A Modest Proposal (and unintended consequences . . . perhaps)

June 17, 2019

I posted on Facebook post last month about a proposed bill from Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about controlling credit card interest rates.

The post generated a lot of views, clicks, and shares along with some comments in response to my opinion that it will never pass.

A few of those comments were purely political.

Others sounded like they came from people who live in a country where a significant percentage of households have maxed out credit cards and are barely paying the interest and fees, never mind paying down the actual debt. People, in other words, who can’t help but notice they’re paying 21%+ interest at a time of historically low rates on other credit products like mortgages. Sound at all familiar?

Two comments, however, were about the unintended consequences of enforcing a nationwide 15% cap on credit cards which would, in essence, bring us back to the 1970s.

Here’s the history first. Before 1978 (I know, a million years ago, but bear with me for a moment) banks issued credit cards in the state they were chartered in (anyone remember Mechanics Savings Bank and CBT?) and, of course, needed to abide by the interest rate rules of that state.

So if you lived in Windsor and wanted a credit card, you went to your local bank, put in an application, probably talked to the manger who was also probably a neighbor, and you waited a couple of weeks or more to be approved. The bank was careful about who it approved for credit.

The highest interest rate the bank could charge under Connecticut Law at the time was 12%. In the 70s, only 38% of American households had at least one credit card.

Then came 1978 and the Supreme Court of the United States heard a case that changed it all. Most people would say it is one of the most boring cases in Supreme Court history. But the effects of the decision are fascinating and changed everything. One bank from Nebraska was deluging Minnesota residents with sales flyers offering credit cards with NO FEES! And they also seemed to approve everybody for an account.

Another bank, a stolid Minnesota institution, also offered credit cards but was bound by the state’s interest rate law and could only charge customers 9% interest. They charged a yearly fee to help offset the low interest rate.

The first bank was chartered in Nebraska, a state with very lax interest rate rules. They charged no fees but they made up for it with 18% interest rates and higher. Because they could charge so much more in interest, they could accept the risk of giving cards to people with so-so credit.

The stolid Minnesota bank maintained that all this was unfair competition and, besides, banks that did any kind of business in Minnesota needed to follow the interest rate law of the state.

The Supreme Court bought none of it. They ruled 9-0 in favor of Nebraska. Judge Thurgood Marshall stated that the Minnesota bank “did not have a legal problem but they did have a marketing problem.”

Banks now only needed to abide by the interest rate law of the state they were chartered in, not where their customers resided. You can thank the Supreme Court for all the junk mail you get from South Dakota, Nevada, and Delaware.

Ten years after the ruling, 56% of households in the U.S. had at least one credit card.

Today it is up to 75%.

The more credit cards out there, the more credit card debt. Add in the astronomical fees and high interest, and you are increasingly unable to keep balances down. Already almost half of all Americans don’t have a at least $400 on hand for emergencies. More and more people are accepting those offers from South Dakota, Nevada and Delaware but just to pay off the credit card balances they already have.

A cap at 15% interest just might help people get the balances down, get things under control – certainly a better shot at it than at 25.6%, $35 fees, over-limit or late fees, and more.

One commenter on the Facebook post pointed out (cynically or wisely, you decide), (a) the banks would adapt and substitute higher fees for the loss on the interest side, and (b) people with no credit, people with bad credit, people trying to rebuild their credit, would no longer be able to get credit cards.

The concern is people will “lose” credit – in my book I talk about a client who had his credit lines slashed by his bank. All of a sudden the guy who thought he had a few thousand dollars in available credit for a rainy day had none. This happened to a lot of people after the economy crashed in 2008—the credit card companies just didn’t have the money to lend anymore, or, they knew as people lost jobs they would rely on credit so the companies cut a bunch of us off before we could get deeper in the hole.

Put another kind of control on the credit card companies and I can see them tightening the belt again. If their business models work only if they can charge $35 for each fee and over 21% annual interest, they will definitely pull back if limits are placed.

The thing is, I’d much prefer bank customers getting it together and planning a way out from the debt. That’s the way you deal with it. A cap is well-intentioned but, really, who doesn’t think the banks will find all manner of ways around it?

It’d be like the government dictating that Lucy had to hold the ball for Charlie Brown from here on out. She’d agree, smile, and wink because she knows they didn’t tell her how to hold it, and there’s a dozen different ways of doing that while still insuring poor ol’ Charlie never kicks a field goal.

The federal government doesn’t need to pass a law for you to start handling and managing your debt better. You don’t need me to tell you what to do—you know you should have a savings account, you know you shouldn’t live “beyond your means.”

The issue is whether you WILL ever do it, whether you will ever cut out credit card use, have a plan for future purchases, increase your income so you can live the way you want without pawning away your future.

I have some great tools for you to get started. Let me know when you’re ready.

Cinco de Mayo and Great Foreclosure Defenses in History

May 5, 2019

Happy Cinco de Mayo! A great day (despite the heavy rain here in Connecticut) to celebrate Mexican culture, eat great food, drink, sing, be upbeat.

And, of course, celebrate perhaps the greatest foreclosure defense in world history.

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Thanks to the internet and social media, most people now know that Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexican Independence Day. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know that, tweet “Hey, it’s Mexican Independence Day,” to be gently informed differently.

The 5th marks the Battle of Puebla in 1862 between French and Mexican forces in which a rag tag Mexican army of 2,000 routed a French army – and a division of the Foreign Legion – of 8,000.

That’s right, the French and Mexican armies fought a series of battles in the middle of our Civil War that eventually resulted in a French installed government ruling Mexico until 1866.

“Well, great, Sarah, thanks for the history lesson, it’ll probably be worth a drink or two in a bar trivia contest some day, but what does this have to do with debt?”

Everything, actually. Napoleon III’s invasion and eventual take-over of Mexico was, in fact, perhaps the largest straight-out foreclosure action in history.

After the Mexican-American War, a war that cost Mexico an enormous chunk of territory and vast sums of money, Mexico went through a series of revolutions and civil wars.

By 1861, Mexico was mired in debt and was forced to suspend payments on its foreign debt. With the Civil War raging in the United States, Mexico’s European creditors didn’t have to worry about the Monroe Doctrine. The British and Spanish sent naval forces to Vera Cruz to register their displeasure, they quickly negotiated new repayment schedules. The French, however, were not so easily appeased (or maybe the new payment schedules with Spain and Britain left little for the French), they called their notes and invaded to take possession.

Cinco de Mayo was a successful debt defense worth celebrating. It should be noted, however, that while it was a spectacular upset, the victory was fleeting and Mexico was, in effect, repossessed by the French for four very miserable years.

It was the military equivalent of firing off a strongly worded letter to a creditor, filing a complaint with the BBB, very satisfactually slamming the phone down on the subsequent toll free call, then watching the creditor exploit a rare loophole and still repossess your car.

Still, Puebla showed what people fighting for their home can do. As can you.

Still, I – and I hope my clients – have more reasons that tequila, great food and good company to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It’s somehow . . . empowering.

Some Peace of Mind This December

The holidays are here, the end of the year is looming large, for many it’s time to tidy things up before 2019 rolls in and things get going again. Over the last few weeks I’ve written about Lodge 49 and the fact debt (of every kind) is so prevalent on the show, it’s another character; and I relayed happy news about settling judgments and liens for clients looking at foreclosure.

Everyone, I think, can identify with the residents of Long Beach in Lodge 49, beset at every turn by debt, plunging home prices (the area just became a superfund site), foreclosures, and more. Everyone, I think, can vicariously enjoy hearing about a judgement and/or lien being settled in the borrower’s favor.

But, in my experience, that doesn’t translate – often enough, at least –  to the many, many, people out there with the same problems I write about getting – really getting – that there are solutions for them. In many cases, several solutions.

Everyone can be LIz, the Lodge 49 character who walked into her bank and took care of her debt problem forever . . . the only thing you need to get started is to understand you have options.

Liz figured it out in the season finale.

Well, December is our season finale and the time to get some peace of mind, probably the commodity I deal in the most.

It’s simple, if you are looking a a possible foreclosure, have judgments and liens that threaten your home and/or continued financial health, are facing a crippling crumbling foundation situation, are in foreclosure and are scared … or baffled … or confused …

. . . come and talk to me.

Give yourself a consult for Christmas and give yourself some peace of mind. The one thing I can tell you sight unseen, you have no idea how many options you have.

Debt, Judgments, and Liens

Last week I wrote about debt and AMC’s Lodge 49. A show in which debt is so pervasive it’s another character. This is the flip side of that conversation – the end result of many debts.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes my idea of fun is getting judgment liens paid off.  Yep, that’s right- it’s kind of a cool challenge and can be really satisfying. Taking care of judgment liens has been a satisfying part of being a lawyer for a long time, the letter below is to Attorney Abraham Lincoln about just that.
Last month a client, who was in foreclosure due to unpaid property taxes, found a buyer for her home.  The house needed a lot of work, she was unable to keep up payments on the taxes, and decided to sell.  She had about a half dozen judgment liens that resulted from old unpaid credit card accounts that remained outstanding.  In order to close, I had to track them down and get them settled.
At least there was enough money from the equity in the property to pay them at closing.  If this were a short sale, or if there wasn’t enough equity to get them all paid and still leave her with some cash out of the deal, we probably wouldn’t have bothered. (Then my strategy for her would have been to keep her in the home as long as possible and eventually move when the time came.)
Four out of her six unpaid liens were simple to deal with.  In addition to getting the lien information from the closing attorney’s title search, the original case information is usually available on the court website– www.jud.ct.gov.  I put my client’s name into the search field and found the cases, including the names of the lawyers who initiated each suit against her.  I just had to call them up and make settlement offers.  We averaged just about 50% overall on those.  The lesson here is it is always worth trying to get a discount so that the homeowner can keep as much of the cash out of the closing as possible!
I’m still tracking down the other two liens.  Most of the cases against my client were brought by third party “debt buyers”, companies you’re probably familiar with such as Unifund, Midland, CACH, Portfolio Recovery, Velocity Investments, Cuda & Associates or Lienfactors, etc.  The problem here is that the law firms that get the judgments don’t often continue to service the judgments, especially 5 or more years after the judgment enters, which was the case with my client. I know with a little more effort I’ll find the companies currently handling the judgments and get them settled and paid.  But in the mean time, we have to set aside the full amount of the judgment for these two liens in order to close, and my client won’t get anything that is left over until we know what these companies will accept in settlement.
She had another creditor who obtained a judgment but had not filed a judgment lien.  We still settled that one out because I feared that if we did not, and sold the house, the creditor’s attorney would discover my client disposed of her only asset and it would cause a major problem later.  It hurt because it was the highest balance of any of her outstanding accounts, but the closing attorney and I decided it was the right thing to do.
I regularly recommend selling to people who have equity but cannot afford their homes in the long term.  My experience with the creditors’ bar is that they will always take a settlement offer, no matter whether the account has been reduced to judgment and no matter how old the judgment is.

The Debts of Lodge 49

The first season of Lodge 49 ended a few weeks ago (along with the latest season of Better Call Saul, I’ll write about that later). I waited to write because this piece contains a mild spoiler.

Lodge 49 is … well, it’s hard to categorize. It’s gentle, a bit melancholy, smart, sometimes very funny, very well acted and pretty much a ten-episode shaggy dog story.

There are great characters who are very real people, it occurs in Long Beach, California which is an excellent stand-in for so many things about 2018 it would be impossible to list, there’s a mystery out there somewhere, there’s some intriguing as yet undisclosed mysticism swirling around everything and everyone.

So, yeah, I liked it. I was so engrossed in it I didn’t realize until forty-five minutes or so into the last show – and I did so with a real jolt – that the entire show was about . . . debt.

The debt of the middle class in 2018, with Long Beach still feeling the effects of the Recession.

I was jolted because looking back I saw it was there all along. I’ll bet ten minutes doesn’t go by – per episode – without someone talking about debt – their own, someone else’s, the Lodge’s (it is, after all, a building with a mortgage).

Debt is everywhere and when people aren’t talking about it there are signs in the background blaring it. Foreclosure signs on boarded up buildings, empty condos, ReFi billboards, more, everywhere.

A main character is a pawn broker. The pawn broker isn’t nasty, makes almost fair offers on property, seems to have a sense of humor, is a rock-solid businessman.  He also makes payday loan, title loans, and personal loans with interest rates around the thirty-percent mark. He also tells every ‘client’ exactly how stupid they are for taking whatever loan he’s offering before they put pen to paper.

The protagonist, Dud (yes, no ‘e’) is into him for big bucks and his car. Dud’s father owned a pool servicing company, went out to surf one afternoon and never came back. The business had loans far in excess of its value. Their house was foreclosed on and auctioned off.

Dud’s twin sister Liz owes the bank $80,000 – she co-signed a business note for her father. She’s obsessive about paying it down, makes every payment on time even though it stretches her budget to the breaking point, has been paying for over a year when she is shocked to find she has only been covering the interest.

Ernie works for a company that can’t pay commissions until it gets advances, he’s into the pawn broker. The lodge itself is being foreclosed on. The mysterious rich guy who pops into Dud and Ernie’s lives (a great Bruce Campbell) is dependent of leveraging – he borrows to invest. The people who bought Dud and Liz’ childhood home at action are clearly underwater, all the land in town is about to be declared toxic, they’ll never resell.

Debt, debt, everywhere. It’s not oppressive, it certainly doesn’t put a damper on the show, but it is always there, like another character.

No one does anything about their debt, except add on more in the hope of getting by long enough to do . . . something that will maybe fix it, . . . until the very end, the tenth episode/season finale (that raised more questions than it answered but made me want more).

That debt finale: Liz walks into her bank to talk to about her loan. The ever helpful, ever cheerful, manager says “The outstanding balance is eighty-thousand, five hundred and thirteen dollars.” Liz answers, “That is outstanding,” – a line I am sure I will use one of these days.

Liz then explains that she ‘really doesn’t have a place in her life’ for the debt anymore. She slams her entire life’s savings on the table, eighteen thousand dollars or so and explains – I won’t get into the specifics because those are spoilers (I think) – this is all you’re ever going to get from me.

The shot of Liz back in her car with her ‘account closed/paid off’ paperwork is outstanding.

It, of course, doesn’t really happen that way but it’s not a bad representation of what can happen if a debt is approached correctly, (check out my book for more on this). The end result, have the debt go away, that’s just priceless. Liz’ relief is palpable and absolutely spot on.

You’re not a character in a prestige series TV show, you don’t have to live with debt.

Surviving Debt: Expert Advice

Some people just like self-help books. Some people (like someone I am related to) always have one open on their nightstand and seem to have read them all. I’ve only recently gotten into them and that is to supplement the in-person help I have been getting (specifically, on managing my business).

If you’re a self-help person, you have to check out Surviving Debt: Expert Advice for Getting Out of Financial Trouble, published by the National Consumer Law Center, now in its 11th edition. It covers almost every personal financial issue you can think of, and is only $20. CLICK HERE to purchase (I get no benefit from this other than to share with you a really valuable resource)

You can even get free content from the book by clicking here. 

Let’s say you had a car repossessed a few years ago, and you can’t figure out how to pay off the debt resulted from that. Or you want to know which of your accounts to pay first. Surviving Debt has a chapter for that. If you’re the type of person who can read instructions and advice and follow through, then the price tag on this book is more than worth it. Maybe you’re shy about talking to someone about your finances, or want to know if you really are as bad off as you think you are (if I had a nickel for everyone who was afraid to pull their credit reports!), try Surviving Debt first. Then let me know if it was helpful, and which sections were the most relevant to you. You may need some follow up help, or have questions about your options. After all, this kind of book doesn’t (and can’t) provide you advice specific to where you live as each state is different in how debt is pursued and your options are different depending on which creditor you are dealing with, whether you have been sued on the account or whether it is in collection or not. Foreclosures especially are different in every state, so maybe after reading about your particular problem you will feel better prepared to ask questions and start tackling your situation with a live professional.

This book, and the chance to read parts of it for no charge, was too good an opportunity not to share with you. Again, I get no proceeds from the sale of the book (I don’t even keep the proceeds from the sales of my own book!), I just wanted to make sure you knew about it, especially as many of you are looking forward to a new year soon and in my experience, most people have something money-related on their New Year’s resolution list.

I Call BS . . . (on everyone, myself very much included)

“I call BS”

The students of the high school in Florida who suffered that mass school shooting earlier this year adopted the battle cry “I call BS” in the face of politicians’ empty promises to stop gun violence and to stop taking money from the gun industry.  If anyone dared tell the students they would work to make a difference and acted in a way that said they did not intend to, they called out the BS.

Good for them.  Because we are too nice and we don’t call out each other’s BS enough.  And because of that many of us never get out of our own way.

We all do it—we all have some BS we are hiding behind.

“I want to lose weight.”

“I know I should exercise more.”

“I have no money.”

All true statements for many of us.

But I call BS.

If you want something, work for it. If you know exercising is good for you and you don’t do it, then start.  You say you have no money, but do you really keep track of what you spend your money on?

I don’t call you out on enough of your BS.  I hear you say you want things but you don’t do what you have to do to have those things.  Please just be honest about WHAT YOU WANT MORE than the things you say you want.

If you want to lose weight, but you love chocolate chip cookies, and you keep eating the chocolate chip cookies, then you want the cookies more than you want to lose weight.  So don’t BS me about wanting to lose weight.

If you know you should exercise more but go home at night, eat dinner and then flop down on the couch and turn on the TV, then you want to watch TV more than you want to exercise.  So don’t BS me about not having the time or not being “able” to exercise.

You say you have no money but you stop to buy a coffee every day and buy your lunch at work and go shopping for clothes a couple of times per month or lend friends and family members the money you do have.  So don’t tell me you don’t have money—that stuff adds up.

I sound really harsh here because I have been spouting my own BS for a couple of years—I say that I want to help more and more people and have a large law firm but I haven’t done the work it takes to get more clients.  I’ve been BS-ing myself, my husband, my staff and even the homeowners out there who can’t find their way to me because I haven’t done what I need to do for them to know I’m right here, ready and able to help.

That BS stops now.  No more pretending to want something but then not taking the steps to have what I want.  No more saying one thing and doing another.  I invite you to call me out if you hear BS from me.

You ready to join me in a BS-free life?

My First Solo

It was twelve years ago today, October 2, 2006, that I went solo.  I actually didn’t have much of a plan. I had obtained a position reviewing documents for large class actions which I could do from home on my computer. That was going to pay enough to pay my bills. That’s as far as I had gotten with my plan.

I had been working in consumer protection for four years, helping all kinds of people out of all kinds of bad deals, protecting them from harassing debt collectors, unwinding their complicated identity theft problems, and recovering money taken by home improvement contractors, car dealers and even dating services.  But even as fulfilling as that was, there was something missing. I didn’t know what, I just knew I needed a change. I didn’t really look around for other jobs, but I found the document review opportunity and thought it would allow me to rethink my path as an attorney.

Within a week or two, my old boss called asking if I was interested in helping all the people that called his firm looking for help defending against credit card and medical collection.  So I shifted from being the lawyer that brought suit to being the lawyer that defended clients in court. And no one else was really doing that with any regularity.

Almost exactly two years later, though, the economy dramatically shifted when the real estate bubble burst and the country went into recession.  The need for lawyers helping homeowners in foreclosure increased dramatically and as I had already handled a few foreclosures for homeowners, I was in position to take on more of these cases.  Now I have the largest foreclosure defense practice in the state.

This did not come easy.  Helping a homeowner save their home from foreclosure is labor-intensive, document and paperwork intensive and takes a lot of time and patience, both on my part and the part of the homeowner.  I have had to hire staff to handle the paperwork, answer the phones and manage the office. This was a scary process- I used to work alone in a spare bedroom, then I rented a small office, but now I need space for four employees, and then some.  This all needs to be paid for. Everyone wonders how I do it: “How do you get paid if your clients can’t pay their mortgage?”

Good question.  Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from growing this business is to figure out what clients really want.  When you think about it, people pay for the things they want. If they REALLY want that Starbucks coffee, they will have the money to pay for it.  If they REALLY want a Lexus car, they will find a way to pay for it. And if they REALLY want help in court when their home is in foreclosure, they will make sure to pay their lawyer for that help.  

I did assume for a long time that everyone wanted to save their house, or that everyone who called me wanted to pay for legal services.  I’ve been working on how to have the conversation to figure out what people really WANT. I’ve learned it’s OK to not want to keep your house, and it’s OK if people don’t think paying for a lawyer is worth it.  I want to work with the people who REALLY want legal help from me, people who value having a lawyer by their side, a lawyer who will explain the process to them, who will walk them through each step and clarify what is going on in court so they aren’t so confused, don’t feel helpless, and aren’t spending any more sleepless nights over their foreclosure.  

Even better are the clients who know we will solve their legal problem and who want to do better in the future.  People who are motivated to manage their money so they will NEVER be in foreclosure again, and who will have savings and a retirement plan and a future to look forward to.  Because I’ve learned it was never the foreclosure that was the problem, that was just the symptom of many decisions over the years that led to an inability to pay the mortgage.  I can treat the symptoms, but the fulfilling part is working together with clients to cure the underlying problem.

When Geoffrey Owens Played a Lawyer . . .

I posted something about Geoffrey Owens and ‘job shaming’ on Facebook last week because I saw in the ‘story’ of Geoffrey’s job at Trader Joe’s something I see regularly working with people going through foreclosure: the ‘debt shaming’ I write about often. It seemed especially poignant as all this was precipitated by Owens losing his steady income source, The Cosby Show residuals that went away when the show was pulled from syndication because of the sexual abuse charges leveled at Cosby.

Just like many of my clients, an unexpected change in income had a disastrous effect.

All that reminded me of a great Geoffrey Owens role as one of my favorite TV lawyers of all time: Gerald Watkins Mayfield in HBO’s Divorce.

Divorce is the story of a successful business woman, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her not quite as successful husband, Robert (Thomas Hayden Church) living in Hastings-on-Hudson NY, a pretty, upscale town on the Hudson River an hour or so north of New York City. The town, by the way, is pretty much a character.

sarahbloghboObviously, they have marital problems. They go through all the motions of therapy and reconciliation and mediation, it’s obvious six show or so in that they need to divorce and it’s going to get ugly.

They need lawyers. Robert’s not the type to ask around or spend time on Google, or, indeed, doing anything proactive. Eventually, though, a friend introduces him to  a relative who’s an attorney right in town and ‘does everything.’ That would be Gerald Watkins Mayfield and he is everything I’ve been writing for years.

He works out of his garage and his wife pops in every few minutes to remind him to ‘watch the oven, dinner’s in’ but, all in all, it’s pretty charming. Until he starts talking. Then it’s funny and chilling – if you’re a lawyer.

The scene (easily the funniest in the show, period):

“So, you do mostly divorces?”

“Nope, mostly wills, trusts, estates.”

“You do some divorces?”

“You know what, Robert? Basically, it’s all law.”

That’s it, in a nutshell, perfectly put by a great character. ‘Basically, it’s all law.’

It’s not, of course, but clients still buy into it. As Robert does. Disastrously. I’ll leave it to you to watch the show to see just how disastrously it is.

For now, though, just understand that if you need a divorce attorney, hire a firm that does family law; need an estate plan? Hire an estate planning firm; are facing a foreclosure? Retain someone who does exactly that most of her working day.

Black Mirror, China, and Moving On

This piece is the result of a perfect confluence of a couple of scattered news articles that flitted across my news feed over the last week and a 12:30 am TV commercial.

First, the commercial: two friends hanging out when one gets a text, YOUR CREDIT SCORE HAS CHANGED! “Whoa,” the other friend exclaims, ‘why’d you get that?” “I get instant updates on all my credit reports,” replies the other, “don’t you know credit scores can change anytime?”

No, the friend didn’t know that, but he’s filled in now, credit scores can change any time, who wouldn’t want to be on top of it? It’s implied, not very subtly, that it’s the height of irresponsibility not to track one’s credit score 24/7.  Luckily, XYZ company is there for you and, get this, it’s free to start!

The news items were about China – they are expanding their efforts to bring their brand of capitalism to the world and they have begun to institute a system of ‘social credit’ scores for their citizens, a program that has just started but is slated for a nationwide roll-out in 2020.

‘Social credit.’ I first became aware of the concept like a lot of people did, through the Netflix and BBC show, Black Mirror.  The first episode of the third season, Nose Dive, was about a not so distant future where every one of our social interactions, from buying a coffee at Starbucks, to standing in line in an airport, to who you interact with in the office, are rated on a 1 to 5 scale. Your place in society is determined by your average score, the higher the average the better the car you can lease, community you can live in, job you can apply for.

It’s scary in that ‘it can easily happen’ sort of way that China seems ready to turn into reality. The whole, ‘let’s grade everyone on everything they do’ motif feeds into a ‘let me see what I’m rated today’ that can quite easily become an obsession that just gets in the way of, well, life.

But, that’s not why I’m writing about this today. What all this did was remind me, vividly, of a constant theme of this blog and my book, the effect shame and embarrassment have on potential clients. We have long been conditioned to consider a dropping credit rating, an unpaid bill, a certified letter or 1-800 call, a law suit, a foreclosure, anything about money that negatively reflects on us, mortifying.

And, indeed, there is a public shaming element to ‘social credit’, it’s implicit. But, we’re not there yet and hopefully never will be. In the meantime, despite this, I am constantly explaining to new clients that what they are going through has, indeed, happened to other people, often. That it’s not a matter of being embarrassed or shamed, it’s a matter of just taking care of the issue in the best possible way and moving on with one’s life.

No one who matters is judging you, credit scores can be repaired, the banks, lawyers, court clerks, judges, and collection companies are all on to the next case, there are no institutional memories.

Embarrassment and shame and a dozen other emotions serve only one purpose – they inhibit people from seeking help at the time professional help is most effective. This goes for foreclosure defense as well as family law issues and dealing with the IRS and a host of other matters.

Good lawyers have seen everything in their area of practice, they deal with everything, they will not judge. Most of all, they won’t be rating you on or off social media.