Financial Fresh Start: Your Five-Step Plan for Adapting and Prospering in the New Economy


The real estate crash and near collapse of the financial sector had profound and rippling effects across the country: 11 million homes are underwater, 12 million people are unemployed, 43 million have poor credit scores, trillions of dollars have disappeared from retirement accounts. It’s a battered landscape where even the pillars of long-term financial health—your home, your IRA, the promise of social security—seem like relics from a distant past.

While federal bailouts saved ...

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Financial Fresh Start: Your Five-Step Plan for Adapting and Prospering in the New Economy

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The real estate crash and near collapse of the financial sector had profound and rippling effects across the country: 11 million homes are underwater, 12 million people are unemployed, 43 million have poor credit scores, trillions of dollars have disappeared from retirement accounts. It’s a battered landscape where even the pillars of long-term financial health—your home, your IRA, the promise of social security—seem like relics from a distant past.

While federal bailouts saved banks and other industries, many people are unaware that assistance is here for everyone. The sweeping Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2011, as well as a multitude of other new laws and regulations, are packed with provisions for helping people get back on their feet financially and securing their long-term prosperity. Financial Fresh Start will show you how.

Written in accessible language by an expert in real estate, law, and finance, Financial Fresh Start helps you make sense of the new economic realities of the bubble, bailout, and Great Recession, and delivers a five-step action plan for making your own fresh start: (1) adapt your banking and borrowing (2) fix your credit and debt (3) protect your savings, investments, and retire-ment (4) decide if home ownership is right for you (5) earn more, spend less. You’ll learn specific tips for correcting missteps, avoiding common blunders, and practicing sound strategies, including:
• How to avoid hefty overdraft fees, now a $24 billion business for banks
• How to get a new Qualified Residential Mortgages loan
• Ways to avoid escalating interest rates on your credit card debt
• How to dispute errors on your credit report
• Ways to protect yourself from aggressive collection firms
• When it makes sense to hang up your hat and declare bankruptcy
• How to ensure that your 401(K) is being managed with a “fiduciary” standard of conduct
• How to reduce your taxes on payouts from retirement accounts
• What foreclosure alternatives are available under the Making Home Affordable refinance program
• Ways to cut your home, health, life, car, and disability insurance payments

Complete with an overview explaining how we landed in this mess, self-assessments for gauging your own financial picture, and links to the author’s proprietary data online, Financial Fresh Start is your one-stop guide for getting your financial life in order today and building peace of mind for the future.

SHARI OLEFSON is a certified real estate attorney and Florida civil court and supreme court qualified mediator, with degrees in law, journalism, and psychology. She is an attorney with The Olefson Law Firm and founder and director of The Carnegie Group, a Florida-based think tank. In addition, she is a trusted journalist, news commentator, speaker, and the author of Foreclosure Nation. She is frequently quoted in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and USA Today, and appears weekly on CNN, CNBC, Fox, PBS, MSNBC, and CBS. She lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Befuddled by the new economy? Attorney-mediator and journalist Olefson (Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream) brings readers a refreshingly simple rundown of how we got into our current economic situation—the bubble, the bailouts, the Great Recession, and decades of unsustainable economic trends—and thankfully refrains from any political potshots in either direction. Olefson urges readers to get a “fresh start” on their financial situation and future, and take responsibility for understanding what’s happening in the economy. Olefson coaches readers through subjects that include fixing their credit and debt; protecting savings, investments, and retirement; weighing the pros and cons of home ownership; managing budgets and spending; asking for help when it’s needed; and seeking further education on financial literacy. Though the nostalgia-appeal to America’s (former?) greatness is a bit dated, her layperson’s terms and specific information on practical items such as car loans and student loans will appeal to readers. The result is a much-needed primer on the complex economic landscape. (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814432297
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 2/13/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

SHARI OLEFSON is an Attorney-Mediator with degrees in real estate, finance, and psychology. A trusted journalist, news commentator, and speaker, she is frequently quoted in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and USA Today, and appears weekly on CNN, CNBC, Fox, PBS, MSNBC, and CBS.

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Read an Excerpt


A very simple question: If you think back to ten or twenty years ago, how common was it for you to know or regularly hear about folks in foreclosure, or folks deciding—strategically—not to pay back their debts? What about cities and towns going bankrupt a or huge financial institutions and even entire countries being bailed out?

What about now?

What Does It Mean?

As the mother of two teenagers, I often wonder how commonplace these sorts of things will be ten years from now and exactly what that will mean, not only for our personal finances, but for our kids and the legacy and country we leave behind for them. Is America still the greatest nation in the world, or does it just look that way because other countries are, at least for the time being, worse off?

My own childhood includes memories of my grandfather, a

New York City fireman, sitting at his desk every Saturday morning and writing out checks by hand to pay his bills. Maybe you have memories like that of your own parents or grandparents. Everybody used good old-fashioned cash, and so people were acutely aware of how much money they did or did not have. And, of course, it goes without saying that they would never dream of spending money they didn’t have. Back then, alternatives beyond accepting responsibility and consequences for your own financial decisions didn’t even occur to folks, and they certainly would never have expected to be given the opportunity for a full-fledged financial fresh start. In fact, I still remember the day my grandfather made the final payment on his home loan. He and Nana invited the neighbors over for a BBQ and literally burned their old tattered mortgage papers. America was built by folks, like my grandparents and perhaps yours, who believed in their own power to make their lives better.

Fast-Forward to Today

Today we talk about how complicated banking, borrowing, investing a and finance have become. Yet the truth is that some of the same simple values that kept our grandparents out of trouble still apply today and probably always will. Timeless golden rules such as “Don’t sign anything without reading it first,” “Be careful who you trust,”

and “If it sounds too good to be true it probably is” could have saved a whole lot of folks, banks, and even entire nations a whole lot of hassle these last few years. While we learned important lessons by watching our own parents or grandparents literally count their pennies, today’s kids spend money on iTunes purchases with a single click. And millions of American children will sit at their dining room tables tonight, listening to their parents talk about their homes and their banks and whether they can (or want to) pay their obligations.

These are the kind of intangible impressions we are instead making on our own “next generation.”

In fact, if you fast-forward from my grandfather’s day to today a for some folks it feels a little bit like financial Armageddon. As an attorney on the front line of the real estate bubble and the bailouts and Great Recession that followed, I can tell you that all of those detailed clauses in all of those legal documents that folks, including you, have signed over the years—you know, the ones that used to be explained away with the naïve assurance, “Don’t worry about that clause; it talks about economic circumstances that will never really happen”—have indeed happened.

Thanks to the bubble, bailouts, and Great Recession, and the decades of lesser-known unsustainable economic trends that preceded those historic events, folks across all demographics are trying to regain their financial footing in an America that now has less opportunity for upward mobility than France, Germany,

Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and a host of other nations. Those born into America’s middle class today are statistically more likely to move down the economic ladder than up! The lifechanging impact on personal wealth and sociofinancial safety nets is undeniable. And here’s the kicker: Unlike our grandparents, who had very little or nothing to lose, many of us were born into the middle class and now actually have a lot to lose. The fact is, our middle-class clock is already ticking. Where home equity was once the cornerstone of personal wealth for two-thirds of the middle class,

2007 was the first year ever that banks owned more home equity than homeowners did. Ninety-five percent of the jobs lost have been middle income. And more than half of today’s middle-class students graduating with a bachelor’s degree are jobless or underemployed.

Truck drivers, retail salespeople, and fast-food workers are among the biggest job opportunities predicted by the year 2020. Not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs. They’re all honorable positions. But they’re not the first jobs that come to mind when we think about the promise of opportunity and upward mobility for a college graduate.

Everybody’s financial circumstances are unique, but the common denominator is that no matter how fat or thin your own wallet, you can always make your personal financial position even better (and you certainly never want to make it worse!). As you dodge your own financial bullets (or, if you’re fortunate enough to be financially comfortable as you watch other folks’ retirement plans, investments a and dreams blow up), big corporations and the very rich are paying professionals to keep them abreast of all the new rules and reforms coming out of Washington in the wake of the bubble, bailouts, and

Great Recession. But for mere mortals like you, being uninformed translates to disadvantage, missed opportunity, and the enhanced potential of moving down that socioeconomic ladder.

The Good News!

The truth is, where there’s adversity there is always opportunity. (Feel free to visualize a Broadway production complete with raging war.

Suddenly, the metaphoric heroine begins emerging from the rubble a angelic, with soft stage lighting, triumphant music rising in unison from the orchestra below … now back to our own reality.) When average Americans stopped paying their mortgages they brought

Wall Street to its knees. Talk about the power of the people! The challenge is harnessing that same power for your own and America’s betterment. The silver lining today, as you will very quickly see in

Chapter 1, is that the Great Recession brought those decades of unsustainable economic trends to light. And best of all, it has given everybody a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a fresh start. It is precisely this financial mess that is driving, first, an unprecedented second chance to correct any missteps you may have made and get your own finances back on track and, second, opportunities to get even further ahead, the likes of which you may never see again.

If you want to pull yourself out of the line of financial fire, take advantage of these opportunities, and get yourself on the best financial path moving forward—voilà, here’s Financial Fresh Start! They’re doing it on Wall Street and in banks, financial institutions, and corporate boardrooms. They’re doing it in Washington and governments across the country. They’re doing it in Europe and around the world. And in five simple steps you can do it, too!

What … Exactly … Is New?

So what exactly is new? For starters, we now have more than 2,000

pages and 400 brand-spanking-new rules and reforms being written under the Dodd-Frank Act and, more recently, billions of dollars in settlements, including the “robo-signer” case (in which banks and servicers, among other things, allegedly falsified signatures, titles, and documents). In between, we have hundreds of new laws, regulations a pending legislation, programs, initiatives, lawsuits, investigations, and even new authorities such as the Consumer Financial Protection

Bureau, most of which impact your money and all of which are explicitly crafted to give government, private enterprise, and folks like you a fresh start. Your banking and borrowing; your credit and debt; your savings, investments, and retirement; your homeownership;

your spending and earning; even your education, training, and employment—the new economy, rules, and reforms touch it all. To

protect yourself and prosper, no matter who you are and your exact situation, you need to know the new rules of the game. You need not only accurate but actionable information. But you’re already busy, so you need it fast and easy!

Enter the Five Simple Steps!

Financial Fresh Start simplifies intimidating subjects—financial, legal a real estate, cultural, historical, political, and economical challenges and changes—showing you exactly how to get your “mojo” back in five simple, strategic steps, and with a style that engages, empowers a and inspires … and with none of the hidden “agenda” you may find from professionals (whose real motive is to get your business) a politicians (who, of course, want your vote), or the media (who, at the end of the day, are all about ratings). In a single holistic resource, you get exactly what you need to know (nothing more and nothing less)

to adapt to new rules, reforms, and historical changes and prosper in

America’s new economy. You’ll learn what these new rules, reforms a and changes mean, why they matter, what to expect, and how to keep your head above water today and get yourself and your family ahead during the coming years.

Your fresh start begins with a brief 50,000-foot aerial view of the big picture, what happened in America and what it’s doing to your money, followed by a quick summary of the new changes, rules a and reforms and what they mean to your wallet. Then it’s off and running, applying this knowledge to your five simple steps.

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Table of Contents


Introduction 1

Part One: Where We Stand

Chapter 1 Getting a Handle on Your Big Picture 13

Part Two: The Five Steps

Chapter 2 Step One: Adapt Your Banking and Borrowing 47

Chapter 3 Step Two: Fix Your Credit and Debt 89

Chapter 4 Step Three: Protect Your Savings, Investments a and Retirement 121

Chapter 5 Step Four: Decide If Homeownership Is Right for You 161

Chapter 6 Step Five: Spend Less and Earn More 201

Part Three: Moving Forward

Chapter 7 Getting the Help You Need 233

Chapter 8 Paying It Forward: Education, Training, and

Your Future Prosperity 265

Conclusion 291

Index 295

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