Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to Dispute a Parking Ticket

Since the recession, many major cities have increased the number of parking tickets generated per month. Just this morning, I was at home and saw a parking enforcement officer driving down my residential street looking to give tickets to residents who were parked in front of their homes. Parking tickets can range from $15 to $150 depending on where you park and where you live. You should always pay yourself first and make money for yourself instead of making someone else rich.

When parking on any street read the signs carefully to ensure you don't violate them. Take a picture of the sign in the event you get a parking ticket. If there is no sign read the parking meter sign. Take a picture of the parking meter and a picture of your parked car showing that no parking sign was present.

In some cases, fraudulent parking tickets are written and drivers pay these tickets without investigating to ensure the ticket is valid. I have experienced this myself parking in Washington DC. I parked at 10:30pm at a parking meter that ended at 10:00pm. I received a ticket at 11:00pm stating that I parked in a no parking zone. How can a parking meter be installed in a "No Parking Zone"? Here are 6 ways to dispute a parking ticket:

1. Call to dispute the ticket the next day after you received the ticket to try to find out why you received the ticket. Be pleasant and the agent may dismiss the ticket. If not, dispute the ticket by mail along with your documentation.

2. Verify the ticket is valid by verifying the location, date/time, car make and model, tag number, date of registration, type of registration, registration expiration date, description of the car, VIN, meter number, and violation reason which should match the posted parking sign. If any of this information is incorrect you can dispute the ticket.

3. Search for the traffic laws applicable in your city and make sure you have followed them and reference the law in a non-offensive way when disputing the ticket.

4. Dispute the ticket by writing a letter and provide all the facts including: the make and model of your car, the date and time when the violation occurred, a valid explanation why you feel you were not at fault, list any parking signs and parking meter signs you saw, and identify any errors on the parking violation along with digital photos which is much harder to be denied. Staple all the documentation together putting the letter on top and the photos behind the letter.

5. Request a hearing within 30 days from the date of the ticket. Bring all evidence and photos and witnesses with you and hope the officer doesn't show up.

6. If you dispute a ticket and are unhappy with the decision you can request an appeal. Rewrite the original letter and be even more pleasant in the letter. End the letter by stating that if they still stand by the original decision you request that the fine be reduced.

Remember, the regular laws may not apply when a city government is experiencing a financial crisis. If you do go into the city take public transportation or catch a cab to prevent the risk of getting a parking ticket.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Avoid Parking Tickets

There has been a significant increase in the number of parking tickets written this year in several cities across the country. Many cities and counties have used the money obtained from parking fines to offset budget cuts and revenue shortfalls.

Some may feel the parking meter maids are criminals who run around cities giving fraudulent tickets. Others feel they are just doing their job based on pressure from their supervisors to meet quotas and generate revenue. The New York City government generates approximately $1.6 million daily from parking ticket revenue. In Chicago, a total of 1,345 parking tickets were written between June 21 and July 14, 2010. Montgomery County Maryland collected $8.1 million in ticket revenue thus far t his fiscal year.

Washington DC trained 25 new officers for the 2010 summer season and "Summer is our peak season for issuing tickets," according to Bill Howland, director for the Department of Public Works. "We're hoping to have some of these folks ready so they can issue more tickets." In Boulder Colorado parking meter maids are required to write an average of 900 tickets a month. Collections from parking tickets in Maywood Illinois increased 55% from last fiscal year. Here are 8 ways to avoid getting a parking ticket:

1. Keep change in your car at all times. If you regularly park in areas with meters, put more than enough money in the meter, at least 20 minutes extra than the current time. Some parking meters move their watches up 15-20 minutes to write fraudulent tickets.

2. Read the information on the parking meters including the hours in effect and any restrictions.

3. Read the parking signs for any restrictions with available times the space is to be used for parking. Check for permanent and temporary signs. If you park at a space with a parking meter and a parking sign follow the parking sign to be safe.

4. Be sure your vehicle registration and tags are clearly displayed on your car and are current.

5. Get a receipt when parking on a parking lot with an attendant. Receipts must be placed visible in the front windshield to avoid getting a ticket or being towed.

6. Don't park near fire lanes, bus zones, intersections, handicapped spaces, snow emergency routes, near schools or corners.

7. "No Stopping" and "No Parking" are not the same. You can stop in a no parking zone for up to five minutes to load and unload a passenger, but cannot in a no stopping zone which will result in getting a ticket even if the car is occupied.

8. When parking in parking lots or parking garages be sure to park in spaces that have lines on both sides of the parking space.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Free Way to Get Out of Debt

If you are struggling with debt and don’t know where to turn try consulting self-help books such as my book, “How to Get Out of Debt: Get an “A” Credit Rating for Free by Harrine Freeman, published by Adept Publishers. My self help book talks about personal finance topics such as:

1. Warning Signs of Bad Credit
2. How to Create a Spending Plan
3. Life After Bankruptcy
4. Women and Their Credit
5. Increasing Your Credit Score
6. Keeping Good Credit
7. Dealing with Creditors
8. Identify Theft

My book also contains sample budget spreadsheets and sample letters to setup payment plans with creditors and fix errors on your credit reports. My book also contains tons of resource information listed by state as well as information on your rights as a consumer.

My book has been previously featured in Essence, Black Enterprise, Ebony magazines, Market Watch, Wall Street Journal, the Michael Baisden Show, Yahoo.com, Bankrate.com, and Creditcards.com.

My book is available at all major bookstores (Borders, Barnes & Noble, Walden Books, B. Dalton). For more information about my company visit hefreemanenterprises.com.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Last Minute Summer Energy Savers

Labor Day usually signals that summer is coming to an end. Temperatures start to drop and children are back in school getting homework assignments and writing reports. This summer however is a little different.

Temperatures are still in the 80-90's and appear to stay that way for the next few weeks which is not good news for homeowners and their electricity and cooling costs. Here are 8 quick tips to save money in the last few weeks of summer which can help offset some of the high energy bills we paid during this hot summer.

1. Appliances. Limit the use of the microwave. Purchase a portable grill such as the George Foreman grill or similar devices which reduces the amount of time it takes to cook food. Try drying clothes using full loads or air drying clothes to save money. Buy energy efficient appliances and light bulbs to save on energy costs. Wash clothes in warm or cold water and rinse in cold water.

2. Electronics. Turn off all electronics and appliances when not in use. If you have multiple televisions in your home this adds up in electricity costs when running them at the same time. If you are out of the room for more than 20 minutes turn off all electronics.

3. Computers. Turn off your computer when not in use or leave it in standby mode. Energy Star has free energy efficient programs for computers that will help reduce energy usage.

4. Oven cooking. Using the oven when it's hot outside will make it harder to keep your home cool. Try cooking on top of the oven to save money on electricity.

5. Thermostat. Set your air conditioner thermostat to 78 degrees F and keep it there. If you need additional cooling use a portable fan or ceiling fans. Don't place lamps, televisions or computers near your thermostat. The thermostat can sense the heating coming from the appliances and will run longer than necessary.

6. Lights. Don't turn lights on if your home gets natural sunlight. Keeping lights off also keeps your home cool. Turn lights on only when necessary.

7. Insulate. Seal any cracks or leaks around and inside your home and insulate your attic floor. Install storm windows to save on energy costs.

8. Refrigerator. Keep your refrigerator at 38 - 40 degrees F. Keep your freezer at 5 degrees F.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recent Student Loan Updates

There have been several updates in 2010 in the financial industry for credit cards, debit cards, gift cards and now student loans. Interest rates have been slightly lowered for some federal student loans. Verify your statement to see if your student loan has been affected by the recent updates effective on July 1, 2010.

Subsidized undergraduate loans that are disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 the interest rates have been lowered to 4.5%. Subsidized graduate, unsubsidized and PLUS loans that are disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 the interest rates remain unchanged at 6.80% and PLUS loans remain unchanged at 7.90% for Direct Loans and 8.50% for FFEL loans.

Variables rate for unsubsidized and subsidized loans in repayment or forbearance for loans disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 the interest rates have been lowered to 2.47%. Variables rate for unsubsidized and subsidized loans for student in school, in grace period or in deferment for loans disbursed July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 the interest rates have been lowered to 1.87%.

PLUS loans for parent and graduate students for all loan statuses for loans disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 the interest rates have been lowered to 3.27%.

If you are a student attending college outside of the United States, your school is now able to participate in the Direct Loan Program.

The Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program has been retired and will not provide any more loans as of July 1, 2010. All new Consolidation, Stafford and PLUS Loans will be provided by the Department of Education under the Direct Loan Program.

Students who have previously received a federal student loan from a private lender under the FFEL Program will have to complete a new promissory note to receive loans under the Direct Loan Program. Check with the financial aid office at your school for more information.

Monday, September 13, 2010

How to Negotiate Student Loan Interest Rates

The hardest debt for college graduates to get rid of is student loan debt. Trying to find out who you owe, how much you owe, your interest rate and monthly payment can be a nightmare.

If you defaulted on your loan, it is even harder to get information about your loan especially if you account have been forwarded to a collection agency. It takes a lot of perseverance and patience to navigate through the student loan maze but you can negotiate the terms of your loan. Here are some easy ways to negotiate your student loan interest rate.

Strategies for Negotiating
1. You may be eligible for an interest rate reduction if you consolidate your loans.
2. You can refinance your loan to get a lower interest rate if you have good credit.
3. You can request a loan modification if you are unable to make monthly payments for certain reasons such as: job loss, medical bills, reduced wages or hours or emergencies.
4. You can pay interest-only payments over a period of time and ask the lender to shorten the length of the loan.

How to Negotiate
1. You can request that the company lower your interest rate if you have made payment on time for one to two years or more and your loan is not in default because their main goal is to keep your loan from defaulting.
2. Remain in constant contact with your student loan lender and make payments on time. If you are unable to make payments setup a payment arrangement with your lender. Make sure your information on file with the lender is current. Don't ignore letters sent to you regarding your student loan.
3. Establish a relationship with at least one person at the lender company and remain in contact with that person when handling your loan. It helps to have an additional person at the lender company to work with; either their supervisor or co-worker in the event the person gets promoted or leaves the company.
4. Many private loan companies will lower your interest rate if you setup automatic payments. Sallie Mae does this and has another program that links your Upromise account to your Sallie Mae account which also lowers your interest rate.

Other Options
1. When looking for jobs ask about student loan forgiveness programs. If you work in the medical or judicial fields, for the federal government, non-profit or low-income areas you are eligible for a student loan forgiveness program that may pay 25% or more of your student loan each year. For more information visit finaid.com.
2. Work a full-time and a part-time job or 2 full-time jobs to pay down the student loans. The highest interest is accrued during the first two to five years of the loan so the more interest you pay on the loan during that time the faster your balance will go down and the less money you will owe over the life of the loan.
3. Live at home after graduation for at least two years to save money and put most of your earnings toward your student loans. During this time try to double, triple or quadruple your loan payments. After about six months you will be able to see your balance go down each month. If you are unable to live at home after graduation rent out a room or cheap apartment and stay there for at least two years.
4. Don't buy a car, catch public transportation. If you absolutely need a car because there is no public transportation near your job then buy a cheap used car that is in good condition.
5. Keep expenses to a minimum and buy more needs vs. wants. If possible, continue to pay down your student loan debt until your balance is paid in full.
6. Delay going to graduate school if you have student loans. Pay off your student loans before going to graduate school because it will be harder to pay off two loans instead of just one.
7. Get a job with an employer that will pay for you to go to graduate school.

Your Credit Score
1. Damaging your credit score by defaulting on your loan to get a lower interest rate is not worth it for several reasons: you end up owing more on your loan due to the missed payments and accrued interest, you damage your credit rating which can take years to fix and you will not be eligible for student loans in the future, you damage your relationship with the loan company.
2. If you receive an interest rate reduction it may only be temporary because it is harder now to get interest rate reduction due to defaulted loans. You will have to provide proof that you are unable to pay the loan, i.e. budget, paycheck stub, tax forms, etc.
3. There are instances where you can settle on a defaulted less for less than the principal amount but it may take months or years of fighting with the loan company. You will have to document a financial hardship, i.e. paystubs or W2 forms, provide documentation of where you obtained money to pay for the settlement and provide a reasonable explanation of why they should accept the settlement amount.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Paying Taxes by Credit or Debit

The recession has caused many Americans to rely on credit cards to pay for basic necessities including debts owed such as taxes. The IRS allows taxpayers to pay taxes with a debit or credit card. If you owe taxes and will not be able to pay the debt via a payment plan or cannot borrow money to pay the taxes owed, your only other option may be to pay with a credit card.

Some taxpayers pay with their taxes with a debit or credit card just for the convenience – others because they neglected to take out enough money during the year to pay their taxes or did not have enough deductions to get a refund. Here are some pros and cons about paying your taxes with a credit card or debit card.

Paying With a Credit Card
1. Convenience. You can pay by phone, internet, efile through IRS or IRS approved service providers
2. The IRS website is safe and secure – you cannot ensure safety and security on other websites
3. You may be able to earn miles, points or rewards from your credit card company
4. You can pay using Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express
5. You can pay taxes for forms 1040/ES/X, 4868, 5329 for individuals and can pay taxes for forms 940, 941, 943, 944, 945, 1041, 1065 for businesses
6. You can make partial payments or setup an installment agreement
7. The filing fee is tax deductible
8. You can make a payment less than $100,000 via the IRS website, larger payments must be made through OPC or Link2Gov

1. You have to pay a fee when paying via a service provider (fees range from 1.95-2.35% of amount owed)
2. An immediate release of a federal tax lien is not provided
3. Payments made through service provider or credit card company may fail
4. Depending on the interest rate charged on your credit card, if you don’t pay the card balance off within a few months you will end up paying more money than the taxes owed to the IRS
5. Be aware of scam companies appearing as service providers

Paying With a Debit Card

1. Convenience. You can pay by phone, internet, efile through IRS or IRS approved service providers
2. The IRS website is safe and secure – you cannot ensure safety and security on other websites
3. The is a flat fee charged per transaction
4. You may earn rewards from your debit card company
5. You can make a payment less than $100,000 via the IRS website, larger payments must be made through OPC or Link2Gov
6. You can pay taxes for forms 1040/ES/X, 4868, 5329 for individuals and can pay taxes for forms 940, 941, 943, 944, 945, 1041, 1065 for businesses
7. You can make partial payments or setup an installment agreement
8. The filing fee is tax deductible
9. Don't have to worry about paying penalty charges, late fees or interest if paid in full
10. Can make a payment less than $100,000 via the IRS website, larger payments must be made through OPC or Link2Gov

1. Have to pay a flat fee when paying via a service provider (fees range from $3.89-$3.95)
2. Immediate release of a federal tax lien is not provided
3. Payments made through service provider or credit card company may fail
4. Be aware of scam companies appearing as service providers

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

30 Ways to Pay Off Debt

Over 1,000,000 Americans have foreclosed on their homes this year. Over 750,000 Americans have filed for personal bankruptcy and the numbers continue to rise. If you are lucky enough to have a job and are in debt, get out of debt as soon as possible.
There is no longer job security and Americans have to plan for their future which includes eliminating debt, saving and investing. It took a long time to get into debt and will take a long time to get out of debt – but with patience, sacrifice and dedication you can live a debt free life. Here are 30 ways to pay off debt now and become debt free.

1. Stop using your credit cards.
2. Pay cash for all purchases until you pay off all of your debt.
3. Empty the change from your car, sofa, wallet, purse and pockets into a jar each day. Every 3 months deposit the money into your bank account. Use that money to pay down debt.
4. Track your spending daily or weekly until you pay off at least 75% of your debt.
5. Downgrade or downsize – move into a smaller and less expensive home or apartment. Trade in your luxury car for a car with no note or a cheaper car payment.
6. Pay additional money or your mortgage payment or car loan. Even an extra $10 a month will make a difference.
7. Setup automatic paycheck deductions to pay bills or use online banking.
8. Setup a debt payment plan with your creditors.
9. Use any raises, bonuses, commissions to pay down debt.
10. Create a budget or spending plan and buy more needs vs. wants.
11. Stop eating out – bring your lunch to work and eat at home.
12. Sell items not used within the past 6 months or more on eBay or Craigslist.
13. Donate items that did not sell to charity and write off on your taxes.
14. Hide your credit cards or cut them up, especially department store cards which usually have the highest interest rates.
15. Cancel your cable service, use internet service at the library and get the cheapest cell phone plan available.
16. Always pay your bills on time or before the due date.
17. Get current on late payments – pay off collection accounts, tax liens and judgments as soon as possible.
18. Get current on student loans to avoid collection fees, loss of a tax refund or garnishing your paycheck. Visit finaid.com for information on student loan forgiveness programs.
19. Start with the smallest bill first and pay it off. Take the money used for that monthly payment and put towards the next bill to pay debt down faster.
20. Evaluate your insurance policies to make sure you are properly covered and look for ways to reduce your monthly premiums: increase deductible, eliminate uninsured motorists' coverage, bundle services, etc.
21. Get at least basic health insurance to reduce medical costs, stop smoking, exercise and eat a healthy diet to keep medical costs low.
22. Skip the Starbucks and bring coffee from home or drink tea.
23. Skip drinking sodas and juices and drink more water.
24. Keep your thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 76-78 degree Fahrenheit in the summer to keep heating and cooling costs down.
25. Shop at outlet stores, discounts stores or consignment stores for groceries and clothing.
26. Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions.
27. Don't go on any vacations until you are completely out of debt.
28. Turn off electronics and appliances when not in use for 20 minutes or more. Unplug all large electronics and appliances when not in use to save money on energy costs.
29. Review your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to look for errors and to find out about any debt you were not aware of.
30. Don't lend money if you can't afford to. Ask others who owe you money to pay you back.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

How to Pay Defaulted Student Loans

Student loan debt is one of the hardest debts to pay off. Many Americans pay on their student loans well into their adult life. If your student loans go into default, it can take a while to get them into good standing. You risk having your tax refund taken, your paycheck garnished or being taken to court.

Federal loans have more regulations and programs to help account holders pay their student loan debt. Private loans are not as regulated and offer very few programs or none at all depending on the company to help account holders pay their student loan debt. You cannot include federal or student loans in bankruptcy. Here are 9 ways to get current on defaulted student loans.

Private loans
1. Offer a good faith payment or a lump sum payment to use as negotiation to request that any fees or finance charges be waived. Also, request that your payment history is updated on your credit report.
2. Refinance. After paying your loan on time for at least two years you can comparison shop and sell the loan to another loan servicer or bank for a better interest rate.
3. When private loans go into default they are usually forwarded to a collection agency which may not be as willing to work with you to setup a payment plan. Negotiate and offer a payment plan that you know you will be able to afford each month. If they refuse to accept your payment plan you may have to provide documentation such as a budget or paystub to support your payment plan.
4. You may be charged fees by the collection agency but no more than 18.5% of the outstanding principal and interest.
5. If you are in the military and are on active duty there are limits on interest accrual.
6. If the collection agency is not adhering to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act file a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission.
7. You can consolidate loans to use the student loan forgiveness (or public service forgiveness) programs.
8. Ask for a copy of the collection agency's business license, proof that they have a legal right to collect on the student loan and proof that you owe the amount stated on the letter you received.
9. If the school you attended closed or you withdrew from school you may be eligible for a partial refund by completing an unpaid refund discharge application form.

Federal loans
1. After making payments on time for 9-10 months, your loan will be placed in good standing (rehabilitated) and you will be eligible for various programs such as deferment, forbearance and student loan forgiveness.
2. Determine how much you can afford to pay each month. This may require that you create a budget and reduce some expenses to ensure you make the payments each month.
3. If your loan has not been sent to a collection agency, send a payment to the Department of Education's Payment Center.
4. You can consolidate your loans into one loan which will put your loan in good standing.
5. Don't consolidate federal loans into private loans because you will no longer be eligible for deferment, cancellation, forbearance or income-based payment plans.
6. You can consolidate your federal loans into the Direct Loans government consolidation program.
7. If you default on a Direct Loan you must make 3 payments or agree to pay the loan using the Income Contingent Repayment Plan (ICRP) or Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR). If you sign up for the ICRP or IBR you do not have to make 3 payments before applying for consolidation.
8. You can only consolidate a Direct Loan once.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Why You Need Insurance

September is National Insurance Month and according to the Chicago Tribune, 70 million Americans are underinsured and sixty percent of full-time workers are uninsured. A study by Harvard University researchers found that 50% of all bankruptcy filings were partially the result of medical expenses. Many people go into debt and have bad credit due to unpaid medical bills. If you become unemployed or you become ill you could end up in mounds of debt or lose your home to foreclosure. If you are employed you should have at least basic health insurance no matter what your salary. Three benefits to having insurance:

1. Protects against harm to something or someone
2. Can be used to reimburse for a loss that occurs
3. Saves you money in the future

There are several types of insurance available: life, health, auto, fire, home, dental, flood, disability (short term and long term), and many more. The 3 most important types of insurance everyone should have are: disability, life and health.

Disability insurance is used if you have a short-term or long-term medical condition that prevents you from working and ensures that you still continue to receive a paycheck, usually at least 60% of your salary. Life insurance is used if a family member dies. Health insurance is needed if you require medical treatment or preventive care.

If your employer does not provide health, life or disability insurance you can purchase insurance on your own. When buying insurance comparison shop to find the best rate. Go to eHealthInsurance to get quotes on affordable health insurance.

If you need health insurance for your children visit the Insure Kids Now site. For information on disability insurance visit the Assurity company's website. If you cannot afford to purchase health insurance make sure you get enough rest, eat well and exercise. Try to get a part-time job to pay for health insurance premiums.

If you cannot afford to purchase additional types of insurance such as home owner's insurance, auto or fire insurance, you can save money by purchasing bundled packages for several insurance policies with the same company such as insuring multiple cars with the same insurance company or ask for discounts to save money.

Having insurance will save you money in the future and help you get over any financial crisis you may experience.