“Laws of nature do not make exceptions for nice people. A bullet has no conscience; neither does a malignant tumor or an automobile gone out of control. That is why good people get sick and get hurt as much as anyone.” ― Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People
For a few years now, I’ve been assisting an elderly client (a retired public school teacher who dedicated her life to helping little children) fight her way out of a prickly financial situation involving timeshare. Yes, timeshares. An industry whose predatory sales practices are the stuff financial nightmares are made of. To demonstrate, here’s a little taste from my latest experience with them.
When you call customer service, you’re greeted by a perky representative who is happy to answer non-account specific questions. However, it doesn’t take long to realize their ultimate aim is to have you transferred from one department to another department while never fully answering your question. While that in and of itself is infuriating, the most disturbing part is, despite having permission, not being allowed to stay on the phone with a client to discuss account specific information. I wonder why that is?
Now, compounding my anger is knowing that my client is one of the sweetest, decent and most innocent women you could ever meet. She doesn’t deserve this. No one does. But the sad reality is that being a good person doesn’t reduce the probability of bad things happening. If anything, it makes you more susceptible to them because good people can be too trusting and, in many cases, naive. It’s how one becomes victim to nefarious financial schemes like unscrupulous timeshare companies.
We see something similar happening with higher education. So-called “good kids” being told they can be and do anything but, in order to do that, they first need a college degree. Forget what it costs or what it will actually do. Have yourself a good time and figure out the rest later. Just like the good folks who are duped into vacation properties they will never use, much of today’s youth is being tricked into college educations that may never provide any actual value.
Even the sales processes are similar. Both typically involve a trip to a fun place to learn about an opportunity that’s not too good to pass up, then they both *show* you how affordable it can be to participate. Heck, they will help with financing. This is how my client was able to take an all-expense paid trip to California and return with mortgage payments she can’t afford. And it’s how many young Americans head off to school and return with student loan payments they’ll likely regret.
In the moment, I’m sure they both had a great time and both left feeling like they received something of value, but it doesn’t take too long for the feeling to fade and for reality to set it. The timeshare owner becomes too busy or too old to travel, unable to enjoy their property as they would have hoped. The college graduate soon realizes that the real world doesn’t care about their college experience as much as it does their talent. In both cases, there’s a bill at the end of the month to remind them of a bad decision.
Of course, not all timeshare companies and colleges are in the business of swindling customers out of their money. There are some that do a good job in helping prospects make informed financial decisions. However, many take a “buyer beware” approach to doing business, making it that much more important to be financially educated. Financial literacy can protect you from the bad things that come from making bad financial decisions.
Timeshares, like college educations, only make sense when you know exactly what you want to get out of them while also understanding how the costs will impact you and your financial goals. Mastering personal finance fundamentals, like cash management, reveals whether or not you should consider either one. Otherwise, you simply have no business making that decision.
This post originally appeared on my blog.