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In San Francisco, it’s the summer of rental scams



A sunny apartment at a price too good to be true. A text message offering a loan to pay off pandemic rent debt. Or a sudden phone call promising a grant to avoid an eviction — for a small up-front fee.

Welcome to the world of housing scams in the age of COVID-19.

In expensive rental markets like the Bay Area, apartment scams light on details and heavy on pressure to hand over deposits are nothing new. But recent alerts from financial watchdogs and data on rental housing schemes point to a fast-changing landscape for California renters trying to navigate the frenzied pandemic housing market, where some tenants are struggling to dig out of debt while others take advantage of discounted rents.

A new Apartment Guide report reveals that from January 2015 to May 2021, California was home to three of the nation’s top five cities for reported rental scams per capita: No. 1 Los Angeles, No. 3 San Francisco and No. 4 San Diego. The report also found that the busy summer moving season tends to be the most costly, when median losses have topped $19,000 per victim.

This year, the timing couldn’t be worse. After a slow start to California’s unprecedented $5.2 billion pandemic rent relief program, officials are pleading with tenants to apply for assistance before the state’s Sept. 30 eviction moratorium expires. But tenant advocates warn that a widening array of scams may be hindering those efforts.

“It’s really brutal out there in terms of trying to prove that you’re not trying to just get people’s information and take advantage of them,” said Leora Tanjuatco Ross, associate director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.

Even before the pandemic, Tanjuatco Ross said her nonprofit was hearing more skepticism from renters worn down by years of rising costs and intense competition for housing. And now, dozens of community groups around the state have been enlisted to help pump out rent relief funds through a maze of city, county and state programs funded by the federal government.

As of last week, the state’s primary rent relief program had paid $282 million in funding to 23,760 households, according to the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency — a fraction of the 807,000 households that the National Equity Atlas estimates are behind on rent. When adding in smaller Bay Area county and city rent relief programs, just 10% of nearly $900 million in funds available to the region had been paid out as of mid-July.

Now, efforts to speed up those payments are colliding with recent warnings from watchdog groups about scammers changing their tactics as pandemic rental protections start to expire.

“Con artists often take advantage of the confusion and stress surrounding major events,” the Better Business Bureau explained in an Aug. 6 alert. “As the eviction moratorium winds down, watch out for scammers offering loans, peddling credit repair services or promoting government programs.”

The Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker, which is just one snapshot based on consumer reports, identified more than 50 rental and moving scams around the Bay Area and 144 throughout California since the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020. They range from two roommates in Oakland who said they lost $4,190 after touring an apartment by sending money for a deposit through a cash app to a person in Los Angeles who paid $499 for an eviction defense service that never materialized.

One challenge is that the range of rental scams in California has already exploded in recent years, going far beyond familiar attempts to get apartment applicants to wire money to unknown recipients. Now, scammers may assure targets that they don’t need Social Security numbers, just a credit report. Or they repost photos from houses recently sold or listed for rent on more regulated websites such as Zillow, Vrbo or Airbnb, district attorneys in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere have warned.

Last year, the FBI’s cybercrime division reported more than 13,600 confirmed victims of rental and real estate scams across the U.S., making them less widespread than credit card schemes but more frequent than health care-related ploys. All told, real estate scams cost victims more than $213 million.

Around the Bay Area, rental scams have also taken root in areas reeling from fires and, more recently, in places seeing an influx of remote workers. Take a three-bedroom Santa Cruz bungalow with a white picket fence advertised for $3,600 a month last week on Craigslist and $4,600 a month on Zillow.

Find out if you’re eligible for legitimate state, county or local rent relief programs by visiting, texting “rent” to 211211 or calling (833) 430-2122.

Never agree to pay a fee for help with free rent relief programs, or give your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number to someone who contacts you.

If you hear about an organization offering help with rent, look up its name online with the words “scam,” “fraud” or “complaint” to see what others are saying.

California’s ban on evictions for nonpayment of rent lasts through Sept. 30. Tenant lawyers recommend following the “three S rule” if you get an eviction notice: Stay in your home, submit a declaration of COVID-19 hardship to your landlord, and seek rent relief.

Report suspected rent relief scams to or your local district attorney’s office.

“I cannot give you a tour in person right now,” the Craigslist poster said, instead offering an elaborate backstory about out-of-state cancer treatment and an image of a driver’s license with the same Santa Cruz address.

“Yeah, it’s a scam,” said Scott Joly, the Realtor trying to rent the actual house.

Lauren Hepler is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @LAHepler

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?



When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances



Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit



Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.



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