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California Consumer Financial Protection Law in Effect, DFPI Better Prepared to Protect Consumers and Foster Financial Innovation



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SACRAMENTO – With the new California Consumer Financial Protection Law now in effect, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) will exercise expanded powers to better protect consumers from unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices.

Beginning immediately, the DFPI will review and investigate consumer complaints against previously unregulated financial products and services, including debt collectors, credit repair and consumer credit reporting agencies, debt relief companies, rent to own contractors, private school financing, and more. The shift comes as millions of Californians turn to non-traditional financial products and services to weather job losses and other financial hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Californians struggling with the economic fallout associated with the COVID-19 pandemic face increased financial pressures and are more likely to be victims of financial scams and fraud,” said DFPI Commissioner Manuel P. Alvarez. “The new law could not have come at a better time.”

This spring, the DFPI will launch a statewide campaign to educate California consumers on how the department can support and protect consumers. Offering translation services in dozens of languages, the DFPI hotline will help all Californians. DFPI representatives never ask questions about a callers’ immigration status.

The Department is also preparing to open a new Office of Financial Technology Innovation that will engage with new industries and consumer advocates to encourage consumer friendly innovation and job creation in California. This expansion will allow department representatives to work proactively with entrepreneurs and create a regulatory framework for responsible, emerging financial products.

The DFPI is also in the process of standing up a new Division of Consumer Financial Protection that will feature a market monitoring and research arm to keep up with emerging financial products. Consumer outreach to target vulnerable populations, such as students, new Californians, military servicemembers and senior citizens will be expanded. An ombudsman will help independently investigate complaints against the Department and work to resolve process issues.

To solicit input on implementation of the new law before beginning the regulations process, the Department last year hosted mu ltiple listening sessions with various stakeholders, including consumer advocates and businesses and individuals who believe they fall under the ‘new covered persons’ designation.

To focus on these new activities and expanded charge, the DFPI will hire 90 additional employees over the next three years. The staffing increases will be financed from department reserves for the first three years. After that, the department projects increased annual costs of $19.3 million. The additional employees represent a 13 percent staffing increase.

The new law expands DFPI’s reach, adding various types of financial products and services to DFPI’s existing territory, which includes state-chartered banks and credit unions, student loan servicers, commodities and investment advisers, money transmitters, securities issuers and broker-dealers, non-bank installment lenders, payday lenders, mortgage lenders and servicers, escrow companies, PACE administrators, and franchisors.

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Dennis Horton: COVID-19 Chaos and Confusion



Rockford Register Star


It’s been nearly a year since we all became aware of the coronavirus with most of us taking the recommended steps to wash our hands, social distance and wear a face mask. Along with those measures, as much as we can, we’ve stayed home.

Almost since day one, scammers have been on the attack. The scope of the scams reported ranged from phony messages about money from the government, fake COVID-19 discounts, miracle cures and cybercrime.

Following the news that the rollout of the vaccines is underway, the crooks made that their focus. I’ve seen many reports about phony ads for the COVID-19 vaccine on Craigslist. Telephone offers of home delivery of the vaccine. Text messages inviting you to set up an appointment for the coronavirus vaccine. Offers of “leftover” vaccine supposedly up for grab.

More: Be mindful of COVID-19 vaccine scams

More: Closed businesses impacting Rockford-area consumers

There is chatter everywhere that the distribution of the vaccine has been confusing and chaotic. Armed with that knowledge, scammers are trying to get at your money and or personal information.

The feds have issued a vaccine scam alert because of the rapid rise in fraud complaints. This is what the Department of Health and Human Services and the F.B.I. say you need to be aware of:

  • Advertisements or offers for early access to a vaccine upon payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Requests to pay out of pocket to obtain the vaccine or to put your name on a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list.
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment of a deposit or fee.
  • Unsolicited emails, telephone calls or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center and requesting personal and/or medical information to determine eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, emails, telephone calls, online or from unsolicited/unknown sources.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you that government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The best thing is to not get caught in a scammers trap. HHS recommends these tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Check the Illinois Department of Public Health or your local county health department’s website for up-to-date information about authorized vaccine distribution channels. Obtain a vaccine only through such channels
  • Check the FDA’s website for current information about vaccine emergency use authorizations.
  • Consult your primary care physician before having any vaccination.
  • Don’t share your personal or health information with anyone other than known, trusted medical professionals.
  • Check your medical bills and insurance explanation of benefits for suspicious claims, and promptly report errors to your health insurance provider.
  • Follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted medical professionals.

2020 Top 10 regional scams

In new local Scam Tracker findings from the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois and the Rockford Regional Office, the menacing problem of online purchase scams continued to escalate in 2020 and are now at the top of the list for scams. Related to online purchases and phony website scams, counterfeit product scams jumped from No. 9 last year into the No. 2 position this year.

While COVID related scams we’re listed as No. 4, the number could be much higher since some COVID-19 related scams are contained in other multiple categories including phishing, counterfeit product, employment, identity theft scams and others.

This year’s top 10 list also features the return of employment scams, debt collection, advance fee loans, credit cards, and identity theft:

  1. Online purchase – fake websites 
  2. Counterfeit products (clothing, electronics, shoes, purses, etc.)
  3. Employment – scam job offers 
  4. COVID-19 related scams – (These may be much higher because COVID is sited in other categories.)
  5. Debt collections – invoices, calls or emails for fake debts
  6. Advance fee loan – the promise of a “loan” – after you pay fees
  7. Phishing scams – (clicking on scam links can lead to malware – imposter scams etc.)                                                         
  8. Credit card – includes fake emails and calls claiming there’s a problem with your account in order to steal money and information – or fake credit card debt consolidation
  9. Credit repair/debt relief
  10. Identity theft – it’s not if but when it will happen to you?

Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.

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How To Repair Bad Credit Score Yourself—Reveals Credit Repair Specialist Alex Miller



Written in partnership with DN News Desk

 Alex MillerPhoto Credit: Alex MillerIt’s becoming increasingly important to maintain a good credit score. However, people often feel more intimidated than they should do so themselves. In this article, entrepreneur and credit repair specialist Arthur Miller comes to their rescue and tells them how to repair bad credit on their own.

Get your current status report

Once you decide to take matters into your own hands, begin by getting detailed reports on your current and past credit scores. People often find it difficult to believe that they can avail reports themselves. The truth is, you are entitled to do so by law. You can avail your annual report by writing to eligible online platforms.

Consult your friends who may have fixed their credit score themselves in the past. Check out the platforms they suggest. Compare all options in terms of their legality, vintage, testimonials, and features. You can also call these agencies to understand the process of receiving your report. Once you get the report, it’s time to analyze it.

Look for discrepancies

Checking a credit report is like separating the wheat from the chaff. It takes time. But in the end, you are grateful you did it diligently.

There have been instances where people have been able to spot mistakes in some of the information mentioned in their credit reports. Some may include payments you haven’t made, some might not be updated, and yet others might carry incorrect payment details, etc.

Use a highlighter to mark them categorically, and then transfer them to an excel sheet on your device. Finding discrepancies opens new channels of negotiations and may help you feel more in control.

Dispute errors

Once you have a list of discrepancies, you can then mail your disputes to the concerned authorities. You can keep it simple by sending an email, with the list as an attachment for proof.

The authorities take anywhere between 35-40 days to investigate and respond to your dispute. So make sure you don’t add to the waiting period by sending lists that fall short on accuracy and research.

Clear all dues

The most common reason why most people delay leveling their credit score is that they are ill-equipped to handle it immediately. However, since no one likes to carry the weight of an unnecessary burden, most individuals work towards improving their credit scores. So, if you have come this far, make sure you clear all your dues.

Fixing your credit report on your own may not be as easy as counting 1,2,3, but with Arthur’s guidance and your willpower, it can surely be made easier.

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How to Do Taxes Yourself: A Step-by-Step Guide



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As of November 2020, the IRS had received more than 168 million tax returns for the 2019 tax year. More than 72 million—roughly 42%—were self-prepared tax returns. Discover how to do taxes yourself in the guide below so you can decide if self-preparation is the way to go for you.

10 Steps for Doing Taxes Yourself

1. Understand the Filing Deadlines
2. Ensure You Need to File
3. Review Your Documents from Last Year
4. Gather All the Documents You Need
5. Choose Standard or Itemized Deductions
6. Add a State Tax Filing if Needed
7. Check All Your Forms and Data
8. Request an Extension if Necessary
9. File Electronically
10. Check to Ensure the Returns Were Received

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1. Understand the Filing Deadlines

The federal tax filing deadline is typically on April 15. If that day falls on a mail holiday, it may be moved to the next business day. Tax returns must be e-filed or mailed by the federal tax deadline to avoid late-filing penalties.

In 2020, the federal government extended the filing and payment deadlines for 2019 taxes until July 2020. This was to provide some relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of now, the filing deadline for 2021 is Thursday, April 15. Whether or not such a change might be made in 2021 for the 2020 tax year is not yet known. So, keep an eye on IRS and tax news to understand when you need to file in 2021. 

State deadlines may be different from the federal deadline, so be sure to check the filing requirements in your state.

2. Ensure You Need to File

Not everyone is required to file taxes each year. For example, if your income is below a certain threshold, you don’t need to file a tax return. Dependent children and adults also may not need to file a tax return.

If you’re not sure whether or not you need to file, you can find out using the IRS’s online Interactive Tax Assistant. This wizard asks you some questions about income, filing status, and whether you had federal taxes withheld the previous year. It uses that information to help you understand whether you need to file.

3. Review Your Documents From Last Year

When doing taxes yourself, you might want to review the information from your previous year’s federal and state tax returns. Much of the information will be the same, including employer federal ID numbers, children’s Social Security numbers, and even some of your credit or deduction options. The IRS also uses your prior-year AGI to verify your identity when you e-file, which means you’ll want to make sure you have the information you submitted last year on hand.

Starting with an old return can help you enter information quickly and accurately. One great tip for doing your own taxes is to use a software program that can import old tax data. That way you don’t have to enter it again, which can reduce the potential for typos and other errors.

4. Gather All the Documents You Need

Gather the forms and documents you have that indicate income, expenses, and other tax-related figures. Some common forms you might have include the following:

  • W-2s, which report wages from employers.
  • 1099s, which report income from contract work, royalties and rents, unemployment, interest, dividends, retirement distribution and other sources.
  • 1099-Cs, which report forgiven debt, which the IRS considers income in many instances.
  • 1098s, which indicate payments that may be tax-deductible.

These aren’t the only forms you might need. You may also want copies of receipts and other documents proving you made tax deductible purchases or charitable donations if you’re going to take itemized deductions.

5. Choose Standard or Itemized Deductions

When you file your taxes, you can choose to claim the standard deduction ($12,400 for those filing individually this year) or itemize your deductions. Claiming the standard deduction is easier, and for many people it is more than the itemized deduction they would be able to claim.

If, however, you had large, out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses, paid mortgage interest on your home, had large uninsured losses, or made large contributions to qualified charities, it may be worthwhile to itemize your deductions and determine whether they amount to more than the standard deduction you qualify for.

Good tax software prompts you to enter all your information and does the calculations for you. The software tells you whether itemized or standard deductions will save you the most money, taking the guesswork out of this process.

6. Add a State Tax Filing if Needed

After you enter all your federal information or complete federal forms, don’t forget that you may need to file a state return too. Most states require a separate state tax return to be filed, and it can be easier to do this all at the same time. Some free tax filing services let you add a state return too.

State tax rates may be different from federal tax rates, and some states don’t have an income tax at all. They include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. However, New Hampshire and Tennessee do tax some types of dividends and interest income, so individuals in those states may still need to file a return in some cases.

7. Check All Your Forms and Data

However you choose to prepare your taxes, take time to double check everything. Print the forms out or review the information on screen. Pay special attention to numbers, including income and expenses, as well as Social Security numbers and other ID numbers. Make sure you didn’t reverse numbers with a typo or make another error that could hold up your return.

8. Request an Extension if Necessary

Taxes are due April 15, but if you need more time to file your federal taxes, you can apply for an extension. If you file an extension request, the IRS gives you until October 15 of that year to file. That does not change the due date for taxes owed, though. You are still required to estimate the taxes you will owe and pay those by April 15. If you think you will be unable to pay your taxes in full, you can request an installment agreement from the IRS.

9. File Electronically

According to the IRS, around 90% of all individuals file their tax returns electronically. Reasons for filing electronically include a faster time to refund, convenience, and security. You may also be able to ensure the IRS received your return within minutes or just one day, which can provide some peace of mind.

10. Check to Ensure the Returns Were Received

After you’re done filing your taxes yourself, check back to ensure your return was received. You may get an email confirming the return was accepted. Alternatively, if you used a tax preparation software, you might be able to log in to the software to check the status of your return.

Tax Filing Made Easy

Filing your taxes yourself doesn’t have to be difficult. If you follow these steps and file via a user-friendly tax software, you can be done in a couple of hours.

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