctor, who gathered data on a slew of vaccines and failed to follow standard study protocols, No other study-including those using the same data—could reproduce the results. The CDC and the Institute of Medicine have both dismissed any possible link. This argument also ignores the obvious and well-established fact that diabetes rates in children are climbing because obesity rates are climbing.

MYTH: Vaccines are no longer necessary, because the diseases are no longer a threat.
FACT: The opposite is true. Because of vaccines, diseases that once killed millions are now invisible. But if only a few families stop vaccinating, the illnesses could reemerge in a community, And the diseases are horrible—mumps and Haemophilus influenzae type b cause meningitis, which can lead to deafness, epilepsy, and cognitive impairment. Measles can lead to encephalitis, blindness, and death.

MYTH: Scientists are divided about the safety of vaccines.
FACT: By any measure of scientific consensus, there is total agreement. Vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary. Twelve studies have shown that the measles/ mumps/rubella vaccine is safe. Many other studies have disproved the theory that the Hib shot is toxic. The few dissenters get lots of attention, but it's always the same old names.

MYTH: Aluminum in vaccines is just as toxic as mercury.
FACT: Aluminum, the most common metal in nature, is perfectly safe in small amounts. (A dose of antacid has about 1,000 times as much as a vaccine does.) Aluminum salts are used in vaccines to increase antibody response. They make it possible to use less vaccine less often.

Erin Biba
Wired, October 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

How to Locate and Apply for College Scholarships

Scholarships are private funds awarded to students who meet specific criteria set by the donor(s). The criteria can be as specialized as the donor(s) may choose and, consequently, are competitive. Frequently used criteria include: academic performance, community service, ancestry, career/profession, race, religion, gender, and specialized skills or talents.


1. Research/Network - places to look for scholarships
Off Campus:
• Employer/parents' employer
• Employment personnel office
• Public Library
• Unions
• Church
• Clubs and Organizations
• Community-based groups
On the Internet:
At School:
• Counseling Office/Career Center
• Bulletin boards
• Daily school bulletins or public announcements
• Special scholarship bulletins
• Teachers and counselors
• School library and internet
• Fellow students
• Scholarship handbooks or guides

2. Keep a portfolio folder of scholarship documents and include the following:
a) Personal Statement - express strong, clear, positive information on your background (past), current activities and challenges (present), and your enthusiasm regarding your goals and aspirations (future)
b) Letters of Recommendation - highlighting your strengths, abilities, goals, personality, and an indication of your financial need and potential for success. If a letter is addressed, "To whom it may concern," and you are given a copy, it may be used for more than one application. Ideal recommendations are from teachers, employers, and/or community members.
c) Transcript - Cumulative Student Record (CSR) must be sealed in an envelope by the school to remain official. (Keep your own photocopies of your transcript, in the event unofficial transcripts are acceptable.)
d) Personal Budget - detailed list of expenses and any income to be received. Costs should include tuition, books, transportation, housing, meals, medical, and personal expenses. Student-budget forms are usually available from the financial aid office or college catalog.
e) Miscellaneous - sometimes a photo is requested. Samples of work may also be requested for competitive awards. Your high school portfolio may also be helpful.
f) Copies of application - be certain to keep copies of all applications to colleges and scholarships so that information can be quickly revised. If you are using a computer, save essay information on a disk.

3. Be persistent! It pays!!!

Meet deadlines and follow through as appropriate. Take advantage of every opportunity to network, get to know yourself better, and benefit from the results. Scholarships can be worth your time and effort, but - YOU MUST APPLY - APPLY FOR ALL SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WHICH YOU MAY QUALIFY. It is FREE MONEY which can help you through school. The more scholarships you apply for, the more opportunities for FREE MONEY.

Note: Be extremely wary of individuals or companies who offer to locate or "guarantee" scholarships or financial aid assistance for a fee (e.g., www.fafsa.com). Do not pay money to apply for scholarships. To learn more about "scholarship scams" visit: www.finaid.org/scholarships/scams.phtml or by calling 800.433.3243

Tips regarding letters of recommendation:
1. Ask only those who will give you a positive recommendation (do not ask to see it).
2. Request the letter three or four weeks in advance so the writer is not rushed.
3. Provide the writer with the name, address, due date, and any particulars to be included in the letter. (A helpful gesture is to provide a correctly addressed, stamped envelope and tuck inside a list of particulars, e.g., achievements, awards, community service, talents, challenges, to be mentioned by the writer.)
4. Send a "thank you" letter to the writer sharing the outcome of your scholarship application.

more information can be obtained at http://www.sandiegocalsoap.com/
an outreach program of the California Student Aid Commission

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Into to Student Financial Aid


The California Student Opportunity & Access Program (Cal-SOAP) and your high school counselor can help you apply. Financial aid is available in the form of grants and scholarships (which do not have to be repaid), student employment or"work study"(a part-time job while attending school), and low-interest loans (which must be repaid). Information on financial aid application deadlines and maximum award amounts is available in the fall of your senior year in high school. Students should be certain to apply for the following:

If you are a California high school senior (or a graduate) planning to attend a community college, a four-year college, a university, or a vocational school located within California, you need to apply for a Cal Grant by making sure that a GPA Verification Form is sent by the March 2 postmark deadline, and by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 2nd or earlier (deadlines vary by college). It is important to get Certificates of Mailing at the Post Office at the time you mail both forms; keep them in a file.
CAL GRANT A: The purpose of the Cal Grant A is to provide financial assistance to students from low- and middle-income families in meeting tuition and fees. Cal Grant A recipients are selected on the basis of financial need and academic ability. For the year 2009-10, grant awards ranged from $2,772 to $9,708 per year depending on the institution. A student who decides to attend a community college must request that this grant be held in reserve until they transfer to a four-year institution.
CAL GRANT B: The Cal Grant B is for high-potential students from disadvantaged or low-income families who otherwise would not be able to pursue a postsecondary education. Cal Grant B awards for first-year students are usually limited to assisting with living expenses, books and supplies, and transportation (a living allowance or monthly access grant). When renewed by sophomores, juniors and seniors, a Cal Grant B may also coverall or part of tuition and fees. For the year 2009-10, the maximum access grant was $1,551 and the maximum award for tuition and fees was $9,708.
CAL GRANT C: The Cal Grant C was developed to assist vocationally oriented students to acquire a meaningful and marketable job skill in occupations designated by the state as being in demand. This grant may not be used to pursue a four-year degree program. To qualify, vocational training must be on a full- or part-time basis. For the year 2008-09, Cal Grant C awards were up to $3,168 for training related costs and $576 for books and supplies.
•Students apply for federal, most state and some private aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); however, certain state and private aid programs have priority deadline dates and require an additional form(s).To find out more about deadline dates and which forms are required, contact your high school counselor, college financial aid office, or state scholarship/grant agency. Note: Pay attention to priority/deadline dates and photocopy all completed applications and forms for your files. Mail originals and request a "Certificate of Mailing" from the U.S. Post Office. Note: You may apply FREE over the Internet at

: The Federal Pell Grant is intended to assist eligible low- and middle-income students to attend a college or university of their choice. Pell Grants are available to undergraduate students with financial need who will be attending an eligible college or vocational school at least half time. For the 2009-10 school year, Pell Grants will pay up to $5,350. The maximum expected family contribution to be eligible for a Pell Grant is $4,617.

• FEDERAL SUPPLEMENTAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY GRANTS (FSEOG): The Federal SEOG Program provides supplemental funding for students with exceptional financial need. Once the Federal Pell Grant is awarded, the college financial aid office will assist eligible students in determining whether or not they qualify for Federal SEOG.

The state sponsored program that waives an eligible California resident's enrollment fees at a California Community College is the Board of Governors Enrollment Fee Waiver or "BOGW." Contact the EOPS office at the Community College for application information. Or go to

Colleges and universities offer several types of scholarships and financial awards (such as employment under the Federal College Work-Study Program). Students apply for these campus-based funds by completing the appropriate financial aid forms which may be obtained from the financial aid office of the institution they plan to attend.

Some scholarships are offered through organizations, groups, or businesses of which the parent is a member or employed. Many local service organizations also award scholarships and grants. Information about applying for these awards will be announced by your high school scholarship counselor. Pay careful attention to the school bulletin, and check with the counseling office for bulletin boards with scholarship information, applications and deadline dates. Some school districts publish scholarship/grant handbooks for senior students with specific information about available local awards. Outstanding Pell Grant eligible students: Get information on the Gates Millennium Scholarships
www.gmsp.org For more information on scholarships, see section below.

Under this program, "state mandated" and "per unit" fees are waived for qualified students. The waiver is applicable at any California Community College, California State University, or University of California campus. Eligibility is determined by the County Veteran Services Office:
www.cacvso.org. For more information regarding eligibility questions, contact the appropriate Veteran's Service Office.

Foster youth or former foster youth (ages 16 through 21) in California may qualify for the Califor­nia Chafee Grant administered by the California Student Aid Commission. Eligible students may receive up to $5,000 a year for college or job training. Learn more about this program at
www.chafee.csac.ca.gov or call toll free: 888.224.7268

Loans should be considered only as a last resort to finance your education. If you need to apply for a low-interest loan, discuss your options and the best loan package available with the financial aid officer at your college of choice. Sometimes low-interest loans are necessary. Remember: Loans must be repaid!

Learn more about financial aid and how to apply for it, go to:
www.finaid.org and www.federalstudentaid.ed.gov

Complete and file the FAFSA online following step-by-step instructions:

Go to
www.californiacollegs.edu for more information on admissions, financial aid, and career exploration.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Marketing You

Resumes still matter, because they are the best way for job hunters to present a quick synopsis of their skills - to make a compelling argument for why they are the best choice for the job. But just slapping all your degrees and accomplishments on an 81/2-by-11-inch sheet of paper and adding your contact information isn't enough. Design matters, because you want your skills and experience to leap out at hiring managers.

One group that takes resumes very seriously is Career Directors International. It hosts an annual competition among professional résumé designers, and it also makes some résumé professionals available at career fairs to provide brief critiques of people's resumes. (Goto NationalCareerFairs.com to find out when a fair will be held near you.)

You might also keep an eye on the CareerDirectors.com site to see whether winners of this year's résumé competition - which was held on Oct. 17 - have been posted, as they have been in years past.

One intriguing approach that was used by the winner of last year's contest seems especially adaptable for IT workers. Sharon Williams of JobRockit.com used an eye-catching chart in a résumé for a sales manager. The chart illustrated retention rates for clients of a weight-loss clinic, but it could just as easily have shown network availability under your stewardship or a decline in data breaches since you took over security at your company.

ComputerWorld, Nov 2, 2009, page 40

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

by William Ernest Henley
The title is Latin for "unconquered".

It was first published in 1875.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Atomic Baseball

A historian breaks down nine legendary innings into their smallest elements, then makes them whole again
by Chuck Klostermani

Most of the time, the process of examining historical events revolves around taking a mammoth, multifaceted issue and reducing it to its simplest, least-complicated thesis. (This, after all, is why we have the Internet.) But the best historians do the opposite: They take something small and make it vast. The process tends to work especially well with national tragedies (most notably Josiah Thompson's JFK-conspiracy investigation Six Seconds in Dallas), metaphorical culture landmarks (like Greil Marcus's recent 304-page analysis of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone"), and the inner world of sport (such as Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto's underrated tome Forty-Eight Minutes, a possession-by-possession account of a 1987 Celtics-Cavaliers game). Prepare to place the work of Lew Paper into that third category. Paper's just-released Perfect: Don Larsen's Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made It Happen (NAL, $25) is as deep as any man can go into a baseball game that lasted only two hours and six minutes.

What has always made Larsen's 1956 World Series perfect game so memorable is that it seems to exist separate from the rest of baseball lore — at first glance, it doesn't appear to have much meaning outside itself. Larsen was an extremely average pitcher, and sometimes less than average. (As a Baltimore Oriole in 1954, he somehow managed to go 3-21 as a starter.) Were it not for this one game, he'd mainly be remembered for how much booze he consumed on Broadway. But Paper's book feels meaningful. The author's interest lies in the game around Larsen — he is, ultimately, a minor character in his own story. Nineteen players touched the field of Yankee Stadium that afternoon; seven ended up in the Hall of Fame. This book is about them as much as it is about the man on the mound.

At times, Perfect is not propulsive reading — Paper spends 13 pages on a single pitch (the game's final toss, a high strike to Dodger pinch hitter Dale Mitchell). But if you love baseball, you're probably not looking for propulsion; you probably like things slow and deliberate and exact. That's what this book is. Almost every chapter feels like its own biography. For example, Paper alludes to Mickey Mantle casually standing in center field in the top of the fifth, moments before making the most important catch of his career. But then he takes the reader back... and I mean all the way back — not just to the 461-foot center-field wall, but to Mantle's formative life in Depression-era Oklahoma, where the Mick was still wetting his bed as a neurotic 16-year-old. His insights on the likes of Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Billy Martin are complete, objective, and—perhaps most important— baseball-centric. What Paper loves is the game itself; if you want a salacious, gossipy examination of baseball's Golden Era, this is not the book to buy. But if you want to live inside the most famous statistical afternoon in baseball history, Perfect is... well, let's just say "ideal."

Equire magazine, November 2009, p38

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What To Do If You Receive a Demand for Payment From a Creditor or Debt Collection Agency

If you owe money to some other person, you are a debtor of that person. You "owe" money if you have a legal obligation to pay it. The amount of money you owe is a debt. A creditor is a someone to whom you owe a debt. If someone owes you money, you are a creditor of that person.

If you can't pay a debt when it's due, the creditor may try to collect the debt by sending you a demand for payment, or the creditor may assign the debt to a debt collection agency. A debt collection agency is a business that collects debts that were originally owed to other businesses and creditors.

In this Guide, creditors and debt collection agencies are both called "collectors." "You" means a consumer who is a debtor.

What to Do First

If a creditor or debt collection agency requests or demands that you pay something it's important that you do the right things. The most important thing that you can do, if you receive a demand for payment, is to respond immediately, both by telephone and in writing. The faster you and the collector get into communication with one another, the quicker the matter can be resolved. This Legal Guide will help you understand your rights, obligations, and remedies, as well as the collector's rights, obligations, and remedies. This information may help you resolve your situation favorably.

Remember that if you don't respond to a collector's demand for payment in some way, you might end up with a court judgment against you for the full amount demanded and more. Don't let that happen! If a court judgment is entered against you, it will be included in your credit record and in future credit reports. Also, you may be forced to pay the judgment debt by an execution on your earnings (garnishment) or on other property you may own, either now or at a later time.

If you are named as a defendant in a debt collection lawsuit, most of the information in this Legal Guide still applies. Do not allow a judgment to be entered against you for more than the amount that you actually owe. If a lawsuit has been filed, try to negotiate an agreement in which the collector promises that no court judgment will be entered against you. The collector may do this in exchange for your promise of payment.

If this debt is only one among many that you owe, contact a nonprofit credit counselor to discuss your problem, and perhaps obtain help in negotiating a payment plan with your creditors. If you have many more debts than you can handle, you may need to consider filing a petition in bankruptcy, but only as a last resort. Short of that, you can consult an attorney who sets up wage earner plans for debtors. A wage earner plan shields you from your creditors while you pay off your debts.

Debt collectors (including both original creditors and debt collection agencies) are subject to laws that establish standards of fair conduct. Creditors and debt collection agencies are permitted to take reasonable steps to enforce and collect payment of debts. That's because an efficient economy requires a credit process. The debt collection practices statutes promote fair and responsible credit extension and enforcement practices by placing reasonable boundaries on the kinds of activities that creditors and debt collection agencies can employ to enforce and collect debts.

The "fair debt collection practices statutes" also promote fair and responsible debt collection by giving consumer debtors specific rights. These include the right to cut off contacts by a debt collection agency, the right to specify periods when and places where contacts with the debtor may and may not be made, and the right to dispute a debt and require a debt collection agency to verify its existence and amount.

Don't Pay More Than You Owe

Not every demand for payment is legally enforceable. If a claim is not legally enforceable, you have no obligation to pay anything. While most claims that are asserted by creditors and debt collection agencies are enforceable, some are not. When you receive a demand for payment, therefore, it's important to think about whether you actually owe the amount demanded.

For many reasons, a collector may have no right to the amount claimed. Some common defenses that you can assert against a claim made by a creditor are:
• The debt is owed by someone else, not you. (But you may be liable if you co-signed for it.)
• The debt is too old to be legally enforceable (that is, it is barred by a statute of limitation).
• The claim is based on an agreement that must be in writing, but there was no written contract.
• You are being billed for an item that you never ordered.
• You ordered an item, but never received it.
• You returned an item, but you were billed for it anyway.
• The contract is one that you have a right to cancel, and you properly canceled it (or can still cancel it).
• You are a victim of a fraud, and the contractor sale is therefore void or voidable.

Most of these are complete defenses to a claim made by a creditor, which means that you may owe nothing. You may also have a partial defense to a claim. In that situation, a collector may be entitled to something, but the collector has asked for more than is owing —for example, more than you actually agreed to pay, or more interest than the law allows, or court costs, attorney's fees, collection fees, or other charges that are more than the law allows. It's important that you look closely at a request for payment of a debt that you believe you might owe. While most of the amount that is demanded may be owing, a portion may not be owing. It's important that you not pay anything more than the amount that you actually owe.

This guide does not cover the laws that limit the enforceability of claims, or that authorize or limit fees and charges that may have been added to the original debt. To help you decide whether the claim is enforceable, or whether the extra charges are really allowed by law, you may need to consult a lawyer.

Organizations and sources of information that may be able to help you decide whether a particular claim or portion of it is enforceable or excessive include:
• California Judicial Council,
www.courtinfo .ca.gov/selfhelp.
• Consumer Action (San Francisco) 415-777-9648,
www.consumer-action.org (Spanish language, www.consumer-action.org: 16080/Spanish)
• Federal Trade Commission, 1-877-382-4357,
www.ftc.gov (Spanish language information, www.ftc.gov/ftc/spanish info).
• California Attorney General 1-800-952-5225,
• California Department of Consumer Affairs, 1-800-952-5210, TDD 1-800-326-2297,
• Better Business Bureau,
• National Fraud Information Center, 1-800-876-7060,
• National Consumer Information Center,
• National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators,
• California Consumer Organizations Network,

Most claims asserted by creditors and debt collection agencies are legitimate, and the debtor does owe the amount claimed. The reason for nonpayment may be that you, as a debtor, do not have the money you need to make payment. While nonpayment of debt is common, few people incur debt without intending to repay it. While a few people engage in fraud, almost all nonpayment of debt is unplanned, and without fraud. The major causes of nonpayment are illness, marital problems, pay reductions, and job layoffs.

Creditors often extend credit without adequately verifying the identity of the person requesting the credit. This makes it easy for a thief to assume your identity and obtain credit in your name - a form of theft. If someone uses your name to obtain credit, you may not know about it until you receive a demand for payment from a collector. You ordinarily will have a complete defense to the claim, and you should respond to the demand by contacting the creditor immediately — as you would for any debt that you do hot owe. But you should do a lot more. The thief may continue to use your identity to obtain credit, and your own credit record and credit standing will be harmed.

Communicate With The Collector

If you receive a demand for payment of a debt (commonly referred to as a dunning letter), it's usually in your best interests to respond immediately and to do so in writing (or by e-mail). Don't delay, or you may lose important rights.

Some of your rights can only be exercised if you act within 30 days after receiving an initial written notice from a debt collection agency. Some of your legal protections as a debtor only apply if the collector knows your situation (such as when or where you do not want to receive calls from the collector).

Ordinarily, you should approach a collector in one of four ways:
• If you owe the entire amount demanded and can afford to pay the full amount of the debt, tell the collector that you will pay the full amount, either at once, or in periodic installments in amounts and at times you can manage (e.g., monthly).
• If you owe part but not all of the amount claimed, tell the collector that you will pay only the amount that is lawfully owing. Tell the collector that you will pay that amount now, or in installments in amounts and at times that you can manage — but that you will do this only if the collector waives (forgives) the rest of the amount demanded (what is not owing). It's best to communicate this both orally and in writing.
• If you do not owe anything, tell the collector why you do not owe anything. Do your best to convince the collector that you have no legal obligation. Your goal is to persuade the collector to stop trying to enforce the claim. Explain this by telephone and in writing.
• If you have no ability to pay what you owe, or almost no ability to pay what you owe, tell the collector that you can't pay anything, or that you will only pay a small amount, but only if the collector waives (forgives) the rest The collector may be so happy to receive something that it will accept that amount and waive the rest of the debt.

Following are some of the practical steps you can take when you receive a dunning letter from a collector:
• If you have fully paid the debt and have a written receipt or canceled check proving so, send the collector a photocopy of the receipt or check, with a letter explaining when and how payment was made. Keep your original receipt or check.
• If you have fully paid the debt, but don't have a receipt, then contact the original creditor, and ask for a letter or other documentation (such as a copy or computer printout of your account) that shows that you don't owe the amount requested, and send the collector either a copy of that document, or a copy of your canceled check or other evidence of your payment.
• If you were overcharged for all or part of the alleged debt, then explain. Do this convincingly. If need be, provide additional information and supporting documents (but only send copies). No reasonable effort should be spared in making your case to the collector.
• If the claim is a result of identity theft or a mistaken identity, provide the collector with positive identifying information, such as your drivers license number, and your residence addresses for the past few years. Be sure to demand that the creditor keep this information confidential While this will entail giving up some personal privacy, the benefits to you may be worth the loss of privacy, if you succeed in convincing the collector that you are not the person who incurred the debt.
• If you have a complete defense to the claim, it's usually best to present your entire case to the collector. Provide all of the important facts and copies of all documents that relate to the defense, as well as references to any laws that you may know about. Also provide any corroborating evidence that you can obtain, such as a statement signed by a third person that substantiates your side of the dispute. Send copies of documents, and keep the originals.
• Tell the collector exactly why it is asking for too much, or why you owe nothing. Doing this will protect the accuracy of your own credit record. If the collector knows that you have a partial or complete defense to the claim, the collector must report that information to the credit reporting agency to which the collector has reported credit information. (You can also tell the credit reporting agency directly the reasons why you don't owe the amount demanded.)
• If you dispute all or part of the amount demanded, it's important that you do so in writing (or by e-mail). Protesting over the phone won't have the same legal effect. Once you put your dispute in writing, the collector must cease collection efforts until the collector has provided you with written verification that you owe the amount demanded. (Keep copies of all letters and e-mail messages.)
• If the collector refuses to listen to your side of the dispute, ask to talk to the collector's supervisor or manager. If that's not successful, invite the collector to arrange for a neutral third person to mediate the dispute. If that doesn't work, you may need help from an attorney. If you have either a complete defense or a partial defense, a letter from an attorney to the collector that describes the legal basis for your position may persuade the collector to abandon the claim, or reduce it appropriately.
• If you have no income and no property, creditors consider you to be judgment-proof Since you have no property or income, a collector is not likely to collect anything, even if the collector obtains a court judgment. If you have no income or property, explain this to the collector, who may abandon collection efforts (give up) if it knows that it will not be able to collect anything.

Bargain With The Creditor

Don't simply pay what a collector demands unless you know the amount demanded is correct. If it's not correct, don't pay just to get the collector off your back.

Most debtors have some bargaining power (control over the situation). That's because any payment ordinarily must come from the debtor, and only the debtor has the power to make payment voluntarily, without a lawsuit. Given the fact that you as a debtor have some bargaining power, what can you ask in return?

It depends on the situation. Here, again, you must act wisely. For instance: You can offer to pay the original debt in full by a certain date, if the collector agrees to waive (forgive) any interest, finance charges, collection . charges, attorney's fees, and other added charges. But you have to ask for such a waiver; the collector won't offer it.
• You can ask the collector to waive (forgive) any claim that it may have against your property or against a co-signer, if you pay the debt (including interest and charges) in full by a date that you specify. Again, you have to ask for a waiver; the collector won't offer it.
• You can also try to persuade the collector to waive forgive interest and added charges if you (a) agree to pay the original amount of the debt by installments, and (b) then carry out your agreement by paying everything you have promised on time.

In order to lay the groundwork for negotiations, tell the creditor or debt collection agency why you haven't paid — illness, divorce, pay reduction, job layoff, etc., or misconduct by the creditor - and assure the collector that you will do your best to honor your legal obligations. Don't promise something you can't or won't do. Collectors keep track of "broken promises," which could hurt you down the road.

In deciding upon the approach you will take, remember that you usually can achieve a better result if you offer to pay everything you owe in a single payment. It is also true that most creditors and debt collection agencies are willing to enter into an agreement for payment by installments if the amounts paid by the debtor are large enough to justify the expense of processing the payments. An offer to pay by installments will be less attractive to the collector than immediate payment in full; yet, the collector may be willing to enter into such an agreement if the debt is large, or if there are a lot of other debts, or if you art judgment-proof.

Where appropriate, ask the collector for certain promises, such as (1) a promise not to report your late payment to the collector's credit reporting agency, and (2) a promise to report your full payment to the collector's credit reporting agency after you have paid it. These may help to improve your credit standing.

Agreements in which there is a waiver of a right by the collector must be in writing. On how to do this, see below, on entering into payout agreements. However, the benefits that you receive in exchange (such as waiver of interest and charges) will be lost if you do not follow through with your promise by making all of your promised payments on time.

Resolving the problem in a way that is agreeable to both you and the collector will save the collector and you the expense of a lawsuit. In addition, the collector will get your payment earlier. Resolving the problem/in short, will benefit both of you.

In negotiating with the collector, keep in mind what may happen if you do not reach a mutually acceptable settlement (resolution of the problem):
• If the collector is a debt collection agency and the debt is not large, it may do little or nothing at first, and later, if it is asked to collect claims that other creditors may have against you, enforce all of them together.
• The collector may file a lawsuit against you, and, if you don't defend it, obtain a court judgment against you for the amount of the alleged debt, plus interest, court costs, and, possibly, attorney's fees; but since a lawsuit is expensive for the collector, most collectors only use it as a last resort, if at all.
• If a lawsuit that has been filed by the collector results in a judgment, the judgment debt will grow steadily larger if (1) you don't pay the judgment debt, and (2) the collector uses the court process to attempt to enforce payment.
• In rare instances, the collector may abandon collection efforts (for instance, if the collector concludes that you are judgment-proof, and would like to get the claim off its books).

It's Not a Good Idea to Hide

The opposite of attempting to negotiate a resolution of a problem is pretending that there is no problem, and either avoiding or hiding from (evading) the collector.

A debtor who attempts to evade a collector, or who refuses to respond to a collector's demand for payment or other communications, may injure himself or herself, at least in the long term. For instance, a debtor who refuses to communicate with a creditor or debt collection agency risks the filing of a collection lawsuit and the entry of a court judgment that may ultimately require the debtor to pay a lot more than the amount that was originally owed.

Some people worry excessively about an unpaid debt, and others avoid thinking about it at all. It is common for people who have lost their jobs or find themselves drowning in debt to hide from their creditors -- and the facts from their families - because they are too humiliated to admit the truth. In situations of that kind, it is also common to refuse to open mail or accept telephone calls from collectors. That, however, is dangerous. By refusing to accept or read a collector's letters, a debtor may not know about important facts, such as its intention to repossess property or file a lawsuit, or its willingness to accept lower payments or to waive interest and/or charges if payment is made by a certain date. Also, shielding one's family from the facts can cut off support that may be needed more than ever.

If you don't owe anything and are likely to prevail (win) in a court action, it is equally important to respond to a demand for payment from a creditor or debt collection agency and convince the collector of the facts as early as possible. As time goes by, a collector will invest time and money on the claim, and it will become increasingly difficult for you and the collector to resolve the dispute in a way that is beneficial for both of you.

Telling the collector why you don't owe the amount claimed, 'if you don't, is particularly important because it will help assure that your credit record does not include false information. If you dispute the validity of the debt, or some part of the amount claimed, the collector is legally required to report that to any credit reporting agency to which it reports the status of the debt.

If your failure to pay has ended up in your credit report, you can also dispute that item of information to the credit reporting agency that issued the report. The credit reporting agency must then reinvestigate the dispute. (You must make a request of that kind in writing.) Taking these steps will help assure that your credit record will not misreport the true facts.

You can call credit reporting agencies or visit them on the Web: Equifax, 1-800-685-1111,
www.equifax.com; TransUnion, 1-800-8884213, www.transunion.com; and Experian, 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com.

Writing a Payout Agreement

Creditors and debt collection agencies attempt to collect debts efficiently. They cannot and do not devote more resources to the collection of debts, on average, than they actually recover from debtors. Creditors and debt collection agencies attempt to collect the most money at the lowest possible cost without undue delay.

In order to achieve that goal, most collectors are willing to enter into payout agreements. These usually provide for the payment of an agreed total amount by monthly payments (installments). A collector will be willing to do this, however, only if the collector believes (1) that the payments are the most the debtor can afford to make, (2) that the payments are large enough to justify the extra cost of processing them, and (3) that you will make the payments as promised.

Payout agreements should be in writing. Putting a payout agreement in writing helps to avoid misunderstandings, and it creates a record of the agreement for later reference. Either an exchange of letters, or a formal written agreement signed by both the debtor and the collector, is ordinarily enough. However, a formal written agreement (of the kind suggested below) is essential if the collector promises to waive a portion of the claim, interest, or other charges, on the condition that you, the debtor, make certain agreed payments. Unless you have that agreement in writing, another employee of the collector might try to collect the rest of the debt from you, even if you have made all the agreed payments.

Your payout agreement with a debt collection agency might state as follows:
Today’s Date: [ ]
[Collection agency] will accept the total amount of [$$$$] in full payment of a debt originally owing by [your name] to [the original creditor], [account no.], including all unpaid principal, interest, finance charges, collection fees, attorney's fees, and any other charges that are or maybe owing. Payment must be made by cash or certified check, and must be received by [collection agency] at [its address] no later than [month day, year]. If payment is received on or before that date [or within 10 days after that date], nothing more will be owing by [your name] to either [collection agency] or [the original creditor].
[Collector's signature] [Your signature]

If you enter into a payout agreement with the original creditor, the agreement can be simpler:
Today’s Date: [ ]
[Original creditor] will accept the total amount of [$$$$] in full payment of all unpaid principal, interest, finance charges, collection fees, attorney fees, and any other charges that are or may be owing by [your name] to [original creditor], [account number], including all unpaid principal, interest, finance charges, collection fees, attorney's fees, and any other charges that are or may be owing. Payment will be made by cash or certified check, and will be received by [creditor at its address] no later than [month day, year]. If payment is received on or before that date or post marked within 5 days after that date, nothing more will be owing.
[Creditor's signature] [Your signature]

When you use these forms to write your own letter, be sure to insert your correct name, the names and addresses of both the collection agency and the original creditor, and the exact amount that you will pay and the date (or dates) of payment, in place of the words that appear in brackets. Both you and the collector should sign this.

A collector may refuse to agree to a five-day grace period, as suggested in the sample agreements. If the collector won't include a five-day grace period, then it's essential that you make your payments well in advance of the due dates, otherwise you may be late and, as a result, lose the benefits of your agreement (such as the collector's promise to forgive interest).

Payments to a creditor or debt collection agency should be made by check, bank cashier's check or money order. If a cash payment is made, get a signed receipt, which you should keep for at least four years. Also keep a list of the dates and amounts of all of the payments you make.

Unless a debt collection agency has instructed you to pay the original creditor directly, it's important to send your payments to the debt collection agency and not the original creditor. The debt collection agency may own a claim that is assigned to it, and maybe entitled to recover from you any losses that it suffers because your payment was made to the original creditor instead of to it.

If a judgment has been issued against you, special rules apply. When you fully pay the judgment, the collector (or the original creditor) must file with the court an acknowledgment of payment, which is like a receipt for full payment, except that it must be filed with the court. Ask for a copy of the document that is filed.

If collector has filed an abstract of judgment with a county recorder, other rules apply. The collector (or the original creditor) must file with the court, and send you, a signed and notarized "Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment" document. When you record this document with the county recorder of a county where the collector has recorded an abstract of the judgment, it releases any judgment lien against any real property that you may own or may acquire in that county (such as a home or land): The collector is not required to record this document; you must record it. Since you need to record it in order to be able to sell the property later on, it's best to record it now.

Getting Help to Get Out of Debt

A professional nonprofit credit counselor can help you manage and reduce your debt. Credit counselors and debt management services work with you and your creditors to simplify your payments, reduce your total indebtedness, and help you bring your expenses in line with your income. Creditors cooperate because these arrangements help them get paid. Creditors can help by suspending payments temporarily, accepting reduced payments, lowering the interest rate, and waiving fees they normally charge.

In order to enter into a debt management program, you ordinarily must agree not to purchase anything on credit. Your credit counselor calculates one monthly payment based on your income, expenses and outstanding debt. An agreed portion is paid to your creditors each month.
Before choosing a credit counselor, it's important to do some homework:
• Ask the company to provide written materials covering its mission, business history, and services provided. Review these before sending the company any payment.
• Anytime you entrust your money to someone else, it is important to investigate its integrity, services, credentials, and business philosophy. Don't sign any contract or pay money until you've done this.
• Check for formal complaints. Companies should have no unresolved complaints on file with the . Better Business Bureau, Attorney General's office, and consumer protection agencies.
• Ask if the company belongs to an association that sets standards for its members (e.g., the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA)).
• Ask if the agency is managed by an independent board of trustees. It's important that someone without a vested interest is keeping an eye on the operation.
• Ask if the agency keeps client funds in a trust account, separate from its operating funds. You don't want your money going to someone other than your creditors.
• Ask about the types of services offered. Not everyone needs to be in a debt management program. The best agencies will spend time assessing your needs, and providing education and budgeting help when appropriate.
• Ask if the counseling service has adopted a code of ethics, as well as written operating policies and procedures —evidence of a competent and ethical agency.
• Ask if the agency's services are confidential. Make sure that it will not be selling your information to companies that will try to sell you loans or other financial services.
• Ask if the service has a policy of providing fair and equitable treatment to all creditors. Creditors may not cooperate if they believe that your counselor is playing favorites.
• Ask about counselor training and certification. Determine whether counselors are certified and by whom, and whether they participate in well-structured and continuous training.
• Ask about fees before signing a contract or making a payment. Most counseling is provided at a minimal cost or without charge; some agencies do charge a small administration fee.
• Ask if employees who have access to client funds are bonded (meaning that if an employee should steal money that you have paid for transmittal to creditors, you are protected).
• Ask how frequently payments are made to your creditors. The agency should make payments to creditors at least monthly - and many make them even more frequently.
• Ask if the agency provides its clients with evidence of its payments to creditors. The agency should give you a monthly statement showing how much and when it has paid each creditor.
• Do not pay before service is received. No ethical credit counseling agency charges mandatory, hefty, up-front fees.
• Determine whether education in good money management is provided. Some agencies provide free educational services, and some offer classes in money management for a small charge.

Most credit counseling is provided by nonprofit counseling services, which often are supported by creditors. They are listed in telephone directories under Credit and Debt Counseling Services. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) sponsors a Financial Care Network of about 1,450 Neighborhood Financial Care Centers throughout the country. You can consult in person, by telephone, or on the Internet. Locate the credit counseling services closest to you by calling the NFCC's hotline at 1-800-388-2227, or by going to the NFCC's Internet website at
www.nfcc.org. Credit counseling is also available from credit counseling agencies approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, www.hud.gov. Credit counseling also may be available from the human resources department of your employer.
Working with a credit counselor can be viewed as an alternative to filing a petition in bankruptcy. However, if your debts are too large to manage, bankruptcy may be the only workable solution. Since bankruptcy also has disadvantages, it should be used only after you consider all of the negative factors, including its limited benefits (it only discharges unsecured debts), its costs (attorneys' and filing fees), and its adverse effect on your future credit standing (you may not be eligible for credit, or you may be eligible for only high-cost credit). If your debts can be paid off within several years, you may also consider a wage earner plan, which has fewer negative factors since your creditors will be paid.

Some Debt Reduction Strategies

Most credit counselors suggest that you attend first to your taxes, secured debts, and high-interest debts, and then to your low-interest debts. Once you complete your payments, your counselor helps you reestablish your credit standing. If your debts are a result of spending more than you earn, your counselor will help you decide what changes you need to make in your style of living. Ordinarily this will include bargain-hunting for necessities, and cutting out luxuries.

If your debts are more than you can manage, ask your counselor to discuss all of your options. These may include bankruptcy (in which some or all of your debts may be discharged), or a wage earner plan (in which your debts are paid by affordable payments made under bankruptcy court protection). Your counselor will explain the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If you have self-discipline, you can get out of debt yourself. Self-help books include No-Nonsense Credit Manual, ILS Publishing, 800-497-3030, and Getting Out of Debt, CliffsNotes, www.cliffsnotes.com. Do-it-yourself websites include www.stretcher.com and www.debtorsanonymous.org, A strategy some people use is to pay the minimum on each debt except the one that bears the highest interest rate, and pay as much as you possibly can on that. To determine how quickly the debt will be paid, use Bank Rate Monitor's calculator at www.bankrate.com. You can also try to convert high-interest accounts to low-interest accounts. For sources of low-interest credit, see www.americaslowestrates.com, www.bankrate.com, www.credit-land.com, www.getsmart.com, and http://www.lowcards.com/.

If you have only a few large debts that are still too large to manage, your creditors might help. Sophisticated creditors know that people are more likely to pay their bills and remain loyal customers if they are treated nicely when they fall on tough times, and they are also painfully aware of the negative effect of bankruptcies on their own profits. Some creditors (such as credit-card companies) may waive penalties and late fees, cut the interest rate, suspend your obligation to make payments, or reduce the minimum payments, or even forgive a portion of a debt. Some provide short-term hardship programs for their credit customers on their websites.

Here are other self-help strategies: One, make purchases only with cash. Two, get the most value for your dollar by comparison shopping; weigh the necessity of each purchase. Three, choose less expensive options (e.g., quit smoking, rent movies, bring your own coffee or lunch to work). Four, start a cash reserve to help break the cycle of credit card use; a first goal might be the amount of one paycheck. Five, put money aside for predictable expenses; if you know you will need $400 for insurance in eight months, put aside $50 a month starting now.

The fact is that it's never easy to get out of debt. There are no shortcuts.

Home and Debt Consolidation Loans

Debt consolidators (debt poolers) loan money at very high interest rates to pay old debts. It's usually unwise to enter into a debt consolidation loan. While the payments may be less, the long-term costs to you (often quite large) can make you worse off. You may think that you have solved your financial problem, when in fact you haven't. Try other approaches first. A nonprofit credit counseling service (Article 8 above) may be able to help you to pay off your debts at a lower cost and without increasing your total indebtedness.

It's also usually not a good idea to take out a loan secured by your home to pay off ordinary debts. Home loans are expensive. Interest rates, loan origination fees, loan broker fees, real estate appraisal fees, and other fees and charges, are high; they can eat up your equity, and must eventually be paid. If it turns out that you can't make the payments on a loan secured by your home, you will lose your home, and even bankruptcy won't help.

Sub-prime lenders should also be a last resort. Sub-prime lenders charge very high interest rates and fees, and impose onerous penalties and other loan terms. They are especially active in minority neighborhoods. They target customers with tarnished credit records. They also cater to those who have good credit records, but are too afraid or lazy to shop around, or who don't know the importance of shopping around. According to Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage-lending agency, up to half those who take out sub-prime loans could qualify for a prime loan, and pay as much as four percentage points less interest — a huge saving over the life of a mortgage. If you need to take out a home loan and your credit record is spotty, you may need to pay up to 1-172 percentage points above the rate charged to other home borrowers. But avoid loans with above-normal fees or closing costs, prepayment penalties (especially ones extending past the loan's first year), balloon payments, and credit insurance (unless you are certain that you really desire and can afford it).

A home loan may be both economical and safe if your debt load is not too large and the loan terms are fair. If you take out a home loan, borrow no more than you need, and consider whether your family's future income will actually be enough to handle the payments. If the loan is secured by your home, you should qualify for a lower rate of interest than the rate that you are now paying, and the interest that you pay also may be tax deductible.

If you decide to take out a home loan (of any kind), shop for the best deal. Compare interest rates, fees and charges (including commissions and closing costs), prepayment penalties, balloon payments, credit insurance premiums, and other loan terms. Mortgage loan brokers approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are listed at
www.hud.gov/fha/sfli/hcc/hooprofl4. A professor of finance (emeritus) lists reputable mortgage loan brokers at www.mtgprofessor.com.
Do not take out a "reverse mortgage" without first discussing the details with your own financial counselor. Entering into a reverse mortgage can be risky. It's like selling your home. Reverse mortgages vary widely, and its easy to select the wrong plan. To learn more, see Mortgages for Dummies (Hungry Minds),
www.hud.gov/buying/rvrsmort.cfm; www.aarp.org/revmort, www.consumersunion.org/finance/revconwc899.htm, or www.fool.com/homecenter.

Say No To Scams

Some credit counselors offer get-out-of-debt strategies, consolidation loans, or debt management services that don't work — and that may leave you worse off than before, if the fees are unconscionably high, if the company has you do things that are fraudulent or unlawful, or if the money you pay the company for your creditors is never actually paid over to them. So choosing a credit counselor is important. (On what to consider when you select a credit counselor, see above, "Getting Help to Get Out of Debt".)

As with other personal services, it's best to shop around for the counseling service that's most appropriate for you, following the check-list listed above in "Getting Help to Get Out of Debt". It's especially important to talk with other satisfied consumers and check with the Better Business Bureau in your area. Some organizations call themselves "nonprofit" but nonetheless charge very high fees. Others may simply steal the money you've paid for distribution to your creditors. California law sets administrative fees for consumer credit counselors such as the Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Sacramento at a level of $20 per month. Use that as a benchmark in judging whether the fees charged by a company whose fees are not regulated are too high. Since information you give to someone else may be misused, never give anyone facts about yourself until you are certain that it will not be misused.

Prepared by: Richard A. Elbrecht
Norine Marks Legal Services Unit
October 2002

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Rule of 72

Step 1 of 2: How long does it take my money to double?
This step teaches you how to determine the number of years it will take for your investment or debt to double in value.
Divide the number 72 by the percentage rate you are paying on your debt, or earning on your investment. Here are two examples...
You borrowed $1,000 from your friend, who is charging you 6% interest. 72 divided by 6 is 12. That makes 12 the number of years it would take for your debt to your friend to double to $2,000 if you did not make any payments.
You have a savings account with $500 deposited in it. It earns 4% interest from the bank. 72 divided by 4 is 18. It will take 18 years for your $500 to double to $1,000 if you don't make any deposits.
Remember: 72 divided by the Interest Percentage is the number of years it takes to double.
Step 2 of 2: How many times will my money double?
This step teaches you how important it is for your money to double as many times as possible, and for your debts to double as few times as possible.
Determine how many years you will keep your investment before cashing it in. Divide that by the number of years it will take to double each time, the number you figured out in step one.
Now look at what happens to your money each time it doubles...
$1 ... $2 ... $4 ... $8 ... $16 ... $32 ... $64 ... $128 ...
You can see that it makes a big difference how many times your money doubles. If you can make it double only a few more times by making just slightly better investments, you can end up with many times more money at retirement, or whenever you cash in your investment.
Think about how fast your debts can double with high interest rates, such as those charged on most credit card accounts.

Credit Cards and The Rule Of 72
The interest rates you pay on your credit cards are more financially devastating than you may think. Be absolutely certain that you have the best interest rate available to you if you carry any credit card balances.
Use the Rule Of 72 to calculate how much more an 18 percent interest rate costs than a 12 percent interest rate. If you didn't make any payments and your credit card issuer didn't charge you any extra late or over limit fees, your debt would grow to 8 times its original size at 18 percent interest, or 4 times its original size at 12 percent, in only 12 years.
Of course you will make payments, though. After all, every time you don't make a payment on time, you credit card issuer will be more than glad to charge you as much as $30 or more extra.
It is common for minimum payments on credit cards to be about 2% of the account balance each month. If you pay the minimum payment every month, and never make any new charges, it will take you about 30 years to pay off your account at 18 percent, or about 20 years at 12 percent. And at 12 percent you not only make about 120 fewer payments than at 18 percent, but your payments also get a lot smaller, a lot faster. You will pay back about twice as much money at 18 percent interest as you will pay back at 12 percent.
You may not even want to know how much more dismal the numbers are if your interest rate is over 20 percent, or even over 30 percent, as some credit card issuers are charging!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Five Ways To Improve Your Credit

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The median score is around 725, although a score of 760 or higher will get you the best (lowest) interest rates. Few consumers score above 800. Here are five suggestions on how to improve your final credit score. Following these suggestions your FICO score will improve within 13 to 24 months.

  1. Pay your bills on time. Payment history accounts for roughly 35% of your score. So paying bills on time is the most important thing you can do. If you're behind, get caught up and then stay current. If you're struggling, contact your creditors to work out a payment schedule.
  2. Increase the length of your credit history. It accounts for 15% of your score. Canceling an old card or getting a lot of new credit within a short time span can hurt your score because it lowers the average age of your accounts.
  3. Keep credit card balances low. Credit utilization makes up 30% of your credit score. Try to keep the amount you borrow below 25% of your available credit. Even if you pay off your credit cards every month, the average balance will still impact your score.
  4. Minimize new credit requests. They account for 10% of your credit score. Every time a potential lender asks for a copy of your credit report an inquiry is recorded. If you will be applying for a loan in the near future, don't apply for any new credit cards beforehand. You can also ask the three main credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and Trans-Union—to stop unsolicited credit offers.
  5. Maintain different types of installment and revolving debt. About 10% of your score depends on the type of credit used. How you handle revolving credit (like credit cards) carries more weight than how you deal with installment debt (such as car loans and mortgages).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cholesterol Clues - What those confusing cholesterol numbers really mean

by Kalia Doner

YOU MAY NOT REALIZE IT, but your every breath depends in part on a pale-yellow waxy substance that's a building block of cell walls, sex hormones, the brain and even the juices that digest fat in the gut.

Exactly what is this oh-so-essential element? It's cholesterol, a fat-like product of the liver and intestines that moves through the bloodstream to every organ in the body. Cells extract cholesterol from the blood as they need it, and, if there's any extra floating around, the liver helps the body excrete it.

What's the Worry?

Despite the importance of cholesterol to all the body's systems, we are constantly told we should be concerned about it. So, if that seems confusing, here's the scoop.

It turns out that our body makes all the cholesterol we need to be healthy, but we end up with far too much in our bloodstream because our diet is overloaded with saturated and trans fats — found in meat, dairy and some prepared foods — and the liver turns that excess fat into excess cholesterol. (We also take in cholesterol itself from foods such as eggs, but high blood levels are mostly a result of eating an excess of the wrong kinds of fats, not dietary cholesterol.) Once cholesterol is ready to be sent into the bloodstream, it needs to hook up with a fat-transporting protein. The protein that most often becomes its partner is called LDL (low-density lipo-protein). The more harmful the fats we take in, the more cholesterol is produced and the more LDL arrives to transport it.

When there are too many of these packages of cholesterol and LDL, they can get hung up along the lining of the blood vessels. This can result in the formation of plaques that constrict blood flow and permeate the vessel walls, stiffening them so they can't respond to stresses appropriately. The consequences may be devastating: stroke, peripheral artery disease and heart attack.

Alphabet Soup
If you are one of the 99 million adult Americans who have been told they have "high total cholesterol," you are at increased risk of heart disease. If your number is 200 to 239mg/dl, you are at a borderline high-risk level; a level of 240 or higher means you are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease as someone whose cholesterol level is below 200.

But knowing your total cholesterol number is not as helpful in predicting your risk of cardiovascular disease as knowing the particular subsets of total cholesterol: your LDL level; the level of another lipoprotein called HDL (high-density lipoprotein), which helps shuttle cholesterol out of the body; and the level of a blood fat called triglyceride.

Unfortunately, elevated LDL and triglyceride levels don't usually cause symptoms, so you may not be able to tell that you are at risk for heart disease without a blood test.

That's why the Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (ATP III) recommends that at least once every five years, adults age 20 or older have a complete lipid profile that measures total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.

LDL lowdown
When it comes to coronary heart disease, LDL appears to be the main culprit, since it can damage vessel walls.

"Studies have clearly shown that the more intensive the approach to lowering LDL, the more effectively you prevent heart attacks and other problems," says Steven Nissen, M.D., chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. "You want to use lifestyle modifications that include stopping smoking, improving nutrition and increasing physical activity, along with intensive drug therapy."

An LDL of 130 to160mg/dl and above indicates an increased risk of heart disease. But if you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, your LDL cholesterol should be less than 100, and your doctor may even set your goal at lower than 70.

Tricky triglycerides
If we take in more calories than we need to run our body, the excess is turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells for later use. If you consistently eat more calories than your body needs, your triglyceride level may be high. That's the case for around one-third of adults in the U.S., who have levels of 150 or higher, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health guidelines for triglycerides levels are: Normal is lower than 150mg/dl; borderline high, 150 to 199; high, 200 to 499; very high, 500 or higher.

Healthy HDL
These lipoproteins are used for reverse cholesterol transport, carrying it from other parts of the body back to the liver and out of the body. HDL helps keep cholesterol from building up in the walls of the arteries and acts as an anti-inflammatory that reduces the likelihood of clots and dilates the blood vessels.

According to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), you should know the risks associated with various HDL levels: Less than 40 mg/dl creates a major risk factor for heart disease, 40 to 59 is a healthier level, and 60 and higher is considered more protective against coronary heart disease.

What is Non-HDL Cholesterol?
This new category of cholesterol measure¬ment was introduced in ATP III and is believed by many doctors to be an important number for people with elevated triglycerides and diabetes. It combines information about triglyceride levels with information on a form of LDL called very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). To determine your non-HDL level, you subtract your HDL number from your total cholesterol. Non-HDL levels should be 30mg/dl above a person's LDL goals.

Med Smarts
The medications that lower total and LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides include statins, bile acid sequestrants, niacin (nicotinic acid) and fibric acids.

Statins can lower LDL 18 to 55 percent, raise HDL 5 to 15 percent and lower triglyceride levels 7 to 30 percent. But "statins' side effects are dose-related," says Cleveland's Dr. Nissen, "so you want to use them as judiciously as possible."

Bile acid sequestrants can lower LDL 15 to 30 percent and raise HDL 3 to 5 percent, but have no effect on triglyceride levels.

Niacin (nicotinic acid), a B vitamin in prescription doses, can lower LDL 5 to 25 percent, raise HDL 15 to 35 percent and lower triglycerides 20 to 50 percent.

Fibric acids can lower LDL 5 to 20 percent, raise HDL 10 to 20 percent and lower triglycerides 20 to 50 percent.

Going Lower
Bringing down your elevated cholesterol levels is a matter of finding the right balance between therapeutic lifestyle changes and medication. "If your LDL level is above your goal, you want to talk with your doctor about lowering it' says Scott M. Grundy, M.D., Ph.D., former chairman of the panel that produced ATP III and currently professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "How you do that is secondary to getting it done. But you do want to do it with minimum side effects and cost effectively."

Lifestyle steps
TLC dietary recommendations in APT III include making sure that your daily fat intake adds up to no more than 25 to 35 percent of total calories: 7 percent or less from saturated fat, 10 percent from polyunsaturated fat, up to 20 percent from monounsaturated fats. Carbohydrates (mainly from grains —especially whole grains—fruits and vegetables) should make up 50 to 60 percent of total calories; fiber, 20 to 30 grams a day; protein, less than 15 per¬cent of total calories; and cholesterol, less than 200mg a day.

"In addition," says Dr. Grundy, "weight management and increased physical activity are recommended." However, it is difficult for many people to stay on a TLC program. "Lifestyle changes, combined with managing individual risk factors, are vitally important in terms of initial therapy," says C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D, director of the Cedars-Sinai Women's Heart Center in Los Angeles. "Regrettably, many patients find it difficult to permanently alter their lifestyle or to follow through on risk-management recommendations. While therapeutic lifestyle changes have a large role in heart health and work well when the recommendations are carefully followed, the role of oral medications is also important—especially because most people are better at taking pills than making lasting life-style adjustments."

The Damage It Can Do
We constantly hear about the relationship of high cholesterol to heart disease — after all, heart attacks (triggered by cholesterol-blocked arteries) cause around a half million deaths a year. But the consequences of elevated cholesterol levels are more far-reaching than that, contributing to significant damage of other organ systems.

Cholesterol and the Brain
There is mounting evidence that chronically high cholesterol levels alter brain function. Not only can they reduce blood flow and oxygen to the brain, they may actually contribute to the formation of the tangles in the brain — caused by a protein, beta-amyloid—that characterize Alzheimer's disease. One study in the Archives of Neurology found that among the women studied, "the higher LDL and total cholesterol they had, the worse they did on cognitive testing.” These findings are echoed by Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., a professor at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. His research over the past decade has also demonstrated that those with a history of diabetes and higher cholesterol levels experience faster cognitive decline as they age. Unfortunately the dream that taking cholesterol-lowering statins may help the elderly with high cholesterol stave off dementia or Alzheimer's seems unfounded. A Cochrane Library review of two studies that looked at more than 26,000 people found there was no benefit.

Cholesterol and Kidneys
Researchers have long known that diabetes and high blood pressure are risk factors for kidney disease. But in the past five years or so they have identified the risks to the kidneys that elevated total cholesterol, low HDL levels, and high levels of LDL and triglycerides pose. A study in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that men with total cholesterol above 240 were particularly vulnerable. And, according to study author Tobias Kurth, M.D., and his colleagues, "men with HDL cholesterol below 40mg/dl, those with elevated non-HDL cholesterol or an elevated cholesterol/HDL ratio had double the risk of kidney disease."