Monday, August 23, 2010

Sallie Mae, I Can't Wait Until You are in my Rear View Mirror

I'm a person who has been fairly successful at paying my bills over the years. Maybe I've forgotten to pay my phone bill once or twice, but I've never had problems with a system where I was actually trying to pay my bills.

I have not consolidated my loans, and I was in that weird transition period where some of my loans are still with Sallie Mae and some are with Direct Loan. In just the past few months, I've had a false belief that I had hit the "confirm" button on my payment. The button was buried at the bottom of the screen, so I forgot that even though I told them to pay a certain amount, that I still had to confirm that I wanted to pay that amount.
This problem got me into the habit of paying early enough so that I could revisit the website in a few days to see if I could catch problems before they turned into issues.

This system is paying off....slightly.

Earlier this month, I had typed in the dollar amount to pay. I looked on my bank account, noticed that it had actually posted, but went back to see if the payment actually took.

For some reason, both my Stafford and Plus loan on that one website were a few dollars short! According to them, I still owed about $17 for the month. I felt that was weird, but I compared what went through the bank to confirm that they didn't take out the full amount, but lost $17 in the process. Seeing that the dollar amounts matched, I went back, added in the extra money, and then went back and made sure that the dollar amounts actually read zero. I'm not sure what happened, but since it's a computer, it's hard for me to argue that I typed in the right dollar amount, even if it is fishy that the payments I made for both loans were just a few dollars too low.

As I feel the annoyance, all I can think is that I'm looking years into the future and having these problems haunt my every step. All I'm doing is very base line activities. I can't imagine what a mess it is for people who fall behind. Seriously, people, you can't even effectively tell your computer how to remove the set amount of money that I owe from my bank! All I need are these jokers trying to ruin my credit.

I can't wait until I become employed. I'm going to live in a tent and eat bread and beans until I get rid of you people.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Work Smarter; Not Harder

I caught this gem of a story that covers the fact that the United States is slipping in the world rankings for churning out college graduates:

We are now ranked 12th in the world for creating college graduates.

Yes, in spite of the rise of for-profit schools, it appears that people aren't bothering to finish their degrees!

The math of this article is fairly simple: College Degree = Success.

And, as usual, southerners are blamed for dragging down this great nation.


Nowhere is that trend more apparent than in Arkansas, a state of deeply entrenched poverty, where just over 40 percent of students finish college with bachelor’s degrees in six years or less. Arkansas is one of several southern states that have seen college enrollment rates increase, even as college completion rates remain stubbornly low. The contradiction has frustrated education officials and prompted calls for action at the highest levels of state government.

Hmm. Maybe we should be giving them a medal for doing their part in not contributing to the number of people filing for bankruptcy. If you're in Arkansas, and your job options include being a pig farmer and running the General Store, I don't think that racking up $30,000 in student loans is going to help your situation that much.

People in large metropolitan areas are used to having a wide variety of careers to choose from. Chances are, you can do something with that Economics and Advertising degree. In many areas that are relatively sparsely populated, the food chain looks like this: Doctor, Lawyer, Business Owner, Health Care Professional, Realtor, Cop, Home Construction/Repair, Low-Level Bureaucrat, Car Sales, Auto Repair, Retail Worker, Bus Boy.

Yes, identify which of these lines of work needs a college degree to successfully complete the job. Either you completely bite the bullet and give nearly 10 years of your life to rotting in college and graduate school, or you take a couple of semesters at the community college before the light bulb pops on that Intro to British Literature has nothing to do with selling houses or taking drivers license photos at the DMV.

You can't really blame some 18 year old Arkansan who was the first in their family to proudly go off to college to suddenly give up when they see that it is a road to nowhere. Not only are they already leery of the amount of debt they will have to take on thanks to skyrocketing tuition, they have seen for themselves that their older friends who have already graduated are moving back home and have resumed their former jobs at the local Sonic. Other than a few degree fields like nursing, there is very little opportunity that makes relocation a viable option.

If there were recruiting fairs or stories about how their friends had jobs lined up from the beginning of their senior year, there would see a lot more interest from the students in actually finishing their degrees. Instead, they get a year or two in their studies, figure out that they aren't Rhodes Scholar material, know that the job banks are nearly empty, and realize the remaining two years of their degree is a waste. In some ways, they end up being more marketable by simply giving up on their degree rather than being branded as a graduate who will probably try to leave the minute a "good" job opens up.

It is also not surprising that students would quit going to college since many of the jobs that created the economic base that funded their schooling have moved out of the country. If mom and dad's job at the sock factory is now in China, and the rules require that parents become partially responsible for repaying many of the loans that their children are taking out, it is fairly likely that there have been many serious talks where mom and dad have had to break the news to their children that they can no longer afford to pay to send them to college.

So where is the incentive to actually finish?

Unfortunately, it is too expensive for the average person to be educated just for education's sake. When the expense of an education can't be parlayed into an economic benefit, it simply becomes a luxury that many people can't afford. We can't simply make it a goal to have a better-educated society simply for its own sake if we are going to turn around and crush the students who step up to the plate with ungodly debt and no prospects for paying their bills.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Let the Salaries Fool You

The other day, I read a very entertaining article which suggested that we do away with the bar exam.

Everybody has their opinion on the bar. I waffle too much to even address if we should have a bar exam, so that will be left for another day.

I'm going to address a side point that the author raised about attorney salaries.


More importantly, I think that the high salaries of lawyers combined with the high cost of even very basic legal services show that we have too few lawyers rather than too many, and that the best way to determine the “right” number of lawyers is through market competition, not government mandate.

I clicked on the bio of this writer. Surprise, surprise, they are in academia! And instead of using personal anecdotes, or even questioning why this urban legend of thousands of unemployed attorneys exists, they reach for NALP numbers.

The professor/blogger says this bon mot in another blog entry:

I should note that the NALP and Labor Department data do not account for lawyers who are unemployed. Unfortunately, neither these sources nor others I have looked at have shown anything approaching a good estimate of the unemployment rate among lawyers. However, it seems unlikely that there is large Marxian “reserve army” of unemployed lawyers out there. If there were, one would expect lawyer salaries to drop substantially as competition from the unemployed drives down the pay of those who have jobs, especially at the lower ends of the distribution (e.g. — the 10th and 25th percentiles noted in the post).

According to this professor/blogger's theory, absolutely nobody should have been an unemployed attorney working the perfume counter at Macy's. Third year law students should have not had to even think about finding a job once they graduated. They should have their pick of desperate employers long before they were measured for their tams. They should have been begged to start work early by those who are swamped with work. Even if BIGLAW was making a few cuts, it doesn't mean that there aren't severely understaffed areas like small firms or public interest groups who have had to turn away cases because they just don't have the labor resources to take them.

I thought an actual clue that there are many unemployed attorneys would be hearing that there were well over 100 applicants for the same low-paying jobs that I had been applying for, but apparently not. Those numbers can be apparently explained away by assuming that there are over 100+ attorneys out there who are unhappy with their current employment and who have decided to lateral over into something that pays less than $40,000 per year.

But let's not stop there: Let's define non-saturation. If the professor wishes to talk about salaries, then we should also speak of what is missing in the compensation packages. If the legal profession were not overly saturated, a good majority of employees would get compensation packages that includes:

Signing bonuses
Paid moving expenses
Company housing
Paid vacations
Health insurance
Offers to pay for travel expenses for interviews
Week-long wooing sessions where they take you (the POTENTIAL employee, not the ACTUAL employee) and your spouse out to 4 star restaurants and Broadway productions
Retirement plans
Reimbursement on your student loans


The biggest sign of non-saturation?


I don't think anybody who has been on a job hunt recently can claim that they were engaged in skillful negotiations to get a great salary. All I've heard about is people who were in a take-it-or-leave-it position who chose to walk away. To me, that doesn't sound like a desperate employer who absolutely can't anybody for the job. It sounds more like an employer who has a large stack of resumes on their desk from people who were just as competent as the person they were offering the job.