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5 new California laws that go into effect in 2021

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The new year is coming, and with it comes a slate of new laws set to go into effect in California.

Though COVID-19 truncated the 2020 legislative session and limited how much lawmakers could do, they nevertheless successfully passed several new laws set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

Here’s a rundown of some of the laws going into effect:

Flavored tobacco ban

After two years of trying, California lawmakers in 2020 finally succeeded in banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

The ban contained several exemptions, including for hookah, loose leaf and pipe tobacco and cigars priced at $12 or more.

The ban met resistance from several groups as it made its way through both houses of the Legislature, including from some lawmakers who feared it would contribute to over-policing of Black communities.

Despite those concerns, the bill passed through both the Senate and the Assembly with a comfortable margin, and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in late August.

However, the fight isn’t over yet.

The tobacco industry has launched a referendum campaign that seeks to stop the law from going into effect until voters can have their say. The California Secretary of State’s Office is currently reviewing the petitions for that campaign.

Transgender inmate protections

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be required by law to ask all inmates for their gender identity, and to recognize and address inmates by their gender pronoun in all communications.

The law also stipulates that transgender inmates must be housed at a facility matching their gender identity, unless the department can provide “a specific and articulable basis” for denying that housing due to security or management concerns, according to a Senate floor analysis.

Under the law, transgender, nonbinary and intersex inmates must be searched by an officer whose gender identity matches that of the inmate, or by an officer whose gender matches the designation of the facility housing the inmate if the inmate’s gender identity cannot be determined.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation worked with bill author Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to provide technical assistance on the bill’s language, and then-department Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement that the bill “will bolster our ongoing efforts to address the inequalities and complex needs the incarcerated transgender, non-binary and intersex community faces and codify our policies for the screening, treatment, and housing of this population as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act.”

Sheriff oversight boards

One of the key pieces of legislation to come out of 2020’s police reform efforts was a law, signed by Gov. Newsom in September, authorizing counties to establish sheriff oversight boards and an office of inspector general.

The law empowers both the oversight boards and the inspector generals to issue subpoenas “when deemed necessary to investigate a matter within their jurisdiction.”

In an Assembly floor analysis of the bill-turned-law, author Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, wrote that “honest oversight of law enforcement is absolutely necessary if we want to rebuild trust between officers and the communities they serve.”

The bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which said in a statement, “Meaningful independent oversight and monitoring of sheriffs’ departments increases government accountability and transparency, enhances public safety, and builds community trust in law enforcement. Such oversight must have the authority and independence necessary to conduct credible and thorough investigations.”

The bill was opposed by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which argued that the law was unnecessary, as counties already have the authority to exercise civilian oversight of sheriff’s offices.

“Further, county counsels and grand juries already hold subpoena powers. Compelling the production of information, testimony, or documents from a wide array of sources can already occur through existing avenues,” the association said in a statement included in the Assembly floor analysis of the bill. ”Specifying this authority in statute will create undue pressure within county governments to create an adversarial relationship with another county office.

Consumer finance protection

The Department of Business Oversight has been transformed into the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, and this January its mission will expand significantly.

Bolstered by the California Consumer Financial Protection Law, the department will be authorized to regulate previously unregulated services, including debt collectors, credit repair agencies, debt relief agencies and private school student lending, according to department spokeswoman Maria Luisa Cesar.

“The new law gives us expanded power and scope,” she said.

The new law also gives the agency the capacity to enforce federal law which prohibits unlawful, unfair and abusive practices.

In addition, the law creates an Office of Financial Technology Innovation that will engage with new industries and consumer advocates to encourage consumer-friendly innovation and job creation, Cesar said.

Cesar said that the most important thing to know about the new law is that people can call the department and file a complaint if they encounter unfair practices in financial services.

The department can be reached by visiting https://dfpi.ca.gov/file-a-complaint/ or calling toll free at (866) 275-2677 or (916) 327-7585.

Sex offender registry

Perhaps one of the most maligned laws to be signed by Newsom in 2020 is one that is intended to provide partity in criminal sentencing for young LGBTQ people who have sex with other young people.

As word of the law hit the conservative media sphere, its author, Sen. Wiener, received a torrent of abusive messages, including death threats and anti-Semitic slurs. The far right conspiracy theory community known as QAnon perpetuated and spread several falsehoods about the law.

“I’ve been called a pedophile tens of thousands of times,” Wiener said in an interview last September.

The law applies to cases where a person has been found guilty of having oral or anal sex with a minor 14 years of age or older, where the age difference is not more than 10 years. It gives judges in that case the leeway to decide whether the convicted person should be required to register as a sex offender.

State law already gave that leeway to judges in cases where a person is found guilty of having vaginal sex with a minor 14 years or older where the age difference is not more than 10 years.

Wiener argued the law is about treating LGBTQ young people the same as straight young people.

Related stories from Fresno Bee

Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.



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Some VA lenders are still exploiting troops and veterans, report alleges

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Troops and veterans in some cases are being “grossly” overcharged for VA home loans, and federal regulators need to suspend or ban alleged bad actors and strengthen their oversight over lenders, according to a new report from the office of Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.

The report alleges that NewDay USA and The Federal Savings Bank “continue to aggressively market cash-out refinancings with fees and interest rates that could cost borrowers tens of thousands of dollars more over the life of the loan compared to other lenders.”

“This report finds that grossly overpriced cash-out refinancings continue to scam veterans,” Porter stated in an introduction to the report released Aug. 3.

The report noted that the actions of Congress and federal regulators in 2017 and 2018 decreased the incidence of predatory cash-out VA loan refinancing. But while the number of these loans decreased in those years, the problematic rates and fees continued, the report stated.

The report’s authors found that while the number of cash-out refinancings did decrease in 2020, it’s on the rise again — up by 50 percent since July, 2020.

“It is despicable that corporate executives would prey on veterans and military families to line their pockets,” said Porter in an announcement of the report, titled “AWOL: How watchdogs are failing to protect servicemembers from financial scams.”

The report “calls out the lenders that are continuing to single out vulnerable military borrowers for overpriced, cash-out refi mortgages. The Administration has a duty to step in and prevent these scams from happening,” Porter said.

“Ginnie Mae should immediately suspend NewDay USA, The Federal Savings Bank, and any other lender with similar lending patterns from originating new cash-out loans,” the report recommended.

Ginnie Mae officials didn’t comment on this recommendation, but in a statement to Military Times emphasized that the government agency “continues to be focused on maintaining the market predictability and integrity of Ginnie Mae securities, which leads to low-cost mortgage financing available to homeowners who use various government-insured mortgage products.”

An American flag is raised at a home, March 19, 2019, at on-base military housing at Naval Station Mayport. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Bowser/Navy)
An American flag is raised at a home, March 19, 2019, at on-base military housing at Naval Station Mayport. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin Bowser/Navy)

Active-duty members as well as veterans generally qualify for a VA loan. The Veterans Affairs Department doesn’t make the loans; It guarantees them. This minimizes lenders’ risks and reduces their losses in the event of a foreclosure. The lenders set the interest rate and some other costs.

The Porter report also recommended the VA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau take additional action to address the issue. In recent years, all these government agencies have taken steps to tighten rules and strengthen monitoring, in order to limit overpriced cash-out refinancings and loan “churning,” where lenders convince borrowers to unnecessarily refinance their mortgages early to get new terms or take out cash, often costing borrowers more in the long run.

“Churning VA loans hurts all veterans,” said Andrew Pizor, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. While some steps have been taken, more are needed, he said.

As the report notes, not all cash-out refinancings are necessarily predatory. These loans take cash value out of homes, but some loans tend to have bad terms which could leave borrowers worse off after refinancing. Lenders market these loans often to veterans, enticing them to take thousands of dollars out of the equity in their home, to pay off debt, make home improvements, or other purposes. The cash-out loans can be used to refinance a non-VA loan into a VA loan.

In contrast, a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan, IRRL, also known as the streamline refinance loan, is typically used to reduce the borrower’s interest rate on an existing VA loan, or to convert an adjustable rate VA loan to a fixed rate mortgage.

The quantity of cash-out refinancings decreased in 2020, both at NewDay and across the VA home loan industry, but the nature of the loans remained the same, according to the analysts. In analyzing the top 10 originators of VA cash-out refinancings in 2020, the analysts found NewDay’s customers were charged the highest average interest rate.

If these borrowers had used the VA streamline refinance with NewDay instead of the cash-out refinance, the analysts found, they would have paid competitive market rates and less than half the up-front costs of a cash-out mortgage.

“The disparity suggests that service members, veterans and military families looking for cash-out loans at NewDay may be specifically targeted and exploited for profit,” the report stated.

NewDay’s response

NewDay USA defended their practices when reached for comment.

“NewDay USA’s mission is to serve our nation’s veterans and we’re proud of the work we do to help them achieve the dream of homeownership,” NewDay officials said in a statement provided to Military Times. “We’re committed to continuing to help veterans and their families gain financial security by providing them the best possible service.”

The vast majority of NewDay’s 2020 total loan originations were streamline refinancings and other products; 13 percent were VA cash-out refinancings, according to NewDay officials, which they say is consistent with the rest of the mortgage market.

These two types of refinancings should not be conflated, because they serve different purposes, officials noted. “Cash-out loans offer veterans money in hand to pay off high-interest revolving credit lines, invest in home improvements, or cover other unexpected costs.” Their data shows that customers saved a “weighted average” of $617 per month with cash-out refinancing, officials said. By contrast, streamline refinancings are designed to lower the interest rate on the VA loan, or convert an adjustable-rate VA loan to a fixed-rate mortgage.

In response to the higher fees or interest rates, NewDay noted that the majority of its customers are enlisted veterans, and that NewDay customers’ average credit scores are lower than those of other top lenders. In 2020, the average FICO credit score of its cash-out refinancing customers was 694, which was 35 to 75 points lower than the average FICO score of other top lenders.

“As is common practice, lower credit scores indicate greater risk to the lender and require higher interest rates,” NewDay officials stated. They provided statistics from Ginnie Mae showing NewDay’s customers’ average credit score was 694; Navy Federal Credit Union’s customers’ average credit score was 729; USAA, 738; and PenFed, 769.

Analysts in the Porter report acknowledged that “this situation might be partially explained by borrowers’ poor credit, but NewDay also had the second highest upfront costs, almost double what a borrower would pay for a cash-out loan from USAA.”

The average total up-front cost of a cash-out refinance at NewDay was $10,335 in 2019, compared to USAA’s average cost of $5,590, according to the analysts.

If the high interest rates were a function of poor credit, the report stated, “then NewDay USA was targeting the most vulnerable consumers with exorbitant fees.”

“A lot of people don’t realize when they’re being overcharged,” a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center said. (Stock/Getty Images)
“A lot of people don’t realize when they’re being overcharged,” a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center said. (Stock/Getty Images)

“If the high rates were arbitrary, it suggests that NewDay USA was charging service members, military families and veterans higher rates than their credit warranted,” the report added.

However, there are other factors, NewDay officials said. In addition to lending to more consumers with lower credit scores, NewDay has a higher loan-to-value ratio than other top lenders, averaging 90.5 percent in 2020, NewDay officials said. This is the ratio of how much money is borrowed compared to the appraised value of the property. In lending, higher loan-to-value ratios indicate less collateral and more risk for lenders, who many charge higher fees or interest rates, NewDay officials said.

The report recommends that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau require lenders to include customer credit scores in their required reporting of home loan details, to increase monitoring and transparency of potentially predatory lending. In 2018, the CFPB decided to exclude public reporting of credit scores because of privacy risks to individuals.

Among other things, the Porter report recommended that the VA add the VA home loan funding fee to the list of closing costs that should be recouped through savings from refinancing. VA had not responded by press time to questions about whether those recommendations are being considered.

The CFPB has taken a number of actions related to VA refinancings, including settlements with nine mortgage companies to address deceptive loan advertisements; and action against NewDay USA in 2015 for alleged deceptive mortgage advertising.

The Federal Savings Bank, also targeted in the report, offers competitive interest rates, but it has the “highest up-front costs and most discount points of any cash-out originator,” the report stated. For example, the average total loan cost in 2020 was $10,791, compared to USAA’s average total loan cost of $5,877.

Officials from The Federal Savings Bank had not responded to questions before publication, stating they haven’t had an opportunity to read the entire report.

Advice to VA borrowers

Many home loan borrowers don’t know what most of their charges are in a mortgage closing, said Pizor, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

“A lot of people don’t realize when they’re being overcharged,” he said.

Most veterans do know what the VA funding fees are, which are one-time payments that the borrower pays on a VA-backed loan. For example, the funding fee for a VA cash-out refinancing loan is 2.3 percent of the loan amount for the first use; and after that, it’s 3.6 percent.

A VA home loan is one of the best loan products out there, Pizor said. “But aside from that, you really have to shop around,” he said. That means get written loan estimates from more than one lender — three, if possible.

“You’ll see the differences in price,” he said. It’s not enough to talk with the loan officers, who are essentially salesmen, he said. You have to look at the numbers on the loan estimates.

Some lenders may try to delay giving you these estimates, he said, but it’s worth insisting on. “Once you get it, certain rules apply about what changes are allowed…. Estimates are supposed to be pretty close.”

He also suggested visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s web tool for exploring interest rates in your area. It quickly gives you a sense of what the interest rates are, and can be useful “because you’ll know if someone is giving you an estimate that’s way out of line,” he said.

When shopping for a loan, it’s always wise to get your credit scores beforehand. The higher your credit score is, the better the terms you’ll get. But a lot of people assume they have bad credit, without checking their credit scores, Pizor said.

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China Ramps Up Market Regulation Of Food, Medicine

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BEIJING, Aug. 4 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 4th Aug, 2021 ) :China has expanded its list of illegal and dishonest market behaviors in the food, medicine and special equipment sectors, the country’s market regulator said Wednesday.

The list focuses on those sectors that are directly related to people’s life, health and safety, said the State Administration for Market Regulation.

The enlarged list, which comes into force on Sept. 1, is expected to help tighten the crackdown on market irregularities and acts of dishonesty, the administration said.

The country has also stepped up measures to optimize its credit-based market-regulation mechanism, such as strengthening information disclosure and encouraging credit repair, according to the administration.



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How Does a Secured Credit Card Work? | Credit Card News & Advice

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Building credit from scratch is often referred to as a chicken-or-the-egg problem. If you don’t have a credit history, it can be challenging to get approved for a credit card. But if you don’t have a credit card, it’s hard to build a credit history.

Here’s where secured credit cards can save the day. It’s possible to be turned down for a secured credit card, but if you’re approved for one, it’s a good way to get started on your journey to great credit.

We’ll start with the basics and work our way up to the advantages – and disadvantages – of secured credit cards.

There are both unsecured and secured credit cards. An unsecured credit card doesn’t require a deposit to get approved for the card. The top unsecured credit cards from major issuers are typically used by those who have at least fair credit. There are some unsecured credit cards available for those with zero or bad credit, but they tend to have high interest rates and fees.

Due to the cost of unsecured cards that target those with little or bad credit, many turn to secured credit cards. Secured credit cards do require a deposit, usually ranging from $200 to several thousand dollars, depending on the deposit requirements of the issuer.

The deposit stays in an account, and the purpose of the deposit is to decrease the risk for the lender. If you don’t pay for the purchases you made with your secured credit card, the financial institution will use your deposit to pay it off.

When you get approved for a secured credit card, you’ll receive a credit card that looks just like an unsecured credit card. There’s no visible clue that the card is secured.

The amount of your security deposit is usually equal to the credit limit for your new secured card. You’ll use your secured credit card just like you would an unsecured card. You can use it for purchases everywhere that accepts your secured credit card.

Just to be clear, your security deposit stays in an account with the issuer. You’ll make payments on your balance from one of your own bank accounts. So, you’re actually buying things on credit.

Most secured credit card issuers report your payment history to the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. If you can’t find confirmation on the card’s home page that payment history is reported, call the issuer to make sure it’s the policy.

When your secured card’s bill comes, you must pay the bill by the due date. If you pay your balance in full, you’ll avoid paying compound interest. If you consistently make on-time payments and keep low balances on your card during the month, your credit score will begin to increase.

Secured credit cards have many advantages, but there are also downsides to this type of credit card.

  • Secured credit cards help you build credit and develop a good credit score.
  • Secured cards help you learn how credit works. And since the credit limits are on the low side, it helps to minimize your risk of getting into debt.
  • Some credit card issuers will promote you to an unsecured credit card. Not all secured card issuers have unsecured versions, but many of them do.
  • When you’ve built a good credit history and you’re ready to upgrade to an unsecured card, you can get a refund of your deposit.
  • Many secured credit cards offer rewards and benefits.

  • You have to make a security deposit, and this ties up your money for the life of the secured card.
  • Some secured cards have many fees, so you have to read the fine print carefully.
  • You’ll probably have a low credit limit, but this is often a good thing while you’re getting comfortable using credit.
  • Some secured credit card issuers don’t offer unsecured versions, which means you have to apply for an unsecured card from another issuer.

I know it’s difficult to build credit or to come back from a poor credit score. A secured credit card can be a great option, but be sure you read all the disclosure statements and understand if there are fees involved. After about a year of responsible use, you’ll probably have at least a fair FICO score (580-669), which is good enough to make the leap to an unsecured credit card.

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