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“What I would be doing when I grew up?” An astronaut, or “Bob the professor?”

I would not want to convey that dealing with abusive credit card companies has somehow been a pleasure, it has not.  I have also commented elsewhere that talking about my own personal financial circumstances before an ever increasing audience was not what I ever envisioned having to do when, as a young boy, I contemplated “what I would be doing when I grew up?”  (If I had not been nearsighted, I was interested in being a fighter pilot, like my dad, and perhaps entering into the space program.)  Nor was I thinking that making the decision to go to graduate school would lead to this sort of situation, either.  But, here I am, having launched, and I know what I must do in order to fight back.

If you are a reader and you do not understand the media, I can tell you that the underlying driver for any good story is the human interest aspect.  Something in our nature causes us to bond together and congregate as social animals.  When something happens to one of us, then even the cruelest and most insensitive persons among us will typically at least make the internal observation, “Hummm, that could happen to me.”

Accordingly, members of the media are often flustered by, and will move on beyond, someone who is less than forthcoming or who will not cooperate with requests such as allowing photographs, or sharing other personal details.  Even if it’s humiliating and subjects a person being interviewed by a member of the media to spoken or unspoken criticism, that’s the nature of the beast and sacrifice one must make.

What’s the present size of my student loan after attending years of graduate school?  “About $62,000,” I answered in response to a journalist’s question in an interview this morning with one major media concern.  How much do I owe Chase?  How much do I other credit card companies?

Another journalist with a different major media concern asked my age a week or so ago.  You’ll know soon enough (here), because everyone will know, but I really do want to live as long as I can; I don’t want my children to go through hell and repeat the cycle of debt (when they go to school); and frankly, it’s going to take a long time beating back a bully as big as the credit card industry, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m too old for the job.  I’m old enough to know I really don’t want to fight; I really don’t want to have to talk about my personal finances; I would prefer to have a weekend off, or a night off, occasionally; but, I am young enough to know I’ve got a lot of work yet ahead of me.

On a professional front, small businesses often rely on credit cards, whether a particular entrepreneur has options for traditional forms of financing, or not, needing capital is a “given” in terms of problems that an entrepreneur must face.  The credit card industry could do so much good, if its practices were not so evil.

Since the credit card industry is obviously — and its actions speak louder than any spokesperson’s words — in the business of selling loans with every intention of changing the terms later, putting the squeeze on account holders and increasing profits by deception, it makes me wish I had the power to “clean house,” but our financial services industry is indeed infested.

I look at other instances of micro-loans around the world, where a few thousand dollars may be lent to a crafts-person, or a member of a village with a skill for producing something of value, and he or she not only pays back the loan, but in the process employs a dozen others.  A few of those loans could lift an entire village out of poverty.  Should this cause any reader to think of me as a “bleeding heart,” because I happen to care very much for those who are at a disadvantage, I would point out that these micro-loans are almost always paid back.  Thus, there’s nothing wrong with a “business model” that seeks to lend money to people who will pay that money back, and in the process, lift the fortunes of all people (see Adam Smith, and the Wealth of Nations, and in particular the notion of an “invisible hand“).  However, credit card companies, because they are “clueless,” lacking in leadership, and exploitative, not only make bad “business model” decisions, they are unethical and counterproductive to the values of a free and fair society, too.

On a personal front, I am not ashamed of who I am or what I sought to accomplish in my career, overall or more recently.  I suppose that anyone in higher education could gripe about certain things, such as the tendency of universities to have seemingly endless meetings, or the hoops one must jump through to get simple things done, but these conditions are a mere annoyance in the greater scheme of things.  The fact that I can and am helping students who are interested in entrepreneurship is something I will never regret.  I do have a lot of reasons to regret being in debt with U.S. Department of Education student loans, and other (supposedly long-term) consumer loans (that I had been led, in writing, to believe were legitimate assurances).  On the other hand, I tried to do something with the latter part of my career that I thought was honorable, and I make no apologies for seeking long-term financing and taking on debts that were primarily associated with that intent and enabled my graduate education.

I did not waste my time while I was in school, either.  I did much more than was required of me, and I made straight A’s, which was certainly not easy.  My dissertation won an award for distinguished contribution to research in my field, and I worked my rear-end off doing it.   We had our first premature baby while I was writing an (optional) master’s thesis (which I viewed as a practice run at the dissertation ahead of me); the pregnancy and arrival of our second premature baby coincided with part of my dissertation (which took longer than my wife’s pregnancy).

The reporter today asked how much of the medical expenses factored into my total debt.  My answer was that we had insurance, so most of it was paid.

But you know what?  When you’re in graduate school or employed otherwise, and you have no choice but to put your kids in day care, you learn that every three days or so one kid’s runny nose will spread, and as a parent you may end up with a $135.00 per week day care bill, with the added “bonus” of a few hundred dollars more in co-pays and prescriptions.  Oh, and mom and dad will get sick, too.  Am I special for going through this?  No.  Was it medical bills that put me in debt?  Not really (but for many who are in financial distress, it is our health care system’s systemic delivery problems that are associated with their debts).

Was it tuition and years of not earning a paycheck of any real consequence, and a whole range of ordinary expenses, from tires and day care, to antibiotics or a broken molar, or a scientific calculator, or some qualitative research software program with a strange name like Nudist, that collectively contributed?  Yes.  Was I running up a bill with no intention of paying it back?  No.

Can I ever get out of debt without accepting donations (a personal “bail out”) or declaring bankruptcy?  Yes (if thugs in the legalized loan-sharking industry will leave me and my family alone so that I can spend more time earning money and less time fighting corruption and unbridled greed on the part of credit card companies).

How will I do that?  I’ve been doing it.  I have worked very hard since entering my teaching career as well.  Beyond the classroom, I have published (the de facto “gold standard” for measuring job performance in academia), presented at conferences, and served.  I have other long-term projects, such as books and websites in mind (too busy fighting off credit card companies, at the moment, but I have a lot of ideas and I am a persistent sort of person with the staying power to see these through, sooner or later).  I was recruited to my current university, and offered a promotion and a raise.  We’re growing a Master of Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Western Carolina University, and I am delighted to be a part of it.  I’m also proud of the work that our students are doing (such as a recent eBook on “Entrepreneurial Marketing,” and a CD/podcast compilation on “Entrepreneurial Leadership“).  They symbolize this economy’s one true hope, and it is through innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that we will invent ourselves as a nation, anew.

I used to dream of traveling in space.  Now I live to battle Chase (and credit card company abusiveness at large).  So you see, gentle reader, I may not like having to wage a publicly viewable battle over a matter that most of us regard as private, our personal finances, but I have one thing left that no credit card company, or journalist asking probing questions, or critical self-centered and uncaring (“holier than thou — I pay off my entire balance each month”) reader, can ever take away from me: my dignity.

I am sure that there are members of the academic community (where I am now employed) who would view advocacy as beneath me (them), or otherwise “not scholarly” or becoming; they probably either never have had a student loan obligation (or they have paid it off).  Regardless of whether such an attitude may be unfair, or not, I certainly do not appreciate the way that Chase has put me at risk professionally, either.  It’s ironic that my current obligations are primarily associated with attending graduate school, and yet fighting Chase, as a debtor under its tyrannical thumb, threatens to “tarnish” my own image after years of hard work (and since that time, now that I am an nontenured faculty member, trying to make my way).

Do I warn my students to stay away from credit cards?  I think that siren is sounding off loud and clear in my classroom (in addition to reaching thousands of others who are not on my official class roster).