Money is the root of all evil, the saying goes.

It seems to be no different in the repossession industry. I have been a recovery professional for almost ten years. Three years ago this month, I opened my own business because I was convinced that I could compete with a quality product in an industry where quality was hardly important any more.

This was the worst time in the history of our industry to open a shop. You will likely recall that loan volume was decreasing; banks were beginning to fail; 'forwarders' and franchisers had exploited the market and consolidated most of the existing providers.

BUT, I started anyway.

Without the risk of failure victory just isn't the same.

In developing a business plan, my major concern was to separate this company from the 'herd', offering a quality product with exceptional customer service. I believed I could achieve this through staff training and experience; associating with the best insurance providers; owning and offering the best, most modern equipment; and affiliating with the best and brightest associations and operators in the business. These things, I believed, would help me to rise to the top and ensure survival. I invested an extraordinary amount of time, research, analysis and money... convinced that this would differentiate our operation from the reality TV "repo rangers" and appeal to clients who understood the risks associated with employing sub-par agencies.

I couldn't have been more wrong...

It seems that, for most clients, the major concern when selecting a repossession professional is none of these things, it is my rate. Granted, it is a bit higher than the average recovery operator you might find in the 'phone' book. For some folks, this is a reason to shop on... Perhaps I can explain why this is a mistake.

As a business owner, I understand the need to protect the bottom line. I have made many efforts to reduce my costs. We run a very lean and efficient crew; we operate hybrid spotter cars to save fuel; we operate a paperless office, track marketing expenses, and constantly follow up with clients to learn how we can improve service. We also have a PhD economist on staff who works for free. But, we have not cut costs where we would expose ourselves or our clients to any of the risks involved in a recovery operation.

Remarkably, the small banks, credit unions, and BHPH dealers that we serve recognize the value of using a professional and appreciate our investment. Contracting with a professional is not a preference, it is a necessity. These folks cannot afford the risk associated with working with someone who is not fully insured and experienced in asset recovery. Defending a lawsuit would bankrupt them.

Risk mitigation is what we do.

Our clients understand that our quoted rate is much different from the ultimate cost of a repossession gone wrong.

Many large lenders have moved their collection operations to national forwarding companies. While consolidation makes sense at many levels, it rarely makes sense when lives are at risk.

But it seems "risk" does not concern some of the larger lenders. When there is news coverage, the story is almost always about a guy with a truck and a gun who tried to take a car. Professional association members rarely appear on the news explaining why they had to block a car in and draw firearms to effect the repossession. It just does not happen!

Incidents like these that show up in the press almost always the tell a story of the actions of individuals that have no place in the recovery industry. They are adrenalin junkies that have watched one too many TV shows. These are the agents that national forwarders and major lenders are hiring... sometimes to save money or out of ignorance.

How does this make sense? Why would a major lender choose to use an agent like this? There is only one answer, money.

My company and others like us have spared no expense to protect ourselves and our clientele. We have A+ insurance, a state of the art storage facility, the finest equipment, membership in one of the finest associations in the industry, TFA, which screens all applicants. We also have a $5,000,00.00 bond, protecting our clients and us. These are expenses that have a direct impact on the cost of doing business and the fees that we charge.

How can other operators afford insurance through a carrier that could sustain a wrongful repossession claim? Do they have a bond to protect clients against you employee theft or bad acts? In reality, they can't. These amateurs are able continue to operate and make a profit at these rates because they have chosen to omit a piece of the 'puzzle'. Without all of the pieces, someone suffers. So, where is the advantage in conducting business as a professional?

Honestly, I am having a hard time answering that question these days. Why should I have the best insurance? Why do I employ trained professionals? Why should I invest in a secure storage facility?

Sometimes I wonder if these are attributes have value any more.

Savings that large banks and forwarders realize come at the cost of the general public. The short-term benefit to their "pocketbook" implies a long-term cost to safety and well being. Many of these entities are the same banks that received Federal bail-out money; your money; and they are using sub-par recovery agents to generate even more revenue.

Try some simple math. Assume a lender contracts for 30,000 vehicle repossessions a year. If we charge $395.00 a repossession, but the lender can find a less qualified agent who will work for $275.00, the $120.00 difference over 30,000 repossessions works out to 3.6 million dollars. $3.6 million... I wonder what the other $120.00 would pay for. Are those few dollars worth the expense over the long run: personal injury, lawsuits for wrongful repossession, property damage, reputation damage, loss of life?

I cannot tell you how many times the first two questions I hear from a potential client are, "How much do you charge" and "How many days free storage do I get?"

These should be the last questions you ask.

I believe you should be asking:

1. Do you have wrongful repossession coverage? 2. Do you have a secure vehicle storage facility? 3. Do you employ felons? 4. Do you have bond coverage if I choose to remarket my vehicle at your location? 5. Can you produce a loss run report from your insurance carrier? 6. Are you a member of a trade association?

These are just a few of the many questions that can save your money AND reputation in the long run. A few extra dollars invested now can save millions later.

Getting The Best Refinance Deal

Now is the best time to think about refinancing your mortgage. The rates are currently at an all time low and our government is also working on new ways to help homeowners save even more money on their current mortgage plan. And while it is slow-going, our nation's economy, as well as the unemployment rate, is both showing signs of improvement which is always good news for the housing market and mortgage rates. However while this is always good news when it comes to the world of refinancing, being able to lock in a good deal can be very challenging for some homeowners.

The reason why this can be such a challenge for some individuals is because low home appraisals or strict lending standards can cause some issues when it comes to allowing some homeowners to refinance. Even if a person has great credit and assets to fall back on, they can still have a difficult time getting a mortgage refinanced since banks have been holding back on lending.

There is still good news to be had out there if you are a buyer or refinancer, you do have power when it comes to your mortgage. By making improvements to their current credit situation and learning more about all of the new government programs for homeowners that are available, they can greatly improve their chances of getting the refinance deal that they have hoped for.

These days one of the most promising details when it comes to refinancing is the low interest rates. The current average interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is right at 3.84% is lower than the national average in March at 4.22% and is the lowest in 60 years seen by the housing market.

If you are a homeowner with an interest rate above 4.5% and have purchased your home before May 2009, you may be eligible to refinance with better terms. The recent drop in interest rates has caused there to be a stir in potential borrowers all over the nation. It has been said that over 20 million United States homeowners are currently paying a refinance rate of at least 5% or more while around 12 million homeowners are paying anywhere from 4% to 5%.

While these new rates mean relief for many homeowners, it isn't the case for everyone. There are many people who are unable to refinance because they currently owe more on their homes than the property is actually worth. However relief may be in sight for these individuals as many national banks are now required to refinance to certain borrowers who are in the same type of situation as a part of a $25 billion dollar settlement set forth by the government. This settlement is part of an investigation that is looking into questionable foreclosure practices in our country.

In order to qualify for this new government program, homeowners will need to be current with their mortgage and already have a loan through one of the five banks that is involved in this settlement program. These banks include Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ally Financial and Wells Fargo.

Financially Surviving Divorce

In 1999 I took the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) course and now realize the full potential. Divorce is an extremely emotional time and I believe it is extremely important to have someone help you with the financial aspects of divorce.

There are four basic things that you will need to survive a divorce financially: a place to live, little or no debt, retirement assets, and liquid money. You should strive for a balance of each of these. You need a mix of each of these categories, not an abundance of one and none of the others.

A Place to Live: In 1997, the tax code changed relating to home ownership. A married couple is now able to exclude up to $500,000 of gains, and a single person is able to exclude up to $250,000 of gains on the sale of their home as long as you have lived in the home for two out of the last five years.

Depending on the divorce, it may be advantageous for one spouse to take the home, while in another situation it could be a disadvantage for the spouse to take the home. You should understand how your divorce settlement will affect you now, as well as in five, ten, fifteen and twenty years from now. A house is not a liquid asset and if you look historically at the stock market, a house may have less appreciation potential compared with money set aside for retirement. This is where it is very important to establish a financial plan.

Little or No Debt: You should understand what the cost of credit means. Because there is a high cost to having debt, you need to know the difference between good debt and bad debt. You should be careful when it comes to using credit to protect your assets and your future because we live in a negative savings society. Contact credit bureaus to get a copy of your credit report. If there are credit cards that have a zero balance, call and cancel those cards.

As part of a divorce, remember that the creditor wants the debt paid regardless of the situation. So, if your spouse takes a credit card with your name on it and does not pay that debt, the creditor will come after you.

Retirement Assets: When you are looking at retirement assets there are many different vehicles in which you can save money for retirement. Make sure that you do not forget some accounts and leave money on the table.

If you receive retirement assets from your spouse's 401(k) plan you may need a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) to separate those assets. The QDRO is a legal document that is separate from your divorce decree. This legal document is sent to the benefits department of the 401(k) plan provider to instruct them how the assets should be divided. Make sure the QDRO is written correctly BEFORE the divorce is final to ensure that you receive your retirement assets.

Some benefit plans cannot be divided. In this case, you want to look at other assets of marriage and receive those instead. For example, if a pension cannot be divided, take more of the 401(k) assets of the other spouse.

If you receive retirement assets from your spouse's IRA, you will need a copy of your divorce decree and a few other financial forms to separate those assets. With the 401(k) and IRA, you should change the account into your name and roll the assets into another IRA account. This process is known as a "direct rollover." This is another area where it is important to have a financial plan in place so you can realize the foundation you are setting for your financial future.

Liquid Money: There are three different general phases of the divorce process: The beginning of the divorce, the middle of the divorce, and after the divorce. In each of these states, your budget may be different, so you should make sure that you have liquid money available at all times.

In the beginning, you will need liquid money for the retainer to hire an attorney. You should consider putting this liquid money in a money market account rather than a savings or checking account. This is a vehicle where you are able to earn more interest on your money.

Make sure you understand what a money market account is and what it can do for you. Make sure you understand the difference between assets, regardless of whether you are single, married, or divorced. Gather as much information as you can about your financial situation. Know where your money is. Find out as much information as you can on your own. It is always a good idea to have copies of statements and to start listing all of your assets and liabilities.