Tom Kerr writing on financial freedom

Football season is in full swing across the U.S., and in the NFL there are some significant developments that are having a huge impact on how the game is played.

Last year, for instance, kickers made 99 percent of their extra-point attempts. But under the new rule, what used to be an easy 17-yard kick is now a much more difficult kick of 33 yards. Based on the results so far, experts predict that there will be around 70 missed kicks this year. Only eight extra-point kicks failed to hit the mark last season.

But at least those who make the rules have been transparent about telling players that they were going to move the goalpost farther away.

Many institutions in the nation don’t do that. They change the rules in the middle of the game.

You start your career with clear objectives. You develop a solid financial plan. You buy a home to add to your security. You contribute to your retirement fund. Your insurance policies help you sleep better at night, confident you are safe and protected.

You get excited watching your nest egg grow. Soon it will hatch, you believe – like those gigantic dinosaur eggs in the Smithsonian Museum – and give birth to dreams you have nurtured for an entire lifetime.

Unless there’s a crack in the shell.

The corporate nest egg at Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest bank in America, is worth an impressive $1.7 trillion. The company’s sleek website proclaims: “From the Gold Rush to the early 20th Century, through prosperity, depression and war, Wells Fargo earned a reputation of trust due to its attention and loyalty to customers.”

That is a comforting reassurance, for sure.

But you want my advice? Don’t put your eggs in that basket, because over the past few weeks the reputation of that revered institution has gone the way of Tyrannosaurus Rex. When banks are too big to fail and those eggs break you better run for cover because it gets really messy.

Wells Fargo has long been symbolized by nostalgic images of stagecoaches hurtling across the Wild West, settling an adventurous nation. With strongboxes brimming with gold, Wells Fargo bravely and reliably facilitated the American Dream as bold, free, entrepreneurial prospectors struck it rich in the Land of Opportunity.

Over the past few decades, though, America steadily descended into a corporate culture of vultures schooled in con artistry. In early September the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $100 million for “the widespread illegal practice of secretly opening unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts.”

The CFPB explained that the bank’s motivation was “to obtain financial compensation for meeting sales targets.” The prestigious bank even created phony email addresses to enroll unknowing consumers in online banking services in order to collect unwarranted fees. That’s not just wrong, it’s downright sleazy.

Sounds to me like the tradition-bound banks we have entrusted with our savings have abandoned ethics and common decency to deliberately harbor a new breed of thieves. But instead of the bad guys robbing banks, the banks are making off like bandits by stealing from us…the good guys who have been their loyal, hardworking customers for generations.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf says he first got wind of the stench in 2013. But multiple employees contradict him, saying they blew the whistle years before that and were rewarded with harsh retaliation.

In fairness to Mr. Stumpf, I’ve never run a bank and I’m sure it’s complicated. But in high school I was captain of my football team so I don’t need a degree in economics or law to know that if you move the goalposts in the middle of the game that’s cheating. Once that happens it takes the fun out of the whole thing, too, and all that effort becomes pointless (pun intended).

That’s why I left a stressful, unsatisfying corporate career before the age of 40 in order to exercise my independence, restore my dignity and self-worth, and start making an honest living…without anyone surreptitiously picking my pockets with a handshake and a smile in the name of “consumer products and services.”

If you are in the bottom of a hole, trying to dig yourself out doesn’t work because the hole just gets deeper – and you grow more fatigued. I’ve been there and done that.

Those holes can range from bottomless credit card debts, medical bills, and unreasonable home prices to ill-fitting jobs in careers that conflict with your values or cannibalize your work/life balance. They can be bridges to nowhere or dead-end streets on a long, weary journey that was supposed to lead to the proverbial pot of gold…or at least ease you into a pleasant, carefree retirement.

In order to establish yourself on higher ground you have to first climb out of the hole…step off the treadmill…put yourself out of reach of those greedy paws and crooked systems.

Isn’t it time you started playing for the fun of it again, instead of being gamed by a system that changes the rules so that the goalposts move farther away from you each year?

Image: ©iStock.com/NoDerog

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