Crunchy Numbers 2015

Standard

BLOG COMPOSITE WP Report - 2015-12-30

 

Tomorrow is the last day of 2015, so WordPress sent me a 2015 Report with Crunchy Numbers, amongst other:

  • Blogs: 38
  • Visits: 23 countries.

 

As “luck” would have it, my latest book ringed in yellow– “50 PERSPECTIVES – The Value of Things Unseen – also has a “crunchy number” on it.

 

Other than being available in 3 formats (hard cover, paperback and eBook) in Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a host of other distributors, it is also available on display in New Releases as well as in the Business Section in Dymocks, Werribee, Australia – where my first book – also with a “crunchy number” – “OVER 65 And Still in Demand”, ringed in red sold out earlier this year.

“Chat” again in 2016. Here is wishing you a safe, healthy, prosperous and memorable 2016!

And thank you for reading and commenting on my writings during 2015.

Advertisements

MORE PRIDE – LESS PREJUDICE

Standard

SANTA and SWEETY TWINKLETOES

 

As I blogged earlier on, this year I had the privilege to be a Santa at a national chain store, during which I engaged with over 3000 (recalculated figure) children and parents. I was very ably supported by Elf Sweety Twinkletoes (she selected her own name) who did a great job of taking photos as well as handing out candy canes to all kiddies, and in some cases the adults as well.

Of course one makes mistakes – some of them based on perspectives, perhaps even prejudices – during such engagements.

  • I was no different.

Apology is – as I also wrote in my most recent book “50 PERSPECTIVES – The Value of Things Unseen” – good for both body and soul.

So today is a good day to report on myself and then to apologize for some of my prejudices and laud the prides of those who pointed out the error of my perspectives. And most of them were children, which makes me hold out hope for the future!

Case 1:

A somewhat overweight child walks up to me, short hair and long pants with a T-shirt and the conversation goes like this:
Santa “Have you been a good little boy this year:”
Child ‘ I am actually a girl”.
Santa ‘I apologize and thank you for correcting me. So let me ask, have you been a good little girl this year.”
Girl “Sometimes”.
Santa “Honesty gets you to the front of the class” after which she does me a favour and poses for a photo (yes, and for those who think I am in the child-snatching business, with the permission of her mother. And yes, it was her mother – not her father.)

Case 2:

A boy (this time it is a boy, with dark glasses and a big smile approaches me with his mother a close step behind him.
Santa “Is the sun shining very bright outside?”
Mom “My son has a problem with his eyes”.
Santa apologizes. Photo gets taken in a friendly milieu.

Case 3:

Two youngsters approach us, one clearly on the verge of being around age 17 or 18. Santa and Sweety Twinkletoes are not allowed to take photos of any child under 16 unless accompanied and permissioned by a family member of age older than 16. So Santa obtains permission, poses for a photo and wishes the children a Blessed Christmas, only to see the parents approach – with smiles – and the mother, with a short jilbab (in this case the Muslim headgear, not the whole coat-like garment) whispering smilingly in her husband’s ear.

  • Santa writes this down to a learning experience. Both parents thank us as they walk away with a giggle and a rib-pump.

 

LUNCHTIME SANTA

Following my 7 weeks as an in-store Santa I was asked to be lunchtime Santa at a hotel on Christmas Day. What an opportunity! 450 paid diners with only food, drink and celebration on their minds (their plates and in the glasses).

Santa waddles through the crowd, spreading cheers and stops to lighten up the face of a child with longer-than-shoulder length curly hair.

Santa “Hello, and have you been a good little girl this year?”

Child “I am actually a boy!”

Santa (taking off his classes “Apology young man! Of course you are. Look at MY long white hair!”

What is astounding is that the boy remains friendly, has a lovely chat with Santa and then gives him a High Fives.

  • The forgiveness of children is something to marvel at.

(Interjectory note: When this Santa was 35 years old and going through a 3 year back-packing trip his hair was shoulder length and often worn in the Prince Valiant cut). As I am now double that age I believe that memory loss also has something to do hairloss!

Santa writes this down to being a slow learner.

And finally, the little boy who wore dark glasses in Case 2 above runs up to Santa with “Hello Santa! I remember you from the store. Merry Christmas to you!”

Santa is at a loss for words a bit – and High Fives the boy!

 

TAKEAWAYS

  • Takeaway Line 1.

Girls can have short hair.

In fact half of my work-life managers (whom I respect very much) are ladies with short hair AND may I add, some of them are younger than I am. Glad to say I hold no prejudices there. My wife is younger than I am and not only do I love her, but also respect her very much. So here is my question to those men who cannot work for a female manager “How do you respect your wife – more so if she is younger than you?” GROW UP and MATURE.

 

  • Takeaway Line 2

Not all people – especially children – with long hair are girls. Some of them are proud boys, with the guts to stand up and correct even Santa!

 

Brilliant!

 

  • Takeaway Line 3

Not everyone who poses with Santa is a Christian.

Corollary : does it matter? No, I don’t think so. I have lived in a Muslim country for a quarter of my life and posed for many photos with Muslims. That does not mean I am a Muslim or that I cannot wish my Muslim friends blessed returns of the days that they celebrate.

 

  • Takeaway Line 4

Santa makes mistakes like all people do. And there is nothing wrong with that and Santa feels better for being corrected and after apologizing for his (yes in this case it is “his”) mistakes.

I trust all my Christian friends had a Blessed Christmas, and to my non-Christians friends, a great festive break. May you all enjoy a safe, healthy, prosperous and memorable 2016, and here we open a new can of worms, since some people count the years in a different way than Christians do!

I wish you peace and no prejudices, regardless of your religion and perspectives.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

Credit Card Fraud – $16.3 BILLION last year

Standard

Credit card fraud is on the rise.

Important Points

Let’s look at some important bullets:

  • 2014 credit card fraud was $16.3 Billion (with a B)
  • Credit Card fraud (19%) outpaced the growth of credit cards (15%).
  • US fraud loss was 12 ¾ c for every $100.
  • Rest of the world fraud loss was 3 ¾ c per $100.
  • Estimates are that it will average $30 Billion per year over the next 6 years, by which time it would have more than doubled today’s figures to $35 Billion.
  • Banks / investigators estimate that is will decrease after 2020. I predict that it will not, especially with the Asian market still very much in growth/expansion mode. It will not slow down unless all credit card business stops – which will not happen.
  • New protective technology is introduced every year, but the fraudsters are often out-running the protectors.

 

Two points are important to note:

  • It sounds small – until you are the victim.
  • I hesitate to say that this is the full figure, since organizations and individuals may in fact hide some of the cases – for obvious reasons.

 

Five cases

Let me summarize 5 of my own cases:

  • 24 Dec 1973: Amex card stolen. Before the card was stopped I had lost a whole month’s salary. In 1974 things were different than today. It cost me
  • 2003: Received a call one Sunday morning informing that my card had been compromised in another country. I lost no money and my replacement card was with me within a week.
  • 2008: It took me 3 years to get an internet provider to stop billing me for services I terminated when I moved to another country. I had my bank behind me and we disputed it every month until we won the argument.
  • 2010: My card was compromised in another country (with a fraudulent card – something I will expand on more later) by someone buying first 4, then 2, then 1 airline tickets which he sold to people for trips between Australia and NZ. I was in Singapore at the time, and could prove it – luckily.
  • 2012: I made a one-time payment from Singapore to a company in the US, which they subsequently auto-renewed without my knowledge (or warning) and I ended up losing my credit card. I got most of my money back. But losing the card is what hurt – to some degree. This is something I will touch on again later – and the way that you can overcome it.

 

Notice the Pattern?

It took 30 years from case 1 to case 2. Then it picked up speed and now repeats every 2 years.

And it is not just fraud but blatant money-grabbing and the card-holder has very few ways to fight back except for inconveniencing him/her-self.

Cases is known where 3-star generals were caught with 2,500 blanks which they were busy turning into fraudulent cards which were for sale at USD2,000 but with $10,000 loaded. That is aside from having been caught with the Reserve Bank signatures for printing false notes – which has not been configured into the $16.3B fraud.

 

Just One of the Frauds

Credit card fraud is just one way to become a victim. Other fraud activities include:

  • Cloning / phishing / skimming at ATM’s and other sites.
  • Account take-over (often via changing the victim’s address details – physical and or email.
  • Card users themselves also “clean out” their cards and then run away.
  • “Friendly fraud” perpetrated by someone whom the victim knows. These are often not reported due to people trying to protect relationships / family. However, these cases are starting to appear with regularity on some current affairs programs.

 

How to Fight Back

I spoke with my bank representative two days ago who informed me that she herself is now fighting 2 cases of fraud involving her credit card number. She has settled one so far.

  • Keep you card in a safe place (on your person is one way, depending on your movements and location). In fact, check your cards from time to time.
  • Study your statements every month.
  • Report any breach or loss of a card immediately.
  • Gather supportive information to prove where you had been at the time. In my case it was my passport that came to the rescue.
  • Do not give up, even if the bank seems to tread water (which was in my instance number 4 above. I eventually made enough public noise that my case was taken into a private office and settled but not after I was threatened with them calling the police – which I said I would welcome).
  • Think very hard who you give your credit card details to, especially in today’s internet shopping world. I spoke to my lawyer yesterday and her response was “giving your credit card number to someone (person or company) is like giving them a signed cheque” to which I would like to add “several signed blank cheques”.
  • Whatever you buy / when you eat out, and pay for by credit card, check the relevant paperwork before leaving the queue. Years ago, when cards were still imprinted, I used to follow the person to the pay point and forced them to do the imprint in front of me – also taking with me all “bad imprints”. I never left them behind since there was a market for those.

 

There are more ways to protect yourself – some of which will be covered in an upcoming book – but it causes some inconvenience to yourself.

 

Was Your 2015 a Groundhog Year?

Standard

 “Hello Again”

As a year draws to a close we all normally – at one point or another – reflect silently on what we had done during the time.

Two things are important:

  • Things change. “You never stand on the same river bank twice”.
  • Time goes by – relentless. “Our tomorrows are not endless”.

So what do we do to distinguish ourselves from the one period to the next during the passing of Time? Do we groundhog-live the same life again or do we tackle new things, brave new adventures, leave a fuller Chest of Legacies?

Many years ago I spent 3 years with a backpack on the road – and tried to make each day different from the previous day – learning new things, experiencing new places, savouring new cultures, building a mental album of things that I can now both reflect on and find blank spaces to put a “snapshot” in.

I sat on our patio the other night watching a fantastic sunset and noticed that the crumbs that I spilt (I was celebrating the release of my 2nd book) attracted some ants. As dusk settled in it dawned on me that if I sit still long enough in one place I will be eaten by ants.

So, rather than be eaten by some virtual ants, I make it a point to keep moving in life. I do not intend to live groundhog years.

What are your Goals for 2016?

 

My 2015 in Short Review – Activity-wise

  • Published 36 blogs
  • Completed and published my 2nd book (50 PERSPECTIVES – The Value of Things Unseen)
  • Started on 2 others (one practical, one semi-autographical)
  • Appeared at Faeryville Singapore Red Carpet Event with award-winning producer Tzang Merwyn Tong, his production team and my co-stars.
  • Enjoying a 2nd season of organically self-raised (“free range”) vegetables.
  • Delivered 6,000 free local newspapers in our suburb, walking 250kms in the process.
  • Played Santa to 2500 children and their parents over 7 Saturday in a national chain store.

 

Missed doing

  • Playing in another movie.
  • Making a record.

DROWNING IN A SEA OF DEBT (2) – BANKRUPTCY

Standard
  • My wife and I climbed out of a near $60,000 credit card debt hole rather than declare ourselves bankrupt due to the impacts it would have had. It lasted 7 years and took 3 years of extremely focused discipline to accomplish it.

Focus and Discipline being the operative words.

My first blog on “Drowning in a Sea of Debt” discussed the depth of credit card debt – specifically in the USA – and the benefits / negatives of credit cards.

There are various ways to tackle overwhelming outstanding credit card debt which we will address in subsequent deliveries.

In this delivery I look at possibly the last alternative that some people may consider i.e. bankruptcy, because of its impact – financial, social and otherwise.

 

DIFFERENT COUNTRIES – DIFFERENT OUTCOMES

In this blog I briefly look at the impact in four countries i.e. the USA, Australia, the UK and Singapore.

Whilst the outcomes are mostly the same in different countries (i.e. debt forgiveness to some extent), the impacts differ – some more sever and longer-lasting.

  • The first impact will be on family situations and your relationship with your partner.

There might have been sleepless nights and differences in opinion about how money is being spent or has been spent. There might also have been difficult times to keep children in school or even to have food on the table.

  • The next impact is of an emotional nature.

You do not go to bed one night and wake up the next day to declare yourself bankrupt. There is normally a long walk-on period of increasing stress as the credit card bills pile up and the amounts increase, followed by demand letters and perhaps even a personal visit (in some countries).

  • It will impact social relationships.

I had to refuse many social invitations for lunch or after work gatherings because we were concentrating on repaying a large amount of money rather than to declare bankrupt. If you borrowed money from friends you may have to sort through some messy relationships.

  • It will impact a host of other things, including property ownership, control over your finances, current and future job opportunities and much more.

 

USA

Different states may approach matters differently but the impact is broadly the same.

There are three chapters under which to file for bankruptcy in the USA i.e. Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 13.

Chapter 11 involves reorganizing a debtor’s business affairs and assets, and is normally filed by corporations to restructure their debts. We will ignore it in this blog.

 

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is a liquidation bankruptcy which provides for the liquidation of your non-exempt property to distribute the proceeds to the creditors and wipe out your unsecured debts – which also includes credit card debts and medical bills. You must have very little or no disposable income to qualify for this.

It promises a “fresh start” and there are a number of benefits and protective measures but we take a look here at some of the impacts:

  1. Your bankruptcy becomes public knowledge since it is published in the public domain.
  2. It may impact your ability to apply for jobs, definitely with any financial institutions.
  3. Bankruptcy does not erase all your debt. Recent taxes and student loans are not forgiven.
  4. Your bankruptcy will remain on your Credit Report for 10 years.
  5. It will be difficult to obtain a credit card in future and interest rates will be much higher.
  6. Home loans will become very expensive, up to 6% more than a normal loan, since your credit score will be very low.
  7. Chapter 7 (and 13) filing is not cheap since it requires a bankruptcy lawyer – $800 to $2,500 depending on where you live.

 

Chapter 13

Chapter 13 is a bankruptcy filing for debtors who have a regular income and are able to pay back at least a portion of their debt through a repayment plan. The benefits are therefore greater than Chapter 7 Bankruptcy as you are able to keep all your property, even non-exempt assets. There are, however, still a number of impacts and dangerous potholes:

  1. You must put all your disposable income towards creditor payments. That leaves you rather tight for money for 3 to 5 years.
  2. If you neglect a payment your creditors can request to change your Chapter 13 into a Chapter 7. This means your creditors can chase you for the full outstanding amounts and your properties may become subject to seizure and sell-off. This is a serious pothole.
  3. You are considered a credit risk and any loans or new credit cards will be at a premium. It may be difficult to obtain any mortgage for up to 2 years after your filing.
  4. It may impact your ability to apply for jobs, definitely with any financial institution.
  5. Your restricted personal income will definitely impact your lifestyle.
  6. It does not protect anyone who co-signed anything that you are in debt of. Your co-signatory is indebted and may be obliged to repay your debt(s). This will almost certainly impact your relationship with the co-signatory.
  7. Not all debts are erased i.e. alimony, child support, some debt acquired within 6 months of filing, some taxes, willful injuries to person and property, personal injury whilst driving intoxicated and a host more are not erased.

 

AUSTRALIA

Bankruptcy impacts many things including this short summary:

  1. Your house and car may be sold.
  2. Overseas travel may be restricted.
  3. You will have to pay contributions from your income to your trustee if your after-tax income exceeds a certain amount.
  4. Your superannuation before bankruptcy basically becomes the trustee’s money.
  5. You can keep up to $3,700 of the tools of your trade but the rest can be sold by the trustee/creditors.
  6. Your name will appear on the National Personal Insolvency Index forever as a discharged bankrupt and on credit reporting agencies for 2 years after discharge.

Read up on https://www.afsa.gov.au/debtors/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-overview. This site also includes a quick guide on assets – which are not complimentary in its action.

 

SINGAPORE

Singapore laws let you file for bankruptcy if you owe $10,000 or more and you have no way to repay the amount. The whole process may take between 4 – 6 weeks during which time the court will assess your situation and come to a conclusion.

On the other hand, your creditor(s) – such as a bank – can also file to have you declared bankrupt.

The results can be swift:

  1. Assets can be seized and divided amongst creditors for their use or to auction off. There is a silver lining: you will be able to keep the tools of your trade and items that are hold in trust for someone else is also off limits, as is any HDB apartment which has not been refinanced.
  2. Your bankruptcy will be made public. Your employer(s) will be informed and you may lose your job, more so If you work for a financial institution. It may be difficult to find work afterwards, especially with financial institutions.
  3. If you keep your work, a portion of your income will be shared with your creditors. You must carefully justify any expenses and provide a financial statement of affairs, supported by receipts and which is periodically checked. Life becomes rather inconvenient in every aspect that touches on money.
  4. Part of you income can be made available for creditors, but whatever you use to earn a living with cannot be attached.
  5. It will be difficult to obtain credit afterwards. Your credit rating will be affected and may take up to 7 years to rebuild a semblance of what it used to be.
  6. Overseas travel is also normally affected. You will have to inform the court if you want to travel overseas and unless it is for work purposes you may not be allowed. If you break the law you will be jailed (currently 2 years) and fined (currently $10,000).
  7. If you owe less than $100,000 you may be rehabilitated after three years – unless a creditor objects, in which case you remain a bankrupt until all your creditors have been paid off.

Though the benchmark is set low ($10,000) the consequences are severe when compared to other countries, especially since Singapore is a very small country compared to say the USA where work is perhaps easier to find with the ability to travel and move interstate.

 

UK

There is still a lot more stigma surrounding bankruptcy in Europe than in the USA.

  1. Available assets will be sold to pay off your debts. You can keeps the “tools of your trade” to make a living.
  2. Renters may be kicked out of their rental places.
  3. Bank accounts and cards will be frozen and handed over to the Official Receiver.
  4. You may lose your job and it may be difficult to find another one. The police and armed forces do not employ bankrupts.
  5. Any additional income will go to the creditors.
  6. You may lose part or all of your pension towards debt settlement.
  7. The bankruptcy stays on file for 6 years. Your name and details will be published in the Individual Insolvency Register and your name published in the local paper.
  8. It may affect your immigration status of you apply for British citizenship.
  9. If you own a business, it might be sold and your workers laid off, thus causing hardship to others.

 

 

CONCLUSION

Many people have had a fresh start with bankruptcy, but beware the financial, social, personal and other impacts it will have.

There are a lot to think of, so if you choose to pursue this path you will be best served to research and read everything regarding bankruptcy in your country and then engage the best insolvency lawyer you can afford – which in itself may be a hefty cost.

DROWING IN A SEA OF DEBT

Standard

“Debt is poverty of a different kind”.

I am not referring to the USA National Debt – though there should be real concerns about it.

I am addressing credit card debt.

There are 7.3 Billion people on the planet.

There are between 3-5 billion credit cards on the planet, and rising.

Billion, with a “B”.

 

I am one of those who landed in trouble with it during the global financial meltdown and it took me more than 7 years to overcome my (a) bad habits and (b) the debt I racked up.

Seven+ years of my life.

  • Is there anyone here who has had the same experience?
  • If so, what was / is your biggest frustration, fear and challenge in this area?

 

Allow me to share a few things on my next four blogs on credit cards and bad credit

 

  • As stated above, an estimated 3-5 billion real (not fake) credit cards exist today – and the number is increasing.
  • No-one knows how many fake cards there are, but I have been a victim of at least two.
  • The average credit card debt per USA household is about $16,000, with a total for the country pushing towards ONE TRILLION Dollars.
  • More than half of the cardholders had an unpaid balance in the past year.
  • For more than a quarter their credit card debt had increased in the past year.
  • Students have an average of $20,000 debt.

 

At the depth of my debt I was around $60,000 under water – almost 4 times the average amount. And that was 15 years ago!

 

We all know the benefits of credit cards and I will bullet them here, followed by the negatives – of which there are real social impacts.

 

BENEFITS

Convenience: The main benefit is the convenience of having “money in your pocket” – up to the maximum credit limit, which is in fact a short term loan to you.

Loyalty programs: Another main benefit nowadays is of course the loyalty programs where the card holder gets loyalty points which can be redeemed for products or cash.

Bills tracking – Help with budgeting: Your account (soft or hard copy) can also help you to track expenses at the end of a period – which may bring back both good memories of where you have had your lunches and dinners – but also remind you of the carefree and perhaps careless spending that you did.

Product returns: A further benefit is returns. The buyer can return a product and receive (part of) a refund.

Extended warranties: Cards can also provide extended warranties and loss and damage covering.

Insurance: Some cards will also offer insurance, often on cars.

Legal limits of liability: In some countries (such as the USA and UK) have introduced legal limits of liability for those who lose a card or has a card stolen.

 

NEGATIVES

Inflated prices: Consumer prices are inflated to pay for all these benefits. And it affects everyone who shops, not only those who use a card.

Discipline: The most difficult one is probably one of self- regulation, or discipline when it comes to using credit cards. But then again, that is not the card’s fault.

Surcharges: Some businesses may ask the buyer to accept a surcharge on a credit card transaction, since the business often has to pay the card company a fee (of up to 4% of the value of a transaction.) This of course leads to higher prices.

Social impact: Some organizations are of the opinion that it may in fact also impact social welfare on two fronts (a) higher prices and (b) the high interest rates that card companies charge. This often drive lower income earner card users into debt and even bankruptcy – which has serious social side effects.

It is all well and good to say that there should be strict filtering and vetting of those who may own a card, but there had been times in the past when card companies would actually just send a card to person on their email list. I can personally vouch for that.

Increased rate shock: Financial institutions (mostly banks) will offer you a ZERO interest rate card to consolidate all your competitor cards with them. However, these zero fees run out after a period of time or a specific event and then also revert to high interest rates.

Tread carefully with this.

 

My next blog will look at the impact of when people go into bankruptcy due to over-extending themselves on credit cards.

I am aware that some people have started very successful businesses by using their credit cards to fund them, but – and there is always a “but” – I don’t think that is a general way of funding an upstart business.

  • Does anyone have comparative data on failures and successes?

 

Please feel free to comment, especially on my questions, i.e.

  • Is there anyone here who has had the same experience?
  • If so, what was / is your biggest frustration, fear and challenge in this area and during the time you are / were in debt?

 

Thank you.

Kris Moller