Location, location, location!

So, I’m now looking at Condominiums in the Main-South area of Worcester. Some people familiar with Worcester may initially think, “eek!” But, Main South is becoming more progressive and upscale in a lot of places and I spent a lot of time there growing up, volunteering and working in the community.

One of the catches of living in the Main-South area of Worcester is that Clark University will let you go to school there for free. This is a ridiculous deal as Clark is quite expensive and prestigious. It also shows the commitment that Clark University has for Worcester’s Main-South community. They’ve always been known for buying up lots of property for dorms and administrative buildings in the past. I like Clark University a lot because the give and take with the neighborhood is pretty even. I don’t feel that Holy Cross gives much to the neighborhood it’s situated in which happens to be where I grew up. WPI does quite a bit in the community from what I hear, but the specifics are lost on me.

I feel an article or expose coming on. What are Worcester’s colleges doing in the community? There is a lot of controversy to whether Universities pay enough taxes and fees, so I’d like to add my two cents and see what I can dig up.

On a side note, still in Maine, eating, fat and happy! What’s going on for your weekend?

Wrapping Up The Week

I may not blog for the rest of the week as I’ll be all over New England getting down with my family. So, I’ll drop by and give a few updates now just in case:

1) I got accepted to Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Graduate Program of Management in the Marketing Innovative Technology program. Not an MBA, this program offers all of the classes, resources and perspectives I could ever want for a marketing and technology based degree.

2) Although I am accepted, my status as a non-matriculated (not full time) student has left me in-eligible for financial aid of any kind. I cannot secure a federal loan and a private loan is my only option to pay for the classes. Anyone who knows me is aware of what I think of private loans, so I won’t elaborate. In short: I can’t pay for my classes and as of now, I will not be starting them in January.

3) I’m going to take the GRE and/or GMAT’s and enroll in the fall and try to get a full fledged financial aide package. Whatever I’ve got to do to get through this red tape is what I’m going to do. Grad school and starting my own business are my next steps.

4) I’m still looking and saving for a condo. This priority fluctuates up and down my list. I’ve looked at my situation from many angles and realize that I need to do a few things before buying a condo is actually beneficial to my financial situation. It is not out of reach though. Not by any means.

How To Talk About Your Job And Not Bore People

By day, I work for a software company, which sounds very 1990’s if you ask me. Sometimes I like to just leave it at that in conversation, but if I feel the person I’m speaking to is sharp or interested I’ll delve in a little deeper about what the software actually does (and why I’m qualified to work on it). I’ve been here a little less than a year and it was a seriously difficult thing to get people to understand or care about what the product I support actually does. The 100 character blurb that describes my position is terribly boring and obtuse.

I support front and back-end aspects of Company X’s proprietary marketing and public relations analytics solutions.

Doesn’t make you want to jump out of your seat and demand an explanation, no? This is why I can’t be a sales person. I’d never be able grab someone’s attention in 30 seconds unless I lied and exaggerated until I was struck down by powers above.
Instead, I break it down to a simple and applicable description that goes like this,

So, you know how companies have like, brands? Yeah, well they market those brands to certain parts of the population that they think might buy them. Our software measures what people say about this brand campaigns in blogs, message forums, newspaper articles, etc. Basically we hear everything that goes on within the web and we’re able to analyze the tonality and frequency of when and how it’s mentioned.

Usually when I break it down like that, I get a “that’s really cool” and I smile and say, “yeah it is.”

Other times I’ll mention that I’m a freelancer on the side. That always gets a good amount of interest, especially when I say my topics of choice to write about are the environment, renewable energy, career development and the economy. Often times I don’t even need to overtly network with people because they’ll ask me for a card or my website.

I suppose talking about yourself quite a bit comes of as narcissistic, but I’m convinced the only real way that people can understand you in a meaningful way is if you articulate what you do and what you care about when they’re listening. When you have a captive audience, don’t waste it!

More importantly, be a good listener when it’s their turn to talk about their lives and work. If people think you’re uninterested in hearing them speak, they’ll never really open up to what you have to say.

All this being said, does anyone have any good suggestions for business cards that are nice looking yet easy on the wallet? Any other creative ideas for handing out your info?

I’ve Exhausted All My Private Student Loan Options

After this week’s stint of futilely trying to explain to my student loan lender that I paid them everything I owe them, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I need to suck up whatever customer service and interest rate issues are at hand for a little while. I figure there has got to be some sort of resolution to the issues that people such as myself are having trying to pay back their student loans at high interest while also trying to buy homes, cars, more education, etc…

I called a credit counseling company that was mentioned on NBC. I won’t put their link on here because they weren’t helpful and I’m going to try and refrain from giving companies any undue good PR unless they want to pay me for it. The company I called is the largest in America when it comes to renegotiating credit card debt and bank loans. My grandfather suggested I give them a call and see what they think about student loans.

The gentleman I spoke with on the phone was stumped. He said that even though private student loans are lent by private banks, they are still backed and protected by federal law which keeps third parties from negotiating interest rates and repayment terms. Essentially, private student loan companies that make big bucks off of my loan get essentially the same protection that Stafford and Perkins loans do, with none of the interest rate restrictions and less than half of the repayment options. The phone call ended with the associate wishing me good luck and saying there’s nothing anyone can do for me under the current laws.

Encouraging, no?

On a whim I applied for a pre-approved private student loan refinance and as I had suspected would happen; I got rejected without a co-signor. I have fair to good credit, but not enough to even get my foot in the door to negotiate a lower rate without dragging a co-signor into this mess. What a joke.

So, I look to the federal government to smarten up and help people such as myself out. These banks have padded their pockets enough with my overly high interest rates. The ROI on my education has been null because of this.

I feel like I’ve hit a dead end with this. Has anyone had any success in this arena? I am always curious to hear input on other people struggling to fight the “man.”

Private Student Loan Customer Servicing: Hearing It From The Source

I got in touch with the Executive Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage today and he offered an apology for bad customer service. He said he had come across my blog and explained to the best of his ability the disconnect between the billing and servicing departments because one is in Massachusetts and the other is in Texas. While I’m still not completely certain that things like this won’t happen again, it was interesting and encouraging that an executive from a company called me directly and offered to deal with any issues I had moving forward.

The power of social media. Cool, eh? I guess Graduate Leverage kept a customer because their management listened and was concerned about their image. That’s a good thing.

On a side note, I talked to my grandfather about some of the current legislation going through about private student loan lenders and how bankruptcy may be the only answer to overwhelming debt (a road I refuse to go down). I wonder; if the federal government bails out private loan companies with the bailout package, does that suddenly turn all those private loans affected into Federally backed loans? Would that in essence change the structure of those loans, including interest rates, forgiveness and repayment options? I am VERY curious about that!

Do you think if these loans are propped up by the government then they should have to change inherently?

It Is Amazing To Be Listened To

Let me preface this that I just received a non-descript voice mail from the Vice President of Operations at Graduate Leverage saying he wants to speak with me. About what? I wonder…

http://projectonstudentdebt.org/

This morning I got an email asking me to sign a petition to Mr. Paulson, the Treasury Secretary saying that student loan companies should not be bailed out as planned. The email alienated me somewhat though because they said:

“Most students and families do not use private student loans to pay for college, nor should they. Private loans are risky and expensive, and they lack the important consumer protections and repayment options that come with federal student loans. Providers of private student loans already receive special treatment in bankruptcy at borrowers’ expense. Taxpayer dollars should not go towards helping lenders make these high-risk loans.”

I responded with:

“I was fooled into getting private student loans as a first generation college student. They’re ruining my financial situation. What happens to me in all this? My interest rates keep going up and I don’t know what to do. Just because I’m not in the majority of people who paid for their college with federal loans (I used as much as I could) doesn’t mean I should be left out in the cold.”

Shortly after I recieve this email:

Dear James,

Thank you for responding. I couldn’t agree more that borrowers like you who have already taken out private loans need better options for repayment. This issue is addressed briefly in our letter to Paulson, where we say that existing private loan borrowers should be able to renegotiate the terms of their loans. We have also been fighting for over a year to allow private loans to be discharged in bankruptcy like other consumer debt. We know that folks like you face major issues with the repayment of private loans, and we will continue to do what we can to expand your options while minimizing the risks and burdens of private loans for future students.

Take care,

Edie Irons

Communications Director

The Institute for College Access & Success

Now that is the sort of response that I am looking for! No more blank stares or silence. I want to live my life the way a college graduate should, not the way someone working minimum wage does.

Now I await the call back from this gentleman at Graduate Leverage…I am VERY interested in how this will go and what it will be about.

Another Green Website To Shop From Online

The Green Loop

So I’ve come upon another website that has his and her goodies for people who like to shop with their conscience. The goods are nice looking and have high quality, but are a little pricey. There is a 15% first buyers discount if you sign up for the mailing list, so if you’re interested in shopping there, be sure to sign up for a deal!

I’m dreading Christmas this year. Money is so tight and I always feel obligated to spend more than I have. It’s like I have all these allocated savings funds for a house, my start-up, travel, etc and I don’t have anything set aside for buying gifts. I REALLY do not want to tap into my savings at all. That may be selfish, but seriously, we’re in a damn recession and I’ve got plans for this money!

Can I opt out this year? How about I make everyone home made cards with Elmer’s glue and glitter like in the old days?

Okay, never mind. I’ll get back to my eco-shopping.

We’re In A Recession of Corporate Brainpower

After getting several harassing calls about money I’ve already paid, I have truly fallen out of love with my student loan lender, Graduate Leverage.

In 2004 I was swamped with a horrible student debt burden. My interest rates had soared to 14% under Sallie Mae, which at one time was touted as the people’s champion for private student loans. My private loan payments alone were over $1000 a month. I literally didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I confided in a co-worker while at my state job who was finishing Law School and asked her how she dealt with her student loans. She raved about Graduate Leverage and how they were owned by local Harvard MBA grads. I thought, cool, I’ll give them a shot. So I called them up and they were able to offer me a variable interest rate loan that would never go above 7.9% interest. Granted, that’s still not an awesome rate by most standards, especially when you owe over 100k, but it was far less than the 14% I was paying with Sallie Mae, so I went for it. The process was complicated but I felt the associates at Graduate Leverage were helpful.

Fast forward about 5 years later and I’m still with Graduate Leverage. I have the same amount taken out of my bank account every month. It’s not affordable, but I don’t have a choice in paying and it seems no matter where I look nobody else knows where I can get a better rate. So goes the doling out of my hard earned money until one day someone stole my identity and in getting my checking account funds back from the people who took them, I closed my checking account. I had to re-open a new account and re-establish all of my direct withdrawals, including my student loan payments. No problem, right? There should be a protocol involved, right?

Wrong.

Upon telling them that my checking account was hacked into and hundred of dollars were stolen the first thing the confused representative advised me of was that if I didn’t have funds in my account that I was going to be charged fees for being late. She really didn’t care to work with me to make sure my payments were made on time and I decided at the end of the phone call to just cancel my direct withdrawal and send in my payment checks directly. That’s reasonable right? Well, according to Graduate Leverage’s “computer records” I was 30 days delinquent with my payment and action was going to be taken. I was furious and confused after my identity ordeal that these people couldn’t get it right even when I was trying my hardest to work with them. So, while I had the representative on the phone I logged onto my online checking and told her the exact check numbers and dates when they cleared (which were 5 days before they were due). I got the repealing “ohhhhh” on the other line and she reassured me that my account would be updated but she couldn’t do it and would need someone from operations to do it manually. Seeing as I work in an operations/support department, that sounded strange to me but I agreed because I was ready to start yelling.

Since that phone call I’ve received 3 calls saying they never received my funds and I’ve had to explain to each rep again and again that the checks cleared and I owe them nothing until next month. They apologize and say they understand my frustration upon which they assure me will not happen again.

Me being frustrated with a less-than-stellar loan rate is one thing, but dealing with awful customer service again and again like this, especially from someone whom I’m sending thousands of dollars to a year, is beyond my realm of acceptance. As of right now, I am vowing to find another student loan company with better customer service and a lower interest rate. I will not settle for this shit any longer, especially when I will be paying them over 100k in interest over the term of my loan. Screw them.

Diversifying Where and How I Buy Food

http://www.russos.com/

I’ve been out of my own for what seems forever these days. I made quite a few errors in judgment back in the days when I was 19 in Boston shopping at the Uber-chic Back Bay Shaw’s supermarket. Have you ever seen a $160 shopping bill after getting a little careless with whatever you were throwing on your shopping cart? I sure have. But, since there I have developed a keen taste for where I can find good deals on certain types of foods and home goods. I’ve had good teachers, most of whom were broke like me and needed a cheap place to shop.

For the past two years I’ve been a steady supporter of Trader Joe’s. They do have absolutely everything I need and usually at reasonable prices. I’ve written before that buying out of season or non-Trader Joe’s brand goods can rack up a high bill, but otherwise the deals are there waiting to be scooped up.

I’ve been hearing rumblings of locals who really like Russo’s in Watertown. It’s sort of like a farmer’s market that is open year round. I went once with my old boss to buy flowers and I was drooling the whole time, but I never went back because I got lost every time I tried to find it. This morning I mapped it out and I’ve decided to go there sometime today on a break and stock up on whatever produce and meats they have on sale. I’m kind of excited because I’ve been having bad luck with produce at TJ’s lately and if I can find a new place to get veggies and fruits on the cheap I’ll be a happy man. Also, I’ve heard they have great cold cuts and breads.

I’ll keep y’all updated. Maybe I’ll even let you in on what I’m cooking with my new Russo’s food.

Gen Y’s Career Reaction: Fight or Flight

So much has been said about Generation Y’s tendency to hop scotch from job to job and how it is becoming an accepted annoyance by employers. Coming from someone who has had more jobs than he can count since graduating college, I feel strange about this new normality.

First off, the reason I had lots of jobs after graduating college was because no one would hire me. For whatever reason, my experience and persona didn’t fit the type of jobs that I was applying to and I was forced to work freelance and odd gigs whenever and however I could. Whenever an interviewer asked me why I hadn’t stayed anywhere very long I wanted to slap him and her and scream “do you think I had a choice in that?”

That being said, today I find myself in a pretty good, fast paced job that is giving me progressive responsibility and learning potential. I am making it work and I don’t feel the need to run out of the door tearing out my hair every day (how about that?). I have been here since April and come next month that will have been 8 months on the job. My last job which was in human services was easy but the lack of challenge left me unhappy. I spent 9 months there before my employer and I had just about enough of each other. Now I am starting grad school with tuition reimbursement from work and I see promise for my position within this particular company. I hope to stay for a few years and put some time in.

When I was going from job to job, it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. I craved some sort of stability. Although I know some people my age thrive off a challenge and a frantic lifestyle, I feel there is a certain quality that people who leave jobs often are missing. Not that you need to be a lifer at any given company, but I feel true experience and mastery can only come with several years of exposure to a topic and task.

That being said, I am an opportunist as many folks I know are. So nothing is out of bounds career wise, but having a steady job sure beats going on an interview every few weeks and having to answer the question “so I see you have jumped around from job to job a lot. Why is that?”