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.

Importance of Basic Diet and Nutrition – 4 Essential Fat Loss Tips

Is it necessary to provide our body adequate diet and nutrition? Is good nutrition important to our health? Eating well means achieving or maintaining adequate nutrition that is necessary for every person to improve and maintain optimal health. Eating healthily includes special diets for weight loss, lowering cholesterol level, blood pressure and controlling diabetes mellitus. It also includes nutritional guiding principles and healthy recipes. Basic nutrition and diet therapy are the two most important factors we should consider to keep our health to the fullest.A person’s diet is composed of the food they eat while nutrition is the means of nourishing our body appropriately. Adequate diet and nutrition means that your body is getting all the vitamins, nutrients and minerals it requires to function at its best level. Therefore, eating a healthy diet and nutrition is your primary way to get good health.Most people believe that a balance of diet and nutrition, including physical activity can help them reach and keep a healthy weight. However, the benefits of good nutrition, outweighs the weight. Good health can also improve heart and other body organs function, including mental health; improve school performance, better wound healing and fast recovery from injury or any diseases. Having enough diet and nutrition in our body system can also boost our immune system, increasing the body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections.Every individual has unique nutritional needs, and every person’s diet and nutrition should meet those specific needs. For instance, an infant requires different diet and nutrition than an adolescent. Also, the nutritional needs of a pregnant woman are much different from those of a toddler. On the other hand, a person’s height, current weight and activity level can also influence the quantity and quality of nutrients their body needs.Here are several tips for healthy diet and nutrition:1.Eat foods that are rich in fiber. Taking in fiber rich foods can make you feel full much longer as they stay extensively in the stomach compared with carbohydrates, tricking your brain that there are still enough foods in your tummy. Thus, keeping you off from food cravings.2. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet and nutrition. It is recommended to eat fresh frozen fruits rather than ready made fruit juice for most of your drinks. Eat adequate amount of dark green leafy vegetables, beans and peas most of the time as they contain lots of fiber.3 Eat lean meats. This is one way to reduce calorie intake, especially fats that go with meats. Other protein-rich foods include fish, peas, pork, seeds, nuts and beans.4 Eat all food groups in moderate amount. Be sure you know the limits of salt, fat and sugar especially those foods that are high in saturated and trans fat as they tend to raise bad cholesterol level in the blood, increasing our risk of having heart diseases.Generally, a healthy diet and nutrition is the one that provides your body balance nutrition. It is necessary to make smart selections from every food group, balance between food and physical activity and obtain most nutrition out of your calories.

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.