National News

Women get “swatted” too

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 02:01

Swatting — making prank calls to 911 to send a SWAT team to someone’s home while they are online playing a video game live — has been in the news lately. (Here and here, just to name a few.)

Swatting is enabled by something else called “doxxing” or “dropping dox” - “The act of posting someone's personal and/ or identifying  information without their consent,” says Sarah Jeong, a tech reporter in Silicon Valley. That information could be anything from an address to a Social Security Number.

Swatting or doxxing, Jeong says, is the only way to hurt someone in the virtual world of gamers, where the practice is most common. “It’s assault by proxy,” she says.

The reason swatting has been getting so much attention, she believes, is the “high-profile” cases that happen on camera. That is, when someone is interrupted while playing a video game online and also live streaming themselves playing the video game.

“That’s actually a form of media that young people consume and being able to manipulate that media...imagine if, with a phone call, you could change what’s happening on your television,” says Jeong.

While getting more media attention was a major step in fixing the problem, she adds, she was also concerned that a lot of the coverage focused on men.

“Three people were swatted in January and two of them were women,” she says. “The three that I am thinking of were swatted because they were critics of Gamergate.”

“There is a wave of this kind of behaviour that is specifically focused around trying to drive out feminist voices from the internet,” says Jeong.

The only way, she says, is for the media to cover swatting more without focusing on men’s experiences alone.

“I understand that it’s hard because women don’t really want to talk about how they were doxxed and swatted,” says Jeong. “And now media thinks of swatting and doxxing as something that happens to young men by young men as opposed to it being a larger phenomenon that includes this wave of violence against women.”

 

The health insurance industry looks...well, healthy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 02:00

On Thursday, a new report out from the Commonwealth Fund finds the health insurance industry is doing just fine, thank you very much.

That’s contrary to the deep-seated fears of some as the Affordable Care Act launched back in 2010. But with three years’ worth of data on the books now, and insurers’ stock prices soaring, those fears have faded.

From a business standpoint, it’s a particularly impressive feat considering that on the eve of the ACA, some insurers wondered how they’d keep the lights on after the federal government killed its golden goose. Under the law, the ACA bars companies from denying sick people coverage, a source of significant profits. It was a daunting moment says Wake Forest Professor Mark Hall.

“Insurance companies had to figure out how to sail through those shifting currents, and what we’ve seen after these several years is that they’ve sailed through those choppy seas quite well,” he says.

Despite no longer cherry-picking patients, the Commonwealth report shows that industry profits remain nearly identical to before implementation of the ACA. Bloomberg Industries Analyst Brian Rye says Obamacare has been very good for insurers.

“When it becomes a law that you have to do something it’s amazing how much demand improves,” he says.

Of course Rye is talking about the fact that now most adults are required to carry insurance, and the federal government helps people pay for that coverage. That has led to millions of new customers for the insurers who today have a new golden goose.

Balancing collaboration and skepticism in regulation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 02:00

In college, they teach a phenomenon called "regulatory capture," where government regulators absorb the values and become buddy-buddy with the industries they regulate. It gets some of the blame for the great financial collapse more than five years ago.

But a prominent Wall Street lawyer H. Rodgin Cohen told a banking law conference in Phoenix the other other day that he doesn't see capture—He sees the opposite, which he thinks is a problem.

Click the media player above to hear H. Rodgin Cohen in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Microsoft wants contractors to take some time off

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 02:00

Microsoft is requiring companies it contracts with to give their employees—the ones who are full-time and who do work for Microsoft—at least 15 days of paid time off.

The tech giant says it made the move because its own employees were bringing up the issue of subcontractors' time off with the company.

"There was a concern being conveyed that these individuals, in some cases, did not get minimum time off," says Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel.

The company is now mandating that over the next 12 months, all of its suppliers (or contractors, Smith says the term is interchangeable) with 50 or more employees offer at east 12 paid days off, or 10 vacation days and 5 sick days.

Smith says the company does not yet know how many employees or employers will be affected by the new rule, because Microsoft doesn't know the size of all of its contractors or the employee time-off benefits those contractors currently offer.

But Microsoft says it contracts with approximately 2,000 U.S. companies. They, in turn, employ cafeteria workers, receptionists, language translators, consultants, public relations professionals, lawyers, and others.

"For companies that don't have these benefits today. We're asking them to change some policies that may very well increase some of their costs," says Smith. "We went into this quite consciously aware and prepared for the cost increases that may well come back to us."

Mike Aitken, VP of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource management, says paid time off is a worthwhile investment.

"We know that employers that offer these programs have lower turnover. They have higher engagement from these employees," says Aitken.

An SHRM sponsored study found that almost all employers with 50 or more full-time employees offered some amount of paid time off. But, the report found that only a quarter to a third offered time off to part-time employees. And not all offered a minimum of 15 days paid time off.

All the President's Pens

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-26 01:59
22 percent

The portion of companies that presented at Y Combinator Demo Days this week with at least one female founder, FiveThirtyEight reported. The tech incubator's president has been vocal about the need to increase diversity in tech, and Y Combinator's data show the number of women is increasing, albeit very slowly.

We also spoke with one venture capitalist about what it's like to get pitches from over 100 companies in two days.

15 days

That's how many days off Microsoft is requiring companies it contracts to give employees, albeit those who work full-time for Microsoft. It is unclear as of yet how many people will benefit from the mandate, as Microsoft doesn't have information on the current policies of companies it works with.

$150

The list price for a pen similar to the one President Barack Obama uses to sign bills into law. A.T. Cross makes them, and we talked to their CEO about what it's like to be the official pen provider to the White House.

27.6 percent

That's the interest rate on Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O'Leary's credit card back in 2000. After moving to New York and buying what she thought she needed to truly belong, O'Leary describes learning some hard truths about debt, and how identity can't be found in things. You can read more stories about money lessons learned through our joint project with the New York Times entitled "My Biggest Financial Lesson."

114,000 residents

That's how many residents currently live in The Villages, a senior community outside of Orlando, Florida. As reported by the WSJ, census data shows that The Villages is the country's fastest growing city with a growth of 5.4 percent in the year ending July 2014. It's even more impressive when considering this is the second year the city has held this distinction.

Why Doctors Are Trying A Skin Cancer Drug To Treat A Brain Tumor

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 23:52

A drug that's effective in patients with certain forms of melanoma is being tested as a treatment for other cancers whose genetic code contains an identical mutation.

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Don't Torpedo The Dam, Full Speed Ahead For Ethiopia's Nile Project

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 23:50

Egypt was ready to go to war over Ethiopia's planned Renaissance Dam. A new agreement has ended the tension. But that doesn't mean everyone's a winner.

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Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 23:49

A riot at a private immigration prison in Willacy County, Texas, forced officials to close the facility and relocate 2,800 inmates. But it also left the county with a $2.3 million budget shortfall.

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Is Capitol Hill Ready To Rest Its Near-Annual 'Doc Fix' Exercise?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 23:48

Doctors who treat Medicare patients will face a huge cut, 21 percent, if Congress doesn't act by the end of the month. House leaders now think they fix a problem that has plagued Congress since 1997.

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Midwest Town Braces For More Steel Layoffs

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 18:42

U.S. Steel is shutting down its Granite City Works in southern Illinois. The plant makes flat-rolled steel for oil companies, which have been hit by lower oil prices.

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Heinz And Kraft: Before They Were Food Giants, They Were Men

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 13:20

Henry Heinz was big into pickles before ketchup came along. James Kraft gave the world American cheese. (Ironically, he was Canadian.) Now, two companies that revamped how we eat will become one.

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'Super Termite' Could Be Even More Destructive Than Parent Species

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 13:08

In South Florida, the world's two most destructive termite species could be mating because of climate change. Researchers say if the hybrids colonize, they could pose an even greater economic threat.

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Can Republicans Get Ahead In The 2016 Digital Race?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-25 13:03

When Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring, it happened first on Twitter. Political news is breaking more and more on social media, and both sides face different challenges in reaching out.

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Kai Ryssdal on passing along the financial genes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:59

When you get right down to it, it’s my dad’s fault. My relationship with money, I mean. It’s not weird or anything like that. It’s just... casual. Like... whether you have it or you don’t, everything’s going to be all right somehow.

There was a story that got told a lot in my house when I was growing up. When they were courting, back in the day — which, to be just a bit more precise, would be 1958 — my mom and dad went out for dinner one night in Manhattan. A pretty nice place, too, the story went. So nice that my mother, even though she was pretty young, knew there was no way my dad could afford it. Sure enough, the bill comes and he can’t pay. From what I gather there was some hemming and hawing, a conversation with the maitre d’ over by the door, and what winds up happening is that my father leaves his watch with the guy, gets my mom home and then comes back the next day to settle up.

That’s nobody’s idea of a sensible way to handle your finances, but let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I like money as much as the next person. I like having enough in my pocket to make a small impulse buy if I want. I like being able to make my mortgage payments. I like being able to take care of my family.

What I don’t like is thinking about it. It stresses me out and I’m not good at it — at running a household budget or balancing a checkbook (if anybody does that anymore,) at tracking incomes and outflows or dealing with mutual funds and investments and when to sell and when to buy. That was true when I was young, single and broke, and it’s true now, when I’m not young, not single and not broke.

A word of professional disclosure here: I have no idea what investments my wife and I have. Part of that is because of all the stuff I’ve written here. More to the point, though, I just don’t think it’s right for me to be talking about corporations and markets and economic policy to 11 million people on the radio every week while being fully cognizant of precisely what kind of skin I have in the game, if you know what I mean.

In my house, my wife handles all the money. Every last penny. And I’m totally fine with that.

I’ve never gone into a restaurant knowing or even suspecting I couldn’t pay. I have more sense than my dad in that way, at least, I guess. (More money, too, I suppose.)

But there is one thing he always did for me when I was growing up that that I find myself doing now with my two teenagers. When one them is going out for the evening, I always ask, “Hey, you got a couple of bucks in your pocket?”

Kai Ryssdal on passing along the financial genes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:59

When you get right down to it, it’s my dad’s fault. My relationship with money, I mean. It’s not weird or anything like that. It’s just... casual. Like... whether you have it or you don’t, everything’s going to be all right somehow.

There was a story that got told a lot in my house when I was growing up. When they were courting, back in the day — which, to be just a bit more precise, would be 1958 — my mom and dad went out for dinner one night in Manhattan. A pretty nice place, too, the story went. So nice that my mother, even though she was pretty young, knew there was no way my dad could afford it. Sure enough, the bill comes and he can’t pay. From what I gather there was some hemming and hawing, a conversation with the maitre d’ over by the door, and what winds up happening is that my father leaves his watch with the guy, gets my mom home and then comes back the next day to settle up.

That’s nobody’s idea of a sensible way to handle your finances, but let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I like money as much as the next person. I like having enough in my pocket to make a small impulse buy if I want. I like being able to make my mortgage payments. I like being able to take care of my family.

What I don’t like is thinking about it. It stresses me out and I’m not good at it — at running a household budget or balancing a checkbook (if anybody does that anymore,) at tracking incomes and outflows or dealing with mutual funds and investments and when to sell and when to buy. That was true when I was young, single and broke, and it’s true now, when I’m not young, not single and not broke.

A word of professional disclosure here: I have no idea what investments my wife and I have. Part of that is because of all the stuff I’ve written here. More to the point, though, I just don’t think it’s right for me to be talking about corporations and markets and economic policy to 11 million people on the radio every week while being fully cognizant of precisely what kind of skin I have in the game, if you know what I mean.

In my house, my wife handles all the money. Every last penny. And I’m totally fine with that.

I’ve never gone into a restaurant knowing or even suspecting I couldn’t pay. I have more sense than my dad in that way, at least, I guess. (More money, too, I suppose.)

But there is one thing he always did for me when I was growing up that that I find myself doing now with my two teenagers. When one them is going out for the evening, I always ask, “Hey, you got a couple of bucks in your pocket?”

David Brancaccio wants you to consult your future self

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:57

Eureka moments are supposed to happen in unlikely locations, like the one Archimedes had in his bath. But my revelation about planning and money came in a terribly likely spot, a centuries-old ceremonial hall at Oxford University.

The sociologist Anthony Giddens was at a conference there talking not of personal finance, but about the challenge of shifting the politics of climate change. One reason it is so difficult, he suggested, is that while people see the present in crisp high-definition, the future is blurry. He mentioned teenagers taking a first cigarette to impress friends who are in sharp focus now, and ignoring the diaphanous image of their 60-year-old selves with emphysema.

Behavioral economists have a term for this phenomenon, they call it hyperbolic discounting. Our myopia sets in quickly, hence the “hyperbolic” part. We are vague about the future even a few months from now. There is even a test, economists make people an offer: $100 now or $120 at this time next year. Most people pick immediate gratification, even though the smart choice is more money later. After all, what other investment is going to yield a guaranteed 20 percent return?

Like a lot of us, I have a continuing fight against hyperbolic discounting in regard to my own finances. If only there were a strategy to warp space-time so that the future does not seem so out-of-focus.

In search of some kind of pill or corrective lens, I called a man who studies these things, Joseph Kable, a neuroscientist and assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think we are all looking for a cure,” Professor Kable joked.

Discounting, he told me, affects decisions about our health, government policy choices about budgets, and, yes, personal finances.

If there is no cure, some exercises may help. Professor Kable said even brief reveries pondering future events might help reduce discounting’s effects.

One exercise I like is not my invention, but seems right out of Charles Dickens. Before making a big financial decision, why not try interviewing one’s future self? After all, the Ghost of David Brancaccio's Future has skin in the game, and that ghost deserves to have his say.

It is this future self who might judge that it is right to spend a fortune on college because my children will end up with more fulfilling lives. Yet, my future self might warn me from 2045 that he is stuck eating cat food because of that golden $17,000 Apple Watch I really had to have in 2015.

But since I cannot actually interview my future self, perhaps I could speak to a surrogate. Recently, I visited the man I would like to be decades from now. Herbert R. Mayer, 93, is a gifted entrepreneur with a way with money that took him from humble origins near the Dodgers’ old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to a comfortable life in Southern California. I like to think he was Amazon decades before Amazon. Instead of the Internet, he used catalogs and snail mail to sell custom paper products directly to hospitals.

I interrogated my future self, I mean Herb, about several practical choices. I haven’t been saving enough for retirement because of those aforementioned college tuitions. This year, I might be able to kick in $10,000 to a 401(k), but I could raise the contribution to $16,000 if I canceled a much-needed family vacation that we’re planning in Spain.

Herb’s answer was swift. Cut the cost of the vacation in half and put the cash saved toward retirement. “You can do it both ways,” he said. I figure that might be easier if we un-invite our three young-adult children or switch to a vacation that does not involve airfare, such as a drive to a cabin in my home state, Maine.

Next choice: Interest rates are low, and I can get a home-equity loan to fix up a Nixon-era kitchen. If we don’t get too crazy, that could cost $50,000 in my part of New Jersey. Herb blanched at an estimate that high. His prescription: Do inexpensive improvements now with the money at hand. I should find a way to make more and use that to pay for further upgrades. Herb believes in my future earnings potential, yet does not want me to borrow.

“No, it’s ridiculous,” Herb said. “Never liked borrowing.” Why is that? “I just think it’s a tough way to make a buck.” This from a man who knows how to make a buck. If Herb represents my future self at all accurately, that future self is a tough customer. During that visit, he also pointedly showed off his newly refurbished refrigerator. Refurbished? Who knew?

For those without access to a wise nonagenarian, there is technology. The investment company Merrill Edge has an app that is supposed to mute hyperbolic discounting. It invites you to upload an image of your face that is then electronically “aged” to project what you might look like in future decades.

The results in my case were less instructive than dispiriting: Imagine a waxwork effigy left to melt overnight on a radiator. If that is what I’m going to look like in several decades, I had better start saving for a plastic surgeon, too.

David Brancaccio wants you to consult your future self

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:57

Eureka moments are supposed to happen in unlikely locations, like the one Archimedes had in his bath. But my revelation about planning and money came in a terribly likely spot, a centuries-old ceremonial hall at Oxford University.

The sociologist Anthony Giddens was at a conference there talking not of personal finance, but about the challenge of shifting the politics of climate change. One reason it is so difficult, he suggested, is that while people see the present in crisp high-definition, the future is blurry. He mentioned teenagers taking a first cigarette to impress friends who are in sharp focus now, and ignoring the diaphanous image of their 60-year-old selves with emphysema.

Behavioral economists have a term for this phenomenon, they call it hyperbolic discounting. Our myopia sets in quickly, hence the “hyperbolic” part. We are vague about the future even a few months from now. There is even a test, economists make people an offer: $100 now or $120 at this time next year. Most people pick immediate gratification, even though the smart choice is more money later. After all, what other investment is going to yield a guaranteed 20 percent return?

Like a lot of us, I have a continuing fight against hyperbolic discounting in regard to my own finances. If only there were a strategy to warp space-time so that the future does not seem so out-of-focus.

In search of some kind of pill or corrective lens, I called a man who studies these things, Joseph Kable, a neuroscientist and assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I think we are all looking for a cure,” Professor Kable joked.

Discounting, he told me, affects decisions about our health, government policy choices about budgets, and, yes, personal finances.

If there is no cure, some exercises may help. Professor Kable said even brief reveries pondering future events might help reduce discounting’s effects.

One exercise I like is not my invention, but seems right out of Charles Dickens. Before making a big financial decision, why not try interviewing one’s future self? After all, the Ghost of David Brancaccio's Future has skin in the game, and that ghost deserves to have his say.

It is this future self who might judge that it is right to spend a fortune on college because my children will end up with more fulfilling lives. Yet, my future self might warn me from 2045 that he is stuck eating cat food because of that golden $17,000 Apple Watch I really had to have in 2015.

But since I cannot actually interview my future self, perhaps I could speak to a surrogate. Recently, I visited the man I would like to be decades from now. Herbert R. Mayer, 93, is a gifted entrepreneur with a way with money that took him from humble origins near the Dodgers’ old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to a comfortable life in Southern California. I like to think he was Amazon decades before Amazon. Instead of the Internet, he used catalogs and snail mail to sell custom paper products directly to hospitals.

I interrogated my future self, I mean Herb, about several practical choices. I haven’t been saving enough for retirement because of those aforementioned college tuitions. This year, I might be able to kick in $10,000 to a 401(k), but I could raise the contribution to $16,000 if I canceled a much-needed family vacation that we’re planning in Spain.

Herb’s answer was swift. Cut the cost of the vacation in half and put the cash saved toward retirement. “You can do it both ways,” he said. I figure that might be easier if we un-invite our three young-adult children or switch to a vacation that does not involve airfare, such as a drive to a cabin in my home state, Maine.

Next choice: Interest rates are low, and I can get a home-equity loan to fix up a Nixon-era kitchen. If we don’t get too crazy, that could cost $50,000 in my part of New Jersey. Herb blanched at an estimate that high. His prescription: Do inexpensive improvements now with the money at hand. I should find a way to make more and use that to pay for further upgrades. Herb believes in my future earnings potential, yet does not want me to borrow.

“No, it’s ridiculous,” Herb said. “Never liked borrowing.” Why is that? “I just think it’s a tough way to make a buck.” This from a man who knows how to make a buck. If Herb represents my future self at all accurately, that future self is a tough customer. During that visit, he also pointedly showed off his newly refurbished refrigerator. Refurbished? Who knew?

For those without access to a wise nonagenarian, there is technology. The investment company Merrill Edge has an app that is supposed to mute hyperbolic discounting. It invites you to upload an image of your face that is then electronically “aged” to project what you might look like in future decades.

The results in my case were less instructive than dispiriting: Imagine a waxwork effigy left to melt overnight on a radiator. If that is what I’m going to look like in several decades, I had better start saving for a plastic surgeon, too.

Lizzie O'Leary learns a lesson in debt and confidence

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:55

The interest rate made my stomach drop: 27.6 percent.

I stared at it, trying to understand how that was even possible. I’d signed something else, hadn’t I? A lower rate, I must have. It was 2000, I was 24, making less than $30,000 a year, and the American Airlines Citibank Card was the first I’d ever had. It was shiny and silver, with the old airline logo at the top. Get miles! Live like other people in New York! Welcome, kid.

Foreshadowing what was to come, I couldn’t remember the credit limit, only what I bought.

A gold, strapless Nicole Miller dress for a glamorous friend’s sister’s wedding. Gold sandals. A filmy wrap for around my shoulders. A Meg Ryan “You’ve Got Mail” haircut. Altogether, it cost maybe $1,000. Outside the careful budget my stepfather helped me draft (and I promptly ignored).

Instead, I got a lesson in debt, confidence and identity that still lives somewhere in that startled gut.

I grew up privileged. Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington. Williams College in Massachusetts; my family paid for it. Financially, I was spoiled, because I knew next to nothing about money. I didn’t have to. I had the kind of parents who allowed me to focus on academics and curiosity.

Moving to New York, I took a job as a desk assistant at ABC News. I answered phones, arranged newspapers for senior executives and changed into running shoes in the afternoons to sprint script pages up and down the hall to Peter Jennings.

And I was surrounded by wealth I’d never seen before. Women my age who wore Manolo Blahnik shoes. Carried designer handbags. Were whisked past lines into clubs I fantasized about. Feeling desperately uncool, I moved into a pint-size studio apartment in the East Village (again, too much money) from an Upper East Side studio. The remaining squatters next door shouted “Die yuppie scum!” in the mornings.

I was naïve, unhappy and lost. All I wanted was to fit in.

I put things on the card. And more. And more. So full of self-doubt, so unsure of who I was (Could I someday be a reporter? Would that guy from MTV ever call me back? Maybe a leather jacket would help?), that spending became an outlet for my insecurity. Anything to seem less scared, less wrong.

Until the day of 27.6 percent. I’d hit my credit limit. I got the penalty interest rate. I missed payments. And lots of letters with big red type. The debt ballooned to close to $10,000.
I blew up my measly credit score. Citibank, rightly, had no sympathy for a privileged kid who’d gotten herself into trouble. Frankly, I don’t have any now.

I didn’t even have the nobility to work all the debt off. I paid off half of it with savings that I swore I would never touch until I was 30, and the rest by rationing my income over time. And I canceled the card.

It still followed me for years. On my credit reports. Apartment rentals. The loans I took out for grad school.

The experience lingers on in the understanding that “retail therapy,” shopping to make yourself feel better, is a farce. And nobody, certainly nobody I’d want to befriend in my adult life, finds identity through things.

The loneliness that comes with being young and unsure of yourself is actually a great teacher — one that material things can never match.

Lizzie O'Leary learns a lesson in debt and confidence

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:55

The interest rate made my stomach drop: 27.6 percent.

I stared at it, trying to understand how that was even possible. I’d signed something else, hadn’t I? A lower rate, I must have. It was 2000, I was 24, making less than $30,000 a year, and the American Airlines Citibank Card was the first I’d ever had. It was shiny and silver, with the old airline logo at the top. Get miles! Live like other people in New York! Welcome, kid.

Foreshadowing what was to come, I couldn’t remember the credit limit, only what I bought.

A gold, strapless Nicole Miller dress for a glamorous friend’s sister’s wedding. Gold sandals. A filmy wrap for around my shoulders. A Meg Ryan “You’ve Got Mail” haircut. Altogether, it cost maybe $1,000. Outside the careful budget my stepfather helped me draft (and I promptly ignored).

Instead, I got a lesson in debt, confidence and identity that still lives somewhere in that startled gut.

I grew up privileged. Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school in Washington. Williams College in Massachusetts; my family paid for it. Financially, I was spoiled, because I knew next to nothing about money. I didn’t have to. I had the kind of parents who allowed me to focus on academics and curiosity.

Moving to New York, I took a job as a desk assistant at ABC News. I answered phones, arranged newspapers for senior executives and changed into running shoes in the afternoons to sprint script pages up and down the hall to Peter Jennings.

And I was surrounded by wealth I’d never seen before. Women my age who wore Manolo Blahnik shoes. Carried designer handbags. Were whisked past lines into clubs I fantasized about. Feeling desperately uncool, I moved into a pint-size studio apartment in the East Village (again, too much money) from an Upper East Side studio. The remaining squatters next door shouted “Die yuppie scum!” in the mornings.

I was naïve, unhappy and lost. All I wanted was to fit in.

I put things on the card. And more. And more. So full of self-doubt, so unsure of who I was (Could I someday be a reporter? Would that guy from MTV ever call me back? Maybe a leather jacket would help?), that spending became an outlet for my insecurity. Anything to seem less scared, less wrong.

Until the day of 27.6 percent. I’d hit my credit limit. I got the penalty interest rate. I missed payments. And lots of letters with big red type. The debt ballooned to close to $10,000.
I blew up my measly credit score. Citibank, rightly, had no sympathy for a privileged kid who’d gotten herself into trouble. Frankly, I don’t have any now.

I didn’t even have the nobility to work all the debt off. I paid off half of it with savings that I swore I would never touch until I was 30, and the rest by rationing my income over time. And I canceled the card.

It still followed me for years. On my credit reports. Apartment rentals. The loans I took out for grad school.

The experience lingers on in the understanding that “retail therapy,” shopping to make yourself feel better, is a farce. And nobody, certainly nobody I’d want to befriend in my adult life, finds identity through things.

The loneliness that comes with being young and unsure of yourself is actually a great teacher — one that material things can never match.

Nicole Childers' teenage lesson is her adult buffer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-25 12:54

The day after my high school graduation, at the age of 17 and with an acceptance letter to an Ivy League university in hand, my foster mother asked me to move out of her house in San Diego.

I was never sure why. I was a good kid. I had just graduated with honors, never got into any trouble, and I had secured a summer job. Suddenly my visions of getting on a plane at the end of the summer to start a new chapter, outside of a world where I’d been either at the mercy of an abusive parent or an overwhelmed and unpredictable foster care system, faded instantly. Now I had to find a new place to live, or take my chances in a group home or another temporary foster home placement.

As I contemplated my now limited options, a wave of regret overcame me. I regretted allowing myself to believe that that one acceptance letter meant I no longer had to worry about my future. I regretted every Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or cassette tape I’d bought with the little bit of money I’d made working an after-school job. I had allowed myself to grow too comfortable in my foster home, when I should have been saving for a plane ticket to Philadelphia.

Just a day earlier, I had walked down the aisle at my high school graduation to receive my diploma with my head held high, convinced that I was finally close to having it all. College was supposed to provide me with a fresh start and the basic level of stability I had been missing: a safe roof over my head and three meals a day until graduation. But first I had to avoid homelessness.

An adult who worked at a school I had once attended, whom I won’t identify because she could have gotten into trouble for helping me, came and picked me up. I ended up living with her for that summer rent-free. She bought my plane ticket to Philadelphia, and a friend of hers paid for my books my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania.

If it hadn’t been for their generosity, I’m not sure I would have made it to college. Aside from my financial concerns, feeling rejected by my foster parents without explanation took a big emotional toll on me. Had I been out on the street or forced to live with strangers who ostensibly would have had little to no investment in me or my success, I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to figure out a way to get there.

That one incident with my foster family left an indelible impression on me throughout my college career. The summer before my senior year, I became an intern for Diane Sawyer at ABC News. After I graduated, I moved to New York to work there full time. I was suddenly thrust into a life that exceeded my wildest dreams. Just a few years earlier, I had been a kid in foster care with nary a penny to my name, and now I was working for one of the top media companies in the world with some of the highest-paid TV news anchors. I was surrounded by glitz and glamour, but, as an entry-level desk assistant, my personal financial reality stood in sharp contrast.

So I lived paycheck to paycheck in a small Spanish Harlem studio. Every pay stub arrived coupled with the memory of the day after my high school graduation, reminding me that no matter how far I’d come, I was still one curveball away from losing it all. I racked up credit card debt buying groceries and other basic necessities so I could use part of my salary to put into savings, just in case. If I lost my job for whatever reason, I had no parents to go home to or help me while I got back on my feet. I had learned early on that I would always have to be my own backup plan.

By the time I was 27, I had been promoted into a senior leadership role at another company, and my salary reached six figures. In the decade since, however, the industry has contracted and I’ve been laid off twice. Both times I had enough savings to make ends meet. During the periods of unemployment, I did everything from editing books to working as a celebrity branding and social media consultant. No matter how much money I’ve made in full-time jobs since then, the fear of losing it all still lingers.

I don’t bear any ill will toward my foster family for abandoning me. I see the situation as an unfortunate personal twist of fate that taught me an early but important lesson about success and money. The more successful you become and the more money you make, the easier it is to get caught up in and enamored of both, but neither is guaranteed for life. And that is a lesson I will forever be grateful for.

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