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Regulators Crack Down on Aggressive, Dubious Debt Collectors | New York News

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By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Those mysterious debt collectors who call insisting you’ll be in legal peril if you don’t pay them big bucks are in hot water themselves, accused in a nationwide crackdown of harassing and threatening consumers, often about debts that don’t actually exist.

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday highlighted enforcement actions filed in recent months against two South Carolina-based debt collection firms accused of bilking people out of a combined $17.2 million, as well as settlements with three other firms accused of using pressure tactics and other shady practices.

Ironically, the firms that agreed to financial settlements were unable to pay the full amounts.

While consumer complaints about debt collectors have dropped slightly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, the commission’s consumer protection chief, Andrew Smith, anticipates that will change as collectors increasingly target people experiencing crisis-related financial hardship.

Of more than 85,000 debt collection complaints from consumers this year, the FTC said nearly half pertained to debts that didn’t exist or to abusive and threatening practices.

“Now would be about the time that this would start — that we would start to see consumer complaints associated with financial distress caused by the pandemic,” Smith said. “This might be debt collection complaints; it also might be complaints about various credit repair organizations or debt relief, mortgage relief and debt settlement.”

The commission, working with other federal agencies and authorities in 16 states, is also launching a campaign to give consumers tips on what to do when confronted with a debt collection call. It includes a tip sheet with potential red flags, such as a collector refusing to provide the name of his or her company, the amount of debt or the original creditor.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined a media conference call on the initiative, dubbed Operation Corrupt Collector, offered frank advice to older people who are often seen as easy marks for dubious dialers.

“Senior citizens, as I always say, they’ve earned the right to hang up and to be rude,” James said. “Most seniors are not rude, but when it comes to individuals engaging in illegal conduct, they should hang up and report the collector to the FTC immediately.”

James’ office was involved in two of the three settlements featured in the crackdown. Both companies based in the Buffalo area were permanently banned from the debt collection industry under agreements reached in December and February.

One of the companies, Hylan Asset Management, was ordered to pay a $6.75 million judgment but had that slashed to just $676,575 because of an inability to pay. The owner of the other company, Campbell Capital LLC, had its $1.7 million judgment slashed to $30,000.

In the two pending cases in South Carolina, filed in July, authorities have obtained temporary restraining orders halting the companies’ operations, freezing their assets, and putting them under the control of a receiver.

National Landmark Logistics LLC and Absolute Financial Services, LLC, both based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, are accused of using deceptive robocalls and trickery such as claiming to be from a mediation or law firm rather than a debt collector, threatening legal action and using a target’s personal information to make it seem as though the threats were real.

According to the FTC, National Landmark Logistics LLC took in more than $12 million through the tactics, while Absolute Financial Services LLC pocketed more than $5.2 million. In many cases, the commission alleges, National Landmark Logistics had no right to collect the debt it sought or there was no debt to collect in the first place.

A lawyer for National Landmark Logistics LLC declined comment. A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for Absolute Financial Services LLC.

Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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If you need a co-signer, you’re not ready | Business

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My fiancée and I want to make an offer on a house. She has a lot of late payments and a bad credit record, though, but she is working hard to manage her money better and get out of debt. I don’t make enough money to get a home loan by myself, and I have some debt to pay off, too. In order to help us out, my aunt and uncle said they are willing to co-sign a mortgage loan for us. What do you think of that idea?

Here’s a simple, solid piece of advice for anyone looking to make a purchase of any kind. If you need a co-signer, you’re not ready to make that purchase—period. I’m not trying to beat you up or anything, but it’s way too soon for you two to be thinking about buying a home. I mean, for starters you’re just engaged right now.

When a lender requires a co-signer, it basically means they don’t believe you’ll pay back the money. And besides, you two don’t need a house now or right after you get married. The two of you should get married, and live in a decent, inexpensive apartment for a while. During that time, you both need to work hard on paying off all your debt. After that, save up an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Then, start setting aside cash for a down payment on a modest home.

When it comes time to buy a home, I recommend a 15-year, fixed rate loan with a down payment of at least 10%. Twenty% is better, because it will help you avoid having to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance). Make sure the monthly payments on the loan are no more than 25% of your combined take home pay. Keeping the payments at 25% or below will make it easier to address other important financial issues, like saving and investing.

Your aunt and uncle are obviously generous people, Evan, but they’re a little misguided in their offer. At this point, helping you two buy a house — something you obviously can’t afford —would be a huge burden instead of a blessing.

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 11 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations and digital outlets. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 11 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations and digital outlets. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

 

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Dave says: If you need a cosigner, you're not ready – Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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Dave says: If you need a cosigner, you’re not ready  Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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How to improve your credit score in 2021: Easy and effective tips

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If you’ve ever wondered “What is my credit score?” it’s probably time to find out. Having a good credit score can make life a lot more affordable. If you’re about to buy a house or car, for example, the higher your credit score is, the lower your interest rate (and therefore, monthly cost) will probably be.

Your number may also be the deciding factor for whether or not you can get a loan and ultimately determine if you are even able to buy something you want or need.

So, yes, the goal is to have the highest possible credit score you can, but increasing the number doesn’t just happen overnight. There are important steps to take if you want to increase your score, and the sooner you start working on it, the better.

“If you’re trying to increase (your credit score) substantially to accomplish a goal, you’re really going to have to have as much lead time as possible,” said Thomas Nitzsche, director of media and brand at Money Management International, a nonprofit financial counseling and education provider that advises people on how to legally and ethically improve their credit score on their own.

If you have fair credit and you’re trying to improve the number for a house purchase, for instance, you’ll want to start working on it at least a year in advance, he explained to TMRW.

But even though that sounds like a long time away, you can (and should!) start doing things right now to bump that number up. Below, see seven things you should do — and not do — to help improve your credit score:

1. Review your credit report

Review your credit report and look for errors that might be hurting your score. Morsa Images / Getty Images

The first thing you’ll want to do is pull up a copy of your current report so you know where you stand. You can get free reports from all three agencies — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax — at annualcreditreport.com. Nitzsche said it’s important to take a moment and understand the financial snapshot of where you are today and where you want to be.

You’ll also want to take some time and look for any errors on your report, which could negatively impact your score. “If your name is misspelled, that’s not going to hurt your score,” he explained. “But if you see a late payment or missed payment (that’s in error), or maybe you have an account that should be reporting but isn’t, then that’s a problem and that will impact your score.”

If there is an error, you should dispute it and try to provide as much proof as you can.

One other thing: You can also ask a creditor to remove an issue if it’s been corrected (i.e., if you paid off a collection debt). Nitzsche said it doesn’t hurt to ask and the worst thing they could say is no.

2. Have good financial habits

“The biggest part of your credit score is payment history, so the most critical thing is never missing a due date,” Nitzsche said. Set up a monthly autopay or add all due dates to your calendar so you never miss a bill.

You can also achieve a higher score when you mix different types of accounts on your credit report. It may seem counterintuitive to get extra points for having debt in the form of student loans, mortgages and auto loans, but as long as you’re paying them off responsibly, it shows that you’re reliable.

3. Aim to use 30% or less of your credit at any given time

Know your credit limit and aim to only use 30% or less of it for a better credit score.Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Know your credit card limit, and try not to use any more than 30% of that number each month, otherwise your score could lose points for too much credit utilization.

Another thing you can do is ask your bank to increase your limit. “That will give you more flexibility to spend more,” Nitzsche said. You could also pay it off twice a month to keep the balance low. But he does warn that you never know when the balance is going to be reported to the bureau. It can happen at any point during the month, so it might be the day after you make the payment or the day before. “You don’t necessarily want to use the card and pay it the next day because that doesn’t give the bureau the chance to know that you’re using it,” he said.

4. Avoid requests for new credit

If you’re looking to increase your score around the time you want to buy a house or car, you won’t want to open up a new line of credit, like a retail card, credit card or loan. That’s because “hard” credit inquiries like those can lower your score, and sometimes it comes down to a few points over whether you’re approved or what your rate will be, Nitzsche said.

“Soft” credit inquiries, like when an employer checks your credit or when you pull your own report, won’t affect your score.

5. Keep all accounts open, even ones you don’t use anymore

Even if you don’t use that credit card from college, it’s a good idea to just keep it open because closing it could hurt your score. Nitzsche explained that you’ll be dinged some points for each account that is closed. If you want or need to mentally break up with a card, just cut it up instead.

6. Build your credit if needed

If you haven’t established credit yet, you might not even exist … in the credit report space, that is! “If someone has never fallen in delinquency on any subscriptions or utilities or never had collections on anything and they have not utilized credit cards or loans in the past seven to 10 years, they may not have a credit profile at all,” Nitzsche said. “That presents a challenge when you want to buy a home.”

If this sounds familiar, you may have to get a secured credit card where you put down a deposit, he advised. “You still have to make payments and use it responsibly. Not all banks offer them but you can usually check with your local bank or credit union.”

7. Reach out for help

If you want personal guidance on boosting your credit score, make an appointment with a credit counselor.kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

There are many apps and credit-monitoring services that can help you stay on top of your credit score. You could also reach out to a professional credit counselor who can help you navigate your specific situation. (Here’s a good resource about finding a reputable service.)

One last thing: Nitzsche warned that everyone should beware of credit repair scams that claim to be able to increase credit scores for an advance fee to get accurate negative information removed (even temporarily) from credit reports.

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