(OP-ED) — The author of this post is a consultant to attorneys on matters involving chain of title, foreclosure matters and matters involving in “the system of things”. None of what you’re reading here is anything but common sense, not legal or financial advice … and a matter of fact explanation about how one manages risk!
PROFESSIONAL LIABILITY IN A LITIGIOUS SOCIETY
If “the system of things” teaches us anything, it would be what the legal costs would be for having to defend a professional negligence suit … anywhere from $66,000 to $250,000. If you have to retain an expert witness to testify on your behalf, fees could run has high as $10,000 … all this over about a two-year period. That’s two years of hell for anyone.
A lot of these attorneys representing the banks think just because their firm has E&O insurance, they have nothing to worry about.” That’s what they think.
Again, we think of professional liability carriers and wonder what exactly is covered under such an event as described above. Professional liability insurance places the law firm under a microscope. Insurance companies are by nature risk averse and so they’d be reluctant to insure anyone with a propensity to commit statutory or ethical behavior on an ongoing basis for which the insurance carrier would have to pay a damage claim for harm caused by the attorney.
Remember in previous posts, I mentioned how insurance companies became so filthy, stinking rich? They avoid paying claims on cases at all costs. They invest in things that will bring them a maximum rate of return and shelter their profits inside of real estate and other wealth-building mechanisms. But they will look to shave off dollars paid out in damage claims by settling for a lesser amount to keep more of what they make. I don’t mean to irritate you with more “facts”, but that’s the nature of the beast. This is why I wrote the ten-part series on “Gutting the Underbelly of the Beast”. Professional liability insurance, of which errors and omissions falls under, is there to help manage risk.
IT’S TOO BAD HOMEOWNERS IN THE NEW MILLENNIA WEREN’T RISK AVERSE
If homeowners (as borrowers) would have taken that to heart long ago, we wouldn’t be in such a mess nationally. The rate of foreclosures wouldn’t have been so damned high.
It’s sad that we’ve been so conditioned to want everything “sooner than later” and “more of it than less of it”. We’ve been programmed to have feelings of “entitlement” … to reward ourselves handsomely for a job well done. Hell, even Presidents of the United States have gone on TV and told us that we deserve the American Dream at a time when credit was plentiful and anyone could virtually buy the home of their dreams. With the Glass-Steagall Act being repealed, the banks became sponsor-sellers, the MERS® System took root and the end result was bad banking behavior which fueled the 2008 crash. It fascinates me that Wall Street would assume so much risk without first figuring out how to manage it. I’m talking about mortgage loans, student loans, car loans, payday loans, installment loans to buy appliances … and we’re not even touching credit card debt yet. Much of this debt has been securitized.
Student loan debt has now replaced mortgage debt as the number one crisis in America! Student loan debt collectors have become more unscrupulous in dealing with consumers. Baby boomers over 60 years of age are financially liable for $66.7-billion worth of student loan debt (whether co-signed or originally taken out to finance their own education).
I used to clean up people’s credit for a living. My success rate was 85% in removing negative trade line items from people’s credit reports. I decided to write a book about it: The Credit Restoration Primer. It was the first of many books that explained how the credit system works and how credit bureaus are governed by law to make sure your credit reports are accurate.
WHAT WE LEARNED IN PRINCIPAL ISN’T PRACTICAL
Mom and Dad always told me that if you want something bad enough, you save up and pay cash for it. Right? Radio talk show host Dave Ramsey promotes debt-free living.
But wait! The world won’t wait for me to save up for a house! Right?
By the time I save up enough money to pay cash for a house, prices would be so inflated I couldn’t afford to pay cash. Plus, I’ll be a retiring. (the afterthought)
Once health issues set in, it will be too late to take care of a home. It wouldn’t be advantageous to pay cash for a house in the future while I’m throwing away money on rent (paying someone else’s mortgage) while trying to save on my own terms just because mom and dad told me to avoid debt whenever possible. (just looking at semi-rational scenarios)
But wait! Mom and Dad worked like slaves to put food on the table and seemed to be doing okay. Or did they? Look at their outcomes. Work for the Company Man. Get a gold watch. Get a kick in the ass (out the door, to old to work when we can find younger people to replace you at less cost) and then retire, get sick and die. The “get sick” part is where the family again struggles to make ends meet while coping with huge medical bills because of lack of health insurance or high deductibles.
We’ve taken from what we’ve learned and decided that based on current data, we’d be better off in debt. How crazy is that? The banks and credit card companies would just love it if you got yourself in head over heels in debt. They’re rich and you’re broke. Yes, you may have “stuff”, but you’re broke!
BECOMING RISK AVERSE IN A SOCIETY THAT PROMOTES DEBT
Whether you like it or not, the Age of Entitlement is upon us. We have nice things because we want them, no matter the risk in obtaining them. We cannot become financially successful without a plan. Then again, there are some that are just happy being able to make ends meet. But it’s never enough, is it? You always want what your parents had and then some.
The media is guilty of putting ideas in your head. Ideas that promote debt. We allow it to permeate our thought processes because it expands our comfort zones and makes us feel better. We have become programmed to make bad decisions because we “want it now, not later”. Lacking legal and financial education seems to have been a deliberate thing, despite the fact the government keeps telling us it’s budgeted money to educate us in certain financial matters (like the money appropriated for “education” under the new Fair Credit Amendments Act in 2003). Where was that “education”? I sure didn’t see any of it.
Why didn’t they teach “Checkbook 101”, “Mortgage 101” or “Student Loan 101” in high school? I personally didn’t learn too much in civics class. Maybe my teacher really didn’t give a shit whether I learned anything or not. In high school, it’s all about the annual test scores and nothing else.
In the land of plenty, why are so many people starving? Why are there still homeless people? Have our principles simply been ignored?
Being homeless or without food presents a personal safety risk. Thus, the government steps in and has the answer: Welfare, Section 8 housing, homeless shelters and food stamps!
But wait! You have to fill out a form, giving Uncle Sam all of whatever personal information you can give, so the government can build a database with you in it.
The ideas that run through your head when it comes to food, water and shelter involve risk management (believe it or not). If you can’t plan for a rainy day, why take the risk? There’s always welfare. Someone has to pay for it. Let’s all have a pity party while we figure out who.
We have a government that writes checks its body can’t cash. Our national debt is into the trillions. Every time a new budget gets passed, a huge chunk of it is “pork”, so politicians will keep getting re-elected to keep the special interest groups that got the “pork” benefits happy. This is the Congress that is bought and paid for by lobbyists, like those who work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Our government has set such a wonderful example for us, hasn’t it? Congress can’t balance its own budget, so why should we?
Spending makes us feel better. People get all emotional over colors, floor plans and styles, they forget practicality and price. To top that off, many buy over budget because they think they can afford it. Prior to the 2008 crash, people took out risky loans, most of whom could never repay them. Many folks allowed the lenders to inflate their earnings so they could buy more home, which was a great disservice. I’m not saying it’s all the homeowner’s fault. The lenders played right into the game, offering predatory loans which were risky in an already unstable, credit-saturated market. The teaser rate was merely a game played by unscrupulous lenders on uninformed borrowers who wanted their piece of the American Dream, only to find themselves on the street years later. Our government promoted all of this and America bought into it. Congress repealed Glass-Steagall through the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. It was a bipartisan effort. No one but the banks knew how they were going to use securitization to “rig” the economy. Notice how the government hasn’t put any of them in jail? Our executive branch is supposed to enforce the laws that Congress makes. Why did we forget that? Why wasn’t that drummed into our heads in high school?
Do we chalk up our current system of behaviors due to lack of knowledge? It’s no wonder insurance companies are rich. They avoid risk. Why aren’t we doing that?
CERTAIN WAYS TO AVOID RISK (MY PARTIAL LIST … TAKE IT FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH):
(1) Research your planned purchases BEFORE you spend money! See if you can get products that are either more durable or have a longer shelf life. America has been so conditioned to mass produced products we’ve become a “throw away nation”. We’re already seeing difficulty in America in disposing of trash. Spending a little extra for something that has a longer warranty or shelf life is more prudent in the long run. If you have to use credit to buy that item, make sure it fits within your budget and have a time frame set in your mind (and on paper) on when you intend on paying it off.
(2) Investigate all insurance policies BEFORE you invest … and don’t over insure! Compare policies. The last policy I got didn’t cover that much in computer replacement in case of a lightning strike, so I upgraded my policy for $204 more to cover replacement of ALL my computers in my home. Sometimes, not having ENOUGH insurance puts you at risk … and, in the alternative … sit down and total up all of your policies’ annual premiums. If you’re paying more than 10% of your income on insurance, you’ve bought too much in policy benefits (or you bought a policy that doesn’t fit your current needs). It’s like buying whole life insurance policy when pure term is cheaper and you can gage your financial position based on your age and what your current needs are and not get killed financially by changing face value amounts. Having insurance is part of managing risk. When homeowners default on their loans, hazard insurance is the first thing that gets cancelled for non-payment of premium. This is why I pay annually. It’s cheaper and you have a definitive date to plan for, so your risk is calculated. General liability insurance on the average runs $350 a year! If you’re going to protect yourself against high-risk situations, it’s a good thing to have. I’m not a big fan of homeowners’ indemnity policies. They essentially insure nothing and with MERS around, shit happens. There’s nothing like buying a piece of real estate with a tainted MERS mortgage somewhere in the chain of title. You never know what the future holds if your home’s fate is in the hands of some unknown REMIC.
(3) Avoid impulse spending! I go shopping just to see how informed the clerks are. I will rarely buy anything unless I absolutely need it. This type of buying is especially true in grocery stores. Why do you think they have food samples for you to try? To get you to buy extra! If you have a frustrating time buying groceries and stretching your family’s budget at the grocery store, you have no business going out to eat (because you’re frustrated with high grocery prices) and you’ve probably succumbed to the grocery chain’s slick marketing campaigns. The stuff they WANT YOU to spend extra on is always in the middle of the aisle or on the end caps. If you have to take your kids shopping with you, make them go into the check-out lane BEFORE YOU and make them watch the clerk load the cart to make sure nothing you bought was missed. That way, you give them something responsible to do and they’re not basking at the candy racks at the checkout counter and bugging you with “I want! I want! I want!” overtures. Hey! They learned this conditioning on television. It’s called cartoons (advertising targeted at children in between the cartoon segments).
(4) Plan your educational expenditures by properly planning your career move! Many folks went to college and majored in stuff that had no career future. They went to school and took classes they liked and spent a fortune (in student loan money) over-educating themselves in foolish majors (like forestry or liberal arts, for example). It’s one thing to double major in horticulture and business if you’re going to manage a food production facility (like a farm, poultry or egg production or similar skill set) or work for a Fortune 500 company with a guaranteed paycheck. But wait! There are risks there too!
First, there is no guarantee that you’re not replaceable! The first time you make a sexist remark in the workplace, you’ll be labeled a target of some political movement that is responsible for polarizing America. You’ll be shamed. This is what you have to look forward to in the national workplace now. Everyone’s got a political opinion. Everyone’s got Twitter. Everyone’s got Facebook. Everyone’s got Instagram. Ask Anthony Weiner (who’s getting out of jail soon) what the consequences are of putting sexually explicit pictures on your phone and sending them to someone.
Second, if you’re nearing retirement age, but have great experience factored into your work history, you can bet the company will be looking for someone younger with much less experience that they can pay less of a salary to. This posits a risk in this day and age.
Third, there are unplanned illnesses. You know your body better than your doctor does. If you have health issues, get them fixed FIRST before embarking down the path to a new career.
(5) If you have to retrain to get out of being unemployed or underemployed just to stay afloat … research self-employment FIRST … then the skilled trades!
Anything involving food, water, shelter and personal welfare (medicine, nursing assistant, dental assistant) are the BEST career moves NOW. I know for a fact that my kids are not like me. They do not have the discipline to be self-employed like I am. I always told my kids to work off the “trade side” and go to a short-term facility that offers grants more than student loans. In the alternative, attempt to get a job in a trade that is willing to train you while you work (OJT). True, it doesn’t pay much but the gains from improving your learning curve far outweigh the temporary disadvantages. If you’re going to have to take out a student loan, put a limit on what you’re willing to borrow. The average student loan debt in America at present is $30,000! That means, if you can stay at the lower end of that curve, say, $10-15,000, you’ll pay it off in less time. But you’d better have a job lined up (or at least research enough to know there will be a job in that career path for you) when you graduate. Paralegal certificates are easier to get these days and there are certain parts of the legal field where jobs are plentiful for lower-echelon workers.
Again, I like self-employment better. I can work from home and be a consultant when I want. I can do seminars when I want … or not. I can work as much as I want or as little as I want. Every day however, I’m up by 6 a.m. doing research for an hour or so! Old habits die hard.
I had fun as a mobile DJ. I made good money too and didn’t have to spend a fortune on equipment. I rented someone else’s gear first. When I got enough to buy my own gear, I continued to rent the gear for another DJ to use and over time, I was able to put 28 DJ’s to work and make damned near a six-figure income! That was in 1983. Imagine what self-employment could do for you and research all of the possibilities. In some trades or skills, you can rent what you need before you have to make a commitment to purchase stuff.
Avoid franchises! I know … they look attractive, but there’s a hefty price tag and a huge commitment to follow their schools of thought, whether they work or not. This is why they put ads in entrepreneurial magazines, to snag the ignorant who are attracted by their teasers. If you don’t have a couple of million bucks lying around, you’re not going to be able to get into a McDonald’s franchise or a Hooters franchise or any other franchise you think is sexy or at best attractive. A lot of people like to compete with Starbucks and open coffee shops or coffee carts. Not a bad living. Any kind of food cart is a cheap date, but you’ll face local licensing issues and potential consumer issues (conflicts on the street, hold-ups, shoplifters, etc.).
My mom had her own news stand inside the Rochester Gas & Electric building for a number of years before she passed. It was a safe environment (there was a security guard in the lobby near where her stand was set up, inside a rented nook in the lobby) and she made a modest living and did well despite renting a studio apartment (unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to own a home). She never got a college degree. Back then, you just applied yourself. But the work ethic has changed and so has the marketplace we live and work in. People seemingly care less about the end result (doing a good business) so long as they get a benefit from it (a paycheck with no commitments).
Self-employment is the “new shit”! Set up an LLC or a full C-Corp. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but the IRS audits full corporations and LLCs less than self-employed sole proprietors. LLC’s (I’m told by several credible CPAs) get up to 75 deductions a year, while sole proprietorships only get 35 deductions annually. Full C-Corps get up to 350 deductions per year! Put your personal property and your homestead into separate trusts as part of asset protection to guard your investments. Being a consultant or an investor is NOT a bad thing, especially with the right training. I spend a ton of time researching other people’s careers to determine their longevity. I can look at a credit report and tell a lot about the consumer (how leveraged they are). They may have a great cash flow and credit that sucks. That tells a lot about how they manage risk (0r don’t). When you can get to the point of investing in other people’s projects (with them doing all the work), then you’re really on top of your game!
(6) Learn to construct a financial statement! There are FREE classes both online and offered by community colleges and libraries that will teach you how! Once you know HOW to build a financial statement, you can then figure out what kind of a budget makes you more attractive to expand your horizons. It takes less than a day out of your schedule to learn how.
(7) Do NOT buy vacant land unless you intend on a pre-planned build job! There’s nothing worse than buying a vacant lot (and overpaying for it) only to find that you’re about to get hit with high sewer assessments or increased property taxes due to an unforeseen annexation. Don’t buy land in flood plains! I don’t care how glamorous the lot is. If you’re going to buy, buy in secure areas with a home-building plan. I actually acquired a 3/4-acre tract and put a used mobile home on it from a lot I bought through the Texas Veterans Land Board for $75 down and made payments on both until the timing was right to sell the 12-acre parcel. I ended up with a $222 a month land payment and a paid off mobile home, which I fixed up and later made a $27,000 profit selling it. In the process of selling the 12-acre lot, which was soon to be adjacent to a major toll road, I paid off $35,000 worth of debt! Being mortgage free is wonderful. I wish everyone in America could experience it.
Land purchases are great if you have a definite plan to build. Getting suckered into development purchases is penny-wise and pound-foolish! Avoid HOAs! Research chain of title to make sure there’s no restrictions on the lot you’re going to buy and that the title is clean. If you can buy 5+ acres, owner financed, even better. You can put a used mobile home on it and build as you go. A lot of people are doing that these days. I would do it again if I had to (in a heartbeat)! You can put in a garden, a well and eventually solar panels … and live off the grid.
AVOID buying second or vacation homes! I know this goes against the grain of you overachievers out there that think you deserve everything. Part of the problem is, second homes or vacation homes is nothing but an equity builder and equity is “fake” until realized. Many people rent out their second homes but with this creativity comes more legal restrictions. I just don’t like tying up money you could use to really build wealth owning a business. If you’re going to plan your career, look at self-employment and design your home purchase in an area as your principal residence that doesn’t have to support your business in order for it to survive. Truck farming is another creative way to stay “under the radar”, eat well and have plenty of fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables left over for bartering. Farm organic (but don’t advertise it … it raises an FDA red flag and subjects you to scrutiny). I’ll write another book about “being invisible” at some point.
From the investor’s perspective, forget the idea of a second home or a vacation home. Build a rental income portfolio by investing in distressed properties that you can rent out and make a decent return, while making the bank payments. There are people with money that have crappy credit, so option payment financing puts instant cash in your pocket you can use to buy another property or fix up your own place or pay down debt!
I know a couple that started out with a mobile home on 8 acres. They originally purchased a mobile home. They put up a garage and pens and she got her veterinary assistant’s certificate (short term skill training) and got a business license to open up a kennel. They eventually managed to build their mortgage-free home from scratch. Yes, it took time, but the rewards were realized in the profits they made from their home-based business! Ah, the peace and quiet of country living along with the security of knowing you’ll have lots of barking dogs to warn you of unwanted intruders! I know that a lot of you aren’t cut out for that kind of work, so I posit this as a creative example of “putting your mind to something” to have a working investment. Credit card companies are throwing credit card applications at these folks because they have cash flow. They are credit resistant though, because they’ve budgeted and saved for a rainy day, mixing old school principals in today’s modern times.
(8) Say “NO!” to MERS mortgages! Getting a loan that you know is going to be securitized is crazy because with the digital age, you’re putting your whole future at risk. Your chain of title is going to ride on someone else’s say-so! You don’t want an electronic database involved in your life any more than you’d want your mother-in-law calling every other minute to query where you’re spending your next dime!
(9) Bank with public banks and credit unions! Only go with banks that portfolio their loans (meaning they hold the loan in their own vault) and don’t sell them to any entity outside of their own bank! If the bank is a member/subscriber of MERS, go somewhere else. You don’t need to support these mega corporations any longer! Generally, the credit unions give you savings accounts and additional protections that the mega-banks take for granted (when they’re taking YOU for granted). AND … DO keep cash on hand. I recommend at least $500 for every person in your household.
(10) Consolidate and pay down on credit cards! Close the ones you hardly use, have high interest rates or hit you with annual fees. Unless there’s a real purpose for having a department store credit card … those cards should be the FIRST cards you get rid of! All your other plastic will work in those stores. I take issue with these low-dollar credit campaigns like Macy’s and JCPenney’s do as a means to get customers. It’s not worth the hassle of applying for a $300 credit limit just to get a deal on buying one item or saving money on your initial purchase. You’ll have an inquiry on your credit report, which could bring down your overall credit score. It’s too easy to forget paying on cards with really low balances, which could jack up your credit score when you least expect it. I find keeping a credit card available for travel or emergencies is the most prudent, don’t you?
TEN WAYS TO “CLOCK” YOUR OPPONENTS UP SIDE THE HEAD!
Read the 10-part series on this blog: “Gutting the Underbelly of the Beast”!
That way, you’ll learn how “the other side” manages risk.