By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Take responsibility: I hesitate to say it, but Tinita Samuels deserves much of the blame for her situation ["Eaten Alive," by Josh Harkinson, January 26]. Growing up in her household, why did she continue those same destructive habits? Why, after getting pregnant, did she want to continue in a lifestyle that contributed to her financial and spiritual downfall? Four kids? The only thing I hope she will impart to her sons is to be responsible for all that they do. Lest you think I'm some affluent know-it-all, I earn about $29,000 per year, and I have learned how to live within my means. A 55-inch TV? Enjoy it while you're sitting in the dark!
Like, duh! I just read your cover story "Eaten Alive." Duh! was my initial response. I think the article is a little tilted, and it takes the blame off us consumers who are in control and responsible for our finances. People at all income levels need to know how to budget/manage money. Tinita Samuels is not a victim of the sharks. Just a few pointers for those in her shoes:
1. Don't spend your bill money on clothes, 55-inch TVs and other miscellaneous stuff. Bill money goes to bills. When you don't pay your bills, not-so-nice people will call you, and they will call over and over and over.
2. Kids are not cheap. They require a lot of time and money! If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having kids you can't afford, start using birth control. Condoms, spermicide, pills, IUDs, etc. are a whole lot cheaper. And you can stop using them when you can afford to raise a family. Contact your local family-planning clinic for more information.
3. When you make money and have extra, save. Yes, save; don't spend it all and go out and buy a Benz or a BMW. Shit happens, and you'll need money later on to clean it up. A BMW ain't gonna pay a $500 electric bill.
4. Don't go to strangers' homes. Even if he owns a "business," he's a stranger. "We're just gonna have a good time " Strangers don't say that to strangers without naughty intentions.
5. Don't expect the government, law or business owners to be your friends and tell you no when you're doing something that isn't good for you. As adults we need to have responsibility. Do you expect a drug dealer to tell you not to buy his crack?
6. Buyer beware of payday loans and rent-to-own deals. No one is forcing you to go there, so don't complain about the 400 percent interest. By the way, read and understand contracts you sign.
I am not affiliated with any of the sharks you think are out to get you. I make $20,000 a year -- I'm poor, and I'm recovering from a shopping addiction. I have to start paying my student loans in April. I can't afford them, so I'm getting a second job. I don't let my electricity get above $75 a month (candles are cheap!). I would love to have a family, but I can't afford it, so I invest $40 a month in birth control pills. I keep my bills low, because it's what I can afford.
I sometimes come up short, but I will never go to a payday loan company. They are a business, and we now know their business is to make millions off our dumb asses spending more than we make. It's not their fault. It's ours, for going to BCBG when we have a car note to pay instead.
Finding a way out: The "Eaten Alive" feature was great! Josh Harkinson wrote a comprehensive article, and readers owe gratitude to Samuels for sharing the details of her financial plight.
My nephew has a huge debt resulting from emergency surgery and a subsequent hospital stay that was not covered by medical insurance. I have attempted to help him learn how to restore his credit. He has limited resources.
When I called the United Way help line, I learned there was no nonprofit agency funded by them that offers financial counseling.
I then turned to the business pages and found Consumer Credit Counseling Services. It has seven offices in the Houston area, as well as corporate offices in the ultra-secure Aramco Building. (I tried to go there but was unable to get past the security guard.) The parent company is Money Management International, complete with Web page. How is it funded? Credit card companies refer clients to them. These companies pay expenses for the counseling services. Only 5 percent of their clients have medical bills to pay. I would not refer my nephew to this agency, because his interests would not be the primary focus of the adviser.
The best help I could find was related to declaring bankruptcy. Leisure Learning Unlimited has a class taught by a bankruptcy attorney; there's no fee except the LLU registration fee. And the Houston Bar has Legal Line (713-759-1133), a free service that allows citizens to speak with volunteer attorneys between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month.