New from the Money Scoop
Are you considering the investment?
* See if your your employer offers a traditional 401(k) and/or a Roth 401(k).
* Research the information on your plan.
* Find out what is necessary in the way of paperwork necessary to begin participating.
You should probably start out with a review of your budget. Determine how much comes in ever month and how much goes out. From here you will be able to determine how much you are able to set aside every month for a contribution.
The Roth 401(k) follows many of the same rules as a traditional 401(k).
There is a maximum annual contribution se on a yearly basis.
Your employer may provide a matching contribution as part of a Roth 401(k) offering. You will be required to accept the matching contribution in a traditional, and not a Roth, account. .
You may continue to maintain a traditional 401(k) even if you are directing new contributions to a Roth 401(k). Your contributions to a Roth 401(k) are irrevocable. They cannot be transferred to a traditional 401(k) account and funds in a traditional 401(k) cannot be switched to a Roth 401(k).
Both Roth and traditional 401(k)s require distributions after age 70 1/2.
If you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket during retirement you may benefit from a Roth 401(k) or 403(b).
If you will not need your retirement assets for living expenses during your later years a Roth 401(k) offers the opportunity to roll over funds directly to a Roth IRA.
Also, keep in mind that the longer you remain invested in a Roth 401(k), the more you are likely to benefit from tax-free growth.
For more information, consult with a professional.
"A recession in my judgment is more likely than not, but it's not a sure thing," Feldstein told a forum hosted by the Hamilton Project, an economic research group headed by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
However, in a survey of top forecasters, expectations for the weakest consumer spending performance in 17 years during 2008 kept the odds of a recession at nearly 40 percent.
Investment firm Goldman Sachs is predicting the U.S. economy will sink into a recession this year. Their report says the economic retreat could extend over two financial quarters and would likely push the unemployment rate up."The recent data suggest that the US economy is falling into recession,".
Goldman Sachs said it expects the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates aggressively, by late 2008.Goldman Sachs economists said in a research note, the impact of credit and housing woes is already being felt.
Some experts predict that the weakening economy may force the Fed to lower policy rates by an additional 1.75 percentage points from the current 4.25 percent.
" A significant decline in activity spread across the economy, lasting longer than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country's gross domestic product (GDP)."
"Investopedia Says... Recession is a normal (albeit unpleasant) part of the business cycle. A recession generally lasts from six to 18 months."
"Interest rates usually fall in recessionary times to stimulate the economy by offering cheap rates at which to borrow money."
To take advantage of the law's consumer protections, you must:
- write to the creditor at the address given for "billing inquiries," not the address for sending your payments, and include your name, address, account number and a description of the billing error.
- send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you.
Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof of what the creditor received. Include copies (not originals) of sales slips or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.Date
What happens while my bill is in dispute?
You may withhold payment on the disputed amount (and related charges), during the investigation. You must pay any part of the bill not in question, including finance charges on the undisputed amount.
The creditor may not take any legal or other action to collect the disputed amount and related charges (including finance charges) during the investigation. While your account cannot be closed or restricted, the disputed amount may be applied against your credit limit.
Will my credit rating be affected?
The creditor may not threaten your credit rating or report you as delinquent while your bill is in dispute. However, the creditor may report that you are challenging your bill. In addition, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants who exercise their rights, in good faith, under the FCBA. Simply put, you cannot be denied credit simply because you've disputed a bill.
...the bill is incorrect?
If your bill contains an error, the creditor must explain to you - in writing - the corrections that will be made to your account. In addition to crediting your account, the creditor must remove all finance charges, late fees or other charges related to the error.
If the creditor determines that you owe a portion of the disputed amount, you must get a written explanation. You may request copies of documents proving you owe the money.
...the bill is correct?
If the creditor's investigation determines the bill is correct, you must be told promptly and in writing how much you owe and why. You may ask for copies of relevant documents. At this point, you'll owe the disputed amount, plus any finance charges that accumulated while the amount was in dispute. You also may have to pay the minimum amount you missed paying because of the dispute.
If you disagree with the results of the investigation, you may write to the creditor, but you must act within 10 days after receiving the explanation, and you may indicate that you refuse to pay the disputed amount. At this point, the creditor may begin collection procedures. However, if the creditor reports you to a credit bureau as delinquent, the report also must state that
you don't think you owe the money. The creditor must tell you who gets these reports.
...the creditor fails to follow the procedure?
Any creditor who fails to follow the settlement procedure may not collect the amount in dispute, or any related finance charges, up to $50, even if the bill turns out to be correct. For example, if a creditor acknowledges your complaint in 45 days - 15 days too late - or takes more than two billing cycles to resolve a dispute, the penalty applies. The penalty also applies if a creditor threatens to report - or improperly reports - your failure to pay to anyone during the dispute period.
An important caveat
Disputes about the quality of goods and services are not "billing errors," so the dispute procedure does not apply. However, if you buy unsatisfactory goods or services with a credit or charge card, you can take the same legal actions against the card issuer as you can take under state law against the seller.
To take advantage of this protection regarding the quality of goods or services, you must:
have made the purchase (it must be for more than $50) in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address;
make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with the seller first.
The dollar and distance limitations don't apply if the seller also is the card issuer - or if a special business relationship exists between the seller and the card issuer.
Other billing rights
Businesses that offer "open end" credit also must:
- give you a written notice when you open a new account - and at certain other times - that describes your right to dispute billing errors;
- provide a statement for each billing period in which you owe - or they owe you - more than one dollar;
- send your bill at least 14 days before the payment is due - if you have a period within which to pay the bill without incurring additional charges;
- credit all payments to your account on the date they're received, unless no extra charges would result if they failed to do so. Creditors are permitted to set some reasonable rules for making payments, say setting a reasonable deadline for payment to be received to be credited on the same date; and
- promptly credit or refund overpayments and other amounts owed to your account. This applies to instances where your account is owed more than one dollar. Your account must be credited promptly with the amount owed. If you prefer a refund, it must be sent within seven business days after the creditor receives your written request. The creditor must also make a good faith effort to refund a credit balance that has remained on your account for more than six months.
Suing the creditor
You can sue a creditor who violates the FCBA. If you win, you may be awarded damages, plus twice the amount of any finance charge - as long as it's between $100 and $1,000. The court also may order the creditor to pay your attorney's fees and costs.
If possible, hire a lawyer who is willing to accept the amount awarded to you by the court as the entire fee for representing you. Some lawyers may not take your case unless you agree to pay their fee - win or lose - or add to the court-awarded amount if they think it's too low.
Reporting FCBA violations
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Have you ever been billed for merchandise you returned or never received? Has your credit card company ever charged you twice for the same item or failed to credit a payment to your account? While frustrating, these errors can be corrected. It takes a little patience and knowledge of the dispute settlement procedures provided by the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA).
The law applies to "open end" credit accounts, such as credit cards, and revolving charge accounts - such as department store accounts. It does not cover installment contracts - loans or extensions of credit you repay on a fixed schedule. Consumers often buy cars, furniture and major appliances on an installment basis, and repay personal loans in installments as well.
What types of disputes are covered?
The FCBA settlement procedures apply only to disputes about "billing errors." For example:
- unauthorized charges. Federal law limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50;
- charges that list the wrong date or amount;
- charges for goods and services you didn't accept or weren't delivered as agreed;
- math errors;
- failure to post payments and other credits, such as returns;
- failure to send bills to your current address - provided the creditor receives your change of address, in writing, at least 20 days before the billing period ends; and
- charges for which you ask for an explanation or written proof of purchase along with a claimed error or request for clarification.
Keep these tips in mind when looking for a credit or charge card.
- Shop around for the plan that best fits your needs.
- Make sure you understand a plan's terms before you accept the card.
- Hold on to receipts to reconcile charges when your bill arrives.
- Protect your cards and account numbers to prevent unauthorized use. Draw a line through blank spaces on charge slips so the amount can't be changed. Tear up carbons.
- Keep a record - in a safe place separate from your cards - of your account numbers, expiration dates and the phone numbers of each issuer to report a loss quickly.
- Carry only the cards you think you'll use.
Receiving a Credit Card
Federal law prohibits issuers from sending you a card you didn't ask for. However, an issuer can send you a renewal or substitute card without your request. Issuers also may send you an application or a solicitation, or ask you by phone if you want a card - and, if you say yes, they may send you one.
Federal law protects your use of credit cards.
Prompt Credit for Payment. An issuer must credit your account the day payment is received. The exceptions are if the payment is not made according to the creditor's requirements, or the delay in crediting your account won't result in a charge.
To help avoid finance charges, follow the issuer's mailing instructions. Payments sent to the wrong address could delay crediting your account for up to five days. If you misplace your payment envelope, look for the payment address on your billing statement or call the issuer.
Refunds of Credit Balances. When you make a return or pay more than the total balance at present, you can keep the credit on your account or write your issuer for a refund - if it's more than a dollar. A refund must be issued within seven business days of receiving your request. If a credit stays on your account for more than six months, the issuer must make a good faith effort to send you a refund.
Errors on Your Bill. Issuers must follow rules for promptly correcting billing errors. You'll get a statement outlining these rules when you open an account and at least once a year. In fact, many issuers include a summary of these rights on your bills.
If you find a mistake on your bill, you can dispute the charge and withhold payment on that amount while the charge is being investigated. The error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you didn't accept, or for an item that wasn't delivered as agreed. Of course, you still have to pay any part of the bill that's not in dispute, including finance and other charges.
If you decide to dispute a charge:
- Write to the creditor at the address indicated on your statement for "billing inquiries." Include your name, address, account number, and a description of the error.
- Send your letter soon. It must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you.
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days of receipt, unless the problem has been resolved. At the latest, the dispute must be resolved within two billing cycles, but not more than 90 days.
Unauthorized Charges. If your card is used without your permission, you can be held responsible for up to $50 per card.
If you report the loss before the card is used, you can't be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If a thief uses your card before you report it missing, the most you'll owe for unauthorized charges is $50.
To minimize your liability, report the loss as soon as possible. Some issuers have 24-hour toll-free telephone numbers to accept emergency information. It's a good idea to follow-up with a letter to the issuer - include your account number, the date you noticed your card missing, and the date you reported the loss.
Disputes about Merchandise or Services. You can dispute charges for unsatisfactory goods or services. To do so, you must:
- have made the purchase in your home state or within 100 miles of your current billing address. The charge must be for more than $50. (These limitations don't apply if the seller also is the card issuer or if a special business relationship exists between the seller and the card issuer.) and,
- first make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with the seller. No special procedures are required to do so.
If these conditions don't apply, you may want to consider filing an action in small claims court.
Credit Card Terms
A credit card is a form of borrowing that often involves charges. Credit terms and conditions affect your overall cost. So it's wise to compare terms and fees before you agree to open a credit or charge card account. The following are some important terms to consider that generally must be disclosed in credit card applications or in solicitations that require no application. You also may want to ask about these terms when you're shopping for a card.
Annual Percentage Rate. The APR is a measure of the cost of credit, expressed as a yearly rate. It also must be disclosed before you become obligated on the account and on your account statements.
The card issuer also must disclose the "periodic rate" - the rate applied to your outstanding balance to figure the finance charge for each billing period.
Some credit card plans allow the issuer to change your APR when interest rates or other economic indicators - called indexes - change. Because the rate change is linked to the index's performance, these plans are called "variable rate" programs. Rate changes raise or lower the finance charge on your account. If you're considering a variable rate card, the issuer must also provide various information that discloses to you:
- that the rate may change; and
- how the rate is determined - which index is used and what additional amount, the "margin," is added to determine your new rate.
At the latest, you also must receive information, before you become obligated on the account, about any limitations on how much and how often your rate may change.
Free Period. Also called a "grace period," a free period lets you avoid finance charges by paying your balance in full before the due date. Knowing whether a card gives you a free period is especially important if you plan to pay your account in full each month. Without a free period, the card issuer may impose a finance charge from the date you use your card or from the date each transaction is posted to your account. If your card includes a free period, the issuer must mail your bill at least 14 days before the due date so you'll have enough time to pay.
Transaction Fees and Other Charges. A card may include other costs. Some issuers charge a fee if you use the card to get a cash advance, make a late payment, or exceed your credit limit. Some charge a monthly fee whether or not you use the card.
Balance Computation Method for the Finance Charge. If you don't have a free period, or if you expect to pay for purchases over time, it's important to know what method the issuer uses to calculate your finance charge. This can make a big difference in how much of a finance charge you'll pay - even if the APR and your buying patterns remain relatively constant. See page 4 for examples of how the methods can affect your costs.
Examples of balance computation methods include the following.
Average Daily Balance. This is the most common calculation method. It credits your account from the day payment is received by the issuer. To figure the balance due, the issuer totals the beginning balance for each day in the billing period and subtracts any credits made to your account that day. While new purchases may or may not be added to the balance, depending on your plan, cash advances typically are included. The resulting daily balances are added for the billing cycle. The total is then divided by the number of days in the billing period to get the "average daily balance."
Adjusted Balance. This is usually the most advantageous method for card holders. Your balance is determined by subtracting payments or credits received during the current billing period from the balance at the end of the previous billing period. Purchases made during the billing period aren't included.
This method gives you until the end of the billing cycle to pay a portion of your balance to avoid the interest charges on that amount. Some creditors exclude prior, unpaid finance charges from the previous balance.
Previous Balance. This is the amount you owed at the end of the previous billing period. Payments, credits and new purchases during the current billing period are not included. Some creditors also exclude unpaid finance charges.
Two-cycle Balances. Issuers sometimes use various methods to calculate your balance that make use of your last two month's account activity. Read your agreement carefully to find out if your issuer uses this approach and, if so, what specific two-cycle method is used.
If you don't understand how your balance is calculated, ask your card issuer. An explanation must also appear on your billing statements.
Other Costs and Features
Credit terms vary among issuers. When shopping for a card, think about how you plan to use it. If you expect to pay your bills in full each month, the annual fee and other charges may be more important than the periodic rate and the APR, if there is a grace period for purchases. However, if you use the cash advance feature, many cards do not permit a grace period for the amounts due - even if they have a grace period for purchases. So, it may still be wise to consider the APR and balance computation method. Also, if you plan to pay for purchases over time, the APR and the balance computation method are definitely major considerations.
You'll probably also want to consider if the credit limit is high enough, how widely the card is accepted, and the plan's services and features. For example, you may be interested in "affinity cards" - all-purpose credit cards sponsored by professional organizations, college alumni associations and some members of the travel industry. An affinity card issuer often donates a portion of the annual fees or charges to the sponsoring organization, or qualifies you for free travel or other bonuses.
Special Delinquency Rates. Some cards with low rates for on-time payments apply a very high APR if you are late a certain number of times in any specified time period. These rates sometimes exceed 20 percent. Information about delinquency rates should be disclosed to you in credit card applications or in solicitations that do not require an application.
* Truth in Lending Act requires a lender to tell you how much it will cost to borrow money so that you can compare the terms of credit offered by different lenders.
* Fair Credit and Charge Card Disclosure Act requires a lender offering you a credit card to tell you the annual percentage rate (APR), the amount of any annual fee, and whether you have a grace period to pay your bill before a finance charge is added.
* Fair Credit Reporting Act controls how your credit history (how you pay your bills) is kept by credit bureaus and used by lenders.
* Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits lenders from discriminating against you in a credit transaction on the basis of certain personal characteristics such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, because you receive public assistance or because you've exercised your rights under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.
* Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lays out the rules a debt collector must follow when trying to collect a debt from a consumer.
* Home Equity Loan Consumer Protection Act requires a lender to give you complete information about the home equity loan plan it offers—first when you receive an application and again before you first use the line of credit.
* The Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act requires disclosures and imposes substantive limitations on mortgage transactions having rates or fees above a certain percentage or amount. It also requires disclosures about the potential costs for reverse mortgages.
* Fair Housing Act prohibits lenders from discriminating against you in real estate mortgage or home improvement loans on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or handicap.
* Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act states that lenders must give purchasers information about the costs required to close a mortgage loan. It also protects consumers from unnecessarily high real estate settlement costs by prohibiting certain business practices. This applies when you take out or refinance a loan secured by real estate such as a mortgage loan or a home equity loan.
* Fair Credit Billing Act requires that a lender promptly correct a mistake on your credit card bill.
* Expedited Funds Availability Act limits how long a bank may delay your use of the funds you deposit in an account.
* Truth in Savings Act requires lenders to disclose the terms of their deposit accounts in a uniform way.
* Electronic Fund Transfer Act limits an individual's liability if their ATM card is lost or stolen and calls for investigation and correction of errors made to your account.
* Consumer Leasing Act requires the costs and the terms of a consumer lease, such as a lease for a car or for furniture, be outlined to you so that you can compare the cost of leasing.
Online baning offers may include;
* Access to accounts round-the-clock, even on weekends
* View of balances
* Check clearances
* The ability to ransfer funds between accounts
* The ability to download information directly into personal finance software
* The ability to receive and pay bills on-line (without check writing, envelopes, or stamps)
Sometimes choosing an "Internet-only" bank, no longer gives you access to a local "bricks-and-mortar" bank.
When choosing an on-line banking service, use the same good business sense you would in any transaction. Do your research and make sure that the on-line bank has a good reputation before you provide personal information or send money. Also, when purchasing banking products or services online, read agreements carefully before clicking your consent to them or signing the agreements electronically. The time is well spent since you may be legally bound by those agreements. It is also wise to save or print a copy of the agreement for future reference.
The Internet is a convenient place to find bargains in banking products and services. You can often view rates for savings accounts, credit cards, loans, and other financial products and services. Some Web sites also help you directly compare financial products online.
Be certain that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") insures your bank's deposits. Most on-line banks include information on their deposit insurance on their Web pages. You can find a list of FDIC-insured banks on the FDIC Web site.
Also, if you use a bank that is not licensed in the United States, your deposits may not be insured by the FDIC, and you may not benefit from other important consumer protections offered in the United States.