Making the Most of Tax Time Seminar
*Monday, March 7th from 4:30-6pm at the Lloyd Center, 3rd floor (near the Nordstrom's side of the building).
Call/email Talia to register today: 503-943-5620, email@example.com
* Visit http://www.cashoregon.org/taxprep/sites.htm to find a site near you!
Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Fix it Fairs
* February 26 : Jefferson High School, 5210 Kerby Ave, Portland (look out for the CAT workshop at this fair!)
In 2009, the average total debt (including credit cards, mortgage, home equity, student loans and more) for every U.S. households was $16,046. This is a lot of money. There are millions of families out there stressed about debt and this stress can lead to real health problems and impact daily lives. In this issue of Innovative Connections our message is: don't let debt get the best of you!
In the sections below, we hope to provide you with advice and tools to manage your debt in a safe way. Even if you're not ready to start paying it off, getting organized is a start and can bring you good peace of mind.
Also, remember to get your taxes filed for free, if you haven't already at a tax site near you
. And sign up for our Making the Most of Tax Time
seminar on March 7th
, to find out how to use your tax return wisely (details here
|Tip of the Month: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is...|* Send us your tips! Each month we will collect your innovative money management tips -- these could be about resourceful ways you've saved money, thrifty activities you enjoy, helpful insights into living on a tight budget, etc. We will enter these tips into a pool and if selected, your tip will be featured in the next Innovative Connections and you will win a $20.00 Fred Meyer gift card.*
Are you in debt? Is your debt load unmanageable and you're in need of a way out? A debt-free life is a phone call away! We will erase your bad credit 100% guaranteed!
We've all seen ads like this before. If it resonates with you, the ad can be tempting. But be wary of debt consolidation/management scams. Credit and debt repair or consolidation services can counsel you on how to pay off debt, work with you to repair your credit, modify loans, help you determine whether to file for bankruptcy, consolidate debt and negotiate with your creditors to settle debt or set up payment plans. However, these companies are not always there to help, and in some cases may end up increasing your debt load, rather than alleviate the burden. Often times, they help you do things that you could easily do on your own, for free.
If you would like to start taking control of your debt on your own, here are a few tips to get started:
1. Make an inventory of what you owe. Write it all down in front of you, list when your payments are due, how much you owe and to whom. Add it all up.
2. Look at your budget. Review your expenses for the month. Realistically figure out a reasonable amount that you can set aside to deal with your debt. If you don't see debt payments fitting in with your budget at this time, keeping track of your debt is a good first step towards being informed and ready for action when you are more financially stable.
3. Prioritize. Do you have bills about to go to collections? Debts that are compiling interest? Small debts that you could get out of the way today? Strategically choose which will make the biggest impact when you pay them off.
4. Take action: Start calling collectors. Ask for a settlement of 50% of your outstanding balance. If they don't accept your offer, hang up and try another representative. Negotiate your payment- you have bargaining power, because they want your money. Avoid payment plans, if possible - especially if creditors want to automatically deduct money from your bank account- this can often led to more money, trouble and a prolonged period of the debt staying on your credit report. Even if you settle a debt, it will stay on your record as a derogatory item for up to 7 years. Taking care of a debt will retrigger that 7 year period, so if something is about to come off your report, it may not be the highest priority. However, there is no guarantee that collection agency won't still try to collect your money - once they get a judgment they have 20 years to collect!
If you do decide to seek credit or debt repair services here are some things that you should figure out before accepting any services:
1. Ensure that it's registered with the National Foundation of Credit Counseling, the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies and/or the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.
2. If they are, ask lots of questions to make sure that you understand what they can offer you:
- What are the fees associated with their services? The maximum upfront fee a company can charge is $50 and maximum monthly fee is $65. The company may charge you no more than 7.5% of the total amount of debt reduced after it's settled. Also, a new regulation under the Fair Credit Repair Organizations Act, says that credit repair organizations may not receive payment before any promised service is "fully performed."
- Where's your money being held while you're making payments? Your funds should be held in a third party FDIC insured escrow account.
- How will they be working with your creditors?
- When can you expect your first settlement? It should be within 12 months of your program- if it's longer than this, that's an indicator that your debt is not being handled correctly. The Fair Credit Repair Organizations Act also specifies that services must be under written contract, which must include a detailed description of the services and contract performance time.
- If you have any complaints about a debt management company contact call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP.
3. Or, Seek outside advice from a community organization. If you would like assistance for dealing with debt, there are safe and often free ways of getting advice. Set up an appointment with a financial coach in your community. Innovative Changes has coaches that will help you make a plan to tackle your debt. We will not do the work for you, but give you the tools to do the work yourself and support you through this process.
For more useful information on debt settlement visit the Center for Responsible Lending
|Upcoming Seminar: Making the Most of Tax Time|
For many people, tax time brings a window of opportunity. With the added boost to your budget from a tax return you can start paying off some debts that you've been worrying about, check off items from your wish list, or set up a savings account for your child's college education....the possibilities are endless! However, it's important to remember, even with this extra money, planning is key to using it effectively.
In this next monthly seminar, Making the Most of Tax Time, taught in conjunction with Irena Solomon of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), we will cover topics such as the mechanics of getting a tax return, how to wisely budget and save your tax return, Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) and more! You will leave informed on the array of options out there- good and bad- for using your tax return and make a plan for using it proactively!
When: Monday, March 7th from 4:30 to 6pm
Where: Lloyd Center (2201 Lloyd Center, Portland), on the 3rd Floor near the Nordstrom's side of the building .
To Register: call/email Talia: (503)-943-5620, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The seminar is $5 and fee waivers are available for those who qualify.
|Innovative Advice with Dr. Debt|
* Every month we answer a question or give advice based on a scenario that someone sends us. If you would like financial advice on something you're facing in your life, email Talia at email@example.com or call her at 503.943.5620. All situations and questions will be kept anonymous.*
Dear Dr. Debt,
I constantly receive phone calls from a debt collector. Especially when sitting down to eat dinner with my family. I even began to receive phone calls at my job- my boss has given me a warning as I am not allowed to receive personal calls at work. I know I owe this debt, and that's partly my fault, but these collectors continue to haunt me day and night. I'm not in a place to do anything about my debt right now- is there anything else I can to stop the calls? What are my rights as a debtor?
Dear Distraught Debtor,
Even though you owe money, you still have basic rights as a debtor. While creditors have a right to try to collect your money, you can be in control of how they do so. Unfortunately, any time between 8am to 9pm is an acceptable time for creditors to call. However, they may not contact you outside of those hours or at work, unless you have given them permission to do so.
If you want a debt collector to stop calling you all together, you can send them a cease and desist letter. The letter should include your name, address, account number, and state that you would like them to stop contacting you and anyone else associated with your debt or else you will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Keep a copy of this letter for your records. Once a debt collector has received the letter they have the right to contact you one more time to let you know how they will proceed in regards to your debt. This will not eliminate your debt, or stop the collector from contacting you through mail, but at least it will put a lid on those dinner time and work phone calls.
Here are some more red flags for unfair debt collection practices to look out for:
- If you find that they're contacting you repeatedly by phone or not identifying themselves when they call, this is inappropriate.
- Unless the court has given them permission, creditors cannot contact third parties about your debt. They may contact third parties for the purpose of locating you but still can't reveal why they are looking for you, unless you are a minor.
- Creditors may not make threats, use obscene, profane or abusively languages and comments towards you.
- They also can't mislead you that they are affiliated with any state or federal government, or the legal status of your debts.
- If you find a collector violating your rights, contact the Oregon Attorney General's office at 1-877-877-9392 or firstname.lastname@example.org and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
Although you are not quite ready to pay off your debts at the moment, it's important to keep track of and hang on to all documents regarding your debt to avoid being served or garnished by a collector. If you keep things organized, although it may be overwhelming, it will benefit you in the long run.
| Special Action Opportunity: Have your voice heard by the Oregon Legislature!|
We want you to speak out! Are you a tenant who has had your utilities shut-off when your landlord defaulted on the bill or has the property you're renting gone into foreclosure without your landlord giving you adequate notice?
If so, we invite you to testify to the Oregon legislature in writing or in person about your experiences. We are working with Economic Fairness Oregon (http://www.economicfairnessoregon.org/) to help educate Oregon legislators about the perils faced by households in these situations. Your voice can make a difference.
Contact Becky Straus at email@example.com or 503-473-8685 for more information and to see how you can make a difference. We are offering $5 gift cards to those who submit a letter and will reimburse for the cost (bus ticket or mileage reimbursement) to travel to Salem in back if you wish to testify in person.
| Product Highlight: Auto Loan Refinancing with Unitus|
Innovative Changes has a partnership with Unitus, one of the oldest credit unions in Oregon, so we get updates about their programs from time to time. Unitus offers competitive lending rates, and this month they have a special car refinancing offer.
Here's what they say:
Cut your monthly payment by refinancing your existing auto loan. We offer competitive rates (currently as low as 2.74% APR) and great service, and between now and February 28, 2011, you can also earn 1% cash back on any auto loan you refinance at Unitus (from another lender).
Visit the Unitus website for more information.
February 20-27 is America Saves week! Get in the spirit and start saving today!
A recent financial capability survey found that 64% of Oregonians lack a "rainy day fund" to cover expenses in case of emergencies such as illness, job loss or an economic downturn. Having savings is key to staying on top of your budget and avoiding a downward spiral due to inevitable unexpected expenses. During this week (and always) we urge you to start saving- whether it's through a savings account, a safe spot in your home, an employer-based savings program or as a family. Remember: every little bit counts!
Visit http://www.smartaboutmoney.org for great online tools and resources for saving money. Or, set up an appointment to make a savings plan with an Innovative Changes financial coach today!
| For Our Borrowers|Are You Receiving Your Payment Reminders?
If you chose to receive your payment reminders by email, make sure that they are coming to your inbox and not your junk mail. If you would like to change the way that you receive reminders (by mail, by email, or by phone call) let us know! Call Talia at 503.943.5620 or Carmina at 503.943.5645. How to Make Your Loan Payment
- You can mail your payment by check or money order to: o Innovative Changes, 4610 N. Trenton St., Portland, OR 97203
- You can drop off your payment (check, money order or cash) at the New Columbia Opportunity Center Front Desk- Mon- Fri, 8am-5pm
- Please note the building is closed to the public during the lunch hour (12pm-1pm) and is occasionally closed on Fridays for State furlough days.
- The front desk person has envelopes and is authorized to collect payments on our behalf if we are not in. If you are paying in cash and need change, you must contact Sarah (503.943.5670), Carmina (503.943.5645) or Talia (503.943.5620) in advance to arrange a meeting time.
Upcoming Changes to Payment Reminders
- Carmina can accept payments at our Gresham locationby appointment only on Fridays. Gresham Village Square Community Room, 1625 SE Roberts Dr. Gresham, OR 97080. Call Carmina at 503.449.6299 to set up an appointment.
We are currently in the process of moving to a new loan software system, so please be patient with us as we get our new systems in order. In the coming weeks, you might notice that you are receiving your payment reminders earlier than usual and that they look a little different than before. Let us know if you have any questions. Also, we hope to be offering an ACH option for loan payments very soon. This means that you can choose to have your loan payment automatically deducted from your bank account each month. Stay tuned for more details!
We Are Here to Help!
Are you having trouble making your payment this month, or afraid that it might be a little late? Let us know! We understand that unexpected events and expenses can make it hard to keep your finances on track, and Innovative Changes wants to be there for you in such cases. Innovative Changes is flexible and willing to work with our borrowers to satisfy loan obligations, and in return we ask for honest and timely communication. Remember, if you know your payment is going to be late, let us know ahead of time and we might be able to avoid charging a late fee, or sending out a late notice.