2015: The Year in Themes

It’s been quite a year, in court, out of court, blogging, talking, consulting. Since I started putting my thoughts down early in the year a few themes have emerged, themes I’m sure I’ll continue to follow into 2016.

Looking forward to 2016 and many more posts. Happy New Year, and thanks for being a reader.

Cinco de Mayo and Debts (Really)

More history of debt – I think we can all agree that Cinco de Mayo is a pretty fun day. A celebration of great food, drink, festive, upbeat.

IMG_0855What most people don’t know is how the holiday came to be. It’s not, as a lot of North-of-the-Border types believe, Mexican Independence Day. 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 repossession action in history.

After the Mexican-American War and a series of revolutions and civil wars, 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) and invaded.

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.

I like to think I can be as ferocious as that rag tag Mexican Army when it comes to consumer debt, but I know I’m a lot more effective in the long run.

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.

Contracts, French Meals, Debt, and Groucho Marx

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” ~ Groucho Marx

Groucho-MarxIf you’re looking for a car, or a student loan, or a credit card, or short term loan and there are investors out there dying for you to take on the debt, you have to wonder why . . . and consider deeply before joining the club.

Look at it this way: You’re walking down the street, hungry, deciding between Five Guys, In and Out Burger, and a couple of decent Chinese food take-out store fronts when the owner of a new French restaurant runs up to you, offers to set you and your friends up with a world famous 7 course meal.

You’re tempted – you’re salivating, in fact – but explain you simply can’t afford it. No sweat, he tells you, 7 courses, a couple bottles of fine wine, all the baggettes you can eat, and a dessert to die for AND you have 90 days to pay the meal off. Continue reading Contracts, French Meals, Debt, and Groucho Marx

P.T. Barnum and Consumer Debt

p t barnum's ill news4-thumb-350x470-17752Most people remember P.T. Barnum for the line – “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Great – if not cynical -line, but Barnum never said it.

I have been thinking of him in a slightly different context lately, however. Over the past two weeks or so I’ve made a series of posts on my Facebook page concerning consumer debt – all of them pretty sobering. Like the New York Times article about car repossessions and military personel.   

I seems that when cars are illegally repossessed by lenders, there is no recourse through the courts. There is a clause in many – many – financial contracts that require all disputes be settled in binding arbitration. Only. Continue reading P.T. Barnum and Consumer Debt