In today’s complex world of personal finance, there’s no question consumers could benefit from a little clarity.Just don’t expect to find any in the pages of Occupy Wall Street’s new manifesto on consumer debt.
“The Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual” is 122 pages of some of the dodgiest financial advice we’ve ever seen. It’s no wonder the entire thing was published for free and written by “an anonymous collective” of contributors.
Their mission is admirable –– a good portion of the advice has been obviously written with care and understanding of our muddled financial system –– but some of these schemes are so fool-hardy we couldn’t help but call them out.
Taking advantage of the fact that emergency rooms are barred from turning away patients even if they don't have insurance, OWS encourages consumers to straight up lie to dodge bills after treatment.
'Stories of lying about identity to avoid emergency room bills have been reported to us confidentially,' they write.
'You could consider changing your identifying information so they cannot track you down to bill you, but use extreme caution to avoid getting caught.'
OWS protestors probably know how to leverage media attention better than anyone else, and they're passing on that knowledge to consumers.
'Corporations want to avoid bad press,' they say. 'If you are denied health care, you can organise public demonstrations to demand that you're given the care you need. Once public controversy is created, corporations may reverse their decision to withhold care.'
When student loan debt in the U.S. broke the trillion-dollar mark this year, consumer activists redoubled their efforts to pass crucial federal loan reform.
But why, OWS asks, go through all that trouble?
'Some analysts think there is a student debt bubble about to burst,' the authors write. 'This might not be a bad thing for debtors. After all, they can't repossess your degree or your brain. Or at least not yet.'
The manifesto dedicates a section to the Occupy Student Debt Campaign (OSDC).
Essentially, this is an online petition that literally asks people to pledge to stop paying their student loans altogether.
'OSDC believes that our public education system must be free, that any future student loans must be offered at zero interest, that all university institutions must be transparent and accountable, and that all current student debt must be cancelled,' the authors write.
In one of the shadier entries in the manifesto, OWS details a hit-and-run plan to default on payday loans that is so crazy even they call it 'high-risk.' (Note: That is because it's illegal.)
Here it is, verbatim:
1. Take out a loan with an online payday lender. Create a new email address and obtain a prepaid cell phone; use that information on the application. For extra protection, use a computer at the library. If there is a call centre that wants to talk to you, get someone else to speak since they might record your voice.
2. When you sign up for a payday loan, you enter into an agreement between yourself and the provider that they have the right to take money from your bank account or charge your debit card automatically when your due date arrives. Only give them the right to one specific bank account or debit card.
3. Wait until they decide to debit you. Then call them up, ask why you were charged and tell them that you never filled out this application for a loan. Granted, this argument is more difficult if you used a payday loan before; you want to make it seem as if your financial situation is good enough that you don't need one.
4. If you keep fighting, they will refund you. Fraud happens all the time on the internet, so your claims are perfectly plausible. If they persist, say that you're going to call the relevant regulatory agencies. Many times they will cave in because most online payday loan companies do not want to get the government involved.
If this works, then you're in the clear! You get free money, your credit score is unharmed and debt collectors will not harass you. However, payday loan providers might not believe you and keep charging you the outrageous rates.
To default: If you choose to pay via bank account transfers, then move all of your funds from that bank account to other accounts. If you choose to pay via debit card, then cancel the debit card.The most annoying thing is that you'll have to deal with debt collectors. This is why it is essential that you don't supply your actual phone number or email address; that way, they'll just send you direct mail, which you can always throw away. If they have your actual phone number or email address, they will harass you to no end, in which case just keep ignoring them. They are trained liars.
OWS is notorious for birthing the Occupy Homes movement, in which protestors camp out 24/7 on homeowners' front lawns as a means of 1) drawing media attention, and 2) keeping banks from risking bad press to evict residents.
'Banks hate public pressure, especially around specific homeowners,' they write. 'If, at a time of eviction, 50 people are there who won't leave, the eviction people will usually walk away. Sometimes they will come back in a few hours, but often they wait another month while negotiations continue. In general, banks hate the publicity.'
There have been some questionable campaigns to teach consumers how to maximise their tax refund.
OWS takes it to a whole other level with this plan:
'Until you find institutions in your neighbourhood lending money free of charge to you, why should you in essence lend to the IRS at 0% APR? Instead of getting a large sum once a year in the form of a tax refund, you can spread that amount out amongst your paychecks.
This requires adjusting your withholdings on your W-4. If you don't have investments or itemized deductions, it would be simple to calculate how many exemptions you should claim in order to avoid a tax refund without getting a liability. Regardless of how many dependents you have, you can still claim, for example, five dependents for planning purposes. (When filing taxes, you would legally need to write the actual number of dependents.)'
'There are countless ways to violate the FDCPA and the longer you engage with your debt collector or agency ... the greater the chance you will catch them in the act,' they write.
'Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are a debt collector) only a small fraction of violations go reported. You do not need a lawyer to contest debt obligations or report FDCPA violations; you can take action on your own and even win damages.'
If your dodgy debt collector refuses to serve themselves up to you on a silver platter by breaking some law, try this new strategy suggested by OWS:
'With the right organizational structure, debtors being chased by a common debt collector or debt collection agency can coordinate a well-timed, well-thought-out letter writing campaign.
If many debts with the same collector are disputed, it will clearly disrupt and possibly halt their business. As far as we know, this has never been tried.'
'Having a credit score is .... actually perverse,' the authors write. 'We all agree to be watched, located, defined, classified and evaluated. And if we don't? Financial banishment.'
Their answer? Reject the system altogether ---- and rely on others' credit when you need it.
• For housing utilities, if you have a roommate, you can ask them to put the accounts in their name. If you live alone, ask a relative or friend.
• Opt for services that don't require credit checks. If a company requires a check, try to talk them out of it. Build up an old-fashioned trusting relationship by spending time talking with the person. They may choose to bypass the credit check.
• Create your own credit report: put together a portfolio showing you are a trustworthy person (reference letters, job history, life narrative).
• Check listings for housing, cars and other necessities that are informal and don't go through brokers or other formal agencies.
• Offer to put down larger deposits in lieu of a credit check.
• Build networks of mutual support in your community so you rely less on outside services.
In true OWS fashion, the authors of this manifesto take the team-player mindset to a new level when it comes to shaking up the bankruptcy industry.
'With every bankruptcy, a bank or lender loses a certain amount of money--they have rigged the game, so they are probably recovering it in other places,' they write. 'One possible action would be a simultaneous mass bankruptcy of those eligible for Chapter 7.
This could be organised so that a mass of debtors with debt towards a certain bank declares bankruptcy all at once. We don't know enough about the industry to know what effects this could have.'
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