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From Twinkies to Tanning Beds

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Trading Places – 1983

There is a widely held belief that when we’re subjected to tough times – heartbreak, grief, etc. – there is always an upside, a silver lining to the dark cloud.  Often in retrospect, we see why the dark side of the Yin-Yang actually was the upside.  While typically the dark times lead us to a more spiritual existence or build (and reveal) strength, humility and/or character, there are times that catalyze needed fundamental changes in the trajectory of (All of us/everyone/the nation/the planet).  Can we stay hopeful that the depression we‘re in will lead to a fundamental change in how we inhabit our planet?  Hope springs eternal?

Our world economy languishes.   Talk about a lousy trajectory!  This has a lot to do with the economic turbulence of the US, by virtue of how large our economy is in relative scale.  Currently, more than 70% of the US economy is comprised of consumption.   Further, how we feel about our future earning prospects to a large degree dictates how much economic activity we experience in the now.  If we feel optimistic about our future income and prospects, we are more likely to spend today.  If we think we are going to be living on the streets, or generally pessimistic, we don’t spend.  All of this is as true collectively as it is individually.

Despite our best efforts, it’s becoming harder to ignore the writing on the wall: the climate is heating up due to our current energy consumption habits, our food supply is not keeping up with our population, and the rate that we are consuming precious resources (water, forest, fish stock, etc.) will find our planet depleted before the end of the next millennium.   For everyone gradually arriving at this conclusion, it is kind of a bummer.  So, if our economy is dependent on consumption for it’s health, and the earth is currently engaged in a mass extinction due to our consumption driven resource depletion, and our attitude about this borderline hopeless situation amplifies the economic effect, well…perhaps we should just shoot ourselves now, right?  Or better yet, give unchecked hedonism a shot as a lifestyle maybe?  I mean hedonism’s only downside is the next day, right?

While the hedonism option doesn’t sound half bad, there are solutions to this global challenge that would preserve families and our general health – something the hedonism solution doesn’t offer.  Paradoxically, the solution is actually comprised of what got is into this mess in the first place:  Capitalism.

See, business thrives on predictability.  And there is nothing more predictable in human nature than the instincts brought on by millions upon millions of years of evolution that taught us to look after our own hides.  (Apologies to those that think we were created 5,500 years ago, if this blog hasn’t alienated you by now, you should probably quit reading as you’ll likely be offended repeatedly in coming posts.)  This isn’t really selfish per say, it’s most likely just deference to our gene pool, illustrated by our intense dedication to our offspring.

Sure there are a minority who only care about themselves, kids or no kids, but the majority of those slugging it out in the world of commerce are trying to feed, clothe, and educate their families; that very noble majority will compete viciously with an, “end justifies the means” ethos.  The reward is the almighty buck, that buck signifying the security of the gene pool.

So money and the security it affords, controls people.  We see this in the contrivances of the tax code.  We the people (the government)  want you to own a house, so we give a deduction for mortgage interest so people will even borrow money to own a house.  We want people to give to charity so we encourage this through deductions to our taxes.  We think cigarettes are unhealthy, so we charge a bit extra in taxes to discourage their use.  On the whole, this system does influence social behavior.  As a business owner, I’ve witnessed first hand the powerful behavior modifications encouraged by well constructed bonus plans.  Money motivates. And when we’re rewarded with it, we will fall all over ourselves to repeat the rewarded behavior.  Mr. Pavlov even demonstrated that we might even drool for it along the way!

This of course begs the question, why in the fuck do we tax income??!!  Why on earth discourage the very engine of economic activity on which we all depend?   If anything, income should get rewarded with tax credits!   Obviously nixing income tax raises the question of how to fund our ‘we the people-ness’ i.e. the government.  Simple answer:  Tax consumption!  If we are lucky, this would discourage resource consumption, which might give us a fighting chance at reaching the magic place we all know as sustainability.  Further, taxing income did not do much toward reducing income, now did it?  No because we need to have income, much like we need to consume.  But we could sure use some moderation in our collective consumption.

Reason dictates that consumption taxation would be a function of how plentiful the resource is, (high tax for use of redwood lumber, low tax for hemp fiber) how harmful the consumption is (high tax for carbon and corn syrup, tax credits for alternative clean energy and organic vegetables), and the impact of the good or service on society (high tax for opium dens and alcohol, tax credits for gyms and sporting leagues) .

Much like the interstate highway infrastructure and national defense, health care does not fit into a capitalistic model.  Health is a collective benefit; I sure don’t want to step over sick people splayed out on the ground on my way to the grocery store, nor do I want disease spread in public places because people are too poor to get treatment.  That would inconvenience … me!  And per the thesis of capitalism, it is all about me.  Further, if capitalism in it’s pure form were a good fit for health care, dentists should be huge investors in candy and Halloween, and orthopedic surgeons should sponsor all Pop Warner football leagues.  It is only because of their Hippocratic oath, to “above all else, first do no harm” that they don’t mutate into vehicles of destruction in an effort to maximize their customer flow.

Funny thing though, the folks who fund our health care, insurance companies, unless I am mistaken, DO NOT TAKE THAT OATH!  Industry insiders who couldn’t sleep because they had a conscience and ultimately left the industry, report that health insurance companies routinely institute policies encouraging denial of health care claims to maximize profit.  Bottom line, if we think that we need to protect the security of our life and limb by sending countless troops into the middle east, it isn’t a stretch to think the government should also protect life and limb by covering health care.  AND PAYING FOR IT THROUGH THE TAXATION OF THE BEHAVIORS AND PRODUCTS THAT MAKE US SICK!  (From Twinkies to Tanning Beds…)

The net result would be government surplus at the expense of behaviors and policies that hurt “We the People,” trying to form a more perfect union, and pursuing happiness.

But would there be enough economic activity if consuming resources were dramatically reduced?  I mean sure, it would be nice to actually survive as a species, but would we have enough jobs for everyone if resource consumption were dramatically scaled back?  YES!  Because capital would flow to systems and products that help us consume less.  I would buy a vehicle that saved me money on my fuel taxes.  I would buy products that would help me use less water, produce less garbage, collect more sun, and make my life more efficient.  They would all but pay for themselves from the tax savings alone.  Should the economy shift from 70% consumption to a much lower number, the products that serve conservation would become a larger part of the total economic pie… There would be hope for our long-term survival!

This plan would not be popular to those that mindlessly consume.  It would hit them hard in the wallet.  But the wallet seems to be a valid mechanism to coax the unconscious to awareness.  Herein is my hope for the silver lining of this dark cloud that is our current depression:  An impetus to change our ways, to usher in this brave new economic model.

Tim Handley


Written by Tim Handley

May 7, 2012 at 6:19 am

Food: The Ounce of Prevention

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Bet you haven’t seen this scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”


Maybe with Earth Day fast approaching, it wouldn’t hurt to be mindful of these facts:

  • Conventional produce travels an average of 1,500 miles before getting to your grocery store.
  • 17% of the fossil fuel used in America is consumed by the food production system.
  • The methane that cows bountifully produce is a concentrated greenhouse gas.
  • The manure from cows breaks down into Nitrous Oxide, another potent greenhouse gas.
  • The amount of food it takes to feed a cow is a wildly inefficient use of food when there are starving people in the world.

Many of us are passionate about the world we live in; we’ve got opinions about the wars our country fights in, the way our institutions handle class, what our taxes go toward, the size and power of our government, etc. The list goes on. With so much discussion about
Romney’s tax rate, it’s easy to lose focus on some of those things that we care about, and – more importantly – have a direct hand in effecting. Things like…food.

Let’s not forget that every week when we do our shopping, we buy products that may or may not be harvested or produced with sustainability in mind. If we care about our poor, our dependency on foreign oil, those wars, our own natural resources and air quality
– the stuff we choose to eat is a great place to begin transforming those passions from smoldering opinion into productive action.

Aside from a lack of awareness of how our food system works, the other misconception is that healthy, organic, and local food is too expensive, and this is usually what prevents shoppers from taking sustainability into account. And, Whole Foods or Gelson’s can be
expensive. There are two big buts to rebut the “I can’t afford it” claim though:

  1. With a little searching, you’ll find that most farmer’s markets have at least a couple booths where produce and meat are really affordable. A big upside to buying direct from smaller farms is that you’re dealing with the person who sets the prices; get to
    know the people you’re buying from and you’ll be able to get deals you can’t make in a big supermarket. You might make a friend too. Not a farmer’s market in your area (doubtful)? Do a little search for the foods that are in season for your area and try to work them into your diet. You don’t have to be perfect but anything helps!
  2. The money you save on buying industrial agriculture products (soy, corn, and other produce, using pesticides and without crop rotation, damaging soil), is entirely misleading. When we recognize the strain we’re putting on the environment, and our
    health, it’s difficult not to see how the cost for making thoughtless purchases in the supermarket is astronomically high – higher than shelling out an extra buck for those veggies. Eight times the amount of antibiotics used to treat disease in humans is used on animals for non-therapeutic purposes. Twenty-five million pounds. When you hear of deaths from MRSA, think food supply antibiotics.  We’re all familiar with the medical community’s concern over antibiotic resistance, and I know over this last decade, we’ve all been clued in to the problems of higher health care costs as well. Higher antibiotic resistance = less effective medicine = health care costs increasing by billions. So…eat right, now = save some money later!

Further, as there is a connection between the food we eat today and the health care tab we pay tomorrow, there is also a connection between America’s diet and world starvation and climate change.  The elephant in the room is actually a cow.  While I am a carnivore, hopelessly so, my daughters are vegetarians.  So I am keenly aware that eating meat is indulgent, and cursed with awareness of the gap between my ideals and my actions, I compromise and have scaled back my meat intake.  And this isn’t so hard, when done in baby steps.  If I can do this, truly anyone can.  I rarely run into people with less self discipline than me.  But the fact remains that if Americans cut their beef intake in half, we could feed far more of the 7 billion people in this world, and make a pretty good dent in our greenhouse gas output.

We can’t force the Buffet rule through congress, and we can’t endow the EPA with super powers, or regulate big banks the way we feel they should be. But we can do our part.

It seems so small and inconsequential because it’s so very personal, but thinking twice about what we choose to buy at the grocery store is a big step toward changing our world and our future for the better, both environmentally and fiscally.   Like we need alternative energy instead of fossil fuel, we also need to get off meat and dairy, at least in the copious quantities that Americans currently consume.  How can we get there from here?  Baby steps, I guess…

Tim Handley

Written by Tim Handley

April 22, 2012 at 10:15 am

Customer Service: 10 tips for successful navigation

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Can you spot how many of the below tips Tommy Boy uses to get his desired outcome?

Customer Service plays a huge role in your perception of and loyalty toward a company.  It can bind you to a company for life when you feel heard, appreciated, and in some cases even respected; but, if you feel the need to put “Customer Service” in quotes, chances are it has displaced your favorite misnomer… like ‘Madison Square Garden’, neither a square nor a garden… or a Chipper… hardly a happy upbeat thing, especially if you are a tree or hanging out with Steve Buscemi in say… North Dakota.

But the process of engaging with Customer Service can have a tremendous impact on our lives.  From getting a credit on an item you bought that was defective,  to negotiating with a creditor to mend your credit report, to whether you might qualify for cancer treatments, most everything depends on the whims of a service agent with whom you, by the hands of fate, find yourself engaged.  Often the difference between the best and worst possible outcomes can be huge, so it behooves you to do everything in your power to tilt the outcome in your favor.  Luckily, you aren’t powerless in this exchange; I’d like to illustrate several techniques that can help you successfully negotiate with customer service representatives.
Diplomacy and sales are the fundamental skill sets that will help you the most in this process (if crying fails). So, while this discourse is specifically about getting a desired outcome from customer service departments, it could also be considered ‘Sales and Diplomacy 101’.  So in no particular order:

  1. Be Nice!  (But not too nice…)  There is a sweet spot when negotiating with a Customer Service Agent (Hereafter CSA) that lies somewhere between being a jerk and sucking up.  Err on the side of sucking up – as long as you don’t come across disingenuous! As corny as it may sound, while you are in the process of reaching this person who holds a part of your destiny in their hands, it’s an excellent practice to think of someone or something that you truly love:  Your children, your pets, your hero, or someone who really did you right.  It’ll put you in the frame of mind to greet your CSA with love and respect.  And it’s much easier for a rep to say “yes” to someone who’s kind than to someone who’s manipulative and pissed.
  2. Smile as you greet your CSA, and smile as much as you can throughout the exchange.  Yeah, this doesn’t count when you are using a platform’s messenger/texting service, (though use smiley faces liberally)  🙂  But this definitely applies to dealings with CSA’s on the phone or in person.   Believe it or not, CSA’s and everyone else for that matter can hear whether you’re smiling or not when you are on the phone.  While this isn’t something that registers consciously over the phone, it rings loud and clear subconsciously.  When you are smiling, it subtly changes how you pronounce your words, and now you are speaking with a ‘smiling accent’, which connects the CSA with all the people who have smiled at him/her throughout their life, all the way to when they were babies being nursed and adored by their mommies.  True!  Smile and your CSA will be much more likely to want to accommodate you and your needs.
  3. Say their name at least three times throughout the interaction.  People love to hear their names, and like to believe that you took the time to learn it.  Once again, there are deep associations going on in people’s psyches when they hear their name, and people are much more likely to accommodate those that seem familiar.  I like to say their name twice right off the bat.  For example, when you hear, “This is Kay, how can I help you?” you say “Kay you said?  Well hello Kay!”
  4. Make em’ laugh!  Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?  While it isn’t everyone’s strength to be clever or witty, just trying will help.  This person is at work, so humor to them is like water to someone in the desert.  Coaxing a chuckle out of a CSA raises your chances of success dramatically.  A perfect standby for a customer service agent:  “Kay, I have this weird fetish for filling out customer service feedback surveys, as I’m kind of a nerd, and I like getting positive reviews in my job, so I assume it might help you too!”  This works on many levels: fetish is a funny word, and you’re also being a bit self -deprecating.  But the agent is also put on notice that you are eager to give them a positive review.
  5.  Appeal to pride.  This is where some finesse is required.  If they can tell you are sucking up to them, you are worse off.  But when you have the opportunity to be genuine, and your genuine feelings are kind, share them!  “Kay, you sound like you have been in this industry a long time!”, “Kay you seem like you have a good sense of fairness” both are good things to slip in there if they are true.  “Kay, I bet you look hot in a sun dress” probably is going a bit far.
  6. Ask ‘yes’ questions just prior to seeking what you want, then assume the right outcome.  This is straight out of selling 101.  Right before asking for what you want, which should be asked in a way where the right outcome is the agent saying yes, ask a couple of yes questions first!  e.g. “Kay, can you hear me OK on this line?” (yes!), “Kay, we both agree that you are working for a fine company, right?”, (yes!) “Kay, I knew you would give me that refund!” (yes… I will, you delightfully charming person!)
  7. Don’t take no for an answer.   If they render a judgement that is not in your favor, try to change their opinion one more time by offering another joke, e.g. “I will send you a pint of blood if you reconsider”, saying their name again a few times “Kay, Kay, Kay, you know you want to help me!” or making another point about why she should see it your way, “Did I mention that I have been a customer since Moses went to Mt. Sinai?”  Saying no twice or three times is much harder than just saying it once.   But if all you are getting are nos, then politely thank them for their time, hang up THEN CALL BACK IN AN ATTEMPT TO GET ANOTHER AGENT AND START OVER.  And repeat as necessary.  This is a biggie!  When you call back, suggest to the next rep that you were disconnected, don’t be dishonest but they might feel they owe you a favor if they think it was their phone system that disconnected you.  I have had more success by getting a different rep than just about any other technique.  Don’t assume they all abide by the same rules, they don’t.
  8. Try to use text messaging when offered.  This is my favorite way to deal with customer service, though I might be biased as I type pretty fast.  The advantage is that you have a record of the conversation should you need to explain your story to a different department, different CSA, or God forbid, escalate.  It also gives you the ability to cut and paste your conversations for future reference, and even cut and paste bank transaction entries or account numbers etc. where they help your cause.
  9. Escalate as a last resortWhen you have to escalate, you have lost.  It is extremely rare that when you reach an impasse witha CSA,  speaking to a supervisor will push things in your favor.  Good luck.  Often, the supervisor is the person sitting next to the person to which you were just talking, who isn’t really a supervisor at all.  Also, many agents use this opportunity to torture you.  Further, by this point, civility has often broken down.  They’ll put you on hold for a while, and maybe even disconnect you.
  10. Make a record of your understanding of the call in your notes, and include the employee name and ID number.  This will help when you check your next bill, or in some other way confirm that your account was modified in accord with your understanding.  If it wasn’t, it sure is handy to have the notes when calling or writing back.

Nowadays when you reach the end of the call, take a moment to take their survey.  If you were pleased with your agent, it really helps them and will contribute to your good customer service karma.  And if their service really stinks, it is better to let it out on their survey rather than bringing it home and picking a fight with your spouse.  Keep your eye on the ball, which in this case is never losing your cool and staying very congenial.  Getting mad at the rep is the same as asking them to please offer no help whatsoever.

While writing this post, I coincidentally had a customer service moment.  My wife bought 5 pounds of tomatoes at $3 a pound, but the cashier rung up the organic tomatoes at $6/lb.  She sent me back to Whole (paycheck) Foods with receipt in hand but the tomatoes were already ground up into salsa. 

The service rep, Kathy, told me she needed the tomatoes to give me the credit, STORE POLICY!  She pleaded that she had to weigh the produce to produce a credit on their system.  After making her mildly chuckle at the prospect of bringing back a bowl of salsa, she found the solution pictured above:  She used a jug of Easter chocolates to simulate the weight of the tomatoes on the receipt.   Now that is service!

Tim Handley

Written by Tim Handley

April 19, 2012 at 4:17 am

Love Thine Enemies

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How To Harvest an Organ, by Dick Cheney


Dumb and Dumber, 1994

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to make a single Dick Cheney joke upon hearing that he had a heart transplant.  I made a similar promise to my 11 year old daughter when I vowed to not make tree slaughtering jokes when we went to hunt, then ultimately make a kill of a Christmas tree in December.  But as I was murdering the tree, I mean cutting it down, I found it literally impossible to not simulate what the tree would be saying (or screaming) if it indeed had vocal chords.  Sometimes for me, morally underpinned comedy trumps all else:  The sanctity of my word, people’s feelings, even a promise made to my daughter.  She cried, by the way.  Nice job Dad.  I have found that impulse control isn’t exactly a strength.

No.  The jokes that could practically write themselves are just way too easy, kind of like hitting a baseball off a tee – no fun because there is no challenge –   especially for me.  I have spent at least a full week of my life railing on Dick Cheney, as he seemed to be a horrible combination of heartless, (see I just can’t help myself…) mentally disturbed, and corrupt; with all of these qualities amplified due to his position of great power.  The fact that he always had heart trouble was the most compelling evidence for the case that he actually had a heart (damn it!).  So now here is a man who I, petty as it is, have staked a personal identity on vilifying, and he is hanging on to life in such a vulnerable way so as to take shots at him while he is down would make me … like him back when he actually had the vitality to manifest his diabolical nature.  And ‘Be Like Cheney’ is not a mantra that I would recommend to anyone.  Further, he isn’t out of the woods yet, as there is ample time for the organ to reject Dick Cheney’s body. (no hope for me… ) But I digress.  I have come here to praise Cheney, not to bury him…

Cheney is the embodiment of somebody that we should love.  Very much like 1000 pounds is the embodiment of what we should endeavor to bench press.  If we were able to forgive him, and actually have love for him, then we are well on our way to being able to love anyone.  And if there were ever an objective that would be ideal for every person to have, loving everyone seems to possess little downside.  If the consequences of our actions were the best arbiter of their appropriateness, you can’t really go wrong with love.  It is one of the very few unconditionally appropriate responses.  And so this begs the question that gets to the heart (oof!) of the matter:  can one love a Dick?

For example, is it really OK to offer love to someone who was instrumental in introducing torture as a component of our national defense?  Weren’t we supposed to be the heroes, the guys wearing white, above the fray, the moral authority?  Where does waterboarding fit into this archetype?  Love the guy that sullied the flag that so many courageously died for?  Yes.

But what about loving someone who went on canned hunts?  A man who drove his SUV into some fake woods, let his dogs out of the car where they frightened some birds that were rendered lame due to their upbringing, (making them unable to fly normally) so they move more like a plastic bag aloft in a light breeze rather than a bird with a fighting chance at getting away.  A man who then shot these birds that had no chance of escape and called it sporting?  Forget that he shot his buddy in the face, perhaps due to an ill-advised combination of alcohol, cars, and guns.  Who shoots defenseless creatures?  Dick Cheney.  And we should love him.  Not because of his pull-the-wings-off-the-butterfly pathological personality, but despite it.

It seems far fetched to love a war criminal.  And even more difficult is the fact that being a war criminal, and also being the Vice President of the United States means that our country is complicit in offering a war criminal amnesty.  Weren’t we part of the Geneva Convention?  Do as we say not as we do?  Harboring fugitives puts our country in a very difficult position globally from a diplomatic standpoint.  And what about when our soldiers are prisoners of war?  Can we expect compliance with the very treaties that we flouted thanks to a Dick?  Probably not, but we need to love him anyway.

And lastly, (only because I don’t want to spend another week lambasting this guy) what about being a war profiteer?  Let’s talk about Halliburton.  This company was hired by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1991 after the first gulf war in Iraq for various war related projects.  Cheney then leaves government and becomes Chairman of Halliburton, charged with growing a company that makes money off of war.  But after the Balkans, … Too much peace?  Dick then becomes Vice President in 2001, (so said the Supreme Court anyway), then we invade Iraq again in a war of choice and Halliburton gets many no bid contracts?  Really?  So much blood, … but oh so much market capitalization!  Do I really have to love this guy?  YES!

And not just because of the challenge, not just because it is healthier for our bodies to be vessels of love instead of hate, not just because Jesus wisely advised us to love our enemies, which means of course we aren’t supposed to have enemies.  And not just because it would make the world a better place for all of us to practice this style of next-to-impossible spiritual weight lifting.

I believe it is a reasonable proposition to forgive.  That doesn’t mean forget of course.  But to forgive puts the forgiver in a position of comfort and power, while the forgiven is in theory, just not in the picture at all because forgiving is all about the subject, not the object.  Also, it is reasonable to assume that any of us, if we had the same DNA coupled with the same environment as those we find reprehensible, would behave in the exact same way and have the exact same values.  We are all made of the same stuff, and subject to the same design limitations.  It would be very hard to speak to the mutations in Cheney’s genes, or what happened to him as a child that would have shaped him into the person he became.  I can speculate that he must have not been exposed to much love, or forgiveness, and perhaps was tortured, bullied, not breast fed, etc.  But I think it safe to posit that if I had his genes, and grew up in his environment, I might feel OK blowing lame birds out of the sky and making lots of money supporting a war machine.

Lastly, the heart has intelligence apart from the brain.  This is true.  A heart will beat on a decapitated body for a while before bleeding out.  Almost all mythology ascribes sacredness to the heart almost as a proxy to the soul.  So what if there is something to this, and Dick’s heart trouble was behind his pathological behavior?  In this hypothetical world, he deserves a second chance since he now has a second heart.  He might not be the same guy!  Somewhere out there was a person who was thoughtful and decent enough to be an organ donor.  And his heart still beats, with all it’s goodwill and positive intent inside … Dick Cheney.  So at the very least, we owe it to this guy to love Dick Cheney.  That said, I am going write on my organ donor card, ‘please do not give my organs to war criminals’.

Tim Handley

Written by Tim Handley

March 30, 2012 at 1:45 am

May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

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Katniss Everdeen: “I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence.”

The Hunger Games – 2012

Now this was an unrealistic dystopian movie.

Who can imagine a future where people would actually be comfortable with their children fighting to the death?   Oh wait… That’s right – Viet Nam.  And every other war we have fought… 10-2-1  is a respectable record by a team in just about any sport, right?  But the savagery of having 23 kids die each year for government propaganda purposes as seen in The Hunger Games seems so farfetched as to be impossible.  That is unless you consider that in the said wars, many civilians are killed, and of those civilians, many are children.  Far more than 23.  And as we get older, those that are between the ages of 18-22 seem like kids.  So actually, our world is far worse in this regard, as the body bags from Afghanistan coming into our country alone make the numbers of dead in the Hunger Games … ENVIABLE.  Kids fighting kids for the pleasure of older people is the essence of war.  And all the abstract reasons we offer as to why war is justified (oil, for example), or for containing communism, or to minimize the spread of weapons of mass destruction, etc… well, these are just as silly as the reasons offered by the authorities in The Hunger Games.  Sending our young sons to die for a cause, while exemplified in the Bible and now regarded as a standard practice … shouldn’t we know better by now?  At least we are now getting our daughters closer to combat.  Let’s just see if we are as willing to put them in harm’s way.

Who can imagine a world where your mortal destiny is determined by lottery?  Well, the draft was determined by lottery.  But we don’t have that anymore … though we still have the selective service requirement for 18 year old boys, just in case we need a draft, so lets just say it is not officially off the table.  And the best charter schools, which in many cases are so far superior to neighboring underfunded public schools that to be accepted in them might mean the difference between going to college or not, determine admission by lotteries.  ‘Waiting for Superman’ made the point that the lotteries were almost a life sentence, so profound the difference between the public and charter schools.

How unrealistic is a world where there is a ruling class of people that have money to pamper their pets with expensive food and accoutrements, and adorn their bodies with fashion that are both ultra expensive and a level of  gaudy that can only be achieved through a mutated competition amongst designers, and have the money for expensive plastic surgery, technology, etc., ALL THE WHILE there are people that are struggling to eat, with many starving in large numbers?  Talk about dystopian.  No resemblance to our world, right?   What was great about this movie was, if you hadn’t read the book, you would assume that this future world was only populated by working class folks who struggled sometimes unsuccessfully to put food on the table and had no technology, presumably as a result of the apocolypse.  Only later did we find that while this was a typical pocket of people in ‘District 12’, there existed a  cosmopolitan center that had a bounty of technology, food, and frivolity, only available to the elite of the society.  Perhaps 1 percent of them.  A world where wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very few… who could imagine a place like that?!

Who could imagine a world where people would cheer the very concept of people dying in a reality TV context?  Oh yeah, I suppose there was the republican debate crowds that cheered Rick Perry presiding over a very large number of executions in his state.  Or the same crowd that cheered at the prospect of allowing an uninsured sick person to die.  Or the NFL, NASCAR, and MMA fights, just one step away from the crowds watching the gladiators… Reality TV is anything but real.  And I know from the inside, as I was on the Dating Game, one of the original reality shows.  http://bit.ly/GKWvn3 We looked like we were getting asked questions and were answering on the fly, but we got the questions minutes before the start of the show.  Reality shows are scripted, but succeed by making the audience think that they are not.  Sorry, spoiler alert, I guess.  Entertainment executives know what sells advertising and steer the content accordingly.  Martin Scorsese’s Quiz show was such a great missive about the birth of this phenomena, I couldn’t recommend it more.  We would already have people in stadiums with lions if PETA didn’t think it was cruel for the lions to have such a large dose of cholesterol.

Lastly, how farfetched is a government that manipulates public behavior through fear and intimidation, with a light strategic pinch of hope sprinkled in?  Well, I guess all we would have to do is roll tape on the occupy protests that were confronted by the authorities.  Riot police have every right to stop looting and rioting.  But wasn’t the right to assemble and petition our government sanctioned somewhere?  Like in some document like the Magna Carta or something?  A bill of goods or rights or some such thing?  There seemed to be quite a bit of force being deployed toward those that were not only non violent but … silent.

Our most potent protests today are silent protests, which should be in the playbook of all protesters.  Gathering is good, violence is bad, shouting makes you look sort of like a baby, but silent stares… boy they seem to work.  So gather and stare.  This was powerfully on display in California the day after the UC Davis pepper spraying incident.  The Chancellor of UC Davis after a speech trying to justify the way in which order was kept had to walk through a gauntlet of people … being silent and staring at her.  A similar protest happened to state legislators in Virginia over invasive procedures being forced on pregnant women.   And the Hunger Games captured this form of protest in all its power and glory beautifully.  Great movie, by the way!

If you think, as you watch the Hunger Games, that it seems farfetched, barbarian, and far removed from our world, reconsider.   The reality is our world is replete with even more savagery and oppression than is reflected in this movie.  If you can awaken to THIS reality, you can begin to be the solution.

Tim Handley

Toothpaste Tube Economics

with 3 comments

Mr. Lebowski: “The bums will always lose…”


The Big Lebowski, 1998

It is no surprise that there has been and continues to be a populist uprising in the Middle East known as the ‘Arab Spring’.  In the United States, we have a similar uprising on scales not seen since the Viet Nam war, and this is known as the ‘Occupy’ movement. The ‘Arab Spring’ and the ‘Occupy’ movement are quite analogous.  In both regions where revolution is either percolating or has boiled over, political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of a very few, and large numbers of people think that this isn’t just, but the few that hold the power are loathe for it to be relinquished.  You say you want a revolution?  Well, you know…  get ready because when on an unsustainable path, often there are shifts, sometimes seismic in nature.  As with plate tectonics, as pressure builds when one mass wants to move one way and another mass stands in opposition, there will be a rupture, and how cool is it that this is one letter away from rapture?  The next thing you know, there are people on the streets, tear gas canisters hitting and injuring veterans, and a bloodthirsty extreme right wing cheers as rotund police officers spray defenseless Sonoma State students point blank with mace.

This is quite predictable and should be expected to intensify.  None other than Alan Greenspan himself in his book, The Age of Turbulence, wrote that the only problem with unchecked capitalism is the tendency for a growing wealth divide – to which he offered no functional remedy – but did forecast that the logical outcome of this, historically, was a populist revolution.   And a populist revolution would likely be a substantial impedance to continued economic prosperity for our country, and unfortunately, one that could not be remedied by lowering some interest rates.  So, he thought toothpaste tube economics  (squeezing from the bottom to keep the top fat with the end result being the very top receiving the reward from the effort), could ultimately disprove the perfect nature of the capitalistic model.  I think Greenspan’s attempt at a solution had something to do with shareholder empowerment as a more viable alternative to government regulations as a way to ward off revolutions and other seismic shifts.  And since his book came out, he has testified before Congress how mystified he was at how little accountability to which the average shareholder held the average board of directors.  Oh how I used to hang on his every word!

About the wealth gap:  According to Robert Reich, the top 1 percent of income earners went from 8% of the total annual income in the mid 1970’s to 23% in 2007.  So today, 15+% of the country’s income now goes to a place where it doesn’t get circulated back into the economy with any scale.  In a best case, the rich guy stuffs his excess cash in his mattress (metaphorically speaking, of course, we’ll call the mattress ‘The Caymans’), but more typically, purchases assets which fuel asset bubbles, such as real estate, oil futures, etc.  Conversely, the middle class circulates its income back into the economy via rent, food, braces, shoes for their kids, etc., thereby sustaining merchants, vendors, contractors, restauranteurs, etc, and creating the multiplier effect that marks a robust economy.  As the middle class goes, so goes the whole economy.

So if the siphoning of wealth away from the middle class – the segment of the economy which provides the greatest multiplier effect – meant simply draining money from the economy, it would cost about $2.5 trillion dollars per year.   But, asset bubbles also impacts the cost of living for the middle class (gas and housing expenses, for example).  Combine lower income (15%) with higher cost of living, and you have  … downward pressure on the middle class.  At some point, as the middle class continues to shrink and the number of those that are living in poverty grows, they are going to call Bullshit! (revolution), just as has always happened in nearly every society where wealth gets concentrated in such a fashion.

Interestingly enough, the last time that income was as concentrated as it is today was … wait for it … 1928.  2007 and 1928 both saw the richest 1% earning 23% of the total income pie for the country.  In 1928, it didn’t end so well for the economy…  And in 2008, it didn’t either.

Sadly, it is the outsourcing of our jobs to other countries that helped create this wealth gap.  If you can hire for $10 offshore what you were paying $100 for domestically, you get to put $90 in your pocket, if you are the corporation.  Often this discount is enabled because in impoverished countries, you don’t have to spend money on things like, say, worker safety (I’m talking to you Tommy Hilfiger, Kohls, and The Gap… no sprinklers nor fire exits?  Really?) or environmental controls.  There is a win-win potential in this, especially if destitute countries get to enjoy an increased standard of living in the deal, which as a global citizen, I consider a good thing, especially if they use some of their profits for things like smoke alarms.  And of course our corporations win by making more profit.   But much like the impoverished country’s gains are tainted if they do not buy smoke alarms and increase worker safety, our gains are tainted when we fail to retrain the workforce that no longer has marketable skill.   And we are not.  Profits that are enhanced by global outsourcing should be levied, with the proceeds going directly into education.

Sadly, our country is moving in the opposite direction.  Taxes on the top earners and corporations is at a 60 year low, and education spending per capita is not far behind.  And our ranking amidst other industrialized countries reflects this trend, 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math out of the 34 countries measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  As the world economy becomes more seamless, we will have to compete for jobs from a larger pool of candidates, and the smartest will get the best jobs.  Further, as education gets squeezed, and teachers get furloughed, which among many other trends increases the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’.  Rich folks educate their kids outside of schools, poor folks can’t, they are too busy holding down two jobs.  Rich folks put their kids in sports and arts that used to be in public schools, poor folks do not, as these programs cost money.  Sadly, they even cost money inside public schools nowadays.  This vicious cycle shows no signs of abating anytime soon.   Extrapolating the trend puts is in a world where only the rich will be able to afford quality education, leaving the rest of the masses to populate the reality TV shows that keep the wealthiest prejudiced against the poor.  Boom times for Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil…

This runaway concentration of wealth is self defeating for the rich.  If they don’t get pinched by a revolution, lynch mobs in their gated communities, or a radical political swing in the other direction away from capitalism, there won’t be firefighters to rescue their cleaning lady, or teachers to teach their pilots’ kids how to do math, or people to police the streets of their chefs, or state services to provide licenses to their masseurs.  Inconvenient!

There is irony in the fact that a well informed electorate is the key to policy changes that would help this situation, and perhaps increment it toward solutions.  But thanks to a web of interrelated schemes that game the system to favor incumbent wealth, many of those that would be fervent supporters of the changes necessary to avoid revolution are channeling their rage at the very policies that would save the country.  (Why do I suddenly want to wear a sun hat with tea bags hanging from the brim?)    Fox news and Citizens United alone are probably enough to keep any meaningful economic reform from happening, but duping the dup-able.  “Those same hippies that want to fix this also want to give gay folks the right to adopt and marry, and want to take away our second amendment rights!  So we can’t have those kinds of people in office, just ask Hannity.  And why do I feel like I am in the bottom of a tube and being squeezed?  Keep the government’s hands off my medicare!”

Oh Fox, do you ever choke on the stench of all the red herrings you toss around?  You can only squeeze a toothpaste tube from the bottom for so long before it is spent.

Tim Handley

12 Insider Tips for Rehabilitating Your Credit

with 3 comments

Jake: “It wasn’t my fault, I swear to God!!!”


Blues Brothers, 1980

As a founder/CEO of the one time largest independent Mortgage Credit Reporting Company, I believe that I know in great depth how credit reports are created, maintained (or not), and how they can best be optimized.  As part of building the company (Advantage Credit), I wrote the first iteration of the software that pulled the credit from the three major credit repositories: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union; (hereafter, ‘the bureaus’).   This data was then merged into a single report, having removed duplicate data, then presented the information in a format that was more easily understood to our mortgage broker customers.  Before I had enough scale to afford customer service people, I handled a significant portion of customer service, much of which consisted of my customers claiming that there were inaccuracies on their file.  So, after personally processing over 10,000 files, and overseeing the processing of 20,000,000+ more, I am now going to bestow upon you, the benefit of this experience with the expressed goal of giving you the tools to have the best credit that your circumstances will allow, for the rest of your commercial life!

The foundation that the entire credit reporting industry rests on is accurately reporting what transpired between you, (the debtor), and the creditor, whomever that might be, from Macy’s to Citigroup, from Visa to American Express, from American General to BMW Financial services.  And the bureaus are just the messenger, and they do the job of being a messenger pretty well, so when your credit is messed up, … don’t kill the messenger.  Most often, it is your creditor that erred.   (The bureaus are no angels – they have some practices that are downright self serving at your expense, but that was on the other side of their operation, the selling of your credit information.  But this is fodder for another blog.)   Therefore at the heart of  rehabilitating your credit file, it is vital that you understand this most important fundamental:  The bureaus report creditors version of what  transpired in the act of engaging in commerce with you.

  1. Know the thresholds for what constitutes a late payment.  Let’s say you have a Macy’s card.   Almost all credit cards of all stripes bill monthly.  So if Macy’s cuts your bill on March 1st, you typically receive it in the mail on March 4th.  In this case the due date for the minimum payment would typically be March 15th.  If your payment arrives late, say March 20th, you will get a late fee that could be well in excess of your minimum payment.  However, should Macy’s post your payment anywhere from April 15th through May 14th, YOU NOW HAVE A 30 DAY LATE.  And this is bad and often quite avoidable.   So should you have an oversight, you will get some warning shots fired.  First, most companies will issue a ‘courtesy call’.  Take these seriously, they are trying to tell you that they are bout to ding your credit.  Second, they will cut another bill, so you will get (in this case) April’s statement, which will tell you that they did not receive a payment and $10 is due IMMEDIATELY.   If this happens, keep in mind that the mail takes a few days to deliver your payment, and Macy’s will take a few days to post, so you would be wise to either pay by phone, pay online, fed ex your payment, visit Macy’s department store, do what ever is necessary to get your payment to Macy’s with a few days to spare before day 30, in this case, April 15th.  If your payment is posted in day 29, it is the same as it arriving on time from a credit standpoint.  But should your payment arrive on day 30, your credit score just plummeted dramatically, typically 30-40 points (though results may vary depending on a mind boggling array of variables.)   The best practice with credit cards is to get an e-mail notification (trees and CO2 will thank you) and pay via an ACH (Automated Clearing House) or EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) where money is drafted directly from your checking account.   For installment payments, take advantage of auto pay options.
  2. When it comes to disputing an error on your credit report, direct your effort to the right party:  The CREDITOR!  If you have a different story than the creditor about what happened in your commercial relationship, like for instance they made a mistake, make sure to contact your creditor and get them to see it your way.  There are many best practices for dealing with call centers, which are who you are dealing with when you endeavor to negotiate with a creditor.  I have so many hints and tricks, I have to save this for another blog because it applies to all call centers in all situations, therefore, too many to list here.  For the purposes of  of this subject, the most basic principle you need to understand is the person on the other end of the phone holds an enormous amount leverage and power over your life.  SO BE NICE!  Sugar rather than vinegar, dig?  Even/especially if it is their mistake.  Be on the lookout for my blog on how to effectively negotiate with call centers.  But your goal on this call is to get them to agree to report your relationship in a way that won’t damage your credit report.  Keep your eye on the ball, and keep your composure!
  3. The bureaus will always take the creditor’s word over yours.  The creditor is the bureaus’ customer, after all, and you are a merely means to an end for the bureaus, a bug on their windshield from their high speed journey to sustained profitability.  Should you have not read  my future blog on how to effectively deal with call centers, and ergo, the creditor shows something that you know is not correct,  and your negotiations with them failed to produce a desired result, you do have one reasonable recourse.   Your US Government’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC), knowing that you are a tiny smashed bug on a large corporate windshield, created some protection for you, the little guy, in the form of the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA.  This act does many things that the bureaus must comply with that are put in place to help you, the consumer, the smashed bug.  One of which is an obligation on the part of the bureaus to at least make a notation on your credit file that you are disputing the information on a given segment of your credit report, called and hereafter a tradeline, which reflects your financial history with a given creditor.  This dispute must be registered with the bureaus, and the bureaus are obligated to ‘investigate the dispute’, and they have 30 days to do this.  Essentially they check the data most recently reported by the creditor, and if there are irregularities, they might even contact the creditor to find out what they are saying about your commercial relationship with them, and how it squares with what the bureaus are reporting.   If the creditor has a different record of the transactions than you do, the bureau will show what the creditor shows, all the time, every time.   However, they put a written notation summarizing your side of the story on the tradeline for the benefit anyone that pulls your credit to read,  that informs that you are disputing what the creditor is reporting, and gives your story of the transaction in question.  The problem of course a longstanding philosophy 101 conundrum, which is, if a dispute is registered, but nobody reads it, is it really disputed?  Nowadays, almost nobody reads tradelines, or any part of your credit report for that matter other than the score, and machines read credit scores en mass.  And your dispute does not affect your credit score.
  4. Creditors drag their feet when posting payments.  So if a check, ACH, EFT or even a bank wire were to arrive at, at the creditor’s payment center, it will most often not be posted the day it arrives.  Or the next day.  Or in the specific case of Macy’s, even the day after that.  Why?  Because each day that there is a balance outstanding, the creditor is making interest revenue on you.  Now they say it is to assure that the payment is valid, but … no.  It is because they make huge money in the gap between when the payment arrives and when it is posted.  In the case of a company the size of Macy’s, there is millions of dollars each day in interest revenue from the policy of having a 3 day gap between receipt of the funds and the day it posts.   It is things like this that make the occupy folks sort of hacked off.  So get your payment in their hands at least 4 business days prior to the 30 day late mark.
  5.  Communication with your creditor almost invariably will serve your objectives.  30 day late payments are bad, 60 day late payments are worse, and 90 day late payments are extremely detrimental.  After this, typically the creditor will close your revolving account and send it to their in house collection department.  So let’s say you became suddenly insolvent, and you then skipped two months of payments, then resumed making monthly payments, each of your payments are 90 days late unless you call them and negotiate to the contrary.  So in a calendar year, if you skipped January and February, then made one payment a month from march through December, you would show 9 payments 60 days late.  Very bad, literally hundreds of points docked from your credit score.   But almost always, you could call them and negotiate a better outcome where you only have one late payment and the rest posted on time, the difference between 9 payments in 60, or 1 payment in 60 and 8 payments on time, HUGE IMPACT ON YOUR SCORE!   You are their customer after all, and they like people who are earnest in trying to pay their bills and demonstrate cooperation and transparency.  However, they do not have to do this for you, so have I mentioned to read the coming blog about how to negotiate with call centers?
  6. What to do if it comes down to not having enough money to cover your bills in a given month.  There are three main types of debt:  Installment (mortgage, car, fixed payments for a fixed time period), revolving (option to pay a minimum payment and roll over balances month to month;  mostly revolving accounts are high interest credit cards) and open (accounts that are paid in full each month, like American Express’ flagship product, medical bills, bills from contractors, etc).  The accounts that effect your score the most are installment, then revolving, and lastly open.  So if you had all three of these types of bills due at the same time and only had money for one, pay the installment.  As a matter of fact, many (not all!) open accounts including American Express usually don’t report any payment activity to the bureaus until you reach 60 or 90 depending on your situation, thought they still report balances.
  7. Keep your account from going to collections whenever humanly possible.  When you reach 90+ days late with a typical creditor, they are thinking the worst, the ‘D’ word, as in default.  So they often kick it to their internal collection department for the 90 to 150 day ‘bucket’, and while it is an internal collection department, the tradeline is notated (and reported to the bureaus) that it is in collections.  This of course is real bad for the credit report to have a collection notation on a tradeline.   You would be surprised at how much progress you can make through successful negotiations with call centers, like terming out past due balances, etc..  But if you don’t pay the account off, or make payment arrangements with the collection department of your creditor, at around 120 or 150 days, they kick it over to an outsourced collection agency.  What sucks about this is now you have another company showing that you can’t be counted on to repay your debts, AND now that is two tradelines on your credit report for one account, the original creditor, and now the collection agency that was hired.  This of course makes your score even worse and creates further trouble downstream.  But sometimes there are administrative reasons why accounts end in collections, often while you are unaware.  The tip here is always fill out a change of address form when you move!!!
  8. A paid collection account is far better for your credit score than an unpaid collection.   They typically are paid an average of 33 cents for each dollar that they collect on behalf of the original creditor.  They use mail (threatening letters from collection attorneys, phone calls, e-mail, and are unrelenting.  Remember, they are people just trying to do a job.  Often, if you are nice to them, they will be nice to you… (call center tips coming)(can’t help it, relentless self promoter).   And if the balance is north of $1500, they are starting to get in the range where they might take legal action, for instance getting a judgement against you which opens the door for them to garnish your wages.  And if you offended them in some additional way, they might take you to small claims court for amounts less than that, though rarely.  But what if, say, you had an epic fail economically, and are destined for bankruptcy?  Chances are, you are already stressed, and the phone ringing all day every day is not helping.  There is a device you can buy, that will allow you to program phone numbers and whole area codes to not ring your phone, but just kick the call to your voicemail.  It is relatively cheap, something like $80… see http://www.amazon.com/Caller-Ring-Controller-Version-Black/dp/B003CVMW82/ref=pd_cp_e_1 By the way, this will help with telemarketing calls as well, should you not have registered with the FTC for the do not call list, (future blog on opting out coming!)  or you have in-laws that have persistently different political views than yourself and like to engage about them.
  9. Your trouble does not end when the collection agency gives up on you paying them.  While the collection agency will give up trying to collect from you after a while (2 years on average), this does not mark the end of your strife.  There are other agencies out there that buy those debts from the original creditor for pennies on the dollar (on average, around 2 cents), and these ‘factoring’ companies then own the debt so they get 100 percent of what they collect.  And they are pretty nasty, sending scary letters, phone calls, and the perennial threat to huff and puff and blow your house down.  I mention this because if an account reaches this stage, you now could have 3 tradelines on your credit report for the single account that went bad.  And it could be for a very small amount of money if not attended to and it is not good to have three negative tradelines on a credit report for a single creditor that went south.
  10. Settle your balances eventually if you do not elect to go bankrupt.  So lets say you experience your inevitable turnaround in your economic state of affairs, and come into a good job (remember this when you have experienced the epic economic fail…  To everything, turn, turn turn.  And may all your tragedies be economic in nature, by the way), and/or get money coming in somehow, and are ready to pay off these collection or factored accounts.  And you want to do this, because an account that has an outstanding balance in collections is to your credit score what 3 tons of lead is to a small plane:  holding it way down!  Nobody wants to lend to someone who owes past due money.  And collection accounts that are not settled are balances that are owed.  However, you have the opportunity to settle these accounts for significantly less than the balance owed.  And truly, most of  the damage has already been done by the account reaching collections.  If you owed $1000, you could potentially settle this with a collection agency for $500 or less if the debt is old, and even less if it is a factoring company holding the note.  It comes down to a negotiation.  You have what they want, some revenue, and they have what you want, to show that tradeline as having a zero balance owed for your credit’s sake.  Let the negotiations begin.  Call center skills!  But the difference between paying the full amount and paying a smaller negotiated amount does not make a big difference on your credit score, as long as the agency considers the debt ‘satisfied’.
  11. In a best case scenario it is possible though very unlikely and quite costly to negotiate a settlement under the collection agency scenario where you can have the whole negative event removed, as if it never happened, should you have a compelling story.  As I stated in the beginning, it is what the creditor shows which is what the bureaus are obligated to report.  So if you called the original creditor, say Macy’s, and truly had a tragedy of a tremendous magnitude, and offered to make them whole (pay the whole amount owed and maybe some interest, perhaps they will delete the tradeline.  But you still have the collection agency.  But if they were hired by the original creditor, the original creditor can tell the collection agency that you paid, and they are to delete your file.  In some cases, depending on the agreement between the collection agency and the creditor, you might have to kick the collection agency a small payment for the trouble.  If the debt was purchased by a factoring company, they own it so are not obligated to the original creditor.  But these guys certainly can be bought, so if you paid them 5 to 10 cents on the dollar and told them that the original creditor forgave you due to your unfortunate circumstances (see the Blues Brothers clip), you might get them to remove the account as well.  But again, this is costly, and doesn’t always work.  But hear this, these guys are expert BS detectors.  If your story is true and can be documented, like you got cancer, lost a loved one, etc., you stand a chance, albeit small.  If you are pulling stuff out of your … bag of tricks, expect bad karma, and it won’t work.
  12. General Tips.  Don’t have more than 2-3 credit cards.  Don’t have more than 4 installment notes (house, car, furniture tops), and the ideal amount to have on your revolving accounts is a balance that is about 25% of your outstanding revolving credit.  Don’t max out any account, or come near this.  When shopping for an item and going to multiple sources (Like a mortgage or a car, or furniture) these sources will pull your credit.  And multiple inquiries will lower your score, sometimes dramatically.  FICO, the most widely used score, will cluster your inquiries together if you do you your shopping for your car, house or furniture over a relatively short period of time.  For example 3 different auto dealership inquiries in the same day (or even over a few days) will count as a single inquiry for scoring purposes.  Mortgage inquiries have a longer window to shop within, but try to do all the shopping in as short of a time as possible to minimize the impact of your multiple inquiries.

There are more tips for improving your credit report beyond what is mentioned here, and I will cover these issues in future blogs.  But the essence of success with the above operations is knowing how to work with call centers.  Did I mention that?  Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and if you follow my blog (upper right hand part of page) I will be glad to help.

Tim Handley