How to Make Improvements That Add Value to Your Home

Homeowners can sometimes talk themselves into spending money on their house by assuring themselves it will add value at resale time. However, it turns out that there are many improvements that do not add the value you may be banking on. To ensure you stick to projects that successfully increase your home’s value, check out the details below and get inspired.

Little Investment, Big Reward

The best improvements are the ones that pay off big time with little capital and effort. The difference may not always be that obvious to you, but adding luxury attractions does not usually boost value as much as functional changes. In general, the more personal a home improvement is, the smaller the chance it will make a substantial difference in resale value. It’s a good idea to look for solutions that everyone can use, like improving the kitchen or bathroom vs. adding a man cave. Remember, the actual cost and payback for each project depends on real estate market values in your area, as well as your home’s overall condition.

Appliance Upgrade

From the kitchen and bathroom to the laundry room, energy efficiency and updated appliances seem to be more important than ever to potential buyers. If something doesn’t match or looks old, you may be able to just add new doors or face panels. But if something is truly old and inefficient, you might want to consider purchasing a newer model. Adding new hardware can be a great way to spruce up these rooms if you can’t afford all new things. You don’t need to make things too fancy (this can sometimes even work against you), but remodeling a kitchen and keeping up-to-date on appliances can really pay off because these spaces are generally the real heart of a home.

New Rooms on the Cheap

Adding a bedroom can add tens of thousands of dollars in value to your home. The difference between a bedroom and any other type of den, living room, or office is simple: a closet. Adding a closet to any room with a door can turn it into a bedroom just like that. You will just need to put up some framework and add drywall, which can often be done for less than $2,000. A local real estate agent can advise you on any other local regulations or specs you’re required to meet to be able to add the extra bedroom to an official listing.

You might want to consider finishing your attic or basement to make it livable space because homebuyers are often on the lookout for versatile spaces. Reinventing your existing space can be much more efficient and effective even than adding square footage. If your home only has one bathroom, you might also consider turning underutilized areas into another bathroom.

Paint & Packaging

The least expensive and most cost-effective value booster for your home will likely be painting it. A fresh coat of neutral colors inside and out will brighten your house and make everything look more attractive. Curb appeal is important, so you also might consider investing in some low-maintenance landscaping like shrubs and colorful plants that are native to your region and so require less maintenance.

When someone is getting ready to shell out a lump sum as a down payment to buy a new home, they are generally looking to get the best bang for their buck. Do your best to discern between improvements that are worthwhile and those that just won’t help you sell, but don’t forget that you can always call in an expert who knows the conditions in your local market to help you decide. It’s a good idea not to let TV shows and your personal desires or unique needs guide your home improvement decisions if your goals are solely improving resale value and recouping your remodeling costs.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


You Can’t Inherit Robocalls When You Get a New Phone Number, FCC Rules

Among all the things that Washington D.C. has done in the past few decades, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more popular than the Do Not Call List. It had a rocky beginning —  birthing took about a decade — but it worked remarkably well, as federal programs go, and consumers lined up by the millions to join.

You’ve probably noticed that unwanted phone calls are making a bit of a comeback lately, which is partly why the Federal Communications Commission acted Thursday to clarify some provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Technological advances like robotexting, along with creative legal interpretations, had begun to chip away at America’s popular right-to-be-left-alone law.

For example, believe it or not, telemarketers had claimed that they could call reassigned phone numbers if they had received permission from the previous owner of the number. True story.

“We close a number of potential loopholes,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last month in a blog post explaining his proposals, which were approved Thursday. “For example, we clarify the definition of ‘autodialers’ to include any technology with the potential to dial random or sequential numbers. This ruling is true to Congress’s intent when passing the law, and would ensure that robocallers cannot skirt consent requirements through changes in technology design. We also close the ‘reassigned number’ loophole, making clear that consumers who inherit a phone number will not be subject to a barrage of unwanted robocalls OK’d by the previous owner of the number.”

So a bunch of things are newly, clearly illegal. Naturally, there are those who oppose the new telemarketing limitations (well, the re-iteration of what’s considered the original intent of the law, and the will of the people.) Banks, for example.

“(Consumer Banking Association) member banks are committed to the spirit of the TCPA and go to great lengths to comply, but they are still facing stifling lawsuits,” said Richard Hunt, CBA president. “We are disappointed with today’s FCC vote and are concerned about the inevitable chilling of beneficial consumer communications. Class-action attorneys appear to be today’s winners at the expense of consumers and well-meaning American businesses.”

While TCPA lawsuits may be considered to be a pain, they are the reason this law works. Unlike so many other consumer protections, the TCPA includes a private right of action, which creates real financial incentive to obey the law.

The FCC also cleared the way for telephone companies to create products that help consumers avoid unwanted calls and texts, so look for them soon.

“We applaud the FCC for holding the line to keep the plague of unwanted robocalls from becoming even worse,” added Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America. “Since the FCC has now clarified that telephone companies can block these types of calls, we expect the companies to act quickly to implement blocking options for their customers.”

Thursday’s vote is tangentially related to the PayPal / eBay robocalling controversy that began a few weeks ago with a story I wrote. Because the issue was already at the forefront for consumer groups and the FCC, it was a little easier to get their attention, which had something to do with the quick action by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


6 Credit Cards That Can Get You Into a New Car

It’s an exciting time to be a car buyer as many new vehicles are equipped with amazing features to enhance both safety and efficiency. At the same time, a new generation of muscle cars have reached unprecedented levels of performance.

One way to get yourself into a new car and pay for its maintenance is through a rewards credit card offered by your car’s manufacturer. In fact, many of the leading car manufacturers now offer either a charge card or a credit card.

If you have a particular car in mind, you may want to see if there’s a card specifically tailored to that brand. To give you an idea of what’s out there, here are six credit cards from car makers that can help you get behind the wheel.

1. The BuyPower Card From General Motors & Capital One

This card offers 5% earnings on a cardholder’s first $5,000 spent each year and 2% unlimited earnings after that. Earnings don’t expire and can be applied toward a new Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac. This card also offers new applicants 0% APR promotional financing on new purchases for 12 months. Finally, this card is part of the World Elite MasterCard program, which offers numerous discounts on shopping, entertainment and travel. There is no annual fee for this card.

2. The Ford Service Credit Card

This is a store charge card that can be used to finance service, parts, accessories and other products sold by dealers. Nevertheless, this card cannot be used to finance a vehicle purchase and is not part of a larger payment network. Customers can finance their purchase for either six or 12 months and special financing for six months is available on purchases of $199 or and for 12 months on purchases of $499 or more. Interest is charged if the balance is not paid in full by the end of the promotional financing period. In addition, customers receive a $25 prepaid card when they spend $250 or or more on their Ford Service Credit Card. There is no annual fee for this card.

3. Lexus Pursuits Visa

Cardholders earn five points per dollar spent at participating Lexus dealerships, and 1.5 points per dollar everywhere else that Visa is accepted. Points can then be redeemed towards the purchase parts, service or accessories at a Lexus dealership, or up to 10% of the price of the purchase or lease of a new Lexus. There is no annual fee for this card.

4. & 5. The Mercedes-Benz Credit Card & the Platinum Card From American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

This German automaker offers two credit cards from American Express. The first card offers 5x points for Mercedes-Benz purchases, 3x points for purchases from U.S. gas stations, 2x points at restaurants and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Each year that you charge at least $5,000 to your card, you get a $500 certificate that can be used for the purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz vehicle. Cardholders also receive 1,000 excess miles waived at the end of their lease, and a $50 certificate toward Mercedes-Benz accessories each year when they renew their card. There is a $95 annual fee for this card.

The Mercedes-Benz Platinum card offers all of the regular features of the Amex Platinum card, including airport business lounge access, a $200 annual airline fee credit, as well as numerous travel insurance and shopping protection policies. In addition, cardholders also receive 2,000 excess miles on their lease and a $100 certificate for Mercedes-Benz Accessories when they renew their card. There is a $475 annual fee for this card.

6. Mopar Rewards MasterCard

Mopar is the parts, service and customer care organization for the Chrysler family of vehicles. Its credit card offers three points per dollar spent at Chrysler group dealerships on parts, repairs, maintenance and accessories. On qualifying travel purchases you get 2x points, and one point per dollar spent everywhere else. Points are valid for seven years before they expire and can be used for any parts, service or vehicle purchase. In fact, you can use an unlimited number of points to pay for your entire new car purchase. Finally, new applicants receive six months of 0% APR financing on new purchases, and there is no annual fee for this card.

When it comes to rewards credit cards, the best way to maximize your rewards is to not carry a balance on the cards if you’re going to incur a finance charge. However, if you do carry a balance on your credit card, you can use this free calculator to see how long it will take you to pay it off. Finally, before you apply for any credit card, it can be helpful to know what your credit score is so that you target your search to cards that cater to your credit standing. You can get your credit scores for free from many sources — including Credit.com, where you can see two of your credit scores for free every 30 days.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


A Beginner’s Guide to America’s Most Popular Student Loan

Student loans — can’t live with ‘em, but it seems most of us can’t live without them either. Higher education costs are on the rise and the cost and financing of your (or your child’s) college tuition can be tricky to navigate.

It’s a good idea to check out a student loan calculator to learn how much your monthly payments are or will be. It’s also important to do your research about all the different types of student loans. Let’s start things off by getting all the details of the federal government’s primary student loan option for undergraduates — the Stafford Loan. Whether you are a new grad just figuring out what you’ve gotten yourself into or a parent of a high school student trying to be prepared, here’s what you need to know.

Basics

The federal Stafford Loan is the most popular student loan program, offering a low origination fee as well as low, fixed interest rates. (For Stafford Loans disbursed in 2015-2016, the origination fee is about 1% and the interest rate is 4.29%.) Unlike other forms of loans and debts, the interest rate does not depend on the borrower’s income or credit score — it is the same for everyone. Stafford loans are meant to supplement existing personal and family resources for higher education, including any scholarships and grants. These funds can be used to cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books and other education-related expenses.

Eligibility

To qualify for these federal loans, you must be attending college at least half time and have filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Further, there are two types of the Stafford Loan: subsidized and unsubsidized. The subsidized version is based on demonstrated financial need as exhibited on the FAFSA application.

Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are for those who are deemed not to have significant financial need. They are also available to graduate and professional students (with a limit of $138,500, including all federal loans received as an undergraduate student).

Both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans offer low fees and low rates compared to most private student loans. However, a great credit score could actually get you a lower rate on a private student loan, depending on the lender. You can see where your credit scores stand for free on Credit.com before you start shopping around.

Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized

There is a difference in the way interest accumulates on the subsidized loans compared to the unsubsidized. For the subsidized loan, the government will pay the interest on your loan until you finish school (as long as you are a student at least half-time) and during a six-month grace period once you leave school. With unsubsidized loans, interest accumulates and is added to the principal while you are in school (as well as during grace, deferment and forbearance periods). Federal loans offer multiple repayment options that private loan programs may not, helping borrowers with limited income get a more manageable monthly payment.

Drawbacks

One potential drawback of the Stafford Loan is that money is not given all at once, but is instead dependent upon yearly tuition and subject to change. There are also lower limits than in other loan programs. Of course, you will have to pay interest — which isn’t unique to the Stafford Loan but is never fun.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


5 Things New Grads Wish Their Parents Had Taught Them About Money

One of the hardest things about letting a newly licensed driver leave the house in your car is this: They don’t know what they don’t know (but if you taught them to drive, you may have some ideas). They will learn, perhaps the hard way, and you won’t be there to offer warnings and commentary.

Finances are a lot like that. You’ve taught them, they’ve graduated from high school or college and now they are entering the real world — and figuring out that there are some gaps in their knowledge. Maybe their parents didn’t tell them, or maybe they weren’t listening when the parents did, but here’s what newly minted adults — asked via social media — told us they wished they had known more about money.

1. Compound Interest

They now wish they’d put baby-sitting and lawn-mowing money into retirement accounts. The young adults who responded to our question were big believers in putting away money early. They just wish they’d known sooner.

2. How to Invest

They want to know what they should be doing with the money they sock away. Some wish they had known how to invest in college. Some of them remember hearing their parents or grandparents talk about getting crushed in the market during the recession. But by now, the markets have rebounded, and they know that those who held on when the ride got scary have been rewarded.

3. How Taxes Work

Some states have income tax, and others don’t. Some municipalities tax the money you earn. Sales tax can be twice in a new state what it was in one’s home state. Who knew? And is there a way to figure out how much to take home in one’s paycheck after the deductions? They wish they understood taxes a little better.

4. Credit & Credit Score Management

“My dad always told me never to get a credit card,” said one. “My friend actually told me that I needed it to eventually get a house, new car, etc. So I’m building credit now when I could have been doing that throughout high school and college.” Others said they are learning late about precisely what it takes to build or rebuild credit. (Interestingly, no one complained that parents didn’t warn them about debt — parents are presumably doing a great job there.)

Experts suggest checking your credit scores and credit reports regularly so that when you do decide to take on debt (perhaps to buy a home or car), you can qualify for the best rates. Regularly monitoring your credit can also clue you in to possible identity theft if there is a large, unexplained change in your scores. You can get your credit reports for free every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get a free credit report summary updated every month on Credit.com.

5. Buying vs. Renting

Whether they’re shopping for a home, car or furniture, new grads want to feel confident they’re making a good decision. Some wonder if renting to own is a good compromise.

There are a good many resources online to help with understanding all of these topics, and the millennials who described the gaps in their knowledge seem fully capable of finding them. Still, it can be confusing because some of the information is conflicting or just plain wrong. And none of it answers the question, “Mom, Dad … what do you think?”

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


How to Reinvent Your Career Without Wrecking Your Retirement

If you are established in your career, you might have long ago chosen a retirement strategy (or were automatically enrolled in a company retirement plan). You may even feel like your retirement savings are keeping you from branching out to a new job or even career. It may seem daunting to leave all your savings behind and start down a new path, but if it will make you happier and your new career will still allow you to sock money away for the future (or maybe save even more), it might not be smart to hold yourself back.

It’s not a decision that can be made lightly, but making a successful career change can be very rewarding if you assess what you want, do your research and plan for it. Check out some tips below about what to do with your employer-sponsored plan so you do not risk your retirement when you reinvent yourself.

Leave Your Money Alone

As long as you have more than $5,000 in your plan, your employer must allow you to leave your 401(k) as is. This can be a good short-term solution, while you figure out your next move. But since you cannot continue investing in an employer-sponsored plan after leaving the job, you may want to eventually combine it with another account. If you don’t do anything with the account, you might forget it exists or risk not knowing if there are significant changes to the plan.

Roll It Over

Depending on what your 401(k) is worth, you can move the assets from this fund into a new 401(k) or an individual retirement account. You can have your old plan’s custodian transfer your 401(k) to a new employer’s 401(k) or a similar tax-deferred retirement plan automatically, without getting involved directly.

If you have the amount transferred in a direct rollover, no taxes will be withheld whereas if you are paid out the amount and switch it manually, a portion will go to federal taxes off the bat and potentially more if you do not complete the process within 60 days. This is almost always the most recommended action to take with a 401(k) when you are switching jobs.

Cash Out

Though many advise against this option, you can use the money you have saved to help you adjust between jobs. It’s important to know, though, that this money is earmarked for retirement. Taking money out of your 401(k) before you turn 59½ years old, will result in tax liability and likely penalty fees (there are some exceptions). Ideally, you will have an emergency fund to turn to between jobs or for any needs that come up.

Missing Months

If you will have time off between jobs or if you are taking a pay cut to change careers, it’s good to know how this will impact your retirement plan. Keep in mind that not every plan is as generous in matching employee contributions — maybe you will make less money at your new job but a larger company 401(k) match or you could be making more money but have to set up your own retirement account. It’s important to take into account these factors before deciding what to do.

In the end, this is your future you are protecting. It is possible to make positive changes in your life without risking retirement, but it may require some thought and effort on your end. If you really want to invest in your happiness, make sure you aren’t leaving your future self in the lurch. Assess what you should do with your current employer-sponsored retirement plan, carve out a realistic budget and savings method for your new path — and continue to save early and often.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


Private Student Loan Co-Signers Rarely Let Off the Hook, CFPB Finds

Co-signers for private student loans have had significant difficulty handing off the obligation to the primary borrower, despite what the lenders’ marketing materials say, according to a report issued Thursday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Of those who applied for release from their co-signing agreement, 90% were rejected, the CFPB found. The report also says lenders make the requirements for release hard or impossible to find, and rarely explain their reasons for rejection.

Co-signers agree to pay a student loan if the primary borrower fails to pay. In addition to the liability of the loan itself, co-signers may find their credit scores take a hit if the loan is improperly handled because the loan appears on their credit reports. So there’s ample reason for co-signers to free themselves from the agreement. Once a student has graduated, is earning a paycheck and reliably making payments, the necessity of a co-signer is significantly decreased. Co-signer release is often advertised as a feature of private student loans.

But in reality, there’s little chance for co-signers to free themselves, the CFPB says.

“Our analysis of responses to the co-signer policy information request reveals that a miniscule portion of borrowers with loans that include a co-signer release actually obtained one,” it said in the report.

The issue is critical for parents and other co-signers, particularly because nearly all private loans now require a co-signer. Back in 2008, 67% of private student loans were co-signed — by 2011, more than 90% of private student loans were co-signed.

The CFPB also warned parents about other provisions of private student loans. Some lenders have a list of criteria that permanently bars co-signers from release, such as any request for loan forbearance. Meanwhile, many agreements call for “auto-default” if the co-signer dies or declares bankruptcy, meaning the student is required to repay the loan in full immediately.

“Parents and grandparents put their financial futures on the line by co-signing private student loans to help family members achieve the dream of higher education,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Responsible borrowers and their co-signers should have clear information and standards for releasing the co-signer if the time is right. We’re concerned that the broken co-signer release process is leaving responsible consumers at risk of damaged credit or auto-default distress.”

The findings in the CFPB report:

  • Companies rejected 90% of consumers who applied for co-signer release: Many private student lenders advertise options to release a co-signer from a private student loan. However, an analysis of industry responses to the CFPB’s information request found that the lenders and servicers surveyed granted very few releases — of those borrowers who applied for co-signer release, 90% were rejected.
  • Consumers left in the dark on co-signer release criteria: The CFPB found that consumers have little information on the specific borrower criteria needed to obtain a co-signer release. Consumers reported being confused about their eligibility for obtaining a co-signer release, as well as not understanding why they had been denied.
  • Most private student loan contracts continue to contain auto-default clauses: Last year, the CFPB reported that private student loan servicers were putting borrowers in default when a co-signer died or filed for bankruptcy, even when their loans were otherwise in good standing. Following that report, some financial institutions stated that they would no longer hit borrowers with auto-defaults. The CFPB’s analysis of private student loan contracts, however, found that most private student loan contracts continue to include auto-default clauses.
  • Borrowers are at risk when loans are sold and packaged by Wall Street: Even if individual companies state that they will not trigger auto-defaults in certain cases, loans are often sold to other banks and securitized on Wall Street. This puts borrowers at risk for the loan being triggered for an auto-default with the new owner.
  • Company policies can permanently disqualify borrowers from co-signer release: Student loan borrowers reported that some companies’ policies penalize or disqualify borrowers who prepay their loans and are in good standing. Some companies also disqualify borrowers from releasing a co-signer if the consumer accepts the servicer’s offer of postponing payment through forbearance. These company policies can permanently ban a consumer from seeking co-signer release for the life of the loan and penalize consumers that may have graduated during tough economic times.
  • Potentially harmful clauses found in the fine print: In addition to auto-default clauses, the CFPB found other potentially harmful clauses hidden in fine print of some loans including “universal default” clauses. Financial institutions use these clauses to trigger a default if the borrower or co-signer is not in good standing on another loan with the institution, such as a mortgage or auto loan, that is unrelated to the consumer’s payment behavior on the student loan. These clauses can increase the risk of default for both the borrower and co-signer.

If you’ve co-signed on a private student loan, or any loan, it’s important to keep an eye on your credit report and credit scores for any problems so you can take steps to correct them as soon as possible. You can get your credit reports for free every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and there are many ways to get your credit scores for free, including from Credit.com, where you can get two of your credit scores updated every month.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


How To Be Successful When You Suck At Selling

Blogging is not my first venture into entrepreneurship.

From the occasional lemonade stand set up as a kid to a brief stint as a personal trainer as a young adult I’ve had a slew of entrepreneurial endeavors that failed due to one common weakness… I suck at selling.

I can’t decide which is worse- the interruptive approach, the pushy pitch or that awkward moment after finally spitting out price, standing there in silence, nervously awaiting a response.

In theory, I have nothing wrong with selling. It’s necessary and fair for people to be compensated for the services they provide. I just don’t want to do it.

As a wannabe power entrepreneur though, I knew I was going to have to get over my self-consciousness and fear of “the sell” if I wanted to succeed.

How to Be Successful When You Suck at Selling

Why I Suck at Selling

In reflecting on what made me so uncomfortable in pitching products and services, I realized what was giving me that oh so awkward feeling that made me want to jump out of my own skin. It wasn’t a lack of value or belief in what I was providing, it was an understanding and empathy for the reality of the limited resources of the people to whom I was selling.

The product and services I was pitching were certainly worth $20 or $40, but knowing how much of a difference that $20 or $40 could make in someone’s budget made me feel guilty about denying them any penny of it.

I know the mega sellers out there probably read that and cringe, seeing as it goes against every “you’re worth it” credo in the book- but being honest with myself about how much I hated and sucked at selling is what allowed me to find a new model of entrepreneurship where I could confidently ask for what I was worth.

Finding Success

Recognizing that my biggest hang up in successful selling was the guilt I felt over asking for a small piece of limited individual resources, I started adjusting my model to target those with bigger resource pools- corporations. And it worked. My anxiety over pitching and selling practically vanished overnight.

To confidently ask for what I wanted, I had to find an audience that both needed my services and could more than afford to compensate me for them. When I made that adjustment I found that not only did my anxiety over pitching disappear, I felt empowered to negotiate too- doubling, tripling, even quadrupling my rates in record time without hesitation or any semblance of guilt.

Rather than beating myself up over sucking at selling or continuing to make myself feel uncomfortable on a daily basis, I adjusted my approach to find a model of entrepreneurship that worked for me. Turns out, I’m actually pretty awesome at selling, but only to the right audience.

Selling in Progress

I still feel uncomfortable selling my book, even though I know people get way more value out of it than the negligible list price. So I’m working on it- learning to say $10 or $20 aloud without apologizing for myself. (Let me practice… buy my book!)

In the meantime, I’ve found a system for the bread and butter of my business that’s working for me- affording me the chance to flex my entrepreneurial muscles through freelance writing, while continuing to provide value to everyone who made it possible free of charge.

This article by Stefanie OConnell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Debt Collector Allegedly Used Colonial-Era Law to Go After Debtors’ Family Members

The Pennsylvania attorney general is suing a debt collector for allegedly trying to use a colonial-era law to collect medical debts from consumers’ relatives, according to a news release. It’s not so much the age of the law as the way it was allegedly used that’s the issue: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane says the collector incorrectly cited the law as grounds for pursuing debtors’ relatives for bills for which they’re not responsible.

On June 5, Kane announced the lawsuit against Hamilton Law Group and its president James Havassy, who had been hired to collect medical debts in Lehigh and Northampton counties, in eastern Pennsylvania. The law in question is the Filial Responsibility Law (or, if you prefer terms more commonly used in the last couple centuries, it’s the Relative’s Responsibility Procedure), which came about in colonial times, before government programs to support the public existed. In the absence of such a safety net, relatives were responsible for each other’s debts, if one of them couldn’t pay their necessary expenses.

The law says relatives are responsible for such debts if the debtor is indigent (which is another old word no one uses anymore, and it means “poor”) and the relative is capable of paying. It’s these two important aspects of the law that the attorney general alleges Havassy failed to address in pursuing debtors’ family members. The lawsuit lists six instances of alleged misuse of the law: parents receiving bills for their late son’s medical care, an anesthesia bill sent to the mother of her adult son (who had his own insurance), collection efforts toward a man for his father’s bills from a cardiologist and a man who received debt collection notices for his mother’s and adult sister’s dental health expenses. Two of the consumers complained of a negative impact on their credit standing, reports the Morning Call. Calls to Hamilton Law Group by Credit.com were not returned.

When contacted by a debt collector, the first thing you should do is ask the collector to validate the debt in writing. It’s crucial you know your rights, because dealing with debt collectors can be overwhelming and confusing, and if you question the validity of what’s being asked of you, try to address your concerns with the collector, or ask a consumer law attorney to review the situation — they’re likely to be able to quickly identify any potential misconduct.

If you’re contacted by a creditor or debt collector over a debt you owe, you can always check your credit reports to see if the account has been reported to the credit bureaus (you can get a free annual credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com). You can also check your credit scores for signs of a collection account, which you can do for free every month on Credit.com.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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


10 States With the Highest Foreclosure Rates

The national foreclosure rate increased 1% in May from April and increased 16% from May 2014, reaching a 19-month high, according to RealtyTrac, a housing-data company. One in every 1,041 housing units in the U.S. had a foreclosure filing in May, which includes notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. For the third month in a row, Florida had the highest foreclosure rate of any state, including the District of Columbia.

The rising foreclosure rate was driven by annual increases in bank repossessions, as states continue to work through a glut of distressed properties.

“May foreclosure numbers are a classic good news-bad news scenario, with the number of homeowners starting the foreclosure process stabilizing at pre-housing crisis levels but the number of homeowners actually losing their homes to foreclosure still well above pre-crisis levels and on the rise,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a news release about the data. “Lenders and courts are pushing through stubborn foreclosure cases that have been languishing in foreclosure limbo for years as options to prevent foreclosure are exhausted or left untapped.”

Foreclosure starts (the first foreclosure filing on a property) increased 4% from last year but are below the pre-crisis levels seen in 2005 and 2006. Only 13 states had foreclosure rates higher than the national average, many of which are in the South and Midwest. Here are the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates in May.

10. South Carolina
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 987 housing units in foreclosure

Even as foreclosure activity fell in South Carolina, it moved up in the rankings from last month, from 11th to 10th. In April, one in every 917 properties in the state had a foreclosure filing.

9. Indiana
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 963 housing units in foreclosure

The foreclosure rate was consistent from April to May, but with shifts in other states, Indiana went from 12th in April to 9th in this most recent report. Foreclosure completions increased about 28% from May 2014 to May 2015.

8. Illinois
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 765 housing units in foreclosure

The Illinois foreclosure rate dropped slightly from April, reflected in the move from the 6th- to the 8th-highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Foreclosure completions dropped about 29% from April to May.

7. Ohio
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 763 housing units in foreclosure

It seems Ohio is picking up the pace in moving through its foreclosure inventory, because foreclosure completions increased about 25% from April and 114% from May 2014. In April the Ohio foreclosure rate was one in every 847 properties.

6. New Mexico
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 726 housing units in foreclosure

RealtyTrac noted some changes to its data collection in some states, including New Mexico. The state ranked 41st with last month’s recorded rate at one in every 2,542 properties in foreclosure. The sharp increase may be attributed to methodology changes, rather than a flood of foreclosures, RealtyTrac notes.

5. Nevada
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 590 housing units in foreclosure

Nevada fell a few spots from April, when the foreclosure rate was one in every 555. Still, the May figures were up about 22% from 2014, driven by an increase in foreclosure completions. Foreclosure starts fell from April and compared to last May.

4. Maryland
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 531 housing units in foreclosure

In the previous month, Maryland was No. 3, even though the foreclosure rate was lower than in May, at one in every 594. Changes in other states’ foreclosure inventories bumped Maryland down, despite the consistently high foreclosure rate.

3. Tennessee
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 485 housing units in foreclosure

Tennessee is also among the states in which RealtyTrac updated its data-collection methods. The data shows Tennessee’s foreclosure rate increased about 658% from May 2014, though RealtyTrac says the most recent data is more accurate. In April, Tennessee had the fifth highest foreclosure rate.

2. New Jersey
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 483 housing units in foreclosure

After a few months out of the top two spots, New Jersey is back on the high end of the nation’s foreclosure activity. April’s foreclosure rate was one in 594 — a lot of new foreclosure filings were reported in May.

1. Florida
May 2015 foreclosure rate: 1 in every 409 housing units in foreclosure

Foreclosure starts fell in May, but an increase in completed foreclosures outweighed that fact and kept Florida atop the foreclosure-rate standings for a third month in a row.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners across the country continue to struggle to make mortgage payments, thrusting them into a long and often complicated process of fighting or completing a foreclosure. They can suffer credit damage as a result, jeopardizing their ability to access affordable credit or rent an apartment in the future, if need be. You can gain a better understanding of the relationship between your payment history and your credit score by getting your free credit report summary every 30 days on Credit.com.

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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