Identity Theft

May 23, 2010

Despite law enforcement and the general public’s understanding of identity theft crimes, the numbers of cases continue to rise. The insurance industry has responded to this problem by creating endorsements and adding coverage for the following to their homeowner’s policies:
• Costs associated with notarizing affidavits and sending these affidavits via certified mail
• Lost income due to taking time off work to deal with consequences of the loss
• Loan re-application fees and long distance fees
• Attorney’s fees
• Services aimed at assisting insured’s by directly contacting credit bureaus, creditors, etc.
Here are a few steps that can be taken to minimize one’s exposure to identity theft:
• Never place outgoing mail in your mail box.
• Never give any personal information such as your social security number to anyone unless absolutely necessary and the firm is trusted and reputable.
• Always shred all credit card offers received in the mail
• Obtain a credit report every year to ascertain that no one is damaging your credit.
• Always use passwords to protect your accounts.
• Be extremely vigilant about checking backgrounds of anyone with whom you propose to do business.
Should you become the victim of identity theft, here is a list of actions to take:• Contact credit bureaus, including Equifax, 800-525-6285, Experian, 888-397-3742, and Transunion, 800-680-7289. Alert them to place a “fraud alert” on your account.
• File a report with your local police department
• Contact all your creditors, credit card companies, banks and other lenders
• Close any accounts tampered with or opened fraudulently
• Notify your bank of check theft and close the account immediately.
• Complete the ID Theft Affidavit available through the Federal Trade Commission’s web site,
• Contact your attorney immediately to obtain professional advice.
• Contact your insurance agent for possible coverage.

Proposed Reforms (Part 2)

December 17, 2009

Consumer Lending Rules – Last Wednesday, the House passed a bill by a wide margin to move up the start date to limit banks’ rate increases on existing credit-card balances. The Financial sector swooned by a few percentage points as soon as the bill passed. There will be increased scrutiny of many of the lines of lending from credit cards to student loans.

Credit Default Swaps – Right now, many derivative agreements are private one-on-one contracts in what is called the over-the-counter market. These opaque transactions are outside the view of the public or regulators and are dependent upon the parties remaining solvent. If one party becomes insolvent, it may take the other with it. This lack of transparency in volume, size, and counterparties proved disastrous in the financial crisis.

In the bailout of American International Group, tens of billions of dollars went to settle these contracts to avoid a domino effect. The reform proposals require that many derivatives be traded on public exchanges providing transparency on the volume and size of the market and providing each party an exchange whose creditworthiness would be backed by the entire industry. Forcing these contracts to be traded on an exchange may limit the risk they pose to the financial system.

Shopping for a Lender (Part 2)

October 24, 2009

It is just as important to look for a lender with a reputation for integrity and service. You will be sharing all of your most private financial information with your loan company. Signing for a loan is a big commitment, so make sure that you feel comfortable with your lender. Here are some important items to consider when shopping for a mortgage lender:

Rate Commitment
Many lenders quote an interest rate at the time of application. However, if market interest rates should go up or down during the period before you close on your loan, you need to find out what interest rate you will ultimately be charged. It is also important to know how long the lender will commit to this rate.

Loan Servicing
After your loan is closed, you will be dealing with a loan servicing company. The loan servicing company will accept your payment every month and handle any questions you may have concerning your mortgage balance. Many lenders service their own loans while many others sell their servicing to outside firms. You should know upfront that the lender you choose works with reputable loan servicing companies.

Considering the cost involved, your final choice of a lender should be one who offers you a good deal financially. However, keep in mind that you will be dealing with your lender for many years and it is always easier to deal with people you like and trust.

Shopping for a Lender (Part 1)

October 22, 2009

When shopping for a mortgage lender, you should make price comparisons, but interest rates alone should not be the determining factor in choosing a lender. Here are some important items to consider when shopping for a mortgage lender:

Mortgage lenders charge fees for a variety of things such as filing an application, appraisal, credit reports, etc. Be sure to know upfront what the lender charges are so that there are no surprises at closing. Lenders are required to state interest as an annual percentage rate (APR). This rate takes into account the loan origination fees. When comparing interest rates among various lenders, be sure to use the APR as your measure.

Processing Time
What is the average length of time for a mortgage loan to be processed? This is an important question to ask if you need to move into a home quickly.

Final Words on Debt

September 29, 2009

If you have incurred inefficient debt, one method of eliminating It is to transfer the debt to your home equity. Many people are reluctant to use their home equity to consolidate other debt. This reluctance really stems from a mind-set that is behind the times. Certainly, 30 years ago, if people refinanced their home or took out a second mortgage, you can be sure the neighbors were talking behind their backs about their financial woes. But using your home’s equity is economically wise.

It provides low Interest rates, a tax deduction, and an extended amortization.

However, even this form of debt should not be used recklessly. Defaulting on a mortgage of any kind has greater consequences than defaulting on consumer loans. Mortgage loans are secured by your home, which means that if you can’t make payments, you will lose your home. Consumer credit lenders cannot take such drastic remedies.

Avoid all other kinds of debt, including the high-risk debt of stock margin purchases and stock and commodity options. Leave those investments to the professional gamblers. Otherwise, buy only what you can pay for with cash.

Final words on debt. When to use it: rarely. How to use it: to increase your net worth or long-term quality of life, not to buy more things…

Vacation Properties and Income – Part 2

September 14, 2009

Another way for retirees to generate income from a vacation home is to sell it. By using the federal capital gains exclusion in conjunction with the sale of your primary residence, you can potentially realize tax-free income. Here’s how it works. The basic capital gains exclusion rules state that you must have owned and used the home as your primary residence for at least two years out of the five-year period ending on the date of the sale. If you are married, the full $500,000 exclusion ($250,000 for single homeowners) is available as long as one or both of you satisfies the ownership test (two years) and you both satisfy the use test (primary residence).

Vacation Properties and Income – Part 1

September 10, 2009

If you have a vacation home, you’re already aware of the enjoyment it provides and the benefits it can offer at tax time. But you may not be aware of how vacation property can be used to generate income in retirement or how it can play into an estate plan. In fact, vacation properties offer retirees a number of different options in managing their finances and estate.
Vacation property may be used to generate income in several different ways. The first, and most obvious, is renting it. The IRS allows you to deduct mortgage interest on your primary residence and one additional property up to a limit of $1 million in combined mortgage debt for mortgages taken out after 1987. Current tax rules also allow you to rent out a second home for up to 14 days per year without having to report the rent as income. If you rent for more than 14 days, the home is considered investment property, and rent must be reported as income. Converting the property to an investment property, however, allows you to deduct rental expenses, such as insurance and utilities, if you have a net profit on the property (deductions are limited if you report a loss). You can still use an income-producing property for personal use while maintaining your tax advantages — but only for the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the total days it is rented. Maintenance days do not count as personal-use days, but use by in-laws or other part-owners does, even if rent is charged.