Sep 15

By Michelle Singletary – The Washington Post

When people talk about retirement, it’s often in the context of how much money they need to save for their senior years.

People know or have heard enough that they need to factor into their retirement plan their cash savings, investment account holdings, Social Security and, if fortunate, any pension benefit. But what’s often not emphasized enough is the importance of your family balance sheet.

I thought about this as I read a new report from the Government Accountability Office about the increase in the number of older Americans who drag student-loan debt into their senior years.

Although the percentage of seniors with student loans is low, I’m still troubled by the growth of debt among this group.

The percentage of households headed by people ages 65 to 74 with student loans increased from 1 percent in 2004 to about 4 percent in 2010, the GAO said. That’s a big jump, especially when you put it in dollar figures. Outstanding federal student debt for this age group grew from about $2.8 billion in 2005 to about $18.2 billion in 2013. Much of the debt is theirs — not something incurred on behalf of their children. Additionally, the size of their loans is comparable to that of younger borrowers.

Here’s another sad fact. A higher rate of borrowers 65 and older have defaulted on federal student loans. And for those of you who don’t know, the government can snatch a portion of Social Security disability, retirement or survivor benefits to pay off the loan. [read more]

Sep 12

By Patrick Lunsford – insideARM

A collection agency that late last month lost an appeal in the Third Circuit has filed a petition for a rehearing, according to ACA International. The case involved an account number being visible through the clear window of an envelope.
A three-judge appellate panel, in a precedential opinion, unanimously overturned a district court ruling in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing on August 28. The question before the Court was whether a visible account number ran afoul of the FDCPA’s section 1692f(8).

On Wednesday, the collection agency filed a petition for rehearing en banc (before all judges in the circuit) or by another three-judge panel.

Convergent sent a collection letter for a past due mobile phone bill with the debtor’s account number – a number used internally, which the defendant referred to as a tracking number — visible through the transparent address window of an envelope. Convergent had previously won a summary judgment in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruling that the account number was “benign language.”

But the Third Circuit panel disagreed, writing, “The account number is a core piece of information pertaining to Douglass’s status as a debtor and Convergent’s debt collection effort. Disclosed to the public, it could be used to expose her financial predicament. Because Convergent’s disclosure implicates core privacy concerns, it cannot be deemed benign.” [read more]

Sep 11

By Kimberly Hefling – Associated Press

Rosemary Anderson could be 81 by the time she pays off her student loans. After struggling with divorce, health problems and an underwater home mortgage, the 57-year-old anticipates there could come a day when her Social Security benefits will be docked to make the payments.

Like Anderson, a growing percentage of aging Americans struggle to pay back their student debt. Tens of thousands of them even see their Social Security benefits garnished when they cannot do so.

Among Americans ages 65 to 74, 4 percent in 2010 carried federal student loan debt, up from 1 percent six years earlier, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday at a Senate Aging Committee hearing. For all seniors, the collective amount of student loan debt grew from about $2.8 billion in 2005 to about $18.2 billion last year.

Student debt for all ages totals $1 trillion.

“Some may think of student loan debt as just a young person’s problem,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the committee. “Well, as it turns out, that’s increasingly not the case.” [read more]

Sep 10

By Tom Simonite – MIT Technology Review

Datacoup, one of the first companies to offer people money in exchange for their personal data, has finished a closed trial of its service and is now opening it to anyone.

Datacoup will pay up to $10 for access to your social network accounts, credit card transaction records, and other personal information, and will sell insights gleaned from that data to companies looking for information on consumer behavior. Talks are in progress with major consumer brands and financial institutions, says Matt Hogan, CEO of the startup.

Whether an individual user gets the full $10 a month or not depends on which streams of data he’s willing to share. Options include debit card and credit card transactions, and data from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Datacoup won’t provide raw data to companies. Instead, it will provide results of analyses performed on that data. For example, a company might ask Datacoup to provide information on how often women in a certain age group mention coffee on Facebook on the same day they use their credit card in a coffee shop.

Donald Waldman, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado, says services like Datacoup may provide useful insights about the perceived value of privacy. “The fact that people do value their information seems obvious, but the question is, how much do they value it?” he says. [read more]

Sep 9

Sep 9

By Tim Cushing – TechDirt

The struggle to force the government to behave in a transparent fashion often runs through the FOIA process. When the government responds, it often takes out meaningful information by abusing FOIA exemptions. When the government doesn’t respond, the “free” request becomes a rather expensive trip through the nation’s courts.

Even when the government responds, it may decide not to waive fees, leaving the requester to come up with anything from several hundred to several thousand dollars in order to see documents created with taxpayer funds by federal employees. Entities like MuckRock deal with this obstacle through crowdfunding. But not every requester has access to this sort of support. If the documents are delivered without full payment (some just require a first installment of a certain percentage), the government can come after you for the uncollected fees.

But the government’s collection efforts go beyond series of increasingly angry letters. According to information compiled by indispensable blog Unredacted, the government has the option to start docking your paycheck.

In a letter to the FOIA Advisory Committee, Michael Ravnitzky points to an article at Washington-focused blog The Hill that indicates that some government agencies are willing to use this method to collect unpaid FOIA fees. [read more]