You go, Suze! – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director Financial guru Suze Orman launched her “Approved Card” this week to much fanfare – on Sunday Ron Lieber profiled the card in the New York TimesOrman appeared on the daytime television show, The View, hosted by Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg, and she strolled through the Paramus, NJ mall on camera and talked with average consumers. Lieber is a columnist with a bias in favor of consumers who are getting slammed by big corporate interests. His response to Suze’s card  was mostly high praise; he ended the column with this:

“…I asked her to put her hand on one of the money bibles she has written and swear not to raise Approved card fees in the next 24 months. She said she would shut the card down before that happened. ‘I am not going to make money off the 99 percenters’ backs,’ A pledge like that takes guts, and anyone who has browbeaten TransUnion into even considering a big change deserves praise. Here’s hoping that she succeeds in her credit mission — and that other media personalities like Dave Ramsey and Jim Cramer put the heat on companies in other high-fee, low-service industries and make them sweat, too.

If you’re like me, the Suze Orman you know is the very charismatic – and bossy – TV personality who tells  Americans to stop spending beyond their means, to figure how to improve their FICO scores, and get a budget you can afford and stick to it. But yesterday another  – and equally admirable –  Suze Orman appeared at the National Press Club –  flanked by radio talk show host Tavis Smiley and the Harvard Professor Cornel West and the topic was poverty, the disappearance of the middle class and how big banks and credit card companies with their hidden and predatory fees are taking money from the pockets of poor people.

And that scenario, Suze said, is what motivated her to develop a prepaid debit card that isn’t out to earn its namesake – the card is called “The Approved Card from Suze Orman” – big bucks, but instead has a salutary goal: first, you can’t spend beyond your means as so many consumers do with credit cards because the Approved Card is like cash – you only load the cash you have onto the card,  and second, and more important, over time if consumers use the card wisely,  those who don’t have a FICO score or have a low one, and are thus punished by exorbitant fees on insurance, house or car loans, can get build up their credit and get a decent FICO score.

The card has minimal fees – $3 a month maintenance and ATM usage charge of around $2 a transaction, none of those hateful Kim Kardashian card -fees which charged you to load the card, to cancel the card, and a huge monthly maintenance, etc etc etc Orman, Smiley and West were heading to George Washington University last evening for a forum on poverty in America and how to get America – and our presidential  candidates –  talking about it again.

Suze Orman – who understands financial products better than anyone – and preaches personal financial responsibility  like no one else– also says that many Americans have been driven into bankruptcy, unemployment and poverty often through no fault of their own – they were directed to subprime loans, they are underwater on mortgages they didn’t understand (by design) they were issued credit cards and opened bank accounts that imposed every sort of  fees and penalties that eventually ate away at their savings.

It’s a narrative that rings true for so many of the people we represent at the National Consumers League. So I’m with the New York Times: Go Suze! Here’s hoping that your card puts the heat on companies with high fees and low services,  and ultimately helps consumers climb out of debt and build back their credit. And keep doing it: help build back the middle class and using the bully pulpit to talk about poverty in America and what can be doing to fight it – you have the floor – and the microphone – and we thank you for using it on behalf of those who voices are so rarely heard.