All posts by riversteff

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Plastic Playbook

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*A low credit score is indicative of someone who has too much consumer debt, doesn’t pay her bills on time, and doesn’t have enough income to support her lifestyle.

While some companies won’t give her the time of day, she’s the kind of customer credit card companies are searching for. Her bad habits keep credit card companies in business.

In the first three months of this year, credit card companies mailed 992 million applications trying to get consumers on the hook. More than 9 million of them bit. And nearly half of those people who signed up have credit scores below 660.

That doesn’t make credit card companies the good guys for extending credit to people they consider to be risky, sub-prime consumers. Their interest in consumers with low credit scores is like being chosen last in a game of kickball: It’s not about the player, it’s about the game.

Most people know how credit cards work. Banks and other lenders allow consumers to use their money via a credit card. And the consumer agrees to pay a certain fee or interest rate in exchange for that privilege. People with good credit scores get to pay a lower interest rate while those with poor credit scores – those under 660 – must pay a higher interest rate. No surprise there.

But the trick bag that credit card companies were putting everybody in was how much and how often they would raise interest rates. The fine print of a credit card agreement reads like the U.S. Tax code: You don’t know what you don’t know until you break the rules and are fined. Thanks to the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 it’s harder for credit card companies to raise interest rates on existing balances and commit other bait and switch tactics that generated billions of dollars in revenue. Now companies are forced to make up the difference. And they’re doing it by luring consumers who have high consumer debt, a history of late bill payment and low income. Just like Carrie on prom night; it’s a set-up waiting to happen.

Now those consumers who couldn’t get approved for credit cards this time last year are allowed to play the game at 21% interest. That’s compared to people with credit scores above 700 who pay less than 13% interest for the same credit card. Simple math says the latter is better than the former, but smart consumers know if they can’t get it with cash they probably should go without that purchase.

Sure, those introductory credit card rates can be tempting, but they don’t last forever. That’s why they’re called “introductory.” Just because somebody wants to give you access to a bunch of money doesn’t mean you have to take it. You should ask yourself “why do they like me so much?” And if the answer amounts to more than you can afford to pay, don’t do it.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: GM is in a State of Total Recall

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Stteffanie Rivers

*If you want to know why I’ll never purchase another new vehicle all you have to do is look at the General Motors fiasco.

Last week, GM,  the corporation that manufactures Buicks, Chevrolets, Cadillacs, and GMCs issued its 44th recall due to another vehicle defect.

In the United States alone that affected 17 million vehicles in 2014; vehicles that – for all intents and purposes – are transporting precious cargo to work, schools and churches everyday. Some of those vehicles not on the road anymore were involved in collisions where passengers were either critically injured or killed due to those design defects.

It’s bad enough that GM decision-makers knew about some of the issues but didn’t properly address them. Since having to admit the problem, the auto maker just wants to perform patch-work fixes. There’s no mention of forgiving that over-priced car loan millions of people are stuck with despite years of driving around in death traps or swapping out faulty vehicles for new ones.

This is the same General Motors the U.S. Government kept from near bankruptcy in 2009 in part to keep people working. Working to do what, build vehicles that aren’t worth the heap of scrap metal (or should I say plastic, because they don’t make cars like they used to) the cars turn out to be? It’s stories like this that make me appreciate personal injury law.

If you see me driving a new car rest assured I’m not paying a new car note. It’s probably a weekend rental. And not from Hertz, because they run credit checks on people who use debit instead of credit cards to rent from them (http://www.eurweb.com/2014/01/the-journal-of-steffanie-rivers-overcharged-and-underpaid/). But I digress.

Until last month I drove a 1998 Ford Mustang. It’s paid for and I planned to drive it until the wheels fell off. The wheels didn’t fall off yet, but the transmission might as well have. For six months I went to local government car auctions, perused Craigslist and shopped at rental car sales lots in search of the best deal on a used, yet reliable, car. No car loans for me: just cash and carry.

I settled on a 2008 Pontiac with low miles, a salvage title and a great price. The low miles probably are due to the collision that kept the car off the road which led to the salvage title and the great price.

Most people advise against salvage title vehicles for various reasons, some legitimate and some not. But some insurance companies write off vehicles as a “total loss” even for minor cosmetic damage if the cost of repairs will be more than what the insurance company considers the car to be worth. Plastic fenders and headlights can be expensive, especially on vehicles that no longer are in production. But if you know somebody with a dealer’s license who can get good deals at auctions on cars with minor damage and knows how to do body work like I do, you too can find a great deal. I did my homework and paid less for car insurance on the new (to me) Pontiac and my Mustang than that I was paying for the Mustang alone.

Most things in life are a risk. But what I won’t do is over-pay for a car that is so poorly made the manufacture should be the subject of a class-action lawsuit for putting my life in jeopardy and me in debt while I drive around trying to impress people I don’t know, and if I took the time to know them probably would realize I don’t even like.

As for my Mustang, I’ll put another transmission in it and be back to racing people on the highway before you know it. Just kidding! No I’m not. Yes I am. No I’m not.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for comments, questions, comments or speaking inquiries.

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The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Fast-Food Wage War

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*So fast-food workers want to force companies to pay them at least $15 an hour in wages and they want the right to unionize.

Yes, the people who ask you “Do you want fries to go with that shake?” say they deserve to earn at least $31,000 a year, which is more than the take-home pay of 25% of Americans. As for what they plan to discuss at the union meetings, I don’t know, maybe they want to iron out who has trash duty and who has to cut up the onions.

The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Some states have set their own minimum. Washington state set the highest minimum at $9.19 an hour, but apparently even that’s not enough for people who serve fried food and drinks at a walk-up counter or through a sliding glass window. They say they can’t make ends meet with that small amount, can’t pay their bills with that, can’t support a family on that. Newsflash! The job never was intended to do all those things to begin with. And had they taken time to do simple math before they took the job they should have realized there would be more month left at the end of their money.

And speaking of simple math: Most of the employees don’t know how to count change back without looking at the register. Once when I bought a meal at KFC my bill came to $7.48. I gave the cashier a $10 bill and three pennies and all hell broke loose, because the register wasn’t working and the cashier couldn’t count. And these are the people who say they deserve a raise?

I used to work at Wendy’s while I was in high school and at Burger King while I was in college. So I have nothing against working at fast food joints, but the reality is some jobs are not meant to be long-term. Your first job isn’t meant to be your last. Fast food wages aren’t meant to pay a mortgage. A cell phone bill or gas for the car maybe, but not much more. If you need to earn more money than what fast-food pays – here’s an idea – get a degree or a skill in a field that will allow you to make the amount of wages you need and leave the fast-food work to the teenagers with little to no financial responsibilities.

Many people’s first job is in the fast-food industry. You learn basic work skills such as showing up on time, good customer service, salesmanship, paying taxes and – the biggest lesson of all – it’s not something you want to do for the rest of your life!

And although nobody (except myself) seems to have thought this far ahead, if fast food companies are forced to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, other industries whose employees already earn $15 an hour will then be forced to raise their hourly wage to at least $20 and so on and so on. And that union they want so badly; take $2 out of every $15 for monthly dues to organize and maintain it. Union representation can be useful, but it ain’t cheap.

And speaking of expensive: A fast food burger (not those tiny ones on the dollar menu with more bread than beef) costs almost $3 already. If workers get their wish, the price of a burger is bound to go past $4 to pay for that raise. Tainted beef scares and the rising costs of fast food might be enough to do in even the most popular burger joints. Where will that leave fast food employees? Feeling like the middle of doughnut: left out when they get laid off.

This is the latest in what has become the dumbing down of Americans. People want to get more in exchange for giving less. Some people don’t want to challenge themselves to do more. They don’t want to go to school, they don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up. They don’t even want to take ownership of past behavior such as criminal offenses or drug use. Some states have made it illegal to ask applicants if they have criminal records. Instead, they want it all right now. And if they get it, in a few years they’ll say that’s not enough. Before long some people will want to make high school graduation optional.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

 

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Greatest Love of All

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*Proposal of marriage is a lot like a sales presentation: if you under-promise and over-deliver there’s a better chance of a happy ending.

The trouble is most people are better at selling the dream than they are at making the dream come true. And some people are convinced they have to be in a relationship to be happy.

Sherri Shepherd seems to be one of those people. And that’s problem number one. Despite her professional achievements – co-host of “The View,” the movie roles, the comedy tour, her new diet book and all the money that comes with it – Shepherd said she hasn’t made the best decisions when it comes to her personal life, admitting she “had a lot of abortions” because she “didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with having a child” at that time in her life.

Some men seek out insecure women like Shepherd. That’s problem number two for her. Shepherd’s belief that she needs a man to be happy coupled with her insecurities, notoriety and million dollar income are like the flashing neon sign at Krispy Kremes doughnut shop that reads “Hot and Ready.” Even a woman with no money and all the self-confidence in the world has to be selective about with whom she spends her time.

After Shepherd’s ten-year marriage to her first husband ended in 2011, simple math shows she jumped into her second marriage with Lamar Sally. Now their three-year marriage is about to end in divorce. That’s a sign of problem number three: Not doing your due diligence. Although you never can predict what a person will or won’t do – just like the stock market – past performance is a strong indication of future results. Ask lots of questions. And when it comes to the answers, trust, but verify. Ending one marriage and jumping into another one within a year was not a smart move, especially with her having a young son.

Most women tend to wear their independence like a badge of honor. They make their own money, pay their own bills, change their own flat tire and take out their own trash. When some men see how capable a woman is of taking care of everything they tend to put up their feet and let her continue to do everything.

It seems as if that’s the kind of man Shepherd found in Sally who spent more time during the marriage unemployed than employed. And now he wants custody of the couple’s surrogate child due in July. No doubt he’ll want child support and alimony to match the lifestyle to which he has become accustom.

When it comes to relationships, men are more responsive if they feel needed – not just wanted. As much as they state otherwise, most men prefer to be in a relationship with someone who needs them rather than an independent woman who doesn’t. Why else do they end up turning their attention to a woman who needs more financial assistance than a college student without a scholarship? Obviously they like to feel needed.

At least Shepherd was smart enough to get Sally to sign a prenuptial agreement to protect her million dollar estate. At 47 she has little to no time to start over. And before she starts looking for a new man in her life she should spend more time getting to know her 9-year-old son better and loving herself more.

Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

steffanie rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Thin Line Between Religious Freedom and Playing God

rp_steffanie_rivers2011-hand-chin-med-big-150x150.jpg*After all the Tea Party protests and legislative hearings trying to dismantle President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, more than 8 million people have signed up for the government sponsored health insurance plan. That’s one million more than was the goal.

And while this plan doesn’t solve everybody’s healthcare woes, thirty percent of those who enrolled are 18 to 34. These young, healthy adults probably plan to use their insurance to pay for preventative maintenance care. But if that includes the use of birth control, some employers say they don’t want to cover that. So they’re appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to be exempt from the Affordable Healthcare Act’s contraception mandate.

Siting religious reasons, some employers want to take away their employees’ option to use the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices (IUD’s), calling them forms of abortion. In reality, these employers are pro-lifers who want to blame their controlling nature on God. If God doesn’t force anybody to serve him, but gives everyone the choice to serve him, who is a business owner to dictate how employees use their health insurance?

These are the same people who are against welfare, against food stamps and against any form of government support to families with dependent children. They should make up their minds: either be against birth control or against government handouts. It makes no sense to be against both. Pay for birth control to prevent the baby or be prepared to pay for the baby. It’s a prime example of the adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Earlier this month Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners in that state to deny service to gays and lesbians siting their religious beliefs against homosexuality. What about your religious beliefs of love and inclusion instead of disdain and separation? What about as a business owner you’re in business to make money – not to judge how others live their lives? If Brewer would have allowed the bill to proceed, the NFL was prepared to move next year’s Super Bowl out of Arizona causing a loss worth millions of dollars. You can’t legislate people’s hearts, but when you start messing with people’s money oftentimes that leads to more objectivity.

Different religious interpretations are sure to create dueling points of view. And sure, everybody’s not going to get along all the time. But if you want to discriminate against a group of people and try to control how they live, just say it’s because you’re discriminating and controlling. Don’t hide behind God, who gives everybody the choice to serve Him.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for comments, questions and speaking inquiries.

steffanie rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The NCAA Windfall

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*As I sit here watching the NCAA Championship basketball game I can’t help but think past the game itself and to all the money that has been made during this tournament season. From cities such as Dallas that brought in millions of dollars by hosting the Final Four to merchandisers and retail establishments that got a financial windfall just by being in the right place at the right time, these kind of sporting events seem to be a win-win for everyone involved.

Tournament colleges get priceless advertisement and coaches get million dollar salaries with bonus bucks to boot. Last week USA Today listed the compensation for NCAA tournament coaches that ranged from $171,000 to $9 million a year. Some say college players – arguably the most important pieces of the equation – should be satisfied with a winning score and an athletic scholarship that, for most, isn’t enough to pay a full year’s tuition plus room and board.

The NCAA has restrictions against students receiving any compensation in exchange for their college play because, it contends, athletics are secondary to education. It’s funny (peculiar, not ha ha) how the people charged with making this decision are the ones pocketing the money. And what’s even more unbelievable is the NCAA is listed as a non-profit organization. That means it doesn’t pay taxes on the billions of dollars it collects and spends in the name of education before athletics.

So how does a, um hum, non-profit organization with an operating budget twice that of the NBA justify using its funds to build bigger sports facilities, pay million dollar salaries and do everything except share the proceeds with players? Oh yeah, those less-than-full scholarships and the NCAA’s mission to “increase the academic training and careers and success” of student athletes.

But the numbers show the NCAA had fallen short of its mission so poorly that in 2004 it was forced to create a program to gauge the academic progress of student athletes. Universities that fail to graduate at least half its student athletes every year could be fined, the number of scholarships reduced and possible suspension from its division conference. Eight of the teams in the 2014 tournament failed to graduate the fifty percent minimum. Eighty-eight percent of the teams graduated just 60 percent of its student athletes. So, of all the players good enough to make the team, and of all the teams good enough to make the tournament nearly half the student athletes don’t graduate. Statistics show the numbers are getting worse with each passing year. And if that’s not bad enough, less than one percent of college basketball players go on to play in the NBA. Most of them leave without college degrees, without a NBA career and without a clue as to what to do next.

So much for the NCAA’s mission to increase the academic training, careers and success of student athletes. Why don’t they just admit it’s about the money.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. For questions, comments and speaking inquiries email her at [email protected]