Debt Management – What it Means For You

Within this age of falling economic indicators and ever escalating credit card bills for the average American consumer, debt management has become something of a hot topic everywhere from water coolers to bar stools, but there are a host of different methods surrounding debt management. Everything from bankruptcy to home mortgage refinancing to payday loans could reasonably be considered a form of debt management, but, within the scope of our current essay, we shall concentrate upon those types of debt management that consolidate unsecured (meaning, those loans without property attached) revolving debts through a series of negotiations with the lenders by a third party debt specialist. Credit card representatives are surprisingly open to bartering when properly cajoled by experienced debt management professionals, and, depending upon which program you choose, your interest rates and sometimes even your actual balances may be reduced significantly through these negotiations. The principal forms of this sort of debt management are Consumer Credit Counseling and Debt Settlement. Both strategies consolidate existing loans while attempting to decrease the overall money that is owed – though, to tell the truth, Debt Settlement (not accepting funds from credit card companies, unlike the lender subsidized Credit Card Counseling industry) has a far better success rate for actually diminishing the financial obligations.To a point, consumers can endeavor to attempt this sort of thing themselves. Certainly, representatives of the unsecured creditors will be open to conversation about the consumers’ renewed attention toward paying off their debts and will often shrug away interest rate reductions or waivers of past fees. However, unless you include a certified debt management company, it’s unlikely that you shall be able to truly lower the amount of the burdens. This is the importance of the consolidation effect. Debt management companies – Debt Settlement companies, particularly – can wield their leverage so effectively primarily because, since they’ve already consolidated all the various debts from the borrowers, each lender knows that they will be surrendering no more than their competitors. It’s not exactly that lenders do not care about retaining the rights to whatever money’s owed at whatever interest rate was originally agreed upon, but those lenders also understand that – however weakened after the legislation of past year – Chapter 7 bankruptcy debt elimination does still exist. As long as there is some semblance of bankruptcy protection, however unlikely the chance or unpalatable the option, each borrower has the potential of declaring bankruptcy protection and legally abandoning all credit card accounts. The credit card companies are under no obligation to make such offers, of course, and a few lenders yet refuse to negotiate with Debt Settlement counselors nor decrease current credit accounts regardless of the threat.Since debt management remains such a relatively young field, many consumers are rightly concerned about how to go about selecting a company to work with. It’s not like you can just ask your grandfather for advice on debt management the same way you’d expect him to have knowledge of loan officers or accountants. To a certain point, one has to trust instinct when choosing the firm and the counselor with whom you’re – in a very real way – entrusting your family’s financial future, but there are ways to verify the company’s qualifications before starting the process. The Better Business Bureau and several federal agencies maintain records of prior clients’ disapproval. The internet tends to highlight negative features of virtually every enterprise. Consumer Credit Counseling agencies, the past three years, have become an essential part of the bankruptcy declaration – pointless courses are now required before and after Chapter 7 debt elimination – and, through this unexpected turn of events, the more legitimate Consumer Credit Counseling firms must now undergo Justice Department scrutiny and approval in order to be considered for this (highly profitable) secondary purpose. Consumer Credit Counseling companies that do not bother to request government certification likely either have something to hide or display a laziness that in itself should be a warning sign. Debt Settlement companies, while they are not subject to the same governmental scrutiny, maintain their own national organization which subjects members to a rigorous bout of testing before certification would be awarded.In the most basic possible explanation, the Debt Settlement approach attempts to negotiate lower balances from the creditors in exchange for a heightened payment schedule (and hefty tax write off for the lender, naturally). While the Debt Settlement method does carry alongside a deleterious effect as regards credit reports and FICO scores, the worsened credit rating is still relatively minimal compared to most other debt management solutions. Many of the unsecured lenders – we’re largely talking, once again, about credit card accounts – try to woo problem spenders and delinquent borrowers through offers of one-time lump sum payments that greatly diminish overall balances but those balance are not then reported as ‘satisfied’ to the credit bureaus, Indeed, while these sorts of shenanigans may technically be considered debt management, they are often falsely named debt consolidation when in fact the practice actually resembles a last ditch scheme of desperation on the part of the borrower and the lender. This sort of debt management approach is thought to be the last refuge of the wicked, and your credit report shall reflect this.As long as you do not overly upset the household budget nor forget to save some additional funds for medical emergencies and the like, each borrower should do what it takes to pay off their loans as swiftly as possible with the worst interest rates tackled first. While tax liens and court mandated burdens cannot be avoided – after all, the ultimate consequence for ignoring those debts is rather more severe than purely lowered FICO scores – there’s also little reason to pay much more than the minimum. Governmental debts generally feature very low interest and court representatives are surprisingly willing to extend terms and lower payments so as to not too greatly inconvenience the debtor, and the same can be said for most (typically community or state monitored) utility companies. Utilities, it should be said, also tend to forget to report late payments to the three credit bureaus, but the same cannot be said for real estate loans or other secured debts. You need to make sure your mortgage, especially considering the current boom market for foreclosures, is paid precisely on time (mortgage lenders, already tending toward the predatory, love nothing more than to ruin their borrowers’ credit scores so as to prevent future refinancing), but, even so, you shouldn’t concern yourself with getting rid of secured loans too quickly. They look the best upon credit reports, they appreciate in value (apart from automobiles, of course) and they tend to have the best interest rates.Credit cards should be the primary focus of proper debt management, and, to really strike a blow against the various lenders, you should probably consider one of the debt consolidation techniques that are increasingly popular for Americans of all walks of life. To be sure, you can talk to credit card companies on your own, but, as we said earlier, they are far less likely to treat settlement negotiations with amateurs as seriously as they would an experienced (and, with regards to the new debt settlement industry, certified) debt management profession. Even so, you have to remember that there are many different forms of consolidation out there and an equal number of possible results to be had from your efforts. So many consumers walk blindly into Consumer Credit Counseling offices after being pummeled by the endless succession of advertisements and are immediately talked into signing on in order to receive the lower interest rates (and, more importantly, the vastly lowered payments made available) without actually thinking over whether or not the program is right for them. There are FICO score issues to be discussed – Consumer Credit Counseling actually shows up worse than bankruptcy protection when written upon credit reports – and the question of whether or not such a program would actually aid your finances in the long view.Remember, while interest rates will almost assuredly be lowered well below what the credit card companies charge, there are fees involved with Consumer Credit Counseling (apart from whatever they charge the credit card companies; yes, it’s a very profitable enterprise) that do not always make up for the comparatively lessened interest rates. At the same time, while the payments will almost always be substantially lower through any Consumer Credit Counseling consolidation program, that’s often because the terms are extended to such a degree that – even if the interest has been dramatically shaved – the borrower will still end up paying more money over the course over the loan. Particularly for debtors that already have demonstrated problems with their buying habits, lower monthly minimums are not necessarily in the debtors’ best interests. Consumers prone to purchasing binges should not always have more spending money made available to them when they have not addressed the underlying causes that first landed them in the predicament of needing debt management assistance. Much of the time, you would be better suited by merely taking care of the bills at hand – with credit card remaining the priority – rather than paying additional money for one company to artificially lengthen the repayment process. At the very least, take care to investigate the Debt Settlement approach and indulge a free initial consultation to distinguish their possibilities when compared to Consumer Credit Counseling.Even after the approach has been decided upon and the company of choice has been, as they say, vetted, there are, still, several things to watch out for regardless of the business’ standing within the community or their previous dealings with friends and family. Remember, no matter how legitimate the company, you are personally dealing with a debt specialist working for that company, and, regardless of the organizational guidelines, even the best firms may sometimes hire counselors that are striving to get ahead above and beyond the purposes of their client. Once again, you must get everything – EVERY LAST DETAIL – written down and fully documented to prevent potential abuse from less than competent assistance. Ensure, through recorded agreements, that the creditors shall be paid each month on time as promised so that the debt management company knows that they themselves will be held liable for any potential slip ups. If the debt management firm says that the creditors insist upon an initial payment toward said debt management firm prior to negotiation (which does occasionally happen), ask to see the paperwork – or, better, talk to the lender yourself and verify precisely what they want.Do not agree to any program necessitating stipends that you believe your household cannot regularly meet. It is the responsibility of the debt management company to calculate a budget that recognizes the day to day expenses their clients of yet and does not stipulate a monthly payment that overly restricts the availability of their funds. So much of debt management revolves around proper budgeting, and the counselor has to be considerate of their clients’ needs. While you should not thoroughly respect any program that allows overly lax terms (minimizing payments without touching the balances of your credit card debts, after all, only increases the eventual sums to be paid once compound interest continually adds up), you have to make sure that the payments are still comfortable for the household throughout the year. As well, you should know that most of the more effective debt management solutions force their clients to refrain from additional borrowing over the course of the program. Once again, this philosophy changes alongside the debt relief approach that you choose, but you’d probably better assume that, while within the debt management proceedings, you will not be allowed to take out further loans.If anything we have written sticks with you, it should be this: document on paper ever single element of debt management. Even prior to accepting one program or another, you should receive a written estimate that details every single fee the debt management company may charge. However comfortable and friendly the debt counselor that you plan to work with may seem, do remember that the most successful financial professionals essentially ask for as much as they think the borrower is willing (or able) to pay. No matter your relationship with the debt management specialist handling your case, demand a legal documentation of everything discussed. It’s just common sense, really. Even if your counselor genuinely is legitimate and beyond reproach, the debt management company itself may have institutional guidelines that attempt to slip in unnecessary charges hidden in the fine print. The eventual quote can’t be analyzed too closely. If you aren’t sufficiently familiar with the verbiage or concepts surrounding the debt management contract, ask friends or even acquaintances for assistance. Make absolutely sure that this is the program that you want to join and that this is the company you wish to work with for a number of years. Once you sign up for a debt management program, it’s not exactly a life partnership, but the repercussions shall be felt for years to come should things go poorly.

Nutrition and the Guidelines You Should Follow

What makes a healthy diet? What are the building blocks of the best diet plan for you and your family? Can you really pick out any diet plan from the supermarket checkout lane magazines and lose weight but still stay healthy? Why are the foods that we love best often the worst for us? It is not an easy thing to talk about nutrition because there are so many myths and so much confusion surrounding it.And to add to all of this confusion, you may find yourself stuck trying to figure out who to believe or which of the “truths” are true for today. New studies may come along and show that something we have believed to be true or false all along is the opposite. Think of all the controversy that has surrounded fats for instance, or coffee, red wine, and other favorites. It may be next to impossible to keep up with every single fact about good nutrition mainly because there are so many of them and so many changes that come along it seems every day.Where Do You Get Your Nutrition Information?Where you get your information may be as valuable as what you find out. If you rely on getting all of the information that you need for your nutrition from the rag mags and other shaky sources, you are liable to be given information that is made up on the spot. If you are reading information about a fad diet for instance, you may find that you are not getting valuable or valid nutrition information but misinformation that has been skewed to prove their case and maybe to sell their products. Anyone can write a book, and they can make it look medical and factual, but if it is not backed up by legitimate studies, then you are simply reading the words that people want you to read- whether they are true or not.You should get your nutrition information from legitimate, up-to-the-minute sources such as your doctor, a dietitian, or a nutritionist. You may also read the news from legitimate and trusted sources – those magazines that are not just trying to push products but actually providing valid news and scientific facts.You can also get nutrition information online, however you should be careful about the sources that you are using. If you are simply pulling up information randomly, you may get confused. You may also stumble into sites that are only interested in selling products.What Makes Solid Nutrition?The first thing you should know is that there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to nutrition, although all humans need the same basic nutrients in their diet. They all need different amounts of these foods however. The number of calories that a person needs to take in each day determines how much protein, carbohydrates, and fats he or she needs to have. The number of calories varies by the height and weight of the person. The more you weigh, the more calories that you will need simply to maintain your current weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you need to reduce the number of calories that you take in, but not drastically. If you are not eating enough calories each day, you will shut down your metabolism and will not lose weight at all.In addition, if you are dramatically reducing your calories, it is a safe bet that your nutrition will suffer in the meantime. You have to make sure that you are getting the right vitamins and minerals as well as the right number of the macronutrients.Why is Nutrition so Important to the Body?The body uses food to heal itself, to protect against illness and injury, and to perform the everyday, normal activities. Every single action in the body, from the smallest to the most complicated, runs on the energy we derive from the foods that we eat. If we are only eating junk foods, then we will only have poor nutrition. If we are only eating bad foods, our body will become sluggish and we will gain weight, get sick, and be unable to move around like we should. The longer our diets continue to be made up of bad foods and the longer we continue to deprive ourselves of good nutrition, the more likely we are to become sick in addition to gaining weight.To keep the body strong and healthy, we need good nutrition. We need foods that keep up the energy level that we need to move around.Protein Supplements and other Ways to Get Proper NutritionIt may be difficult to get all of the protein or other nutrients that you need to meet your nutrition goals. You may be struggling to lose weight thinking that you can achieve this goal by eating way less than you really need. The problem, however, is that you are not only failing to meet your calorie goals for the day, you are probably killing your metabolism and failing your nutrition in the meantime. Having a protein supplement in place of a small meal or as a between meal snack can help you get the nutrition you need without having to add a huge number of calories to your diet.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.