MONEY College

Choosing a College Major by Age 16 Pays Off. Here’s Why

Forget the old thinking that kids could wait until college to decide a major. Today, they really ought to be making this decision before their junior year of high school.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I suggest such a thing? Why would we put that kind of pressure on high school students? Shouldn’t they be allowed to explore their interests in college first before having to declare a major?

But what’s the alternative?

By the time most students lock down their major, they’re be halfway through their college career or nearly out the door. By some estimates, 80% will change their course of study at least once before graduation. And, we’re telling them not to worry about it. Just take your time, explore your interests and get your diploma.

But with students’ future financial health on the line, discussions around major choice and career path are just happening too late.

Delaying these important decisions could leave a student needing more than four years to complete the class requirements necessary to get a degree, and additional semesters or years add to the already burdensome cost of an education. For bachelor’s degree grads in the class of 2013, average education debt was almost $38,000, according to a report by Edvisors.com.

Additionally, what if a student ultimately ends up choosing a major that leads them into a low-paying field after they’ve already decided on a high-cost school and taken on substantial amounts of student loan debt?

Income-driven repayment plans from the federal government may offer some help for those that choose less lucrative career paths, but these plans do extend the repayment period from the typical 10 years to 20 to 25 years. This could mean that in the years when your children should be thinking about saving for retirement or for their own kids’ education, they’ll still be paying off their student loans. And, these plans won’t apply to any private loans used to fund college.

Major choice, and ultimately career path, should help guide your child’s choices around where to attend college and how much education debt they can afford in the long run. These choices have far-reaching implications. Here at PayScale, we just released data on salary potential for 121 associate degree majors and 207 bachelor degree majors as part of our annual College Salary Report. Understanding earning potential should be a pre-requisite to signing any student loan documents.

Big life decisions are scary, but mountains of debt (and the prospect of your college grad moving into your basement) are much scarier. Twenty-eight percent of Millennials have had to move home with their parents after college due to financial hardship. You’re not doing your son or daughter any favors by advising him or her to delay the decision on a major.

It’s not all on you as the parent either. High school curriculum should be helping students understand real-world applications for what they’re learning and guiding them into career paths for which they’re well-suited. “Career day” doesn’t cut it anymore.

And, I bet if you asked the average 10th grader which careers will have to use algebra on a regular basis, they couldn’t tell you. We need to be showing them why the subjects they’re studying matter and how they apply to careers they may be interested in pursuing. We need to expose them to careers they might not even realize exist.

Even if your kid doesn’t definitively choose a major by the time they graduate high school, starting these conversations early can only benefit them.

Lydia Frank is editorial director at PayScale.com, a site that provides on-demand compensation data and software to employees and employers.

TIME Argentina

Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt of Court

The South American country's showdown with the U.S. court continues

A U.S. judge found Argentina to be in civil contempt of court as it continues to defy his rulings that the country repay some $1.6 billion to holdout creditors–largely American hedge funds–before it pays other bondholders, Bloomberg reports.

Most recently, the country has moved to shift control of its structured debt payments to Buenos Aires from New York, despite the judge’s rulings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan said that move is “illegal and cannot be carried out.”

Griesa did not rule on a penalty, but the holdout creditors have asked him to fine Argentina $50,000 a day until it complies.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the contempt ruling undermines “the dignity of foreign states,” according to Bloomberg. “The decision by Judge Griesa has no practical effects beyond providing new elements in the defamation campaign being waged against Argentina by vulture funds.”

[Bloomberg]

MONEY Student Loans

The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt

Almost 650,000 federal student loan borrowers have defaulted on their debt, new data shows. A handful of for-profit schools are a big part of the problem.

UPDATED: September 25, 2014

More than one out of eight students who had a federal student loan and left college or graduate school in 2011 has since defaulted—a total of almost 650,000 Americans, the U.S. Department of Education reported today.

In all, 13.7% of the 4.8 million federal student loan borrowers who graduated or dropped out of a higher education program in 2011 have gone at least nine months without making a payment on that debt.

That number is alarming to many analysts because new flexible repayment programs have made it much easier to repay federal student loans. Some of the government’s new income-driven repayment plans, for example, cap payments at 10% of a borrower’s discretionary income.

Students and parents should be wary of colleges with high default rates, advises Debbie Cochrane, research director of The Institute for College Access and Success. “At schools with both high borrowing rates and high default rates, too many students are clearly leaving school worse off than before they entered,” she says.

A handful of for-profit colleges are responsible for a disproportionate number of the defaults, according to the new government statistics.

The Education Department says it will stop making loans to students at the 21 colleges with the worst default rates. (It will cut off schools with a three-year default rate above 40%, or three consecutive three-year default rates above 30%.) Twenty of those schools are for-profit colleges.

Many of the colleges with the highest default rates are trade schools, and many are comparatively small. The Coast Career Institute, a California-based trade school with a 56% default rate, for example, currently reports having only 169 students. Eleven of the 21 colleges with the worst default records are beauty or barbering schools. On average, 19% of students at for-profit schools who left school in 2011 have defaulted.

What’s more, several other government agencies are looking into whether some for-profit colleges are trying to attract students using false or misleading marketing. Allegations of fraud leveled by the California attorney general have forced for-profit Corinthian College to shut down.

Overall, the default rates for public colleges was 12.9%. The default rate for private, non-profit colleges was 7.2%. But the four colleges with the largest numbers of defaulters were for-profit schools. They produced a combined total of more than 75,000 defaulters in the past three years.

The University of Phoenix, a for-profit company and the nation’s largest higher education system, with 242,000 students, accounted for more than 45,000 of the defaulters in the most recent three-year group. That represented 19% of all of the Phoenix students whose bills started coming due in 2011.

Spokesmen for Phoenix and an association of for-profit schools note that their default rates have been declining. The University of Phoenix’s three-year default rate for students who graduated or dropped out in 2010 was 26%, for example.

The largest producer of defaulters among public schools was Ivy Tech, a community college in Indiana, where 23% of the student borrowers who left there in 2011 have since defaulted on their student loans. On average, 20% of community college borrowers have defaulted over the past three years. Community college officials note that their students generally tend to borrow less than others because the schools charge lower tuition.

These five schools have the highest numbers of defaulters among those who left school in 2011, according the Education Department.

College Type # of federal student loan defaulters, 2011-14 % of borrowers who defaulted on federal loans due in 2011
1 University of Phoenix For-profit 45,123 19%
2 ITT Technical Institute For-profit 11,260 22%
3 Kaplan University For-profit 10,684 20%
4 DeVry University For-profit 9,081 19%
5 Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana Public community college 7,237 23%

Update: This post has been updated to add more information about schools with the highest default rates and to correct the Department of Education’s policy on loans for schools with high default rates.

TIME Debt

More Lenders Are ‘Garnishing Wages’ To Get Paid Back

If you’ve fallen behind on credit-card, medical, or other debt, there’s a growing likelihood that the lenders will simply help themselves to the contents of your paycheck — or even your bank account — to get their money back.

You read that right. Wage garnishment — typically thought of as a tool for collecting unpaid child support or back taxes — is increasingly being wielded by lenders and collection agencies, and it’s hitting middle class and blue-collar workers the hardest.

“The impact is often humiliating and stressful for employees. It can result in decreased productivity and motivation that can be detrimental to the affected employee, workplace, and employer,” payroll giant ADP says in a report about garnishment conducted at the request of ProPublica.

According to a joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica based on the ADP data, roughly 4 million working Americans had their wages garnished to pay off a consumer debt last year. For those earning between $25,000 and $40,000, consumer debt was the main reason for garnishment. Employees of manufacturing companies are more likely to be hit by garnishments, as are residents of Midwestern states.

These aren’t small amounts, either. Although some states limit how much can be garnished, a creditor can take up to 25% of your paycheck in more than half the country. What’s even worse is that debtors whose pay is garnished are likely to wind up paying back far more than the original debt owed, because creditors are free to tack on penalty fees, hike the APR on the balance, add their own legal costs onto the balance.

One American profiled by NPR, who fell behind on credit-card payments after an extended period of joblessness, is paying off a balance of around $15,000, even though the original bill he owed was less than half that amount.

“Pay seizures appear to be rising fast in certain states. The economic downturn has produced a significant increase in the number of debtors – and creditors seem to be suing at higher levels,” ADP says.

The effects of garnishments on a person or a family’s financial stability are significant, the report found. Having your pay garnished to pay back an old debt can drag down your credit score, making it hard or even impossible to get a loan or open a bank account. If you have more than one garnishment on your pay, your job could even be at risk.

In a 2013 report, the National Consumer Law Center warned that this kind of aggressive action can push families off a financial cliff and create ripple effects that hurt the broader economy. “When debtors lose their jobs, the consequences fall not just on the debtors and their families, but also on landlords, local merchants, and other creditors that the debtor might have paid,” the group says.

Fighting a garnishment isn’t easy. Borrowers have to go to court. And consumer groups including the NCLC say that some unscrupulous debt collectors (who often “buy” the debt from the original lender) tend to “overlook” the requirement to send notices about required court appearances before garnishing paychecks. If the indebted person doesn’t show up in court, even if they never got the notification, a judgement can be entered against them, and they might have no idea until their paychecks start getting lighter.

Creditors can even reach into bank accounts in some cases. The NCLC recommends that the state laws that govern garnishment of bank account assets give people a $1,200 cushion that creditors can’t touch. (Right now, only three states — Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin — do.)

Despite the hardship this places on families, experts say the trend towards seizing wages is a big part of debt collectors’ strategy. “The emphasis is now on creditor garnishments,” consultant Amy Bryant tells NPR.

 

MONEY Credit

How to Raise Your Spouse’s Low Credit Score

It's not just your partner's problem—it's yours too, if you ever plan to buy a house or a car together.

While married couples don’t inherit each other’s credit scores, one partner’s weak rating could sink the family’s financial goals.

If one of you has a less-than-perfect number—anything under the mid-700s on the FICO scale—it can affect your ability as a couple to qualify for joint accounts, like credit cards, mortgages, or auto loans, says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian.

For example, lenders might not approve you together for as large of a mortgage as you’d like or may only extend you one with a really high rate. And if you can’t handle those terms, “you might find yourself completing an apartment lease application while you work to rebuild your spouse’s credit history,” says Griffin.

As the higher scoring spouse, it’s in your best interest to help your partner improve his or her credit. Here’s how:

Do encourage diligence about credit card payments…

The strength of your credit score is based 35% on your bill payment history and 30% on your level of outstanding debt—particularly credit card debt.

Remind your partner to pay his or her bills on time each month (you might suggest setting up account alerts so that you don’t have to be the nag). And explain to your loved one that it’s important to keep outstanding balances on his or her cards under 20% of the limit on those cards, since the formulas reward a low utilization ratio.

“Attacking those two issues will help improve credit scores faster than any other actions,” says Griffin.

…but don’t step in to wipe away your partner’s missteps

Think twice before using up personal savings to clear your partner’s towering credit card balance.

If the debt stems from reckless and irresponsible spending, bailing out your spouse won’t teach any lessons. “You’ll be an enabler,” says Barbara Stanny, author of the forthcoming book Sacred Success: A Course in Financial Miracles. “[Your spouse] could fall right back into debt.”

A more effective way to help reduce your partner’s debt may be to cut costs from your family budget (primarily from your spouse’s discretionary spending) and use the savings to chip away the debt. While it’s a slower process towards rebuilding credit, the extra discipline and effort involved may be a helpful reminder in the future of why it’s never a good idea to overspend.

Another strategy, if you earn enough money: Consider taking on some monthly costs that you previously shared—like rent or the car payment—by yourself to allow your spouse to use more of his or her salary towards personal debt.

Do let your partner piggyback…

Another possibly efficient way to improve your partner’s credit rating is by adding him or her to one of your major credit cards as an authorized user. “Most scoring models incorporate authorized user accounts in the [credit score] calculation, so they can contribute positively,” says Griffin.

You simply call up your credit card issuer and request to put your partner’s name onto the account as an authorized user. He or she will receive a personal card attached to your credit limit in the mail.

Assuming you both use the account responsibly and pay the monthly balance on time and in full, both your credit profiles can benefit.

But you should know that your spouse will not be liable for payments.

Also just make sure to monitor his or her spending activity regularly. If your partner gets too swipe-happy you may want to cancel access so you don’t see your score come down or your balance go up beyond what you can afford to pay.

….but don’t co-sign on the dotted line

Taking on a new credit card and using it responsibly is yet another way to help improve one’s credit rating. But if your partner needs you to co-sign or be added as “secondary” borrower, think twice.

You’re lending more than just your name. If your spouse falls behind on payments, the bank could come after your money.

“It’s a horrible idea,” says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. “When you co-sign you are essentially…guaranteeing payment on behalf of someone whom the lender feels isn’t credit worthy on their own.”

Co-signed debt can also come to haunt you, should you ever get divorced. “There’s no easy way to separate yourself from it,” says Ulzheimer. “When the two of you break up, you’re still connected via the liability, whether you want to be or not.”

A better idea: Introduce your partner to a secured card, designed for borrowers who can’t qualify for a regular credit card yet due to poor or insufficient credit histories. You load it with your own money—usually between $300 to $500—and proceed to spend. You can only charge as much as you put down as collateral.

Secured cards are available at many banks and credit unions. Money likes the no-fee one offered by Digital Credit Union, the interest rate on which starts at 11.5%. (You must be a member of DCU to apply, though you can join with a $10 donation to Reach Out for Schools.)

The catch with a secured card is that it’s very easy to charge up to the credit limit, but that’s no good for your credit score. Ideally, your spouse should keep his or her spending to less than 20% of the limit.

Consistently paying off the balance for about a year may then earn your partner an upgrade to a traditional credit card with a solid credit limit—maybe even rewards. But most importantly, your spouse’s behavior using the secured card will also be reported to the major credit reporting agencies, which in turn helps to raise his or her credit score.

Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money Magazine. She is the author of the new book When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.

MONEY 101: What is my credit score, and how is it calculated?

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 19

1. China should match its massive investment in Africa with robust support for the Ebola fight.

By James Gibney in Bloomberg View

2. The market alone can’t drive advances in biomedical science. Philanthropy has a role.

By David Panzirer in Wired

3. Far from radical, the new USA Freedom Act protects citizens from government spying with better oversight and less secrecy.

By Mary McCarthy in USA Today

4. Outdated laws on debt collection and wage garnishment are crushing the working poor.

By Paul Kiel in ProPublica and Chris Arnold at National Public Radio

5. Scotlands referendum was a reassuring exercise in the ‘majesty of democracy.’

By Michael Ignatieff in the Financial Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

MONEY real estate

The High Cost of Failing to Refinance

Many homeowners have missed out on big savings by not refinancing, new research finds. Here's why.

Until recently, I’d never seen a mortgage rate south of 6%. Of course I’d heard that rates had dropped to almost half that, and yet, for a variety of reasons, I did not take advantage of them by refinancing my existing mortgage. Though illogical, my inertia is not uncommon. According to a recent paper by researchers at the University of Chicago and Brigham Young Unversity, the “failure to refinance” strikes approximately 20% of homeowners who could greatly benefit from the lower interest rate environment.

The costs of this failure can be sizeable over time. Say you had a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 at an interest rate of 6.5%. If you refinanced at 4.5 % (approximately the decrease between 2008 and 2010), you would save over $80,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan, even after accounting for refinancing transaction costs. If you had refinanced in late 2012, when rates hit an all-time low of 3.35%, you would save $130,000 over the life of the loan.

Failing to refinance isn’t completely irrational. Refinancing is a difficult transaction requiring extensive paper work, an appraisal and hefty fees. All of which triggers what the researchers call “present bias,” a psychological phenomenon that makes it harder for people to make decisions that may have upfront costs but longer-term benefits.

My own story illustrates the way that present bias impacts behavior. When I bought my current home in 2007, my rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.625%. As rates began to drop, I was never entirely clear how to calculate at what point refinancing would make sense financially. At the same time, I was receiving mail offers promising to save me money merely by increasing the number of mortgage payments a year. That made me wary of being taken advantage of by lenders looking to make money in transaction costs off of unsuspecting buyers. (This wariness has also always made me distrustful of any loans with “points.”)

By 2011, however, rates had clearly fallen enough to justify a refinance. But by that point I was considering moving, and I didn’t want to go through all the paperwork and hassle if I was going to be selling soon anyway. Then, like many others, I found that my house’s assessed value had fallen sharply from my purchase price. Given the weak real estate market at the time, it made more sense to stay put. Even though I knew that refinancing would still benefit me, the uncertainty about my future brought about by market forces only delayed my decision more.

Finally, in 2013, I refinanced. I wound up borrowing more as part of another financial transaction, but at an interest rate of 3.46%, my monthly payments are almost the same as they were before. I have since heard of wise colleagues who, instead of lowering their monthly payments, refinanced from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage and as a result will own their homes outright in half the time while making about the same payments.

Which, if you think about it, means that they overcame “present bias” twice: first in the act of refinancing, and then by foregoing having extra cash on hand to spend now in order to be debt-free in 15 years. At the end of the day, refinancing isn’t just about saving money; it’s about what you do with that money that can make a huge difference to your long-term financial security.

Konigsberg is the author of The Truth About Grief, a contributor to the anthology Money Changes Everything, and a director at Arden Asset Management. The views expressed are solely her own.

MONEY credit cards

Why Millennials are Terrified of Credit Cards

Girl hiding under table
Getty Images

A new poll shows that 63% of Gen Y doesn't carry a charge card. That doesn't surprise MONEY reporter Kerri Anne Renzulli—she's among the majority.

Millennials may have no qualms about skipping cash and swiping plastic for purchases, but we are picky about what kind of card we use. A study released a few weeks ago found that 18 to 29 year olds prefer to swipe debit to credit by a ratio of 3:1.

And now a survey out today by Bankrate.com explains why millennials are reaching for their debit cards so much more frequently: Because it’s the only card many of us have.

More than six in 10 millennials do not own a credit card, the poll found. I am one of them.

For me, this survey was oddly reassuring, putting me in the majority as one of the 63% of Gen Y-ers. While I use my debit card multiple times a day, I still, at age 24, haven’t gotten my first credit card, despite heavy pressure from my parents and my older colleagues here at MONEY who urge me to begin building my credit history.

Why are we millennials making the conscious decision to push off this step?

We don’t love banks

Well, first there’s the fact that as a generation we have low levels of social trust. Having come of age during the recession, we don’t have much faith in traditional institutions like banks, and we certainly don’t want to be reliant upon them any more than we must.

My coworker and fellow cardless millennial Jake Davidson says this certainly figures into his reluctance to sign up. “I feel like credit card companies are waiting to trap me,” he says. “The whole model of their business is to get you into debt. If I use a debit card, there is never any risk of that.”

We already owe too much

Yes, it’s true that if we paid off our balances in full each month, there would be no chance of companies trapping us with revolving debt. But the idea of having to borrow any more money, even if only for a month, can feel like the equivalent of throwing away your life vest to those who are already swimming in deep waters.

I’m talking about the fact that we millennials are already overloaded. On average, we’re starting out with $27,000 of debt from student loans—and that’s just for the bachelor’s degree. Our levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment are all higher than Gen X or Boomers at the same stage of their lives, according to Pew Research.

We’ve seen the dark side

Stories from our friends who’ve actually gotten a card (or two or three) are bleak enough to further scare the rest of us away.

Millennials are the least likely generation to pay their balances off in full each month. A whopping 60% of us don’t, according to Bankrate’s survey. And 3% of us miss payments completely—more than any other age group. That’s all thanks to the high levels of existing debt, low income, and underemployment that make us financially unstable.

We don’t realize what we’re missing

We can’t put this financial step off forever though, no matter how good our reasons. We will need to begin building up our credit histories if we ever want to have a chance of getting an auto loan, obtaining an insurance policy, or buying a house.

So my fellow millennials, if you need to wait for more steady financial times before signing up for plastic, please do so.

But if you’re feeling financially responsible and secure enough to add credit, you might consider easing in with MONEY pick Northwest Federal Credit Union FirstCard Visa Platinum, which is designed for people who don’t yet have a credit history. It has no annual fee, a fixed 10% APR (which is very low, given the average of 15.61%), and a $1,000 credit limit (also very low, so you can’t get into too much trouble).

The only catch is that to build good credit, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t ever using more than 20% of your available credit, or $200.

Oh, and also, you will have to take a 10 question quiz on credit knowledge to get the card—but a little schooling on the risks of plastic won’t hurt you and may even help you avoid turning a financial tool into a financial trap.

As for me, I’m six months behind my original plan to apply for my first card when I got a “real job.” But I’m feeling more motivated these days, knowing that the longer I wait, the further I’m pushing back my dream of renting a whole 600 square feet of New York apartment without my parents’ help.

More on Managing Credit and Debt:
3 Simple Steps to Get Out of Debt
7 Ways to Improve Your Credit
How Do I Pick a Credit Card?

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com.

 

TIME Thailand

Surrogate Offers Clues Into Man With 16 Babies

Thailand Baby Mystery
Thai police display pictures of surrogate babies born to a Japanese man who is at the center of a surrogacy scandal during a press conference at the police headquarters in Chonburi, Thailand, on Aug. 12, 2014 Sakchai Lalit—AP

"The agent told me it was for a foreign couple"

(BANGKOK) — When the young Thai woman saw an online ad seeking surrogate mothers, it seemed like a life-altering deal: $10,000 to help a foreign couple that wanted a child but couldn’t conceive.

Wassana, a lifetime resident of the slums, viewed it as a nine-month solution to her family’s debt. She didn’t ask many questions.

In reality, there was no couple. There was instead a young man from Japan named Mitsutoki Shigeta, whom she met twice but who never spoke a word to her. This same man — reportedly the son of a Japanese billionaire — would go on to make surrogate babies with 10 other women in Thailand, police say, spending more than half a million dollars to father at least 16 children for reasons still unclear.

The mystery surrounding Shigeta has riveted Thailand and become the focal point of a growing scandal over commercial surrogacy. The industry that catered to foreigners has thrived on semi-secrecy, deception and legal loopholes, and Thailand’s military government is vowing to shut it down.

Wassana’s story, which she shared with The Associated Press on condition that her last name not be used to protect her family and 8-year-old son from embarrassment, offers clues into an extraordinarily complex puzzle that boils down to two questions: Who is Shigeta and why did he want so many babies?

Shigeta is being investigated for human trafficking and child exploitation, but Thai police say they haven’t found evidence of either. The 24-year-old, now the focus of an Asia-wide investigation, has said through a lawyer that he simply wanted a big family.

He has not been charged with any crime and is trying to get his children back — 12 are currently in Thailand being cared for by social services. His whereabouts are unknown; he left Bangkok after police raided his condominium Aug. 5 and discovered nine babies living with nine nannies. Police say he sent DNA samples from Japan that prove he is the babies’ father.

Key to unraveling all of this are the women Shigeta paid to bear his children. And Wassana, whose account has been corroborated by police, was his first.

___

AN ANSWER TO EVICTION

Wassana’s Bangkok is not the city of skyscrapers and spas that most visitors see. The petite, soft-spoken 32-year-old with a ninth grade education has spent her life in a trash-strewn slum, scraping by selling traditional Thai sweets from a food cart and sharing a mildew-stained tenement with seven relatives. At $6 a day, it was affordable until her late father’s medical bills drained the family’s savings. They couldn’t pay rent for a year and faced eviction.

So when her sister stumbled upon an ad seeking surrogates in 2012, Wassana didn’t hesitate.

“I thought that any parents who would spend so much money to get a baby must want him desperately,” she says. “The agent told me it was for a foreign couple.”

She assumed it was customary to keep the biological parents’ identities confidential. In a country where deference to authority is expected — especially for poor, uneducated women — she didn’t probe.

She wondered, though, who the baby’s mother was.

“I don’t know if the doctor used my eggs or another woman’s,” she says. “Nobody told me.”

During the pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes dangerously high blood pressure. She was rushed into the delivery room two months early and on June 20, 2013, she underwent a cesarean section, giving birth to a boy. Wassana’s family came to visit, but, she says, Shigeta did not.

The infant was placed in an incubator and after six days, Wassana returned home. She’s not sure when the baby was released from the hospital to Shigeta’s custody.

Two months later, she finally met Shigeta for the first time at the New Life fertility clinic, which had posted the Internet ad.

He was tall, with shaggy, shoulder-length hair, and was dressed casually in jeans and a wrinkled, button-down shirt he left untucked. His lawyer had accompanied him to the meeting, where he and Wassana signed a document granting him sole custody.

He wasn’t personable. There was no “thank you” for carrying his child, she says. There was, in fact, no communication at all.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” she says. “He never introduced himself. He only smiled and nodded. His lawyer did the talking.”

___

PERJURY ALLEGATIONS

A month later, the same lawyer, Ratpratan Tulatorn, called and told her to go to the Juvenile and Family Court to finalize the custody transfer. Under Thai law, a woman who gives birth is the legal mother, and, if she is married, her husband is the legal father. A court approval is required to transfer custody, which experts say often involves perjury.

Police Col. Decha Promsuwan, who has questioned five of Shigeta’s surrogates, said several of the women told police Ratpratan had instructed them to tell the court they’d had an affair with Shigeta, resulting in a child their husbands did not want.

Ratpratan said he is no longer Shigeta’s attorney and declined to comment on the women’s statements, saying, “I don’t want to touch that point because it’s a legal matter.”

During the hearing, Shigeta told the judge he owned a finance company in Japan.

His story is being intensely followed in Japan despite legal threats against the press. After his case made headlines, a group of prominent lawyers sent letters warning Japan’s mainstream media not to report Shigeta’s name or the names of his family members, according to news organizations that received the letter.

However, several Japanese magazines and online publications have identified him as a son of Japanese tycoon Yasumitsu Shigeta, founder of mobile phone distributor Hikari Tsushin.

Yet even his heritage is shrouded in mystery. The company says it can neither confirm nor deny the father-son relationship, calling it “a personal matter,” and Thai police and Interpol say they are investigating his family ties. Multiple stock filings, meanwhile, show the elder Shigeta has a son named Mitsutoki and his company has a shareholder with the same name. The stock papers show that Yasumitsu’s child was born Feb 9, 1990, the same birthdate as the Mitsutoki Shigeta at the center of the surrogacy scandal, according to Thai media that published his passport page.

Yasumitsu Shigeta did not respond to a request for an interview and Mitsutoki Shigeta’s current lawyer did not respond to requests for interviews with his client, who has multiple addresses throughout Asia. Phone calls to a Hong Kong mobile number listed for the younger Shigeta went straight to voicemail, and he did not answer text messages. No one answered the bell at his Hong Kong condo, and the doorman said he could not recall ever seeing him there.

___

’10 TO 15 BABIES A YEAR’

In early August, barely a year after Wassana’s court date with Shigeta, she saw his face again — this time, on television. She almost didn’t recognize him; his hair was now neatly trimmed.

The Thai media was calling it the “serial surrogacy” case. It had broken just after another scandal involving an Australian couple who paid a Thai surrogate to carry twins, then left behind the one with Down syndrome.

Wassana was floored. What was happening?

Police wondered the same thing. So intricate was Shigeta’s quest for children that they crafted a flowchart to keep track of how he did it.

The 9-step diagram starts with Shigeta’s picture and traces the steps he took to get his babies, from hiring surrogacy clinics and nannies, to registering apartments in the infants’ names and completing legal paperwork required for birth certificates and passports. The deliveries were spread out at nine Bangkok hospitals.

Shigeta’s acquaintances offer varying accounts of his motives.

The New Life clinic, which is currently closed pending investigation, stopped working with Shigeta after two surrogates got pregnant and he requested more, said founder Mariam Kukunashvili.

Shigeta told New Life “he wanted to win elections and could use his big family for voting,” Kukunashvili said. “He said he wanted 10 to 15 babies a year, and that he wanted to continue the baby-making process until he’s dead.”

Kukunashvili said she reported his requests to Interpol in an April 8, 2013 fax to its French headquarters, but never heard back. Thailand’s Interpol office said it never saw the warning.

She rejected Wassana’s account that the New Life agent had portrayed the parents as a couple and withheld Shigeta’s identity.

“At New Life, surrogates are always informed fully and never treated this way,” she said.

The Medical Council of Thailand, meanwhile, spoke with Wassana’s doctor, Pisit Tantiwattanakul, before he closed his All IVF fertility clinic and emptied it of all patient files after the scandal broke. His whereabouts are unknown, but he has vowed to present himself for a police interview in early September.

Pisit told the council Shigeta said he had businesses overseas and wanted a large family because he only trusted his own children to take care of them.

Interpol has asked its regional offices in Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India to probe Shigeta’s background. Police say he appears to have businesses or apartments in those countries.

Japan has no law banning surrogacy, but the medical industry has issued orders against it that are strictly followed, which could explain why Shigeta flew to one of the few places in Asia where it is openly practiced. Since 2010, he has made 41 trips to Thailand and police say he traveled regularly to Cambodia, where he holds a passport and brought four of the babies. Cambodian police have refused to comment on the case.

One of the babies in Cambodia might be Wassana’s — a prospect that leaves her riddled with guilt.

“What if they’ve done something bad to the baby?” she says. “Did I deliver him to some terrible fate?”

Today, her own fate is uncertain. The money she received for bearing Shigeta’s child cleared the family debt but was not enough to drag them out of the slums. She still lives in the same derelict tenement.

She has held the boy just once, when Shigeta handed him to her briefly in court. But she told police that she would be willing to raise him if he is being mistreated.

“I thought he would be with a good family that would love him,” she says. “That’s what I thought.”

TIME

America’s Most Deeply Indebted Generation Will Surprise You

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Chris Clor—Getty Images

The one generation that's taken out way more debt and is reducing it at a slower pace than any other

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Chris Matthews

Millennials may owe more in student loans than any American generation, but their Generation X elders are actually the most in debt.

That’s according to a study released Wednesday by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economists William Emmons and Bryan Noeth. The study showed that the single most indebted birth cohort in the nation are 44 year olds, who owe on average $142,077, most of that composed of mortgage debt.

This figure is actually a marked improvement, as every generation, including Generation X, has made progress paying down or discharging debt. For its part, Gen X has reduced what it owes by between 10% and 15% since 2008. But even on this score, they were beaten out by the much-maligned Millennial generation. These folks, also known as Generation Y, reduced debt even more aggressively than Gen Xers, discharging or paying down upwards of 25% of what they owed in 2008. Emmons and Noeth point out that “millennials were very young during the housing boom and presumably had more limited access to borrowing than members of Gen X.”

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

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