Sunday, September 16, 2018

Using Social Security to Pay Off Student Loans

By early next year, if the creek don't rise and the US Congress does not mess with Social Security, I expect to have paid off loans for my daughter's university education. She started classes in 1994, so only about 25 years to retire the debt.

I am not the only one. Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Board reported that "people age 60 and older had amassed nearly $67 billion in student loan debt, with the average amount owed being $23,500 — nearly double the average a decade earlier. The bulk of the loans were used to pay for children’s or grandchildren’s education …"

I am, literally, using my monthly social security check to pay off the student loan. (Fortunately, I have other income to live on.)

I don't regret taking the loan. She received an excellent education which has been beneficial to her career.

What irritates me is the games the politicians play with student loans. For example, my interest rate, set by the federal government, according to my loan servicer Navient, is 6.625% -- at a time when the best bank savings rates don't even pay 2%. There have been proposals in Congress to halve the student loan rate, but they go nowhere.

And student loans are about the only debt that cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. (Congress changed that in 1978.) Not that I would go that route. But there are plenty of people who could use such relief so they don't lose their homes.

I find it curious that in the online information about my loan, Navient never shows what I have paid to date nor the interest paid. They probably know how mad it would make borrowers. I had to ask for the information -- fortunately by email, not some phone call with an interminable hold. Turns out that on an original loan amount of $28,000, I've already paid $48,000 -- and I still have $9,000 to go. So when it's all done, I will have paid more in interest than the original loan.

In one respect, I was lucky. At the point in 1994 when my daughter received her acceptance letter from the university, I had just lost my job (company taken over by a corporate raider and broken into pieces). Because student aid was based in large part on "need," she was awarded multiple scholarships and grants the first year, reducing the amount I paid. Shortly after submitting the aid request, I got a new job (in fact, near where she was going to school).

I appreciate also that she took some summer classes, accelerate her schedule, and graduated a half-year early, saving me about $10,000. She also had her own loans.

In many countries in Europe, university education is free or very low cost. The quality is very high. There is a recognition that an educated, informed populace is good for the economy and especially when choosing leaders and strategic direction. In the US, university education has become a money machine for the schools and the lenders. It's time for a re-think.

https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/405/tuition-fees-at-universities-in-europe-in-2018-overview-and-comparison.html

https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/1042/tuition-free-universities-in-finland-norway-and-germany-in-2018.html

Thursday, September 13, 2018

End of the Summer Social Season (a Dueling Blog)

Read Donna-Lane Nelson's dueling blog at:
The beginning of September marks the end of the tourist season in Argèles sur Mer. In July and August, the beaches and streets are packed with, literally, a hundred thousand visitors.

Despite the teeming humanity and the heat, we like the crowds, in part because they spend money that enables the local merchants to remain in business year-round.

And moreso because a small part of those crowds includes friends we only get to see once or twice a year. Friends with vacation homes. Or who rent apartments for a week or a month. Or those passing through who stop to share a cold beverage.

We decided to list and count all the friends with whom we have socialized in recent months, and we're up to 102. Aperos, barbeques, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, coffee/tea with people-watching on the marché, dances, festivals,  a wedding, parades, fireworks, museums … there's been something interesting going on nearly every day, and wonderful people to share it with. The best, though, by far, is simply hanging out together under the mulberry tree at the café behind L'Hostalet, synching arrival and departure schedules, learning what adventures each other have been enjoying, and solving the world's problems over a pression or sangria.

Among those 100-odd people (and some of them are, but in an eclectic way), there are 20 different nationalities - alphabetically, American, Australian, British, Canadian, Catalan, Danish, Egyptian, French, German, Greek, Iraqi, Irish, Lebanese, New Zealander (Zealandian?), Norwegian, Romanian, Scottish, Swedish, Swiss, Syrian.

Their political and social views range from well left to rightish (and we still have quite civil conversations). Among our "philosophers" are PhDs, software engineers, artists, writers.  We have no idea, for the most part, whether they are wealthy or barely getting by. We do know, and empathize, as we are almost all in similar aging trajectory, of the various aches and pains and remedies.

What they all share is an authenticity. A genuineness of spirit. None of them is pretentious. Not one is out to impress the rest of the group-du-jour with the brand names on their clothes or what car (or motorcycle) they drive.

They come to ASM because they enjoy life, and they especially enjoy life in the village. And they enjoy what each of the others adds to their lives.

A la prochain.


As of 15 Sept, now 107 people

Monday, September 10, 2018

Who Wrote It? Another Mysterious "Op-Ed"

While Americans play Agatha Christie, attempting to ascertain which "senior White House official" authored the infamous Op-Ed in the New York Times, we have our own anonymous note mystery to sleuth.

A day after we had decorated our new bland-gray Renault with an array of blue butterfly stickers, we received a scrunched-up slip of paper in the driver's door. The note, reproduced above, is written in English - unusual in itself for a small Catalan French village - and read something like: "Now, that's a true frey(?) Danish Beaver(?) with blue buttaflies(?)"

As you can see, some of the words/letters are a bit difficult to discern. The a's, e's and r's seem to have two different styles. Not sure what a "Danish Beaver" would be, unless they are referring to the shape of the car, and the last word may be "sommerfugl," Danish for butterflies, or literally "summer birds."

Very few of our friends in the village even know about the butterfly stickers yet, and the most obvious couple quickly issued a public statement that, no, they did not write the anonymous note. 

Of course, we cannot assume the anonymous writer is a friend, or even an acquaintance, as they did not specifically address it to us by name.

It could have been someone who disliked the "political statement" expressed by our butterflies. Or an artist offended by the design we chose (the butterflies "flow" from the front of the car to the side, then up across the roof, and down the back on the other side - as if we were passing through a kaleidoscope of butterflies … as their groups are referred to, I discovered). 
We are turning the note over to a graphoanalysist, both to determine the accurate wording and to provide clues to the writer's character and likely heritage. We are also consulting an expert in pen manufacture and ink chromatography to narrow the list of suspected writing instruments. The paper is a cross-hatch notebook, the kind I even use myself, common in France, but we will be checking recent purchases. (The writer is obviously cheap, as they tore off only enough for the two-line message - we will be looking to match the tear-pattern as well.) No forensic stone will be left unturned.

The "Danish Beaver" could indicate a Scandinavian, as could "sommerfugl." 

Then again, it might be someone who is a butterfly aficionado, a person for example who has been to the papillon garden in nearby Elne - http://www.tropique-du-papillon.com/ (notice the subtle way I worked in that advertisement for a local attraction?).

The odd spelling of "buttaflies" might indicate someone from Boston - it's spelled the way they pronounce butter. Perhaps our Massachusetts friends who left town in a hurry this morning?

Unfortunately, the village has not yet installed the promised surveillance cameras, so there's no video of the culprit sticking the note on the car.

We have ruled out Mike Pence, who has an alibi for this past weekend, and Betsy Devos, as she does not spend money on school supplies.

So the search continues … both for the New York Times traitor and the coward who did not even have the courage to identify themselves on the Argèles sur Mer butterfly missive.

We demand that anyone who was in Argèles the past weekend issue a notarized, embossed statement if they did not write the note on the car. Those who do not issue such a statement will be subjected to a lie detector test at the next Saturday marché - in public at La Noisette (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g196598-d5804339-Reviews-La_Noisette-Argeles_sur_Mer_Pyrenees_Orientales_Occitanie.html) so everyone can see when we unmask the culprit.

What kind of society do we live in when people are free to voice their opinion to others through any "publishing medium" they choose?