By now we've all heard about how 29-year-old Karyn Bosnak begged herself out of over $20K in credit card debt on savekaryn.com.
Since then, a slew of online begging sites have popped up on the Web, from a woman who needs money for a divorce to another needing medical coverage in her struggle with lymphoblastic leukemia.
Having lived in New York City for over 10 years, I can tell you the sight of panhandlers on the streets can be disturbing. When one first moves to or visits New York, giving money to panhandlers is a daily ritual; a quarter here, a buck there. After a while however, you'll become immune to the sight and even begin resenting the fact that while you're on your way to work, someone is out on the street collecting what is essentially guilt money, for nothing.
Now, surfing the Internet can conjure up some of those same feelings. On Yahoo's E-Panhandling category, you'll find sites like paymytaxes.com, sendmetendollars.com, 1,2,3,saveme.com, and whiteymustpay.com. These are all sites created by people asking for a free handout to help get themselves out of some kind of debt, usually credit card bills.
But the difference between the online panhandler and the homeless one on the street is huge. For one, all of us can relate on some level or another, to being in debt. Not all of us can relate to being homeless. Therefore, it's easier to put yourself into the shoes of the online beggars, and might even contemplate joining them. It's anonymous, for the most part, and judging by all the media attention and reported book and movie deals thrown Karen Bosnak's way, it's apparently cool to beg online.
How much money do you owe every month? I know how much I owe. Shouldn't we all be so lucky as Karyn was?
The world of high-interest credit is a lopsided one. If you pay your monthly minimum balance on time, banks will NEVER lower your interest rate. If, however, you default on your bills, there's a plethora of services out there that will assist you in slashing the amount of money you owe to pennies on the dollar. Just don't expect to ever get a decent interest rate on another credit card or mortgage ever again (or at least 7 years).
For those who can control their spending and can afford to pay their entire balance every month, a credit card is an amazing thing. For everybody else, it's the devil incarnate. So what can average American consumers do to shift the balance of power from the creditors to the borrowers?
Pay it forward.
As ludicrous as it sounds, Karen Bosnak was on to something so extraordinary it's amazing to me that not every single person who owes money to credit card lenders hasn't jumped on the cyber-bandwagon.
Isn't it possible to systematically rid our country of consumer debt by joining together and one-by-one collecting enough money to pay off our individual debt, and then pass the buck, so to speak, to the next person? Imagine if every American gave you a dollar. Wouldn't it be fantastic to lift the burden of debt from yours and your neighbor's shoulders?
Of course it would, but you know what? It takes work to organize such an ambitious undertaking, and isn't that precisely what these cyber-beggars are looking to avoid?
Mike Straka is the project manager for Fox News' Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on Fox Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter for Foxnews.com.