People having trouble paying their mortgage or who maybe need to get mortgage loan modifications should see a HUD- certified housing counselor first! While these folks are not lawyers, helping people hang onto their homes if they can is their job, so they are familiar with the programs for loan modification and their requirements. And, because they are government-funded, they do not charge clients for their services. Click here to find one near where you live: http://www.cbs.state.or.us/dfcs/ml/foreclosure/counselors.html.
Pam Martens covers all things Wall Street, and if you want to stay in a permanent state of despair about the country generally, and economic fairness specifically, you should read it religiously. She has been covering the Senate hearings on the foreclosure “settlement” and you won’t believe this:
Not to put too fine a point on it, it appears that the banks engineered a deal where they get to decide who they scammed, and then they get to call one dollar 500 dollars. (I wonder if I can repay my own mortgage using that kind of accounting?) For that matter, if they can find a million dollar mortgage out there they can convert a dollar into a thousand dollars. Plus, and why is this no surprise, they can get this rosy outcome by comforting the most comfortable among those they scammed (or decide that they scammed, and they are incentivized to decide they scammed the rich) while ignoring the most strained. What a great country.
Tremendous editorial by the SF Chronicle. A real breath of fresh air and truthtelling about the chains that pre-dispute arbitration clauses create. Funny, businesses love to spin about how great arbitration is, but they don't want you to be able to choose or decline it. What is it that they know that makes them think that, if you have a choice, you won't choose arbitration?
The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) offers consumers a great free tool to download and review before shopping for a motor vehicle. You can access the app on your desktop or laptop by going to www.USLemonLawLawyers.com. Or take it with you to the dealer's by downloading it from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store (Android).
Oregonian opinion columnist Elizabeth Hovde wrote an execrable column the other day that proposed cutting food stamps for the "not so needy" -- you know, the folks with smartphones and on foodstamps.
Hovde's column shows that if she ever had any understanding of just how damn expensive it is to be poor in America, her perch of privilege has long since helped her forget that crucial fact. So I wrote a letter to the editor in response, which they ran today (below).
If you have no idea what I mean when I say it's really costly to be poor in America, click the image over there, which is to a great book, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy, which every politician in America should have to read and pass a test on before being allowed to legislate.
So commentary columnist Elizabeth Hovde thinks that we should stop giving food stamps to the not so needy, whom we can all recognize because they have both cellphones and SNAP cards ("Stop feeding the not so needy," Sept. 8)? Whenever the well-off write about how the not-really-needy folks are sponging off public benefits for their lavish cellphone-using lifestyle, I know that these writers have never been in the death grip of a boa constrictor service contract.
Boa constrictor contracts work like this: The company advertises a great monthly rate that you can easily afford when things are going OK for you financially. That's the rate that is splashed all over the flyers and posters and TV and radio ads. That rate is just sucker bait.
Then something happens: You're laid off, your hours cut or your partner's are, you come down with a bad case of the doctor copays or car repairs, your bus system quits running on weekends. It doesn't matter why you can no longer afford the service that you could once handle. Because no matter why, you are going to be told that you can only cancel or switch to a cheaper plan by paying several hundred dollars first. And if you just cancel the traditional way, by not paying, you are going to find yourself hounded by collection agencies for the monthly charges, plus the penalties, and then sued for them, plus court costs and attorney fees, and you'll have your wages garnished and your credit ruined. All because you couldn't afford to pay a penalty to stop a service contract you could no longer handle.
We need to do two things: Force companies to fully disclose how much their service contracts really cost, and let struggling folks cancel without getting hammered with penalties.
On the first, our motto should be "Service Contracts Oughta Reveal Everything," which spells SCORE.
SCORE would mean that anything that comes with an early-cancel penalty -- cellphone, Internet, satellite TV, gym membership, alarm system -- the company would have to tell you, in big bold type, at signup time, the true total of all the payments you must make to get past any penalties. That's first.
Second, we should require that contracts with early-cancel penalties must have waivers so that any customer on public benefits (such as SNAP, Medicaid, public housing) can cancel a contracted service without penalty.
Until we do a much better job of making sure that everyone knows what they're getting into with service contracts (with SCORE disclosures) and until we prevent early-cancel penalties from putting the squeeze on the poor, I suggest that Hovde just be thankful for the privilege that allows her to casually equate having a cellphone with being "not so needy." I see plenty of consumers who are being squeezed to death by contracts that they would love to escape, if it didn't cost more to cancel the contracts than to keep paying.
Gear is a Salem attorney.
Another Oregon attorney writes:
Apparently, Ms. Hovde must not realize that the people who qualify for food assistance generally have the least expensive and crappiest version of everything that she and her family rely on for their daily life, like:
* generic unhealthy processed food; * clothing from thrift stores or Wal-Mart; * cars with duct tape—if at all; * unattractive and often unsafe housing; * cheap and sometimes dangerous toys with little educational value for their children; * less responsive medical care; * less responsive public safety providers; * crappier schools; * crappier neighborhood infrastructure; * three-year-old game systems because it’s cheaper to entertain three kids with a game system then taking them to the moves once a month; etc.
She also apparently doesn’t understand life changes. I often see my clients qualifying for food assistance post-divorce when they already have nice cars (with zero value), good clothes (that won’t be replaced), smart phones on a family plan (that now isn’t being paid by the ex), three children and a spouse who is reluctant to provide adequate support.
I also bet Ms. Hovde has never seen the 10 page application for state assistance asking for the income information for everyone in the applicant’s household, and asking for the value of the persons vehicle, and other worldly possessions….
I’ve seen some real cases of benefits fraud in my work—eg. a trust-funder collecting TANF, OHP, SNAP who then faked earning $15K per year to claim an Earned Income Credit on his federal returns— so I know they exist, but anything that makes it harder for poor people to get help is a really bad idea.
Alas, the power of concentrated wealth and smooth lobbyists in tassel-toed loafers defeated the people of Oregon yet again: the insurance industry cowed and bought enough legislators to preserve its one-of-a-kind exemption from basic fairness.
As the law stands today, and for at least another session, for insurance companies, unfair and deceptive practices pay, and pay well indeed. The Legislature folded yet again. But, sooner or later, we can win, and make the insurance industry follow the same rules as everyone else, because there is no good reason to exempt one of the most powerful and profitable industries from basic consumer protection laws. As Oregonians learn every day, the "good hands" folks and the "good neighbors" and the cute little lizards all have a way of turning into the toxic creeps once you are actually injured or damaged and they face the prospect of actually parting with some of the billions in premium dollars they love to collect. We didn't get it done in 2013; that ought to just make us even more determined to get it done in 2014. Call or write your legislators now, as this session is ending. Tell them that you want the first bill introduced and passed next year to be a bill ending the special exemption from the UTPA for the insurance industry. ======== Here's a bit about the bill that would have gotten it done in 2013:
If there's one thing that every Oregonian can agree on, it's that there should be no one above the law.
But, unique to Oregon, we have a whole industry that has a special privilege given to no one else: Complete exemption from the rules against unlawful and deceptive trade practices.
And this isn't some little tiny industry that no one ever has to deal with. This is the biggest gorilla there is in Oregon, the behemoth that makes the big banks look like little corner grocery stores: the insurance industry.
This is the industry that supported laws making their products mandatory, and while they were at it, they bought themselves a sweet deal decades ago: Complete and total exemption from the consumer protection laws.
John Gear Law Office LLC; John@JohnGearLaw.com and SalemConsumerLaw.com. My office is in the Security Building in downtown Salem at 161 High St. SE, across from the Elsinore Theater, a half-block south of Marion County Courthouse, just south of State Street. I'm in Suite 208B. There is abundant, free, on-street parking throughout downtown. I am only licensed to practice law in Oregon. This site may be considered advertising under Oregon State Bar rules.------ I don't give legal advice on this site. I'm not your attorney unless we have met in person and you have hired me by entering into a representation agreement with me. While I do want you to consider me when you seek an attorney, you should not hire any attorney based on brochures, websites, advertising, or other promotional materials. All original content on this site is Copyright John Gear, 2010-2014.
John Gear Law Office LLC; 503-339-7787; John@JohnGearLaw.com. My office is in Suite 208B of the Security Building in downtown Salem. That's at 161 High St. SE, across from the Elsinore Theatre, just a block south of Marion County Courthouse. There is abundant, free, 2-hour on-street parking throughout downtown. #### #### #### Lawyerly fine print: Licensed in Oregon. This site may be considered advertising under Oregon State Bar rules. There is no legal advice given or intended on my site. I'm not your attorney unless we have met in person and entered into a representation agreement; while I hope you will consider me when you seek an attorney, you should not hire any attorney based on brochures, websites, advertising, or other promotional materials.