Tax Shelters The Difference Between Illegal and Legal Tax Shelters

Posted by Rana & filed under Tax & Bankruptcy Law Information.

Tax shelters are legal ways of decreasing an investor’s taxable income and tax liability. They are typically investments that provide a beneficial transaction to lower taxable income. The tax shelters are carefully monitored by tax authorities to make sure an investment is not made primarily to avoid taxes. If you are using a tax shelter to avoid taxes, you can run the risk of paying additional taxes and fees if you are caught. It is important to understand the difference between illegal and legal tax shelters and the types of tax shelters available through retirement plans, owning a home, and incorporating your business.

Illegal Tax Shelters

Using a tax shelter illegally can result in lowered taxes and are typically tax shelters in offshore companies or through financial agreements. A tax shelter in an offshore company occurs when you transfer funds to a company on foreign soil. The international tax treaties can make the income not legally taxable, therefore avoiding taxes. Tax shelters in financial agreements are when capital gains are taxed at an interest rate lower than the normal interest.

Legal Tax Shelters

Legal tax shelters generally lie in limited partnerships and retirement plans, both created by the federal government to help the economy. Tax shelters in limited partnerships result when a company—typically a mining or oil company where positive income may take time—distributes the exploration costs to shareholders. The investors in the company receive massive gains if the company they invest in is successful.

Using a retirement plan as a tax shelter is the most common legal tax shelter. By investing in your own pension, the income is not taxed during the contribution. Instead, the investment is taxed when you retire. Many people also opt to invest in their homes by deducting mortgage interest, home equity loan interest, home improvement loan interest, and property taxes.

Personal Tax Shelters: Retirement Plans

Personal tax shelters are essentially what the name describes: a way to protect your money from income tax collectors. These income tax shelters keep a portion of your income free from being taxed. The most common personal tax shelters are 401(k) plans and an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Tax sheltered annuity allows you as an employee to make a contribution from your income in a retirement plan. These contributions are not taxed until withdrawn from the plan. In certain plans, the employer can also make a direct contribution to the employee’s plan, increasing the tax fee funds. The most common tax sheltered annuity plan is the 403(b) retirement plan, which allows employees of tax-exempt organizations, public education teachers, or self-employed ministers to participate.

In retirement plans, each $1 you contribute to the plan is divided into two separate amounts. The first amount is what you save on taxes, and the second amount is the investment which will grow tax-free for years. There are different types of IRAs, including traditional, Roth, and educational. The IRA has a low fee schedule and has tax free distributions after you turn 59 and a half years old.

Personal Tax Shelter: Owning a Home

Another important income tax shelter lies in owning a home. When you own a home, you can deduct mortgage interest and property taxes from your taxes. The taxes you can deduct include everything associated with the real estate, but do not include homeowner association fees. In addition to this deduction, you can also deduct interest up to $100,000 on home equity debt. If the house has equity and the debt is secured by the equity, you can do anything with the borrowed money.

If you work at home and use the property jointly for your business, you have the opportunity for this to become a greater tax shelter than it being only for personal use. In the event you use a portion of your home for a home office, you can deduct the expenses from that section of the house. It is important to remember that this section of the house must not be lived in and can only be used for a business.

Personal Tax Shelter: Business

By using a tax shelter incorporating your business, you are able to take advantage of tax write offs available to business owners. In order to have a business tax deduction, you need to have a profit motive for your business. Thanks to modern technology, you can incorporate your business or form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) by simply using the Internet.

Before you invest in a tax shelter, it is important to talk with your local IRS office to make sure that the tax shelter is legal. The last situation you want to face is additional fines in the event that a tax authority finds out your tax shelter is illegal. By using illegal means of tax shelters, you run the risk of becoming imprisoned if caught. Remember that although saving money on your taxes is always a good thing, it is highly important to keep it legal and avoid trouble with the IRS.

Credit Monitoring Tools: Extra Protection for Consumers

Posted by Rana & filed under General Debt & Loan Consolidation Information.

Each year, thousands of American consumers aiming to get out of debt or interested in improving their credit rating or keeping tabs on their credit report seek the financial peace of mind offered by credit monitoring services. These consumer-oriented programs, which are available through the three leading credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax), provide subscribers with periodic reports concerning their credit file and mechanisms to track, manage, and safeguard their identity and credit information. By allowing subscribers to monitor updates on the status of their credit data, credit report monitoring obviates the need to continuously consult the latest credit reports. Consumers receive alerts about likely reporting and posting mistakes and are informed of their latest credit standing. Credit monitoring also serves as a powerful shield against fraudulent activity and identity theft. Subscribers pay a small fee-usually less than $10 per month- to obtain these credit services. When shopping for a credit monitoring program, consumers should select one that offers the most competitive price and favorable options and that best corresponds to their needs.

In addition to furnishing subscribers with credit reports from the three major CRAs, the average credit monitoring service offers numerous tools for insuring against identity theft, warning of changes in the credit report, and analyzing credit profiles. Each credit bureau must, upon the consumer’s request, furnish him or her with one free credit report per year. Typically, credit monitoring providers scrutinize and analyze essential components of their subscribers’ credit report and score on a quarterly basis and track changes in the latter from one quarter to the next. By tracking key elements of consumers’ credit such as outstanding balances or delinquent accounts, the monitoring service helps subscribers observe trends in their credit report that may be impacting their credit rating. Ongoing enrollment in a credit monitoring program is highly recommended for individuals who are victims of identity theft, particularly those whose social security numbers have been compromised. It will enable them to receive warnings of future security breaches.

Credit agencies usually offer a wide array of credit monitoring tools including the following:

1. Monitoring alerts

Subscribers to monitoring services are immediately informed – within 24 hours – of any changes to their credit file, and they can select their preferred medium of notification- wireless phone, email, or text message. Such notifications enable consumers to detect fraudulent activity quicker and consequently reduce its adverse impact on their credit. Credit monitoring services generate alerts on a weekly basis after surveying hundreds of data sources for changes relating to the following types of information:

name (new account opened in subscriber’s name) social security number phone numbers address date of birth employers accounts (new accounts; bank account openings) collection company records account balances public records (i.e. tax liens, foreclosures, bankruptcies) problem accounts credit card applications/loan applications inquiries by lenders

Credit monitoring services also provide user-friendly charts displaying changes in the 1) number of delinquent accounts, 2) number of negative items on the credit report, 3) number of recent credit applications, 4) outstanding balance on all accounts, and 5) FICO score. Subscribers are notified in real time whenever modifications have been made to their credit rating and are furnished the reason for those changes. They also receive alerts regarding changes to their credit report including late payments, new accounts, recent inquiries, as well as fraudulent activity. Such information protects consumers against those attempting to assume their identity for purposes of obtaining financing. One important benefit of subscribing to a credit monitoring service is that identity and credit fraud is uncovered instantly, instead of months after the fraudulent activity has taken place.

2. Detailed credit analyzer

Credit monitoring services also provide in-depth analyses and charts that show subscribers how to increase their credit rating and inform them of the different factors and activities that are taking a toll on their score. Credit reporting agencies also inform subscribers of the rates for which they might be eligible and offer useful tips on how to boost their credit rating. Credit analyzers show which actions increase the FICO score the most and how much time is needed to effectuate such an improvement. They also show how defaulting on one or a few payments can impact the FICO score and report. Credit analyzers are a very useful tool for consumers working diligently to boost their credit rating.

3. Online record of credit monitoring activities

Credit reporting agencies offer subscribers to their credit monitoring program the opportunity to view an online history of all reports and alerts by date.

Consumer Credit & Commercial Credit: Separate Financing for Different Purposes

Posted by Rana & filed under General Debt & Loan Consolidation Information.

In the credit-oriented world in which we live in, American consumers and businesses have a plethora of choices in terms of loans and lenders. A wide variety of financing sources offer multiple forms of consumer credit and/or commercial credit. Lending institutions differ in the 1) types of loans they extend and their maturity dates, 2) interest rates and charges they impose, and 3) eligibility criteria that applicants must meet. Some forms of credit require a lump sum payment of interest and principal, whereas others must be repaid monthly or annually. Consumer or commercial loans may require prospective borrowers to pledge some form of security as guarantee of repayment, while others require solely the latter’s promise to pay. To make an educated decision on which creditors can furnish the type of financing that best suits their needs, consumers should familiarize themselves with the distinctions and defining features of consumer credit and commercial credit.

Consumer credit

This consists of a short-term loan designed to assist individuals in purchasing services or commodities primarily for household, family, or personal consumption, as opposed to business use. If the applicant is acting in a private capacity when seeking financing, then it is deemed to be consumer credit. Borrowers may utilize consumer loans to finance debt consolidation, home improvement, and the purchase of household appliances, automobiles, boats, recreational vehicles, a college education, and electronics, among other things. Consumer credit may be either unsecured or backed by funds in a bank account or an assignment of title. The rate of interest on consumer credit tends to be higher than that on business credit.

There are several categories of consumer credit:

1. Installment credit

Alternatively referred to as closed-end credit, installment credit requires consumers to repay the purchase price by making a series of equal periodic payments (usually monthly) of the principal and interest. Department stores offer this type of credit. Installment credit is widely utilized to finance the purchase of an automobile, furniture, and high-end electronics and appliances, such as computers, washers, and ovens. A specific monetary sum constituting the full purchase price of the goods is extended to the borrower, who must then repay the amount of credit received (principal) plus interest within a fixed time frame. If there is title to the property, the lender retains it until the borrower pays back the credit in its entirety.

2. Non-installment credit

This refers to consumer credit that is typically of short duration (i.e. thirty days) and that must be repaid in a lump sum. Also known as term loans, single-payment loans enable borrowers to purchase a product today and repay the principal and interest on a pre-determined date. Many department stores allow their regular customers to avail themselves of non-installment credit.

3. Open-end or revolving credit

The perfect embodiment of open-end credit are credit cards and charge accounts (i.e. Macy’s and Sears). With revolving credit, consumers may borrow additional funds when needed without having to complete a new application and can make partial or irregular payments. The balance must not exceed the line of credit or credit limit, which usually depends on the cardholder’ ability to repay the debt and his or her credit history. Upon being assigned a credit line, the debtor decides the amount of funds that he or she will utilize at any given time. Generally, borrowers make monthly or periodic payments subject to a pre-set minimum balance due established by the creditor. The minimum amount is usually either a percentage of the balance or a stipulated dollar figure. Debtors may choose to 1) pay the minimum amount, 2) pay more than the required minimum, or 3) repay the entire outstanding balance.

4. Home equity loan

This type of consumer credit, which relies on the equity that a borrower has in his or her home as security, is a convenient method of financing and offers competitive interest rates. Home equity loans may come in the form of installment loans or lines of credit (HELOCs).

5. Personal line of credit

Consumers may also apply for a personal line of credit, which allows them to withdraw funds at their convenience in order to deposit them into their checking account or purchase goods and services. The creditor furnishes the checks to the client, who may utilize them subject to the credit line’s limit. The interest charges depend on how long the funds have remained unpaid and how much the outstanding balance is.

Commercial credit

This category of financing comprises short-term credit that is extended to a business entity or individual for business purposes, such as increasing inventory. If a consumer applies for credit in a business capacity, the credit in question is commercial in nature. Also known as business credit, commercial credit involves an implicit understanding that the business will pay its supplier pursuant to the terms and conditions agreed upon at the time of purchase. Business entities may also secure bank loans from participating lenders. The amount of commercial credit provided is usually dictated by a number of factors including the following: (1) the corporation’s credit history, (2) the value of the assets capable of being utilized as collateral or converted into cash with ease, (3) the ratio of assets to the outstanding debt, and 4) the present worth of the holdings in the prospective borrower’s custody.

Commercial lenders offer a broader choice of credit options than do other creditors. Short-term loans, which are generally for a duration of less than one year, equip businesses that are temporarily cash-strapped with working capital. Upon converting their accounts receivable or inventory into cash, the businesses repay the loan in a lump sum. Intermediate loans, which boast a term of one to three years, are ideal for increasing capital, expanding, buying new equipment, and starting-up a business. Long-term loans are equally useful for business start-ups but also for purchases of fixed assets and for capital improvements. Debtors usually repay these loans on a quarterly or monthly installment basis. Businesses can also apply for a line of credit, which allows them to obtain funds repeatedly without needing to reapply, on the condition that borrowers stay within their credit limit. They will be required to submit financial statements to the lender once a year.

Business credit cards are also available for businesses and are ideal for small to medium-sized enterprises with less than 100 employees and an annual budget running under $1 million. Businesses with substantial employee expenses may consolidate their bills by applying for a central billing card. Other credit cards for businesses include commercial credit cards and corporate credit cards, the latter generally reserved for companies with more than 100 employees and a yearly income exceeding $1 million.

Prior to granting consumer or commercial credit, finance companies, retailers, and banks gauge an applicant’s credit-riskiness. They do so by obtaining a copy of the applicant’s consumer credit report from a credit reporting agency or credit bureau. Some of the information contained in credit reports includes the consumer’s payment history, borrowing activities, and public records such as monetary judgments, tax liens, and bankruptcies. Credit bureaus rely on this data to determine a borrower’s credit rating or credit score.

How Credit Bureaus Report Consumer Credit Scores

Posted by Rana & filed under General Debt & Loan Consolidation Information.

In today’s consumer credit driven world, a good score affects many things for individuals, including their ability to avail loans and credit cards. A good credit rating also determines the type of interest rates and insurance premiums consumers are able to obtain from companies. Credit ratings are provided by three major credit bureaus in the U.S., Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Their job is to collect and compile every individual’s information for the purpose of establishing credit scores. The process also involves creditors, as they are responsible for reporting information to the credit bureau when inquiries are made into a person’s credit. There are several things that can qualify as “inquiries,” which affect an individual’s credit rating, including the following:

Applications for new credit cards Loan applications: mortgage loans, car loans, personal loans etc. Late bills payments Credit checks performed when individuals rent property or get employed

Along with the data gathered by creditors, the files held by credit bureaus also incorporate other pertinent information, such as an individual’s employment history, previous addresses/phone numbers, bankruptcy filings, evictions etc. The information contained in a consumer’s credit report usually remains on file for a total of seven years before credit bureaus remove it. When it comes to deciding whether or not to grant a loan, most lenders tend to take an average of the credit ratings provided by all three credit bureaus.

Unfortunately, not everyone is satisfied with their credit rating, as life can be extremely difficult for those who suffer from bad credit. Because they are labeled as bad credit borrowers, many lenders are often reluctant to work with them. Consumers with bad credit are also required to pay significantly higher interest rates due to the greater risk involved for the financial lending institution. However, the good news is that consumers can improve their credit rating as long as they learn how to work with credit bureaus. For example, many individuals may be unaware of the fact that when denied for credit, they are legally entitled to a free copy of their credit report, as mandated by U.S. legislation.

When credit is denied, consumers should also receive a notification letter in the mail. The letter usually contains the name of the credit bureau responsible for providing the rating in response to their credit application. This information also informs consumers which credit bureau they need to work with for the purpose of restoring their credit rating. By law, there are several pieces of key information that consumers are required to provide when requesting a copy of their credit report: 1) full name, 2) current address, and 3) social security number.

Once individuals receive their credit report, they need to review the contents thoroughly for any errors and omissions. While credit bureaus do their best to provide exact and up to date information, they are no exception to human error. This is where the Fair Credit Reporting Act comes into play. The purpose of this act is to ensure that credit reporting agencies provide accurate information on consumer credit histories. If consumers do find faulty items within their credit report, and are able to prove the inaccuracies, the Fair Credit Reporting Act can be of great help. This is because credit bureaus are required to fix the errors in order to ensure the right information is included for future credit reports which are requested.

Regardless of whether they are applying for any type of financing, it’s extremely important for individuals to check their credit report every year. The information can be obtained online in a quick and convenient manner, and the best part is, it’s free for consumers to obtain once a year. Not only are consumers able to ensure accuracy, but they are also made aware of any discrepancies which may exist. This allows them to take the necessary steps to rectify their credit rating before it’s too late.

Various Forms of Tax Incentives

Posted by Rana & filed under Tax & Bankruptcy Law Information.

An increase in tax incentives can mean an increase in the ability to promote charitable giving, education, and aid in the economy. Through means of tax exemptions, tax deductions, and tax incentive checks, the average taxpayer can provide education to a family member, funds for personal retirement, or a way to buy a television set to support the economy.

Understanding Tax Incentives

Tax incentives is a phrase used to describe ways of using the tax code through tax exemptions or credits in order to stimulate investments in an economy without direct spending from the government’s budget. In basic terms, tax incentives are used to motivate investing in the economy using a variety of tax exemptions. When tax incentives are put into place through deductions, exemptions, and incentives, they encourage taxpayers to be exempt from a tax liability. They can reduce the federal tax revenues by approximately 4% of the Gross Domestic Product, or the total quantity of goods and services produced within our borders. The use of tax incentives can either encourage or discourage economic activities. The tax incentives are used for homeownership, retirement, education, and medical and health expenses.

By helping to create jobs, increase investments in insurances, and boost spending with American-made products, tax incentives can positively stimulate the economy.

Tax Incentives through Deductions and Exemptions
Just over three-fifths of the tax incentives are created through tax deductions, exemptions, and exclusions. In tax deductions, the amount of the tax break correlates to the taxpayer’s tax bracket. Each tax bracket is based upon a series of criteria, including the range of your taxable income, and how you are filing (single, married filed joint, or married filed separate).Tax deductions provide weak incentives to taxpayers in low tax rate brackets because each dollar deduction is worth less than to someone in a higher tax rate bracket. For example, if you fall in the 40% marginal bracket, a deduction of $1 is worth 40 cents. However, if you are in the 25% marginal bracket, a deduction of $1 is worth only 25 cents.

Tax exemptions allowing an employee to save for either an institution of higher learning or for retirement also exist through the 529, 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans. The 529 savings plan provides an opportunity to set aside a portion of your salary into a plan to go toward tuition to a university in your state. Any withdrawal made remains tax free and your contributions are made automatically.401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans are all tax exemption retirement plans where the employee contributes a pretax portion of the salary earned, with an employer matching the contribution (depending on the plan). These plans allow you to save money for retirement without paying taxes on them.

Tax Incentive Checks
An IRS Incentive Tax incentives can also lie in the form of tax incentive checks. These checks are IRS incentives in order to increase purchases people make and stimulate the economy. These tax incentive rebates are sent to Americans to help increase the spending in the economy and create more jobs.The IRS incentive checks are issued to millions of citizens, including those who did not pay federal income taxes but pay Social Security taxes. These tax incentive checks also aim to help homeowners facing mortgage foreclosure and help both businesses and consumers alike. The only people not as likely to receive an IRS incentive check are those not financially in the middle or lower classes. Those making more than $75,000 individually—or $150,000 as a couple—will receive either a check with a lesser amount or no check at all.

Through different types of tax incentives, including the receiving of IRS incentive checks and contributions to various tax exemptions, investing in the economy is stimulated. Whether the taxpayer is contributing to a retirement plan or higher education funding, or spending money provided through a tax incentive rebate, the United States economy receives a boost to become stronger.

Credit Card Trends: Popular Credit Cards in Today’s Market

Posted by Rana & filed under Credit Card Debt Consolidation Information.

Over the last decade, credit cards have significantly risen in popularity among the masses. Although they were once exclusive to affluent and powerful members of society, today credit cards are made accessible to just about everyone who wants one. Several types of credit card offers are delivered through the mail to millions of households across the nation, as well as sent electronically via email on a daily basis. With promises of lower interest rates, better terms, zero percent on balance transfers, and a plethora of other attractive benefits, it can often be difficult to resist the temptation.

In addition to being safe and reliable, credit cards also serve as a convenient means through which individuals can make purchases. They can be used in a variety of different shops and locations, including malls, retail outlets, college books stores, grocery stores, and restaurants. Due to their rising popularity, many fast food chains have also started to implement the usage of credit cards as a payment method. However, as demand continues to grow, the diversity of credit card offers being sent out can often seem overwhelming for individuals who are trying to make a financially-sensible decision. After all, everyone wants to get their hands on the best credit cards out there.

Today’s market trends are pointing to several types of new and popular credit cards, all of which can be used to finance a variety of purchases based on consumer needs:1. Low interest & balance transfer credit cardsOne of the most popular types of credit cards today are those that offer individuals the ability to transfer their higher interest-rate balances to cards with lower rates. The specific terms and conditions that apply vary with different credit card offers; however companies usually specify the set limit which can be transferred over. Some of the well known sources that individuals can obtain these types of offers through include the Chase credit card and Capital One credit card.2. Reward cardsJust like the name suggests, these types of credit cards give customers certain rewards or incentives for the amount which is spent. These can include rebates, cash-back, and frequent flyer points, which can be cashed in towards air travel.3. Gas credit cardsMany types of reward incentives offered by companies also feature fuel saving benefits in the form of gas credit cards. Individuals are usually able to redeem points towards purchases on fuel for cars and other types of vehicles. 4. Prepaid/store value credit cardsThese types of cards are often purchased as gift credit cards, and require individuals to pay the entire amount which will be stored in the card up front. Because spending is limited to a specified amount, finance charges are eliminated with gift credit cards. 5. Student credit cardsA student credit card is specifically designed to meet the needs of younger individuals who are just starting to build a credit history. For example, some of the features offered by the Visa student credit card include lower interest rates and flexible repayment options. 6. Business credit cardsBusiness credit cards are geared towards businesses and their need for adequate credit. Many companies, including Chase credit cards offer special business incentives, such as higher credit limits, certain business rewards, and additional cards for employees who travel a great deal as part of their job requirement.7. Cards for bad credit borrowersThese credit cards are especially meant for people with bad credit. Although interest rates are usually higher for bad credit borrowers, individuals can still redeem themselves as long as payments are maintained in a timely manner every month.While individuals may continue to receive an outpour of credit card offers through the mail, it’s important for them to carefully review the rates, terms, and conditions before getting any type of card.

Tips on Keeping Credit Card Fraud at Bay

Posted by Rana & filed under Credit Card Debt Consolidation Information.

With the advent of online banking and shopping, the ubiquity of credit card transactions has become ever so apparent. As a corollary to the application of this newer web-based technology, cases involving credit card fraud have increased substantially, with issuers and cardholders suffering hundreds of millions of dollars in losses annually. While credit card fraud occurs most commonly when placing a telephonic order, access to personal data by way of phishing or identity theft is gaining ground on the internet. Phishing occurs when con-artists and thieves elicit information from a consumer with the intention of assuming his or her identity and stealing benefits or money. For instance, a phisher may request confirmation of personal data for a fabricated reason such as victim’s information being allegedly lost due to a computer glitch or an order being purportedly placed in his or her name. Another popular fraudulent scheme is an email from a lending institution requesting that the victim verify his or her personal information by clicking on a link, which then leads him or her to a counterfeit website. Consumers may also be told that they are being contacted by the fraud department of an established company suspecting that they may be victims of identity theft and then asked to re-enter their personal information. Still another common scam involves notifications to consumers that they won a lottery but have to furnish proof of identity and/or credit card information or pay taxes or transfer fees in order to obtain the funds.

The vast majority of credit card fraud takes place via 1) a stolen or lost credit card, 2) usurpation of a cardholder’s identity and information, or 3) no-card fraud in which a bogus internet website or a shady telemarketer obtains the victim’s credit card data on the phone. Scam artists utilize a wide array of methods to steal consumers’ information and utilize their cards to effectuate purchases. Fortunately, credit card fraud is avoidable, and there are numerous steps that consumers can take to guard against it:

1. Credit cards should be stored in a place that is separate from the rest of the wallet’s contents (i.e. a zipper or a money clip) or in a place other than their wallet.

2. Consumers should ignore ‘phishing’ emails requesting that they visit a specific website to check credit card or personal details or that they furnish credit card information. Legitimate businesses do not request information of a sensitive nature without first having established a relationship.

3. New credit cards should be signed as soon as they are received in the mail.

4. Cardholders should avoid storing their PIN with their credit card. They should memorize their PIN and shred any document containing their PIN.

5. Prior to being discarded, credit cards, receipts, canceled checks, carbons, monthly statements, and credit card applications should be cut up or shredded. To protect against trash dumpster or trash bin scavengers, cardholders can separate the shredded documents into different trash bags.

6. To prevent thieves from copying or capturing their credit card number by camera or cell phone, consumers should keep their credit card out of sight. They should never leave credit cards or receipts in plain view.

7. Carbon copies should be shredded upon receipt.

8. Cardholders who suspect fraud or who find the charges questionable should immediately call or write their creditor. Stolen or lost credit cards should also be reported immediately to the issuer. Many credit card companies offer around the clock service and a toll-free number to resolve such issues. Once consumers report the theft or loss, they will avoid liability for unauthorized charges and pursuant to federal law will only be responsible for a sum not exceeding $50.

9. Before relocating, consumers should notify their creditors of their new address. This will prevent third parties at the old address from accessing the cardholders’ statements.

10. Consumers should not sign credit card receipts before verifying the amount. They should never sign a blank receipt. When signing a receipt, cardholders should cross out any lines that are above the total and contain blank spaces.

11. Credit cards should not be lent to anyone.

12. Consumers should save their credit card receipts to compare them to their billing statements.

13. Bills should be opened as soon as they arrive in the mail and balances reconciled monthly to ensure accuracy.

14. Cardholders should never provide their credit card number or information to a company unless 1) they have initiated the call and are certain that the data is required or 2) know that the company is legitimate and trustworthy. If the consumer harbors doubts about the company’s reputability, he or she should contact the Better Business Bureau or the nearest consumer protection agency.

15. Consumers should only submit credit card information online if the website is secure. This is usually guaranteed by an SSL certificate, a lock in the browser’s bottom right corner, and/or a domain name beginning with https, the ‘s’ confirming that the page is secure, and that it is safe for the visitor to enter his or her credit card information.

16. Documents such as receipts and billing statements that contain credit card numbers should be safely stored.

17. Cardholders should verify that all purchases listed on their billing statements were made by them or an authorized user. If a transaction looks suspicious, they should contact the business to find out what it sells and determine whether they made the charge.

18. When handing their card to a clerk, consumers should see to it that he or she returns it to them as quickly as possible and doesn’t take it out of their sight.

19. Cardholders should never record their account number on an envelope or check.

20. Consumers should keep a record of their credit card information locked in a safe location.

21. Cardholders can protect against identity theft by requesting an annual free credit report either by mail, phone, or online from each of the leading credit reporting agencies (CRAs), namely TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. CRAs also allow consumers to place fraud alerts on their credit reports. By monitoring their report on a regular basis and reviewing it for unauthorized activity and inaccurate information, consumers can prevent credit card fraud from damaging their credit rating.

The Ripple Effect of Consumer Credit

Posted by Rana & filed under General Debt & Loan Consolidation Information.

From credit cards and auto loans to residential mortgages, home equity loans, and personal lines of credit, consumer credit facilitates the daily lives of millions of Americans by providing convenience and fiscal flexibility. This indispensable and valuable monetary tool offers numerous benefits including the following:

Ability to satisfy basic consumer needs Ease of use Opportunity to shop online in lieu of visiting merchants in person Immediate acquisition of merchandise and services and payment at a later date Elimination of the need to transport a significant amount of cash when purchasing expensive items Chance to improve one’s credit limit and creditworthiness by making timely payments and regular purchases Convenient shopping Potential to establish a credit history More effective budgeting via monthly statements setting forth all expenditures

Along with credit history, one of the most critical and determinative criterion in the financial undertakings of borrowers is the credit score, a three-digit number that is calculated on the basis of information contained in the consumer credit report. Credit scores typically range from 300 to 850; the score improves as the number increases. Lenders utilize this numerical figure, also known as a credit rating, to assess an applicant’s creditworthiness and ability to repay debts. Credit reports provide a detailed summary of a borrower’s credit information including the following: 1) amount of debt incurred, 2) frequency of inquiries made on his or her report, 3) timeliness of debt repayment (i.e. payment history, 4) balance or outstanding debt, 5) presence of bankruptcy or liens, 6) delinquent payments, 7) available credit, 8) length of credit history, 9) credit utilization, and 10) recent credit applications. The most important factor is payment history, which comprises 35% of the borrower’s credit score.

The maintenance of a positive consumer credit history is a sine qua non to financial stability. Credit scores play a pivotal role not only in loan or credit card approval, but also in the employment and insurance contexts, among other situations. With a high credit or FICO score, borrowers can obtain credit on favorable terms and the lowest interest rates, as well as avoid having to complete a substantial amount of paperwork. A poor credit rating, on the other hand, complicates borrowers’ chances to acquire any type of credit, and the loans that they do manage to qualify for boast an excessively high rate of interest. Lenders, such as credit card companies, are not the sole entities that request and review an applicant’s credit report. Credit scores and records are also sought by employers, landlords, insurance companies, utility companies, and cell phone companies, among others. They utilize the credit score to gauge the applicant’s degree of financial responsibility. The repercussions of bad credit can be witnessed in numerous aspects of borrower’s lives:1: Mortgage. Poor credit adversely impacts a borrower’s ability to obtain a mortgage. 2: Credit card. While borrowers with good credit benefit from a low rate of interest when applying for a credit card, those with poor credit are either disqualified or pay a high interest rate.

3. Insurance. When conducting a background check on a customer, home insurance companies often sound out the latter’s credit score. Both home and auto insurers utilize a prospective policyholder’s credit score in setting the premium. Individuals with a high credit score benefit from low insurance premiums and qualify for discounts. Applicants with poor credit are unlikely to obtain reasonable or attractive rates on insurance products. Generally, they can expect to pay hundreds of dollars more annually in insurance premiums. Furthermore, borrowers with a tarnished credit score may not be covered by underwriting guidelines, and their request for renewal may be denied. Insurance companies usually construct an insurance score by relying on the information in consumers’ credit report.

4. Employment. Prospective employers conduct a credit check prior to making decisions regarding promotion or hiring. Applicants with a poor credit score have a more difficult time qualifying for a promotion or getting hired.

5. Auto or home purchase. To acquire decent rates when buying a car or home, consumers need a good credit score.

6. Consumer credit. Credit history is a significant factor influencing lenders’ decisions to extend credit to prospective borrowers. To assess whether a particular applicant is a responsible candidate for consumer credit, a lender examines the former’s spending patterns and payment history. Defaulting individuals with a poor credit score may be subject to a penalty interest rate ranging from 25 to 30%. Pursuant to a policy known as universal default, borrowers who are delinquent in their payments with respect to one credit card will face higher rates on their other cards. Moreover, their credit rating will fall, which means that they will pay more to secure new credit and loans. Borrowers with a substantial outstanding balance and are in default are charged late fees and face accruing interest, hounding by collection agencies, garnishment of their wages, and/or liens on their assets. For many defaulting or delinquent borrowers, consumer credit counseling is a saving grace. Some of the services offered by organizations specializing in credit counseling include the following:

Proper budgeting Stress management Timely bill payment Debt elimination through low-cost debt management programs Financial management Review of credit reports Elimination or reduction of fees Lower monthly payments to lenders Cessation of calls from collectors

There are many steps that consumers can take to maintain a financially healthy credit score:

Stay current on their payments, for instance, by setting up automatic payments Obtain their credit report from the three consumer reporting agencies and review it for accuracy at least once a year (a corrected report leads to a higher credit score) Maintain credit card balances within 30% of their credit limit Establish a bank account (creditors view savings and checking accounts as proof of stability) Pay more than the minimum amount due

Three Main Types of Tax Exempt Savings Plans

Posted by Rana & filed under Tax & Bankruptcy Law Information.

Tax exempt savings are important to many taxpayers. By finding a way to save additional tax free—and often matched—income, you are able to save money and prepare for the future. Through health savings accounts, the 529 savings plan, and retirement plans, you can invest a portion of your income to prepare for medical expenses, college tuition, and funding your retirement.Health Savings AccountsThe Health Savings Account, or HSA, is a tax exempt savings plan that provides you with control over your health care dollars by helping you manage your health care costs. This tax exempt savings plan allows you to pay for medical expenses for you and your tax dependents both currently and after retirement.HSAs allow unused funds to carry over annually and can gain interest over time. All contributions, withdrawals, and interest earned are tax free up to a set amount fixed by the federal government if they are used to pay for medical expenses. If you opt to use a portion of the money for another purpose, you will have to pay income tax on the amount and a ten percent penalty.In order to enroll in a HSA, you will need to apply for a HSA qualified high deductible health plan, or HDHP for short. You can open a HSA at a bank or financial institution. Once you have an account open, you can make contributions up to a preset annual maximum. If you are contributing through employee status, these contributions are tax deductible on your next tax return. If you are contributing as an employer, your contributions are exempt from federal employment taxes.When you need to pay for medical expenses, you can withdraw money from your account to cover the costs. When the year ends, any money left over in your account will roll over to the next year. If you stop the HDHP coverage, you can still withdraw funds for qualified medical expenses.529 Savings PlansA 529 savings plan was created to help save for a child’s education. This plan will direct the money towards tuition at a state university, providing the future student to lock in lower tuition rates. An alternative to this plan lies in saving the money for a period of time and choosing the university at a later date. By paying for an allowable expense, such as tuition, books, or room and board, you can help contribute to paying for your child’s long-term education. In order to enroll in a 529 plan, you need to talk with an investment service or financial institution. When you open up your 529 plan account, you can arrange for an automatic deposit of a fixed amount. In the event you want to make an unscheduled deposit, you can contact your plan’s administrator to deposit the additional amount. Withdrawals from the 529 plan are completely tax free.Each state has a different plan and depositing money in a 529 savings plan outside of your home state may result in paying taxes or fees. Primary differences between each state’s plans include variations in the minimum contribution you can make, penalties and fees for withdrawals, and the risk of the investment. This tax exempt savings plan can benefit anyone you name as a beneficiary and the beneficiary can be changed if desired.Retirement PlansAnother option for a tax exempt savings plan lies in retirement plans: 401(k), 403(b), and 457. These plans are available for employees to deposit a portion of their salary in. Supported by the IRS, the retirement plans provide an opportunity to prepare for retirement.401(k) plans work when an employee contributes a portion of the salary earned into the plan. The employer will then match the contribution up to a certain percentage. Although you can borrow from a 401(k) and use the money before turning 60—the age for retirement—you will face a 10% penalty for the withdrawal. A 403(b) plan is offered to those who work at nonprofit organizations, such as schools and museums. Although the employee contributes pretax earnings to the plan, the employer typically does not contribute any money.457 plans are offered to employees of state government, local government, universities, unions, and other tax exempt organizations. Similar to the 401(k) and 403(b) plans, the 457 plan is funded through an employee’s pretax salaried contributions. Although you need to start withdrawing from the plan before the age of 70, there is a 10% penalty if withdrawn before the age of 59. This penalty does not apply to someone retiring from a job with the government under the age of 59 or if it is in a time of an unforeseen emergency. Unlike 407(k) and 403(b) plans, the employer does not make any contributions to the plan and does not always allow them to carry the plan over into an IRA.The HSA, 529 savings, 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans are all plans which are exempt from state taxes and any other taxes when contributing the amount. In order to avoid being charged for the taxes, you need to have a tax exempt form on file for reference. These beneficial tax exempt savings plans provide you an opportunity to set aside pretax money in support of health, higher learning, and retirement.

The Utility and Consumer-Friendliness of Prepaid Credit Cards

Posted by Rana & filed under Credit Card Debt Consolidation Information.

Dubbed “pay as you go” or “stored value” cards, prepaid credit cards are proving to be the ultimate alternative to conventional credit cards. Accounting for more than $100 billion of purchases a year, this secured credit card which operates as a reverse bank account is forecast to post transactions totaling more than $250 billion by the end of 2009. Prepaid credit cards offer the ease and convenience associated with traditional charge cards- allowing consumers to pay all their bills (i.e. utilities, rent, gas, groceries) and make online purchases- but without borrowing funds from the issuer. Rather, the concept involves a debit card linked to a checking or savings account. These renewable debit cards also provide greater flexibility than single retailer gift cards and gift certificates. Prepaid credit cards function as follows:

The customer deposits a certain amount of cash into a prepaid credit card account. He or she is issued a pre-funded debit card When the balance is depleted or decreases, the borrower has the option of reloading or refilling the card with more cash.

With prepaid credit cards, borrowers can make purchases up to the sum pre-deposited into their account. There are no limits imposed by credit card companies; it is the consumer who decides how much cash to load onto the card. This type of secured credit card enables borrowers to monitor their expenditures and curb or avoid overspending. It is a particularly useful money management tool for teenagers who obtain the convenience of a credit card while learning financial responsibility. Prepaid credit cards prevent splurging on the part of teens since they are limited by the amount deposited into the account. There are numerous advantages to using a pay-as-you-go card:

Guaranteed approval Ease of use Worldwide acceptance A greater measure of safety and less risk than carrying cash No line of credit, thus obviating the need to repay any debt No possibility of debt due to the fact that the cardholder is not borrowing funds ATM cash access No bills or interest charges No late fees or overdraft/NSF fees Free direct deposit and avoidance of check cashing fees No activation fee when customer utilizes direct deposit to load their card No annual fee (most prepaid credit card companies waive this charge) No participation or application fee (many issuers waive these as well) No minimum balance requirement

Some prepaid card providers charge a small fee for setting up the borrower’s account- typically between $5 and $10- and for reloading the card. As consumers use the card to make payments, funds are automatically deducted from the balance on the card. The card can be used for purchases and bill payment until the consumer has depleted the balance, at which point he or she may choose to replenish the funds.In the fast-paced world in which we live in, credit cards have become almost indispensable and are necessary for numerous undertakings ranging from hotel reservations and car rentals to large expenditures. It is estimated that nearly 60 million Americans are unable to obtain a traditional credit card due to ineligibility attributable to a poor credit score or no credit at all. Those who do manage to find a credit card for which they qualify are slapped with an exorbitantly high interest rate. Bad credit credit cards are specifically intended for the segment of the population struggling to access a standard unsecured card or needing to establish credit. Bad credit does not disqualify applicants from acquiring a prepaid credit card. Furthermore, there is no credit history requirement or credit check associated with credit cards for bad credit. Many issuers of prepaid credit cards report to credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian), thus enabling individuals with a tarnished credit record to rehabilitate their credit rating and those with no credit to build a credit history. By improving their credit score or establishing a credit history, consumers boost their chances of obtaining a traditional credit card, mortgage, or loan. The short and easy application process, which typically involves only a few simple steps, may be completed online. Prospective borrowers are not asked to submit to employment verification or meet income requirements. They must simply have a bank account in order to load the card. Approval is granted within minutes of submission of the application. Prepaid credit cards are widely available for purchase both online and at participating retail stores and financial institutions. Consumers may avail themselves of an extensive choice of secured credit card options offered by the most prestigious names in the financial arena such as MasterCard, Visa, J.P. Morgan, Western Union, and Citibank. Enticing prepaid credit card deals and promotions abound on the World Wide Web, and some of the rewards include 1) shopping discounts, 2) cash back, 3) free merchandise, and 4) air miles. One type of prepaid credit cards- gas credit cards-usually offers discounts on gas purchases as well as cash-back on auto maintenance and gas purchases.