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Dealing with Debt During the Holidays

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Don’t Allow a Seasonal Splurge to Ruin Your New Year

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist–

(NNPA) In 2010, many consumers will likely find that the traditions of the annual holiday season may be difficult – if not impossible - to observe this year. According to the Urban Institute’s National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers, more than 500,000 people in this country do not have a place to call home each night and half of these people are also without shelter. Moreover according to HUD, an estimated 2,000,000 people experienced homelessness at some time during the year.

If you are one of the nearly one in four homeowners with a mortgage owing more on your home than it is now worth, count your blessings and remember that you are not alone.

The most recent survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association found that as of the end of the third quarter this year, approximately 7 million homeowners were 60 days or more delinquent on their mortgage. Although California, the nation’s most populous state, has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of delinquent mortgages – over 600,000, the highest average mortgage debt per borrower is in the District of Columbia with $342,695.

Despite deep and widespread indebtedness, the holidays will still tempt many to use credit to help make their celebrations merry. And, although access to credit is a long-standing concern for minority businesses and consumers alike, seasonal celebrations should not become an excuse to worsen already strained personal finances.

As many lenders, especially those offering mortgage loans, raise credit standards to qualify for a range of financial products, the cold and hard factor in reaching a decision on approving or rejecting a credit application will be determined by how well consumers have already managed their credit in this deepening recession. Troubled homeowners who have suffered foreclosure, a short sale or bankruptcy, should be mindful that those developments have likely already dropped your personal credit score.

Similarly, for those who are entering trial periods for loan modifications or are 30-days delinquent on a mortgage, think seriously before taking out a credit application to take advantage of a limited discount for new credit accounts. How often new credit applications are filed is one of the factors that determine credit scores.

The other factors in determining a credit score are payment history, outstanding debt, credit history length, and credit mix. Two of these factors - payment history and outstanding debt - account for 65 percent of the total score.

If you are considering whether to purchase a home in the New Year, be mindful that your credit score will be far more important than a seasonal extravagance. As many prospective homebuyers consider applying for mortgage loans, applicants with a credit score less than 700 will likely find credit approval a dicey process.

Among the largest banks, 90 percent use Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) scores to make decisions. For example, if a consumer had a FICO score of 680 and then missed a monthly debt payment that one failure could lower their score by 60-80 points.

FICO scores range from 300-850 and measure how well consumer credit has historically been handled. In general, higher scores lead to better credit terms. In the case of mortgage lending, the direct benefit could be a lower interest rate over the life of the loan. Consumers with scores of 700 or most often qualify for lower mortgage rates. On a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage, a difference of 100 points could mean saving or paying $40,000 in interest over the life of the loan.

If you do not know your credit score, there is a convenient and free service available. Visit the government-mandated site, www.annualcreditreport.com where each year consumers can receive free credit scores. Although, many firms advertise ‘free credit reports’, those are usually private services that require a paid subscription for full access to your information.

If you’re in doubt this holiday season about your credit, visit the government site and keep those dollars for something more useful.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

Report Card on School Dropouts: Progress Made; Challenges Ahead

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOneline.com –

In the last decade, a coalition of public school educators, parents and civic activists across the country have charted substantial progress in deterring tens of thousands of students from dropping out of high school, according to a newly-published study.

Among other things, the study showed there were 120,000 more high school graduates in 2008 than in 2001 (holding population constant) – a result fueled by overall graduation-rate increases in 29 states and significant graduation-rate increases among African-American, Latino-American and Native-American pupils.

It also resulted in the closing of more than 200 “dropout factories” – high schools that fail to graduate 40 percent or more of their students, giving the 400,000 students who would have attended them a better chance to earn a diploma.

These successes in pushing the national high school graduation rate from 72 percent in 2001 to 75 percent in 2008 show that the U.S. “is turning a corner on meeting the high school dropout epidemic,” write Colin and Alma Powell in introducing the report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.

The detailed, 88-page document is the latest in a series of studies from the Powells’ organization, America’s Promise Alliance, which has sought to build a broad-based coalition to eliminate the dropout crisis of American public high schools. Today, according to the report, more than a million public high school students, each year don’t graduate with the class in which they entered high school; many of them have dropped out. Taken together, nearly 40 percent of minority high school students don’t graduate with their entering Class.

Earlier America’s Promise reports determined that while dropping out is a widespread phenomenon, the dropout epidemic is concentrated in a relatively small number of urban, suburban and rural high schools that over time have become dropout factories. A decade ago, they numbered about 2,000. Now, through strategies that ranged from transforming individual schools to closing individual schools, the report declares the number has been pared to 1,746.

Nonetheless, the report warns that despite the successes, “the rate of progress over the last decade … is too slow to reach the national goal of having 90 percent of students graduate from high school and obtain at least one year of post-secondary schooling or training by 2020.” It goes on to match on a one-to-one basis the “progress” made since 2001 with the “challenges” in that area which remain to be overcome.

For example, while 400,000 fewer pupils attend dropout factories, there are yet 2.2 million high school youth in the dropout factories that still exist. And, while the Class of 2008 graduated 120,000 more students than the Class of 2001, the Class of 2020 needs to graduate 600,000 more students than the Class of 2008 (holding population constant) in order to reach the goal of a 90-percent national graduation rate.

The report concludes by noting that “while the results of the past decade have been mixed, with progress in some areas, and limited improvement in others, these efforts have laid the groundwork for more rapid and systematic progress in the next decade.”

Those future initiatives, however, could be significantly undermined by something the report does not discuss: the impact of budget deficits at the federal, state, and local level on funds available for public school initiatives.

Groundbreaking Verdict in Cigarette Death Trial Against Tobacco Company

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOnline.com –

In a groundbreaking judgment, a Massachusetts jury recently found the Lorillard tobacco company responsible for inducing a Boston woman to smoke as a child and ordered it to pay her family a total of $152 million.

The jury levied compensatory damages against the tobacco giant of $71 million and punitive damages of $81 million.

The woman, Marie Evans, started smoking cigarettes at 13, and despite trying to quit many times, became a lifelong smoker. She died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2002.

During the trial Lorillard’s attorney claimed that Ms. Evans’ numerous futile attempts to stop smoking as an adult were evidence that the company was not responsible for her admitted addiction to cigarettes. A Lorillard spokesman said they would appeal the verdict and attorneys familiar with such litigation said the case will likely be tied up in the courts for years.

Experts told the Boston Globe that the case was the first to attempt to hold Lorillard responsible for its practice of heavily marketing its Newport brand of menthol cigarettes in predominantly Black communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Menthol cigarettes have long been the overwhelming cigarette of choice among African Americans who smoke, and studies have shown that the large majority of Black smokers, like smokers in general, start smoking in their teen years or even earlier.

Ms. Evans, whose son Willie Evans, pressed the case on her behalf after her death, stated in testimony videotaped shortly before she died that when she was a child living with her family in a public housing project in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood, Lorillard company workers would come and hand out cigarettes to children as if they were candy. Lorillard denied that it used such tactics.

But Legacy, a nonprofit public health organization dedicated to smoking prevention efforts, called the Evans jury verdict “a sad reminder of the tobacco industry’s long history of marketing their products to our nation’s kids, luring them into a deadly addiction.”

A statement from the organization added that the verdict underscores the need for the Federal Drug Administration to ban menthol flavoring from cigarettes – a matter currently under its consideration – as a means of reducing youth smoking rates and tobacco-related health issues.

Virginia Union University Names Renowned Theologist As Chair of Board of Trustees

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By Jeremy M. Lazarus, Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

Dr. Franklyn W. Richardson already is juggling a heavy schedule. The broad-shouldered minister heads a 4,000-member church with congregations in New York and Florida. He is also chairman and chief spokesman of the revived Conference of National Black Churches, an umbrella group of nine historically Black denominations that addresses national issues and promotes church involvement in education and health care. And, he’s actively involved in a variety of other organizations, including the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Still, the former pastor of two Richmond-area churches is ready to take on another challenging leadership job: Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Virginia Union University, his alma mater.

The 61-year-old Philadelphia native was elected to the post recently in a telephone poll of the 23-member board, according to Dr. Benjamin J. Lambert III, the Richmond optometrist and former state senator who heads the VUU board’s nominating committee. A longtime board member and current vice chairman, Dr. Richardson will succeed Dr. Frank S. Royal, the prominent Church Hill physician who has held the chairmanship for 30 years. Dr. Royal announced last month that he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren and would not seek a new term as chairman, though he will remain on the board. “This is the highest honor of my career,” Dr. Richardson told the Free Press after being reached at the Miami airport where his travel had been stalled by a snowstorm farther north. “This is an opportunity to give back to the institution that invested so much in me,” he said. “I have had a stellar career in the ministry. But, I would not be where I am today without the education I received at Virginia Union.”

He said he would make time for his work for VUU and planned to use his wealth of contacts in the church and corporate worlds to assist the president with “resource development for Virginia Union,” which traces its roots to a school created in Richmond after the Civil War to educate newly freed slaves. “I believe I can open some doors that wouldn’t be open otherwise,” said Dr. Richardson, who was saluted as the 2010 Alumnus of the Year during homecoming last October.

Dr. Richardson will assume the chairmanship Feb. 4, when the 145-year-old, Baptist-affiliated school celebrates Founders’ Day. Dr. Richardson said he is taking over at a time of optimism for the school under current President Claude G. Perkins. He noted that VUU was just re-accredited, has been able to increase enrollment and has improved its campus. It also is upgrading academics and looking to restore a degree in the fine arts it dropped several years ago. Dr. Richardson “has such tremendous credentials” and will be a “worthy successor to Dr. Royal,” said Dr. Lucille M. Brown, a retired Richmond schools superintendent and longtime VUU board member.

She served on the nominating committee and said Dr. Richardson is well known for his loyalty to the school, noting that his church, Grace Baptist of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Port St. Lucie, Fla., donated the stained glass windows at VUU’s Coburn Hall. The minister’s ties with Richmond go back 43 years, when he left Philadelphia to come to VUU after his pastor, the Rev. John Hamlin, recommended the school. Dr. Richardson had already accepted the call to ministry and had preached his first sermon. He said Dr. LaVerne Byrd Smith helped him improve his reading skills, enabling him to succeed in class. He also was president of the freshman and sophomore classes. His ministry career quickly began soaring. In 1969, still an undergraduate, he was called to lead Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church, then located in the city’s Fulton neighborhood. He became busier when he also became pastor of Saint James Baptist in Varina and did not complete his VUU degree until 1979. He went on to earn his master’s in theology at Yale and his doctorate from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He left Richmond in the mid-1970s to go to Grace Baptist, which now includes celebrities among its membership. He has been on the national church stage since the 1980s, when he served as general secretary and chief operating officer for the 33,000-congregation National Baptist Conference USA during Dr. T.J. Jemison’s 12-year tenure as president.

Dr. Richardson and his wife, Inez, are the parents of two adult children.

Conference of National Black Churches Moves Forward on Comprehensive Strategy

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Nine denominations work together with broad-based partnerships to tackle core issue

By Floydetta McAfee, Special to the NNPA –

ATLANTA (December 20, 2010)---During the first national meeting of the newly formed Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), bishops, pastors, and lay leaders began rolling out the strategic plans for improving the lives of African Americans and underserved communities. The organization, which represents nine of the largest historically Black denominations with 30 million people and more than 50,000 congregations worldwide, focused on working in a unified voice on four key issues and developing strong strategic partnerships. Participants traveled from across the country and as far as South Africa to attend the three-day meeting recently held in Washington, D.C.

“This initial CNBC national consultation was a success because it was more than inspiration and information, it focused on implementation of tactical programs,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, CNBC chairman and senior pastor of the historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York. “We have a comprehensive strategic plan with specific programs and benchmarks to address our core issues---education, health, social justice, and economic empowerment.”

Along with the Ford Foundation and JP Morgan Chase Foundation, CNBC identified other companies, organizations, and programs with common values and interests, multiple resources, and proven track records to collaborate with around the core issues. For example, the education strategy includes partnering with the Children’s Defense Fund and United Negro College Fund (UNCF). CNBC will work with Marian Wright Edelman, founder of The Children’s Defense Fund, to launch Freedom Schools for grades K-12 in local churches. CNBC will partner with UNCF by supporting the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and providing them access to a pipeline of top high school students seeking a college education.

The health strategy includes working with The Balm of Gilead founder Pernessa C. Seele on education and advocacy around a variety of health topics and developing a “Healthy Sunday” series. One Sunday a month, 10-minutes of time from the pulpit will be devoted to education and awareness on a specific health-related issue. CBNC will partner with three organizations known for their social justice efforts - the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network - to leverage support on issues of “prophetic responsibility” and mutual concern as part of the social justice strategy. The economic empowerment partner will be The Vestal Group, owned by multicultural advertising executive Don Coleman. The partnership goals include leveraging the collective consumer dollars of African Americans and increasing financial literacy and discount purchasing power through cooperative economics.

“All participating in this effort demonstrated their gift of servant leadership and commitment to the collective call to action,” said Jacqueline Burton, president of the Conference of National Black Churches. “The strength of this CNBC movement will be in the many denominations working as one.”

Other highlights of the gathering included a standing-room-only National Ecumenical Service at Israel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. with a sermon by Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. of the Church of God in Christ and luncheon remarks given by Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on “The Possibility of Partnerships.” The consultation concluded with the Black Leadership Dinner where former Ambassador Andrew Young; Balm in Gilead founder Pernessa C. Seele; and Earl G. Graves, Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine, were recognized for their leadership, legacy, and activism in the areas of health, business and universal equality and fairness.

For more information on the organization, visit website www.thecnbc.org.

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