Consumers Finally Get Their Watchdog

President Obama has done what he should have done months ago. On Wednesday, he appointed Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Without missing a beat, Republicans, who have been holding up Cordray’s nomination to head this important consumer agency, criticized the president’s move, reports The Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that Obama “has arrogantly circumvented the American people” by using his executive power to make a recess appointment.

But allowing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to continue to operate without a leader was an arrogant political ploy by Republicans, who seem to be protecting financial companies rather than consumers. In appointing Cordray as America’s consumer watchdog, Obama said that the former Ohio attorney general, “is going to be in charge of one thing: looking out for the best interests of American consumers.”

As Obama pointed out, the CFPB was created as part of his financial reform act to protect families from the abuses of the financial industry, to make sure that you’ve got all the information you need to make important financial decisions and to ensure that millions of Americans are treated fairly by mortgage brokers, payday lenders and debt collectors.

So what do you think?

This week’s Color of Money question: What are your thoughts on Obama sidestepping the Senate to appoint Cordray to the CFPB? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Consumers Finally Get Their Watchdog” in the subject line.

A 2012 Money Makeover

You’ve decided to make over your financial life for 2012. I get that. I congratulate you. But you may be wondering where to start.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has listed the following ways to start getting your financial life in order:

-- Plan. Savings don’t happen by accident. Figure out what you want or need for the year, and begin planning to save to get it. I know. The advice sounds super simple. And yet, so many people are in debt because they didn’t save and instead turned to credit to get what they wanted.

--Track your spending. For 30 days, track every penny you spend. Write down everything. After the 30 days are up; then look back at your spending and start cutting. Once you know where you are wasting your money, you can develop a better budget. On the Web site for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants you will find a number of online tools to help you get started, such as an emergency savings calculator.

-- Start small. You aren’t going to be able to get rid of all your debt or save three months of living expenses for your emergency fund in just a few months. Don’t try to do too much, or you will quickly get discouraged. Here’s one of my recent columns in which I give one couple advice on how to pay off their credit card debt.

Moving Financially Forward

And since we are on the topic of new financial beginnings, there is one question I consistently get asked by people seeking financial freedom: “How do I get a handle on all my bills?”

The short answer is you’ve got to get organized, or better yet, go electronic.

Terry Savage, a personal finance columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, reviewed several free online Web sites that can help you organize your bill-paying.

If you are looking for a system that helps you track your finances, go to Mint.com. Mint.com will notify you when regular bills should be paid, or when you are nearing the maximum that you have budgeted for your expense categories, Savage points out.

Another free budgeting system is Manilla.com. To use this service, you will need to set up a Manilla.com account that allows companies to send your payment notices electronically to the secured account that is linked to your checking or savings account. You will be able to pay your bills online and still get all the information you would normally receive with a paper bill.

I think it’s a great idea to use any one of the free sites to aid your mission to get your money straight.

Living for Free

Research by LPS Applied Analytics found that many homebuyers going through foreclosure are managing to remain in their homes for free long before they are forced out.

Les Christie of CNNMoney reports that delinquent homeowners are prolonging their foreclosures by challenging the bank’s actions, waiting to file paperwork right up until the deadline or requesting that the lender dig up original paperwork.

Nationwide, the average time it takes to process a foreclosure -- from the first missed payment to the final foreclosure auction -- has climbed to 674 days from 253 days just four years ago, according to the data. In Florida, it can take up to 1,027 days -- nearly three years.

“Most people do everything in their power to maintain these homes,” said David Berenbaum of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), a community activism group, who refutes the claim that homeowners are taking advantage of the system.

“They take in relatives, get second jobs and even rent out rooms,” Berenbaum said. “What really needs to be done is for lenders to work harder to find solutions that allow delinquent borrowers who can afford to make reasonable mortgage payments to keep their homes.”

Playing the Money Game

Join me Thursday, Jan. 12, at noon for my live text chat.

My guest will Syble Solomon, creator of the card game Money Habitudes. Rather than pick a book for the December Color of Money Book Club, I wrote about Solomon’s cards. Be sure to send your questions early, or read the archives later.

Got Financial Issues?

Starting Jan. 16, I’ll be joining “The Revolution,” a new ABC daytime program premiering that day. I’m the show’s financial contributor, and we are looking for people who want to share their financial stories. This is your opportunity to meet me in person and let me help you with your financial issues. So, if you want help in resolving a money dilemma, send an e-mail to casting@the-revolution.com. The show is looking for couples who are always arguing about money. For example, do you fight about how much to spend on your child’s birthday party, if you can afford to take a vacation or whether you should buy a new car? If you and your honey are fighting over money, send your story to the casting e-mail address and put “Money Disputes” in the subject line.

If you have any general financial questions about credit cards, your credit score, debt, savings, retirement planning, insurance or other financial issues that I may cover on the show, send an e-mail with your financial question to casting@the-revolution.com.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

 
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