October 2010 - Posts - Dollar Stretcher Guest Bloggers
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October 2010 - Posts

  • Tips and Advice for Selecting a Settlement Firm

    by Michael Bovee

    The recent reforms implemented by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have set new standards for how debt settlement firms must deal with consumers. However, if you are a consumer who is burdened down by too much credit card debt and you want to hire a settlement firm to help you settle those debts, it’s important to realize that despite the reforms, some settlement firms are going to be better deals than others for you. Therefore, this article explains how to tell a good firm from one that’s not so good.

    Look for a settlement firm that:

    • Has been in business at least 3 years.

    • Has a clean record with the Better Business Bureau. If any complaints were filed against the firm, confirm that they were resolved. If there are any old unresolved complaints, they could indicate that the firm isn’t really interested in helping consumers.

    • Will provide you with a good faith estimate in writing. The estimate should include the total costs for the settlements themselves as well as the firm’s fee for service. It should also indicate when a settlement offer can be made, how much money you must have saved first, and how long it will take you to complete the settlement program proposed by the firm.

    • Will charge you a fair and competitive fee to settle your debt. To determine what a reasonable fee is, talk with a number of established companies with good reputations. Warning! The higher the fee charged by a firm, the longer a settlement program is apt to take and, therefore, the lower the odds that you’ll be able to complete it.

    • Asks you questions to determine if you are a good candidate for settlement or whether some other debt management option, like bankruptcy, would be better for you.

    • Is upfront about what it will take to be successful with settlement because it’s not always as easy as setting aside a set amount of money each month to fund your settlements and letting a settlement firm handle everything else. It’s possible for example that during the settlement process, you may be hounded by debt collectors, demanding that you pay the debts you are trying to settle, and during the settlement process, creditors or debt collectors may even sue you for the money you owe. In other words, going through the debt settlement process can be stressful and may require that you have nerves of steel.

    • Is willing to provide you with the names and phone numbers of some of its past clients so you can talk with them about their experiences working with the firm. A reputable settlement firm will be happy to provide you with this information. A firm that won’t has something to hide.

    • Let’s you know up-front that you can settle your own debts and is willing to help you do that. There are a number of reasons why you may want to handle your own settlements. First, you can save money by doing it yourself. Second, although some creditors won’t negotiate with a settlement firm unless they have already charged off as bad debts the debts the firm wants to settle, those same creditors may be willing to settle debts that have not been charged off by working directly with you. You can be assured that any settlement company who provides you with up-front information about the do-it-yourself settlement option really wants to help you get out of debt.

    Also, always get up-front answers to the following questions before agreeing to work with a settlement firm:

    • Will you send a cease communication or limited power of attorney letter immediately to my creditors? The firm’s answer should be "no". Sending such letters has been a bad practice in the industry for many years and many firms continue the practice. The problem with such letters is that they may cause your creditors to escalate their collection efforts.

    • If I hire you to help me, will you tell me not to speak to any of my creditors? This is another common industry practice that will work against you. Although your creditors may have been tough and demanding when you first fell behind on your payments, eventually they may approach you directly with debt payment offers or programs that may be more attractive than anything a settlement firm can negotiate for you. If you cut off communications with your creditors, you miss out on such potential offers.

    • Will you charge me a fee if I accept a settlement deal that one of my creditors offers me directly? Do not agree to work with a firm that says it will charge such a fee.

    • Will you negotiate settlement agreements with my original creditors or will you wait to begin negotiating until they’ve charged off my debts, turned them over to debt collectors, or sold the debts to debt buyers? Although the vast majority of debts are settled post-charge off, waiting until then to try to negotiate settlements is often not the best approach for consumers.

    • Do you recommend that I consult with a bankruptcy attorney before I begin working with you? Before you agree to settle your debts, you should explore all your options for resolving your debt, including bankruptcy, and if you can qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and get all of your unsecured debt discharged, then that option may be your best for you. Therefore, steer clear of any firm that discourages you from exploring all of your options.

    And, NEVER do the following:

    • Sign up with a debt settlement firm unless you have talked with the actual service provider. Sales people are on the front line of the settlement industry and they make money only if they enroll you in a settlement program. So, they are not motivated to help you find the best solution to your financial problems; they are motivated to sell you on settlement.

    • Hire a settlement firm that promises to repair your credit by getting negative items removed from your credit reports after it's settled your debt.

    • Work with a firm that tells you to ignore efforts by your original creditors to communicate with you.

    • Sign on with a firm that proposes a debt settlement program that will take you longer than 24 months to complete, from start to finish. If you need more time to settle your debts, settlement is probably not right for you.

    • Assume that a settlement firm is reputable just because it’s a member of a settlement trade group or association.

    • Agree to work with a settlement firm that pressures you to sign up for its services right away. Unless you are being sued, your wages are being garnished, or the funds in your bank account are being taken, there is generally no need to commit to or sign up for settlement immediately. So take time to research your options and to get all of your questions and concerns answered. Then, once you have all of the information you need, wait a few days before deciding which debt management approach is best for you.

    • Agree to work with a settlement firm unless you have fully researched the company by taking into account all of the issues and questions already outlined in this article.

    Michael Bovee is the founder and president of Consumer Recovery Network (CRN), a fair and ethical debt settlement firm. CRN is unique in the industry in that it supports consumers who settle their own debts by providing them with information and coaching and it also offers full-service settlement assistance. Michael has been a vocal advocate for reform of the settlement industry.


  • How to Find Carpool Partners

    by Christina Jones

    Are your monthly gasoline bills making a huge dent on your budget? Do you find yourself completely exhausted after a long journey back and forth from the workplace? Are you fed up of shelling out money on your car’s regular maintenance? A daily drive to the office on your personal vehicle comes laden with more challenges than gains, particularly when traveling long distances. It involves huge expenses in terms of petrol bills, parking costs, toll taxes and car maintenance and various other charges. The physical and mental stress of daily commute tends to have a long-lasting negative impact on your health. Not just these personal expenditures and issues, it has enormous environmental implications as well. Imagine the amount of poisonous gas emissions from each of our vehicles on a daily basis and the terrible impact it has on the environment. In most cases, people are unable to rely on the public transportation system either due to a lack of it or issues related to timing and comfort. Then what is the answer to all these questions and troubles?

    The solution lies in an alternative and effective means of transportation – Carpooling. Find a group of commuters who match with you in respect to timing, point of destination and other specifications, form a carpool and enjoy several amazing benefits. Carpooling is one of the most convenient experiences as it is almost comparable to driving alone to the office with some additional amazing benefits. It helps you save money by lowering your fuel costs, parking fees and other charges. Because you do not have to drive yourself each day, it significantly reduces stress levels, makes travel more relaxing, and does wonders for your health. In fact, you can utilize the commute time to take a nap or read a book or make important phone calls. Furthermore, just think of the environmental benefits it provides. If more and more people take up carpooling, the number of vehicles on the road will be drastically reduced, thus bringing down the air and noise pollution levels.

    Now, how exactly does one go about finding carpool partners? It is no easy task to find other commuters travelling to the same location as you and at the same time schedules. One way is to spread the word around, talk to your friends, neighbors and colleagues who live in the vicinity and try to form a group. But it isn’t easy to reach out or know all the people living in your locality and it may take up a lot of time to make a carpool. However, you needn’t worry at all. The best and most convenient method of finding carpool partners is through the carpool search websites. Just login to the Internet and search for a carpool related website specific to your area. There are a great number of such sites covering almost all possible areas and locations so you won’t have trouble finding one that suits you. Carpooling agencies also have their details on social networking sites, such as Facebook. Some websites offer only a carpool matching service wherein they match your schedules and preferences to that of other commuters. There are some websites that offer to ride you on a carpool basis with other fellow commuters for a stipulated fee. All you are required to do is go to their website and register. You are asked to fill in the required information, such as your address, employer details and address, arrival and departure time, schedule, and other preferences. The website will process your data and provide you with the matches of possible carpool partners. So, merely at the click of your mouse, you can easily find your carpool partners and enjoy all the benefits of commuting as a group. When setting up a carpool group, you must remember to set up certain ground rules. Prepare a list of who will drive on which days. You must work out the carpool costs from before and decide on a method of sharing these expenses among the group. Chalk out a route chart specifying the pick up and drop for each carpooler. Also, it is extremely important to discuss and establish some clear policies with respect to smoking, food, drinks and music in the car.

    Christina Jones has written on different subjects like fashion, car salesmen tricks, arts, finance, top 10 wireless routers, etc.

  • Making Money in the New Economy

    by Sachin

    The days of the old style job are numbered. There are more economic, and much more lucrative, ways of earning a living. Employers are now taking on the New Economy model with enthusiasm, employing contractors to do work which used to be done by employees. Employees are now working in multiple jobs, and in many cases making more money than the single stream income could possibly deliver. This is the human capital version of property investment, using your skills as your asset base, and developing sources of revenue.

    The future is breathing down the neck of many employers, as the New Economy businesses, with their much lower overheads, move in on their businesses. A further issue is that many highly qualified people, particularly professionals, now work exclusively as contractors. They save money for employers because they don’t need the office infrastructure. They don’t even use the company’s electricity.

    The New Economy Environment

    As a matter of fact, everyone saves money in this environment. Less commuting, and more targeted work practices drastically improve time management and budgets, both family and business.

    The professionals also prefer to have the better time management contract work allows. Most work from home, and can operate a whole business doing multiple contracts from a desktop with ease. Do they do much better business than they could do in an office? Yes, and a lot more of it. They can also do business when it’s convenient, not cramming everything into a work day and rushing around like maniacs trying to fit 90 minutes into every hour.

    Both employers and employees have an easier time in terms of the work environment, too. A contract can simply terminate without the same ramifications of a dismissal or a resignation. That’s a weight off both parties, where the contract is actually a business relationship, not a "lord and servant" situation.

    The net result is a much lower stress rate for everyone. Contract money, like wages, varies a lot. Some jobs pay extremely well and some don’t, but people work their way up the food chain, sometimes very quickly indeed. This is one case where "market forces" are measurable. The New Economy workforce goes where the money is, and fast.

    Multiple Income Streams and Time on Your Hands

    The multiple income streams also add a level of protection that a single job can’t. Instead of dependency, workers achieve a level of independence. That’s a huge help for parents, who can finally be where they need to be when they need to be there. This is like doing a few part-time jobs, but you can dictate when the work is done, even with deadlines. That’s a huge improvement on being chained to a desk or a counter for hours on end, and not having any chance at all to look for other ways of earning income.

    In this environment, the old work ways don’t stand a chance. If you’ve got skills, you can use them anywhere, online or as part of a suite of job opportunities. If you’re an employer, you can get the best people. These are well organized people because they have to be. They never get de-motivated or apathetic.

    If you’re looking for a future, it’s a few clicks away.

    Everyone is smart about something! That's why we have The Dollar Stretcher Guest Blog. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by email to MyStory@Stretcher.com.

  • Calendars: What’s Right for You?

    by Mrs. Roy

    My boss and my husband have the world’s simplest calendars. They have folks write down their appointments on little appointment cards, which they have been dutifully trained to tuck into their pocket and bring to me. I then compare it to their schedules. If the appointment doesn’t work for some reason, I call and reschedule. However, since not everyone has a secretary or wife to keep up with this stuff for them, here are some of my tricks and suggestions for doing it yourself.

    I use an electronic calendar on my computer at home and at work. These are especially useful for keeping up with repetitive events like birthdays or monthly meetings because you can just enter them once and tell the computer to repeat them at a designated frequency. If you have one of those fancy new smart phones, you can synch your computer calendar to your phone so that you always have the information available.

    A big kitchen calendar was a great idea when I had kids in the house. That’s how we kept up with special project due dates, soccer games, doctor appointments, birthdays and just about anything else you can think of. Sometimes we would even slow down enough to actually LOOK at the calendar and see where we were supposed to be next. Seriously, this calendar was a sort of control central  in addition to telling us where we needed to be and when, it was helpful in planning menus and grocery lists. Early evening events meant it was time to pull out the slow cooker. Nothing on the calendar meant sitting down together at the table for a real meal. You get the picture.

    For several years, as my other commitments expanded, I carried a small notebook-type calendar in my purse so that I could keep up with where I was supposed to be even when I wasn’t at home looking at the big calendar. I still use a scaled down version of this calendar. In addition to keeping up with my schedule, these calendars give you space for short shopping lists, to-do lists and are a great place to jot down telephone numbers you don’t want to lose or the model number of the special light bulb you have to buy or the measurements you need to remember when you are at the hardware store.

    In recent years, school planners have become an alternative to the regular January to December calendar. These school planners are nothing more than calendars that run from August to July. These calendars usually have plenty of room to write notes and are a handy size to keep on your desk or in your purse or backpack. Using a calendar that starts in August takes a little mental exercise since we are conditioned to start our calendars in January, but as long as it lasts a year, what difference does it make?

    Occasionally someone will give me a daily calendar, usually something with a snappy saying or funny cartoon for each day. These calendars are fine for using on your desk, but they are bulky and I’ve usually got plenty of other stuff on my desk so I don’t need the clutter. I also find that I usually need to view my life at least a week at the time, so daily calendars aren’t really my favorites. On the other hand, my sister has a daily “sunshine” calendar that she’s enjoyed every day this past year so if you like it, go for it.

    Some folks like to use desk blotter calendars that cover the writing area of their desk. These are usually really big and show one month at a time. The down side for me is that I write things on my desk blotter and then forget I’ve written it there.

    No matter what kind of calendar you decide to use, here are some calendar “habits” you might want to consider:

    • At one point in my life, I divided up my household chores and listed a couple each day on my calendar. That way I didn’t have too many things to do any one day. That was a great way for me to get organized and to learn a routine. I don’t do that anymore and I have the dust bunnies to prove it. Maybe it’s time to take up that particular calendar habit again!

    • Calendar stickers are great fun and can be useful, especially if you have kids who are “helping” you keep your calendar updated. I sort of got over-the-top about using the stickers so I had to give them up, but it might work for you.

    • When the kids were at home, I tried color coding our calendar a couple of times, but it never really worked out for us. I’d lose one of the markers or I’d forget which color went with which kid or I’d just get lazy and stop doing it. However, I still color code our office calendars and I’ve carried that over to my personal calendar so I’ll know what I’m doing on a particular work day. If you want to color code your calendar, just keep it simple.

    • My husband writes on his work calendars in pencil so he can erase as things change. I, on the other hand, use ink because it makes me feel committed. Consequently, my calendars tend to be a little on the messy side, but my whole life is a little messy, so it’s okay. Whatever works for you is fine.

    • One thing I have found that does NOT work is to have too many calendars. Beware having too many places to look for the same information.

    • Also be careful not to put too much information on your calendar.  If it becomes a chore to try to decipher it, you won’t use it.

    • If you try to do too many things in too little time, you will get stressed and discouraged if you can’t fit it all in. That reminds me. I’ve heard you should schedule time for your spouse or children on your calendar so that you don’t overextend yourself with other commitments. If you have to schedule your family, you already have too many other commitments. Period.

    • The great thing about calendars is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a calendar; in fact, you don’t have to spend any money. You can print one for free off the Internet. Just do a search of “calendars” and find one you like. There are also free web-based electronic calendars you can use. We get several free calendars in the mail every year from charitable organizations or merchants. The pizza company calendar with coupons at the bottom of every page is always a big hit around our house. Of course, if you want to spend money on a calendar, the selection is huge and so is the price range. I just bought next year’s calendar at the office supply store because I needed a particular size so I could continue using a fancy cover I bought a couple of years ago, but for years, I bought my calendars at the dollar store and they worked just fine.

    • One last idea those extra free calendars you get in the mail make great gifts for young adults or elderly relatives.  Just sit down and label the calendar with birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends so these folks have the information easily at hand.  Trust me; they will love you for it!

    We all have places we need to be and things we need to do.  Some of us are just naturally organized and some of us struggle to keep up with keeping up.  There are many different types of calendars available to us today and lots of ways to make them work for you.  Whatever style of calendar works is what you should use but you should definitely use something so that you can get the most out of every day because life is good.

    Mrs. Roy is a wife, mother, paralegal, and Sunday School teacher who has been living the frugal life since long before it became fashionable. She is most proud to be a new grandmother, the wife of a decorated war hero and an award-winning quilter. She writes about her faith, family, the environment and the frugal life at mrsroysway.blogspot.com.

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