Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reducing Debt

So, I was flipping past KBYU and pressed the info button to see what the speaker's topic was and decided to stop for a minute to listen to the man talk about debt. I don't often stay too long because the speakers for education week talks are often pretty boring (just my opinion). Which is weird to me because so many people rave about how wonderful Education Week is and I wonder why they don't televise the talks that are "so amazing". Anyway, this guy started talking about something that I had wondered about in the past. He said Utah had the highest rate of bankruptcy in the nation and I knew this, but I did not know specifically why this was the case. So, I put down the remote to listen and learn.

He said that people qualify for loans they can't afford because tithing, missionary expenses, etc. don't have to be included on the loan application. If a person had to put down that they spent $375 a month for a car payment they might not qualify, but they don't have to put down that amount for a missionary expense, so they "qualify" but cannot "afford" the loan which leads to bankruptcy. Hmmm...this makes some sense. There is still the job loss, medical bills, divorce, etc. problems that every other state has, but I wondered why Utah was different. Now I know.

Then, I thought to myself...... flip it. If you flip this concept it says something about our national debt. A stimulus package is supposed to benefit low-income people, but there are people that may not "qualify" for benefits because on paper it appears they can "afford" to pay their own way, so they don't receive help. Yet, some may still lose their house because of poor health, divorce, pay cut, or something like that. So, who gets help? Who decides who is eligible for benefits? The difference between who "qualifies" and who can't "afford" a loan can be flipped into the difference between who can seemingly "afford" and who can't "qualify" for benefits.

{The sociologist part of me thinks: Relative and absolute poverty. Are we only poor in relation to what we think we need?} The speaker went on to say that we can't pay our way out of debt. If we think, "If I just had more money I could get out of debt," we most likely won't get out of debt. We have to reduce expenses. There is no other way. I wanted him to give me some magic to getting out of debt, but he gave me the sensible, responsible, and only answer. No magic.

He also said that we are spending money on things that didn't exist ten or fifteen years ago; cell phones, internet, satellite, etc., and I realized how that is always the part of my budget that I question when I think about cutting back, but I don't see how to get rid of something that we have become accustomed to believing that we "need". And, then I thought about how there will be more to come. There will be more technology that we think is necessary to have and that will be added to our budget even though we can't "afford" it, but we think we "qualify" because we are entitled to have what we see everyone using. How do we expect people to cut back their expenses when they feel like they need what they can't afford?

How do we expect people to get out of debt when the country itself is clueless as to how to do it? Instead of telling people to go without certain things, we print more money and talk about bailing out corporations and try to find other countries to pay the interest on our loans (essentially we are taking out another loan on our loans), and telling people that they'll have a job and their taxes won't go up and higher education will be affordable and you can have whatever you want when you want it because this is America, the land of the free and the brave! If the Education Week speaker is right, we're going to have to somehow find a way to reduce expenses. It's the same thing I have to do every month when I look at my budget and wonder where I can cut back. Maybe it isn't about more, more, more. How can it be? China recently said they weren't interested in buying into the interest of our loans anymore. It's like the spoiled kid whose dad cut off his allowance. Now what?

It's a mess. I don't have the answers. World-renowned economists don't have the answers. One Education Week speaker has a suggestion: if you want to get out of debt, reduce expenses. Now, who's going to teach us to learn to go without?


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Suz said...

The worst part of this is that we don't need to be taught to do without, it happens whether we know how or not. When everything starts getting cut and people can no longer pay their bills, the repossesion companies will come and take away our big screen TVs. Anyone thinking they cant do without TV will have no choice.

People often don't know how do many of the hard things in life but when faced with necessity, they learn quickly.

As far as Utah and bankruptcy, loan fraud and foreclosures, (All higher in Utah )I think you also have to add the "elitist" attitude that is so prevelant in the church. When the lender tells you that you can suddenly afford that too high mortgage, we think, "Oh thank you, Lord." Instead of "Hmmm, maybe I should think twice about this. It may not be God showering down manna from heaven, it may be a greedy mortgage lender pulling strings to get you a mortgage you cant afford or even perpetrating loan fraud.

But, I think we are naive and get into the habit of thinking that God loves us more than others because we do see his hand in our lives more than maybe the general population. Just a thought.

Katy said...

And a good thought, at that.

I'm going to write a new post from your comment.