Detroit: In need of a credit counselor

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - We all spend time looking at our personal debt.

It's all part of keeping your credit scores up and your ability to borrow for a mortgage, car note or even a college education. If your credit card spending gets out of hand you take yourself to a credit counselor. I recommend GreenPath Debt Solutions for just such a purpose.

The city of Detroit needs to pay GreenPath a visit, too. It's just that it can't.

Instead it has to face the state treasurer's office for its debt solutions. There is nothing flippant about this notion here either.

The governor's financial review team told Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit City Council it is hooked on using its credit card to an unsustainable level.

In English, that means the city is broker than broke!

READ: Detroit review team's report to Snyder

Here is some perspective

We see the record Mega Millions Jackpot today is a whopping $500 million. There are few in the states where they sell these tickets who aren't at least asking themselves what they would buy with that kind of money. It's a flight of fancy to imagine how that kind of money could change your life.

But if Bing asked one of his staffers to buy him a ticket on his behalf for the city and lightning struck; that cash infusion would not much change Detroit's fortunes. That's not me talking either. It's the review team's assessment. It says if the mayor won half a billion dollars it would not be enough to cover one year's pension liabilities. He would fall short by $100 million. That $500 million would not be enough to cover the debt the city rang up in its annual budgets over the past five years. That number is $600 million, too. 

Bing spent much of the Christmas holiday season attempting to negotiate concessionary contracts from the city's four labor unions. He succeeded in getting unprecedented givebacks totaling roughly $216 million over two years. But there is a problem, the mayor projected he needed $360 million over two years… that's only 60 percent of what he needed.

In layman's terms, that's four slices short of a 10-piece pizza!

The review team says this is the biggest problem Bing and council have, they project revenues, know what the city needs to take in, try and meet them and come up short at every turn.


Finally, the easiest way to see just how addicted the city is to its credit card habit; the review team says the city's debt load in total is $17 billion including bond debt. That is a staggering number!

To put that into perspective, the review team did what's known in the business world as a debt to equity ratio.

How do the city's assets compare to its debt? The answer is 32 to one. That is seemingly impossible.

Yet, think of it this way, if you have one egg and call that the city's assets; you can use the rest of a three dozen crate of eggs to represent the city's debt.

Now you have an idea why the city is where it is.

The governor wants the problem solved now and why even a credit counselor can't solve this problem.

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