Need Help? Call a Semi-Pro

Two out of the three toilets in my home did not work. I called the plumber, but he never called back. Maybe he was tired of making yet another trek to my house. Meanwhile, my handyman was over doing some other work. I mentioned the bathroom problems and he said, “Let me see if I can fix it.” He did. My toilets flush but no longer run half the night, filling up over and over again due to a leak. Even better, my handyman charges far less money than the plumber. And he did a better job! The lesson I learned is that from now on, unless it is a major plumbing problem, I’m calling the handyman.

Although the first impulse is to seek out a top professional for a problem (including minor ones), it may save money to get a semi-pro to help.

I found this out a couple of weeks ago. I took my dog to the vet for her rabies shot and a heartworm check. I nearly had a heart attack when I got the bill. Did I pay that much last year? I looked up the bill. Nope, I’d taken her to a non-profit animal clinic and paid far less.

Next time, my dog will get her shots and pills either from that clinic or from one of the community clinics that are often held one Saturday a year at fire stations or town halls. My dog will receive identical medication, and I’d save enough money to buy her an overpriced Wobble Wag Giggle™ ball.

I’ve done that for my own health care. If it’s not a major problem, I’ve gone to the so-called “Doc-in-the-Box” clinics for rashes and routine needs. A physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner can handle the recurring routine problem. I can go there without missing work, and when I’m not insured, it’s a cheaper fee. Currently, the fee is the same as my insurance co-pay at the doctor’s, but the clinic is often handier.

Prior to being insured, I would get my annual woman’s exams at Planned Parenthood. The nurse practitioner would be able to detect any problems, but again the fee is cheaper.

Some states permit physician’s assistants to practice on their own, and you may get routine health care cheaper this way.

Usually when I need new glasses, the prescription does not come from an ophthalmologist but from an optometrist. If the doctor of optometry sees a problem, he refers me on. Again, there is a cost savings.

In some states, paralegals are semi-professionals who can help you draw up a will or do other routine legal business. They don’t charge as much as an attorney. Another source of inexpensive legal help may be a Legal Aid office.

Instead of hiring a researcher, a reference librarian may point you in the right direction for free.

Although I’m not physically able to stand on ladders and paint, I still saved money. Instead of a paint professional, my handyman did the chore. For years, I dreamed of granite countertops to replace my dated countertops of white with gold glitter Formica in my kitchen. The cost was prohibitive! Researching on the internet, I found a “granite look” paint kit. My handyman once again did the job. The results were so beautiful that he had his wife come over to see it. She’s a bit miffed that they installed real granite when my counters look so similar. My cost? It was under $400, which included two $79 paint kits.

How many other times does it save you money to call someone who is slightly lower on the totem pole than a top professional?

This article by Lynn Bulmahn first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


An Expert Shares the Dangers of Public Wi-Fi

Public, free Wi-Fi is a convenience that most of us appreciate, but you shouldn’t be blinded by their too-good-to-be-true appeal. Using public Wi-Fi networks might just be one of the riskiest, tech-related mistakes you make on a regular basis.

Scott N. Schober, the President and CEO of Berkley Varitronics Systems (BVS), author, and well-informed cyber security expert, believes that public Wi-Fi networks are, in fact, dangerous to access.

Schober explains, “when you access most public Wi-Fi, you enter into a temporary relationship with that provider whereby you trade your privacy for convenience. Open Wi-Fi access points are sometimes subsidized by collecting and selling metadata relating to all consumer activity including purchasing habits, dwell time in the store and even the specific devices used to connect to that open Wi-Fi. You might not care about sharing this metadata but advertisers certainly do.”

Recurring risks

According to Schober, the shared metadata can be used to a criminal’s advantage. He explains that “this data is extremely valuable because it provides vital information that acts as pieces in a larger puzzle profile that targets you. When properly sorted, this profile can reveal daily patterns including our daily routines, habits, contacts, social posts, and of course, our purchases. Now imagine that when you approach each store, someone is shadowing you and taking notes on everything you did with your smartphone while near that store. It is enough to freak out most consumers, but that is essentially what we are doing. By allowing one Wi-Fi to collect and sell this metadata, we are unwittingly opting into targeting and tracking programs similar to Google or Facebook’s advertising programs. Citizens have the right to protect their own privacy, but cannot truly protect themselves if they are not even aware they are being targeted.”

Frequency of theft

Many people may think that public Wi-Fi network risks are rare, most likely because they haven’t noticed any negative consequences from connecting to public Wi-Fi. To Schober, the risks are “like fishing in a barrel” as in “high traffic areas are prime targets for hackers and very likely to include fake hotspots that can compromise our devices. These are called Man-in-the-Middle attacks because the hacker’s access point pretends to be a known public hotspot. And there is nothing to stop hackers from naming these deceptive hotspots by the same or similar names to trusted ones such as ‘Free Wi-Fi Starbucks’. So when customers scan the list of possible Wi-Fi connections, they might simply just choose the first one they recognize in a long list. That means they have now just connected to the hacker’s hotspot revealing commonly used login credentials, their email and perhaps all the data on their phone.”

Schober adds that the one connection made to the hotspot may not be your last. He says, “to make matters worse, as a convenience feature, most phones automatically reconnect to known hotspots by default every time you are back in the area so hackers can get repeat business from their victims.”

The bigger problem

Regarding the degree of theft that can come from using public Wi-Fi networks, Schober shares that “public Wi-Fi is a stepping stone to much greater data theft.” Adding that “while only a few items such as frequently used passwords and emails can be easily gleaned from a casual public Wi-Fi connection, the real payoff usually results from the introduction of malware onto the device. Once a hacker has a direct connection to your mobile device via malware, they have access to most anything on that device. But their reach can extend far beyond that device as well. Depending on how they compromise your phone, a hacker can then gain entry into your PC at home and eventually all data including financial, personal, healthcare, and even friends’ and family’s data too.” All of which makes public Wi-Fi a worrisome threat.

What to do if you are a victim

If you have reasonable evidence to believe that you have been victimized because of your public Wi-Fi network connections, Schober instructs that “you should first delete all Wi-Fi networks listed on your mobile device so you do not automatically re-connect to them when you are nearby. If you know the name of suspicious hotspot, alert the nearest retailer also offering public Wi-Fi since most of their customers would potentially be affected by this same hotspot as well. If any legitimate retailer believes their customers could be in jeopardy, they will take action.”

He recommends that you “use your own 4G LTE hot spot or host one from your secure 4G smartphone. If you suspect your devices has already been compromised, be sure to erase and re-install your phone OS completely and do not use a recent backup that might contain cookies, browser history or any code that might contain the malware such as key loggers. Effective anti-keyloggers such as StrikeForces’ MobileTrust can be purchased from Amazon or directly from their website https://www.strikeforcecpg.com. I use these products and have found them to be simple and effective defenses against keyloggers.”

How to avoid becoming a victim

Although there are many legitimate Wi-FI networks, avoiding connection to a public Wi-Fi network is a good way to protect yourself and your data. Schober recommends “that people consider a 4G LTE hotspot to avoid the privacy pitfalls associated with open Wi-Fi. A modulated LTE signal is unlikely to be hacked or spoofed and much safer then using any open Wi-Fi. Modern smartphone OS include integrated Wi-Fi tethering plans so you can host your own Wi-Fi hotspot. Just make sure you use a long and strong password so you can connect any of your devices securely to your smartphone.”

If protecting your privacy is important to you, prevention is the key. Although avoiding public Wi-Fi networks altogether is a solid preventative step, there are many other ways a thief could steal your private information and even your identity. Hiring a professional identity theft protection service might also prove to be a good move on your end. After all, your data, information, and identity are worth protecting, especially as cyber crimes are becoming more frequent.

This article by Alayna Pehrson first appeared on Best Company and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Robinhood Review — an Easy Way to Start Investing

I’ll admit it off the bat: I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about investing. Despite the technical analysis seminars I’d tag along with my father to, my past experience with apps like Acorns, and even keeping a decent eye on the stock market in general, I’d never directly purchased a stock of my own until just a few weeks ago. This came about as, after years of reading about it, I finally decided to download and sign up for Robinhood.

If you’re not familiar, Robinhood is an app that allows users to buy and sell stocks without any fees or commissions. As the app has grown, they’ve also added some new features — most recently introducing the ability to buy cryptocurrencies (more on that later). With my recent realization that I had some extra funds I should be doing more with, it was high time I gave Robinhood a try and am here to share my first impressions.

Signing Up for Robinhood and Funding Your Account

While most of the finance apps I review involve a bit of a sign-up process, joining Robinhood was by far the most extensive experience I’ve had so far. Of course, this is completely understandable as the app must adhere to various regulations and needs to ensure that shareholders are properly documented. Because of this, it took me a few days from my first attempt at signing up until I was ready to trade.

To be fair, part of the problem with my sign-up process and the delay I experienced may have been my fault. For example, while the app allows you to upload a photo of your government-issued I.D. easily, the photo I took was apparently not readable. There was also a problem with my Social Security number not matching, which probably means I typed it wrong and didn’t catch my error until it was too late. In any case, I was able to send a photo of my SS card in order to move forward with the approval process.

Another issue I encountered during the application process was that I had forgotten to unfreeze my credit file. Like many people, I elected to freeze my credit reports after the Equifax hack and had completely forgotten that Robinhood would need to access my information. This must be something the app runs into fairly often as the team at Robinhood made it really easy to proceed. Once I put a temporary lift on my credit account, all I had to do was respond to their e-mail to let them know. In both cases (the unfreezing request and the social security card issue), the folks at Robinhood were very quick to respond and push my application through. So while it took a few extra steps along the way, within a few days I was ready to fund my account.

Speaking of funding your account, I found this part of the process to be much easier. For select banks, connecting your account is as simple as logging into your bank’s online service as you would from their app or website. Alternatively, you can manually enter your account and routing numbers in order to link them to Robinhood. I ended trying both options as my Wells Fargo was available to link while my Discover Bank account had to be added manually.

One great thing about Robinhood is that, once you initiate a transfer from your bank, it allows you to access your funds right away. You also have to option to set up recurring transfers so that you’re automatically adding to your investment funds. While I haven’t tried out that automation just yet, I’ve definitely been impressed with the speed in which money is transferred, allowing me to snag a good price on a stock instead of waiting around for funds to clear.

Finally, I should also mention that Robinhood has a unique referral program that incentivizes users to share with their friends. When you invite people to join Robinhood using your special link, you’ll both earn a free stock when their application is approved. The type of stock you earn is random but 1 in 150 people can earn a premium stock, including Apple, Facebook, or Berkshire Hathaway (sidenote: while they don’t say as much, it’s probably safe to assume they mean $BRK-B and not $BRK-A as the latter trades for around $290,000 a share…). Meanwhile, 1 in 80 people will receive either GE, Ford, or Kinder Morgan, with the everyone else receiving some other stock.

Buying Stocks on Robinhood

When it comes to buying stocks on Robinhood’s platform, I’m really not sure it could be any easier — even for a newbie like me. All you need to do is enter how many shares you’d like to purchase, review the order, and submit. Moreover, if you don’t have the funds available to make the trade, it will prompt you to make a transfer for the difference.

As a long-time Disney fan, I knew what stock I wanted to buy before I even downloaded Robinhood. At the same time, I didn’t necessarily just want to pay the going rate to own a small piece of the Mouse House. That’s why I decided to give Robinhood’s limit order option a try.

Simply put, placing a limit order allows you state what price you’re willing to buy a stock at and have the app execute your order should it become available. You can elect to have these orders expire the next day or keep them open indefinitely. In my case, I entered a limit order for a couple dollars below the current market price, set it to expire only when canceled, and was surprised to find I had become a Disney shareholder the next day. Incidentally, I set a second order to buy if $DIS fell below $100 a share and so I now own two shares of the Walt Disney Company.

Seeing as Disney recently held their annual shareholder’s meeting, I was curious whether those who purchased stocks via Robinhood were eligible to vote on business matters of the companies they owned. As it turns out, you can. According to their website, Robinhood utilizes ProxyVote, which will alert eligible shareholders to upcoming meetings and votes (my purchase of Disney came too close to the meeting to qualify).

Back to stock orders, Robinhood also offers the ability to set Stop Loss and Stop Limit order, allowing users to set buy prices above the current trading price. Likewise, you can also set similar triggers to have the app sell your stock positions when the price reaches certain lows or highs. I won’t pretend to understand all the intricacy and exceptions to these tools but they’ve worked pretty well for me (note: I haven’t actually sold any stock yet so I haven’t tried those options).

Robinhood Crypto

With the cryptocurrency market exploding (and retracting, and exploding, and retracting, etc. etc. etc.) in recent months, Robinhood has now introduced support for buying and selling cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. This feature is currently in beta and current users can apply to join the waiting list. As someone who’s had a passing interest in crypto but not enough to dive in further, I was delighted to gain access to Robinhood Crypto just a few days ago.

Although it sports some fun 80s Tron-esque backgrounds, Robinhood’s crypto trading platform is very similar to their stock trading platform. Just like with stocks, you can either buy coins at market price or set limit orders (the same goes for selling). You can also monitor your position and see how much your crypto is currently worth. As of this writing, the $4 I bought in Bitcoin is now worth $3.70 and I have a limit order to buy $5 worth of Ethereum if the price falls to $400 or less  — high roller, I know.

One thing to note about Robinhood Crypto is that, at this time, they don’t allow you to remove your coins from the platform — although that is apparently something they’re working on. This isn’t to say that you can’t cash out your funds, it just means that you’ll need to sell your coin and withdraw in U.S. Dollars. In other words, those on team #HODL that want complete control over their crypto might not be too impressed with Robinhood’s offering at the stage, but it seems just about right for dabblers like myself.

Final Thoughts on Robinhood

For the longest time, I’ve known I should start investing but wasn’t sure where to start. On that note, Robinhood has proven to be an extremely easy way to start buying stocks without having to pay commissions or fees. Furthermore, as I do start to learn the ropes and am ready to take my portfolio to the next level, it’s nice to know that Robinhood continues to increase their offerings. Beyond their expansion into crypto, Robinhood is also in the process of rolling out an options trading platform as well.

Compared to other beginner-friendly investing apps like Acorns, I think I actually prefer Robinhood as it allows me to buy specific stocks instead of a bundle of investments. At the same time, it’s important to note that this means it’s on you to diversify your own investments — not to mention that Robinhood only allows you to buy full shares of stock whereas Acorns might invest your change in partial shares and other investments. In any case, I’m excited to have purchased my first stocks (and first cryptocurrencies) via Robinhood and look forward to learning more about the world of investing.

This article by Kyle Burbank first appeared on Dyer News and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


How to Know if the Car You’re About to Buy Is a Lemon

The truth is, any time we buy anything there’s a risk that the product isn’t all it was cracked up to be. But the stakes get a lot higher when the prices do, and they’re compounded by even more pressure when the product is one you need to use on a daily basis.

Therein lies the stress of buying a car. And while you could say you’ll go new so there won’t be any problems, you’ll pay more for a car for which the value will drop the second you pull it off the lot. And even new cars come with issues, such as recalls.

What’s more, the markup on a new car can be a deal breaker for the car buyer with bad credit or the car buyer on a serious budget. In many cases, a used car is the only realistic option. For those cases, here are some checkpoints to help make sure you don’t buy a lemon:

  • Avoid buying “as is” because that means there’s no guarantee on the quality of the car — and no legal recourse if it does turn out to be a lemon.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report for the car to find out how many owners it has had and if the car has been in any accidents. Keep in mind that car dealerships can sometimes pull these reports in such a way that leaves pertinent information out. Get your own report to play it safe.
  • Do your own research on the make and model of the car or cars you’re most interested in. Look for customer complaints and praise, as well as the recall history on the car. While you’re at it, review the Kelley Blue Book value to make sure the seller is offering a fair price.
  • Test drive the car on over to your favorite mechanic and get it checked out — don’t only rely on a car dealership’s inspection or a private seller’s words about the work that’s been done on the car — doing so could lead to your own car buying horror story.
  • Don’t even think about skipping the test drive. What’s more, try to test drive it on regular roads and highways to see how the car handles multiple terrains and speeds.
  • If you’re at a dealership, read the sticker on the car’s window — dealerships are required by law to put information there about what a warranty will cover on future repairs. This is also where you can find the vehicle identification number (VIN) to run your own vehicle history report.
  • If you live in an area that experiences frequent hurricanes or flooding, follow the steps outlined here by the National Automotive Parts Association to see if the car you’re looking at might have been in a flood.
  • Closely examine the interior of the car and the exterior of the car, and take a look under the hood. Signs of previous damage can be as simple as a car door that doesn’t close properly, which could indicate that exterior work has been done (which would likely have followed an accident).
  • If you don’t know what you’re looking for when you examine the car, take a look at tips three through nine in this article by Consumer Reports. There you’ll find super-specific checks you can run to verify the condition of the car.

Above All, Trust Your Gut

Whether you’re opting to buy your next car at a dealership or you want to buy a car online through a private seller, there’s one word of advice that always applies:

Trust your gut.

Think a deal sounds too good to be true? It probably is. Feel like you’re being pressured or potentially even lied to? You probably are. The dealer or seller making you feel unheard or disrespected? Then you probably can’t trust them to tell you everything you need to know.

Follow the steps above but then let a gut check be your final reference. Like fish in the sea, there are plenty of other cars out there if the one you’re looking at doesn’t work out. Better to extend your search than end up in a lemon.

This article by Shannon McNay Insler first appeared on UpturnCredit and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Talking to Aging Parents About Finances

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your aging parents could no longer manage their own money or affairs? When should you consider bringing up money management with your parents? And, how do you broach the subject? To help us understand this delicate subject, we reached out to Kimberly Howard, CFP and owner of KJHFinancialServices.com.

Q: What’s the best time to talk to parents about helping out with finances?

Kimberly: The timing of a conversation about your parent’s finances is a tricky thing. You must understand that your parent wants to remain independent; yet they may need some help. First, try asking them about some new financial scam you have heard about (IRS scamming calling people). See how they respond. Do they know about it? Are they concerned it might happen to them? The first step is the hardest, and the process needs to be in small steps.

Q: What are some clues to look for that would let you know it’s time for a third party to step in?

Kimberly: It’s time when they talk about bouncing checks or someone is calling to collect money. Another key could be they are talking about someone who has been really helpful, and they want to repay them, but the payment does not seem to line up with the type of work.

Q: How can you broach this topic gracefully with aging parents? Without offending them or hurting feelings?

Kimberly: You must let them know you are trying to help them and not trying to take over control or get their money. Start by telling them about an elderly scam or someone you heard about who had some financial problems. Let them know you are concerned and do not want it to happen to them. The process could take years and a lot of small conversations.

Q: What’s the first step to take if you want to start managing an elderly parent’s finances?

Kimberly: Understanding what they own and where the money is.

Q: What’s something that most children forget when they are taking on this responsibility?

Kimberly: When you put your name on their checking account, then the money is yours. If there is a large sum in the account, then it is considered a gift with potential gift taxes due.

If you’re facing the task of talking with aging parents about their financial situation, or even if you want to get a head start on discussing these issues, these tips could be great ways to get your thoughts and ideas headed in that direction.

This article by Paige Estigarribia first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


FTC Asking for Access to Your Computer? It’s a Scam.

Scammers pretending to be with the FTC or with FTC refund administrators are calling, asking for remote access to your computer. It’s been reported that the scammers are calling specifically about the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support refund program. Their goal is to make you think you are moments away from getting money that’s owed to you – and, to get the money, all you need to do is allow them to connect to your computer. It’s a scam.

These kinds of scams, where imposters ask for remote access to your computer, are called tech support scams, and they exist in many forms. They may try to trick you into installing malware, sell you software that’s worthless, or direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information. They may also ask you to pay them by buying gift cards or prepaid debit cards at local stores or online.

In the case of the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support refund program, all checks have already been mailed to those affected. The FTC is no longer accepting any new claims. The scammers have told people to call if they have questions, but the number they give also is false. The only number to call for information about the real Advanced Tech Support Refund program is 877-793-0908.

The FTC and its refund administrators will never request remote access to your device, or ask you to pay to receive a refund. Any caller who does is a scammer. If you get a similar call, hang up immediately, report it to the FTC, and spread the word. It may help someone close to you avoid a scam.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

My Private Student Loan Was Charged Off. Should I Just Ignore It?

Question:

Dear Steve,

I defaulted on my Navient/Sallie Mae private student loan and I just found out that they have closed the account and charged it off as bad debt as listed on my credit report.

My private student loan was closed and charged off. I’m assuming they have turned it over to a collection agency, but I haven’t heard anything yet. If they did turn it over to a collection agency, what are the chances that I would be sued and my wages garnished? What can I do/what should I do if/when I’m contacted by the debt collector? I can’t afford to pay the loan or I would have continued making payments. I rode it out with Navient until they closed/charged it off so, should I ride it out with the debt collector until the statute of limitations is up?

Thank you

Debby

Answer:

Dear Debby,

What you decide to do has to be a decision you make after weighing your options.

Keep in mind that just because a debt is “charged off” does not mean it’s not collectible. You should watch your mailbox for a 1099 form if the debt is reported as a bad debt. If the amount is for more than $600 you may owe personal income tax on the forgiven amount above the point you are insolvent. Talk to your tax professional about this.

Also keep in mind the Statute of Limitations (SOL) does not prevent you from being sued or a collector going after you to get you to admit to the debt or make a payment on it. If you are sued on a debt outside the SOL you would have to raise that fact as a defense to the suit.

The only way to absolutely know if a debt is outside the SOL would be to get a legal opinion from an attorney who is licensed in your state. Many factors can cause a debt to be extended past a flat time. Every situation is different.

All of that being said, waiting to see if you are sued is a strategy. You could then deal with it at that time, including settling the debt for less than you owe.

At this point, you might want to enroll in a three bureau credit report monitoring service to be notified if the debt reappears on your credit report. It’s not unheard of for a collector to report the old debt with a new date to get it to pop back on your credit report.

As far as the odds of you being sued, nobody can ever know that. Creditors and debt buyers have changing strategies of when to pursue a debt. If you wanted an absolute percentage all I can offer is 50-50. Either you will or won’t be. But frankly I would not spend time worrying about it. If you are sued you should talk to a knowledgeable student loan attorney. Here is my list of smart student loan attorneys.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

My Mother Stole From Me and Others and Wants Me to Cover Her Crimes Up and Pay

Question:

Dear Steve,

I graduated from college in 2014 after spending five years in school due to a college transfer my second year in making me incur an extra year. I have several student loans in my name, mostly through Navient and a Perkins loan in my name I believe that’s currently being paid by my parents.

For the latter part of my schooling, when I transferred schools, my parents took out a Parent Plus loan in their names, initially while I was in school the agreement was we would both pay some of the loan when it came due.

My mother began taking out the maximum allowed for the parent plus loan in order to receive a “refund”.

My school worked on the quarter system so that was refunds to the tune of about $3,000 for each quarter. I can estimate these extra costs at around $30,000 over the years added to the loan that was no used for my education and of which my mother insisted she would pay back. I would give exact numbers but I don’t have access to the loan information. When I graduated from school my parent’s story changed. I couldn’t find a job right about and I began taking any decent part time job relatively in my field (I studied animation) I could in order to make money while living under my parents’ roof.

Instead of using that money to put a little towards my loan payments my mother emotionally abused me for 2.5 years, going into my bank account, guessing my paypal passwords and insisting I give her money. I had no savings since everything went to her and she would turn around and buy my sister anything she wanted and continue to maintain a lifestyle that was unsustainable.

She always had a massive problem with credit cards and my father’s income fluctuates based on his amount of work at the time. In those two years I was deeply depressed and suicidal and ended up giving everything I had in an attempt to stop both my mother and my sister’s abuse towards me.

I gave her roughly $12,000 over those years and I was desperate for anyway out but knew that massive parent plus loan payment was looming. My mother said she’d pay off some of my smaller loans in my and my father’s name to make up for the extra on the loan she took out but that still didn’t change the fact that I would be staring down a massive parent plus loan payment, that was more then it should have been because of her.

In June of 2016 I was finally able to find a full time job but it was an hour and a half from my home. I began working, making roughly $41,800 a year salary, and eventually moved out of my parent’s house with a roommate to be closer to work.

My mental health increased dramatically and things seemed to be looking up until February when my mother called to tell me the Parent Plus loan was out of deferments. The payment is $1100. On the 20 year plan. She told me there was nothing she could do, she tried to talk them into an income-based repayment plan but claims they said her and my father make too much money, and she doesn’t want to rock the boat too much because she still has to take out a loan for my sister’s last year of college, which she wants me to co-sign for. (They put all my sister’s loans in her name, having learned from their mistakes with me).

I don’t know what to do, I can’t afford my rent ($900 I live and work in North NJ) and my other expenses (car payment, insurance, my own student loans) with that loan payment. My mother doesn’t seem to want to do anything about this and wants me to change jobs on the fly (as if that were easy) when I haven’t even been here a full two years, and to magically come up with the money, she wants me to dip into my savings, all things that won’t help in the long term.

My mother also has taken out credit cards in my name raked up what appears to be $26,000 in credit card debt in my name.

Also worth mentioning is that my grandfather died last year (my mom has been cosigning his name to students loans I learned, and that’s why they want me to cosign for my sister’s previous loan) and my mother is executor of the estate.

My aunt is owed 60% because of all the money my grandfather loaned my mom over the years an I found out last weekend when I was home for the holidays that my mother apparently drained the estate and is hoping to hide it by selling the house and giving my aunt everything from that. I’m realizing my mother is a gaping black hole and my father knows it too but has yet to completely leave for reasons I can’t discern and my sister still lives under their roof.

I don’t even know how to begin with trying to quantify all this debt my mother has saddled me with before I would even begin. I’m turning 27 this month and I just see no future for me, I ended up in product design which I enjoy and I’m going to try to ask for a raise but even if I was earning more the money I’m being expected to pay back is insane. I don’t know what to do and live in constant fear of being forced to go back to my parent’s because I know I won’t survive it. I don’t know if I should take legal action against my mother for all the forgeries or tell my aunt about my grandfather’s estate. I’m torn between trying to hold onto family even if my sister an father are culpable in varying ways, my sister actually having been a perpetrator of a lot of my emotional abuse under their roof as well. I don’t have one solid question I suppose, a more general “what can I possibly do?” in this situation.

Thank you for your time and I hope you can provide advice for what to do in this crazy situation.

Shelby

Answer:

Dear Shelby,

As unbelievable as your situation is it is not even near the first time I’ve heard similar events.

Let me cut to the core of this issue, your mother is a criminal and out of control.

As soon as you discovered her use of your name for credit cards you should have filed a police report and notified the credit card company. Granted it is emotionally difficult to do that but if you don’t it is your credit card debt she forged and you’ll have to pay it. In fact, follow the steps at IdentityTheft.gov.

I have no sympathy for your mother on the Parent Plus loans. Those loans are in her name and her responsibility. You have zero liability for those loans.

If you co-sign any loans for anyone, you will need someone to kick your ass. That would be a dumb move. Do Not Do It!

Bottom line: Your mother has underlying emotional issues the are driving her spending. Spending is her drug. She is engaging in financial crimes on so many transactions to fuel her emotional spending and everyone is enabling her to spiral down with her fake facade.

If you don’t take the hard stance now and break free from this financial toxicity, then the financial mess you will have in the future will be your own damn fault.

You can be a victim here or you can reclaim your life. If you want to break free and set yourself up for success I would suggest you immediately put a credit freeze on all your credit reports, tell her you can’t repay her fraudulent use of the Parent Plus loans and if she doesn’t pay off the credit card debt right now you are filing a police report and turning her in. Change all your passwords and don’t use the same password on more than one site.

Your mother is a financial criminal and an emotional abuser. My condolences for your emotional health.

But unless you face this now you should expect your future to be a financial tragedy and ugly.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

CFPB Sues Debt-Relief Companies Illegally Posing As Federal Government

The
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed suit in federal court
against two companies operating under the name “FDAA,” a service provider, and
their owners for falsely presenting FDAA as being affiliated with the federal
government. The CFPB also alleges that FDAA’s so-called “debt validation”
programs violated the law by falsely promising to eliminate consumers’ debts
and improve their credit scores in exchange for thousands of dollars in advance
fees. The CFPB’s lawsuit seeks to end these deceptive practices, obtain redress
for harmed consumers, and impose civil money penalties.

“FDAA
and its owners lied to financially vulnerable consumers to line their pockets
with cash,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today’s lawsuit seeks to stop
these deceptive practices, impose civil money penalties, and return to cheated
consumers the fees they paid to these companies.”

Federal
Debt Assistance Association, LLC and Financial Document Assistance
Administration, Inc., both operating as FDAA, are headquartered in Baltimore,
Maryland. FDAA claims to provide advice and assistance to consumers to
eliminate all or a portion of their debts and improve their credit scores.
Clear Solutions, Inc., also headquartered in Baltimore, processed consumer payments
for the FDAA companies and provided other services.

Vincent
Piccione, David Piccione, and Robert Pantoulis own or owned the FDAA companies
and Clear Solutions. Vincent Piccione was the president of and managed the FDAA
companies, with responsibility for their marketing materials and solicitation
of consumers. David Piccione was the telemarketing sales floor manager of the
FDAA companies, managed the telemarketing sales of the companies, and
participated in the development of the companies’ marketing materials. Robert
Pantoulis was the director of client services of the FDAA companies and was
responsible for their debt-management programs.

The
CFPB’s lawsuit alleges that the companies lied about having an affiliation with
the federal government to lure financially vulnerable consumers into paying
thousands of dollars in illegal advance fees. The CFPB alleges that the FDAA
companies falsely promised consumers debt relief and credit repair through
so-called “debt validation” programs that involved contacting creditors to
dispute debts.  Under federal law, when a debt has been timely disputed,
the debt collector must cease collection until it can obtain verification of
the debt. But the FDAA companies falsely claimed to consumers that the money
owed would be eliminated or reduced if the creditor did not respond to the FDAA
companies’ satisfaction. These practices violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street
Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
Specifically, the CFPB alleges that the companies and their owners engaged in
the following illegal practices:

  • Deceiving consumers about an affiliation with the
    federal government:

    The FDAA companies marketed themselves through direct mailers that were
    designed to look like an official government notice. The mailers stated that
    they were a “regulatory notification” with a case number and “entitlement
    amount.” The mailers and envelopes included a seal similar to the Great Seal of
    the United States. FDAA’s direct mailers and telemarketing scripts deceptively
    misrepresented an affiliation with the federal government. In letters sent to
    consumers, FDAA would falsely claim they can assist consumers in retrieving
    restitution from CFPB enforcement actions in the form of credit-card debt
    reduction.
  •  Deceiving consumers about the companies’ debt-relief
    and credit-repair services abilities:
    FDAA lied about the results that could be
    achieved. The companies falsely advertised that they would eliminate or reduce
    consumers’ principal balances by at least 60 percent, that creditors would be
    unable to collect the debts, and that the programs would increase consumers’
    credit scores.
  • Failing to make proper disclosures about not paying
    debts:

    FDAA instructed consumers to stop making payments on the debts enrolled in
    their program. However, they failed to disclose that not making payments may
    result in the consumer being sued by creditors or debt collectors and may
    increase the amount of money the consumer owes due to the accrual of fees and
    interest.
  • Taking illegal advance fees for debt-relief and
    credit-repair services:
    Federal law prohibits the collection of fees before a
    credit-repair or debt-relief company achieves certain results. FDAA charged and
    received payment of fees for debt-relief services before altering the terms of
    consumers’ debts. The companies also charged and received fees for
    credit-repair services without achieving the promised results.

Under
the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB has the authority to take action against
institutions and individuals violating consumer financial protection laws,
including engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. The complaint against Federal Debt Assistance Association, Financial Document
Assistance Administration, Clear Solutions, Vincent Piccione, David Piccione,
and Robert Pantoulis seeks monetary relief, injunctive
relief, and civil money penalties. The CFPB’s complaint is not a finding or
ruling that the companies or individuals have actually violated the law.

A
copy of the complaint is available here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201710_cfpb_FDAA-complaint.pdf

###

The
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps
consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently
and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more
control over their economic lives. For more information, visit
consumerfinance.gov.

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What to Consider When Deciding to Buy a Vehicle

There are few rites of passage that are as exciting as buying your first new car. I remember it vividly. Unfortunately, that’s mostly because of all mistakes I made in the process and how those decisions would affect my finances for the next several years.

No matter how many vehicles you’ve purchased in your lifetime and how much you’ve learned over the course of those transactions, buying a car is still major financial decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, from financing options to registration fees, there’s plenty to consider at every step of the process. To help steer you in the right direction, here are just some of the things you should be thinking about when deciding to buy a car:

Financing a Car

Your credit

One of the first things to concern yourself with before going car shopping is what shape your credit is in. Furthermore, if it’s not looking so hot, you’ll want to ask yourself if you could realistically raise your score before pursing financing. That’s because the amount of interest you end up paying on your car can rise dramatically if your creditworthiness isn’t up to par.

If you’ve never checked your credit scores or reports before, the first place you should start is AnnualCreditReport.com — an official site that will allow you to download your credit reports from all three major bureaus for free on a yearly basis. You’ll want to review each report carefully to ensure all of the data is correct as some errors may be affecting your credit scores. Luckily, such errors can be disputed and hopefully be fixed.

Once you have an idea of what your credit report looks like, you may be wondering how that translates to a score. While you can purchase a report with your FICO score from the various bureaus, one free option is CreditKarma.com. Now, I do have to mention that Credit Karma and similar sites actually use a different model to tabulate your scores than your car financier might, but it should still give a pretty good idea of where you stand. Additionally, it will offer a few tips for how you can raise your scores overall. Depending on your situation, it may be worth holding off on seeking financing until you can get your credit to a better place and secure a better rate.

Down payments and term lengths

After you get your credit to peak form, it’s time to consider how much you can afford to pay for your car. This includes both a down payment and your monthly payments. As you’d expect, making a larger payment upfront will lower your monthly payments and may also serve to secure you a better interest rate. However, as you look for financing, you may find some tempting options that may not be best for you in the long run.

These days, there are many options for buyers with good credit to purchase vehicles for $0. This may be a plus for those who need to replace a vehicle and don’t have much saved, but will lead to higher payments over the lifetime of your loan. On the other hand, some buyers may wish keep their payments down by taking out a loan with 72-month terms as opposed to the standard 60. In both of these cases, it’s important that you do the math and know how much you’ll end up paying in interest under each scenario. Instead of choosing longer loan terms in order to fit a car payment into your budget, you may want to pick a less expensive car (e.g. an older, used model) that you can afford. Alternatively, you can hold off on finding financing until you save up a larger down payment, which will also help lower your monthlies. 

two beautiful new cars

Lease or own?

Another potentially tempting option you’re likely to come across in your car research is leasing. This arrangement can mostly be compared to renting an apartment as opposed to buying a home. Under most leasing agreements, you’ll take “ownership” of a vehicle for an agreed upon length of time before returning it to the dealership. There are many aspects of leasing that drivers enjoy, but there are also several financial downsides to assess as well.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of leasing in eyes of many car shoppers is that your monthly payments will be lower than if you were to purchase the vehicle. This could allow you to drive a nicer, newer car and still have it fit into your basic budget. Moreover, after your lease is up, your free to lease another vehicle and always be driving a relatively new car… of course, you’ll also always be making a car payment.

This brings us to the downsides of leasing. First, when you buy a car, there will hopefully be a number of years when you are able to drive your paid-off vehicle before eventually selling it or trading it in. With leasing, that day never comes, as you’ll consistently be paying to rent the latest and greatest. Another drawback to mention is that leases often have mileage caps along with overage penalties. Similarly, you may be held responsible for damage done to the car beyond some reasonable wear and tear. For these reasons and more, you will definitely want to weigh the pros and cons before being wooed by the leasing concept.

Negotiating

Lest we forget, unless you’re buying a Tesla, getting a good deal on a car will likely take some negotiating. For example, you might try to get certain fees waived, attempt to get your car at “invoice” price, or score a higher value for your trade in. All of these are possible, but it always helps to have leverage.

One potential way to help turn things in your favor is to already have financing before walking into the dealership. If possible, paying all-cash will certainly help you gain that leverage, but even having third party financing in place can have a similar effect. There’s also the chance that the dealer will also try to offer you a better deal on financing than your third party, which too can work to your advantage.

While you’re negotiating, it’s always important to have a final number in mind. This figure should be reasonable but you should be serious about it and be ready to walk away if your demands aren’t met. (incidentally, this is one area where I actually did fairly well when buying my first car, getting the salesman to come down just below my $17,000 limit). Also remember that, even if you and the dealership are only a few hundred dollars apart, that’s a big difference! After all, you wouldn’t spend an extra $500 on anything else, would you? I didn’t think so.

Other Considerations

Your current vehicle

Do you want a new car or do you need one? This is an important question to ask yourself before getting too excited about buying. In some cases, it may actually be better to simply repair and maintain the vehicle you have rather than trying to fix your automotive woes with a shiny new model.

Look, it sucks to pay for car repairs, especially when you don’t see them coming. In fact, part of the reason I ended up selling my last car was because I knew it was due for some new tires, a battery, and an oil change. Still, I’ve also learned the hard way that adding a car payment to your budget doesn’t do you any favors financially. For that reason, you should really think hard about the condition of your current vehicle, how much you could get from selling or trading it in, and whether the necessary repairs may be a better deal than investing in a new car. As much as surprise repair expenses suck, taking on another 5+ years of car payments can be even worse. 

Insurance

car in globe in the palm of your handWhen I bought my first-ever new car, one of the many mistakes I made was not preparing myself for the jump my insurance premium would take. There are several reasons for this, starting with the value of the vehicle; the more a car is worth, the more it costs to insure. In that same vein, if you’re financing a car, your lienholder may require you to add certain types of coverage you may have waived otherwise. So, as your calculating whether or not you can afford a new vehicle, it can’t hurt to get a couple of insurance quotes so you’ll know what you’re in for. 

Registration and taxes

Similar to the insurance situation, you may end up paying more to register your new car in your current state. Each state does things a bit different, but several of them base your vehicle registration fee on the car’s value. This is not only something to be aware of when you get to the dealership (where you may pay your first year’s registration at the time you buy the car) but also an expense to consider in subsequent years.

Even if your state/county/city doesn’t factor your vehicles value into your registration, they may instead have personal property tax. This too can vary, but could be yet another increased expense you’ll encounter by upgrading your ride.

MPG

Finally, there are many reasons why drivers may be concerned about how many miles their vehicles can drive on a gallon of gasoline. These range from concerns about the environment to the amount they’ll be spending on fuel given their commute. Although gas prices are relatively low at the moment, if you drive long distances to work or are a road trip regular, it may be worth investing in a car that will merely sip gasoline. Meanwhile, the premium that comes with Prisuses (or Prii, officially) and other hybrid vehicles may not be worth it if you don’t do a ton of driving. This isn’t to say you should buy a gas-guzzler for the heck of it, but MPG and your driving habits are just two more things to think about when weighing your vehicle options.

Regardless of how old you are, buying a car is a big deal. Because of this, it’s important to think through every aspect of the process in order to make the best decision possible. Whether you end up running the numbers and getting a great deal or end up determining that now might not be the best time for you to buy, this thoughtful approach to car buying can go a long way.

This article by Kyle Burbank first appeared on Money@30 and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.