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Published: Friday, November 18, 2016 @ 1:30 AM
The 2016 presidential election is settled and a new administration will take office in two months’ time. Considering all that was said during this particularly contentious campaign, it’s no surprise that student loan borrowers are concerned about what that will mean to them beginning in 2017.
Two of the many items on my list of concerns have to do with the future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, within the context of a potential repeal or overhaul of the Dodd-Frank legislation that created the consumer watchdog agency in the first place, and the Federal Direct Student Loan program, which the Obama administration established in 2010 as a successor to the simultaneously discontinued Federal Family Education Loan program.
The Possible Negatives
In the case of the CFPB, should Congress move to curtail the agency’s regulatory authority and/or impose more stringent oversight on its activities, I worry that less will be done to address loan-servicing-related problems, which include the misapplication of remittances on the part of private-sector administrators and their failure to promptly conduit financially distressed debtors into a government-sponsored payment relief program, or to prevent collection companies from pursuing past-due payments in a manner that violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (You can see how your student loan repayments are impacting your credit by checking your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
As for the Federal Direct Loan program, a financial services industry that benefited from virtually risk-free income courtesy of the government-guaranteed FFEL program is probably getting pretty excited about the potential for its reincarnation, now that smaller-government-minded lawmakers are in control of all three branches of our system. And not just for the new loans that will be taken out in the future.
A Fresh Approach
At present, roughly one trillion dollars’ worth of Federal Direct Loans are currently on the books, plus another $200 billion to $300 billion in legacy FFELs.
But if one were to tally together all the federally-backed loans that are at present delinquent and in default, plus all those that have been granted temporary forbearance and longer-term relief to date, and compare that total to the aggregate value of all the loans that are currently in repayment, that number would approach 50%.
Any loan portfolio that looks anything like that is one whose loan agreements were improperly structured at the outset. If we want these debts to be repaid anytime soon — without continuing to spend outrageous sums of money to accomplish that objective — the new administration would be wise to bite the bullet and restructure all these contracts over an extended term at a rate that properly reflects the federal government’s costs.
That’s the first step.
The second is to lock in that cost by financing the Federal Direct loans that currently reside on the education department’s balance sheet as any prudent private-sector lending institution would, instead of continuing the government’s potentially ruinous tact of borrowing short to lend long in a rising-interest-rate environment. The new financing can take the form of direct borrowing on the part of the federal government as it does now, or the education department can oversee the sale of these loans into the private sector while retaining administrative oversight of their servicing.
This stands in contrast to the old FFEL program, where private-sector lenders originated student loans backed by the federal government, and had the option to later sell these contracts into the secondary market for added profit. Not only did that program create significant remunerative opportunities at the expense of taxpayers (who would be called upon to make good on the government’s guarantees), but it also distanced the feds from directly overseeing the administration of the loans it backed.
In a nutshell, that’s the key reason why there’s been so much foot-dragging on the part of the companies that service the FFEL loans that are in repayment: the interests of the private-sector note holders and investors are at odds with those of the taxpayers.
Finally, the new administration would also be wise to address the matter of student loan dischargeability in bankruptcy. Not so that borrowers would have an easier time getting out from under the legitimate debts they incurred, but so the potential for abject loss at the point of default would inspire all lenders to negotiate in good faith with financially distressed debtors who, for the most part, truly desire to honor their obligations.
All of this boils down to having the courage to take an evenhanded approach to solving a trillion-dollar problem. Hopefully, this new administration has enough of that to go around.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 11:05 AM
— Many companies have announced they will provide first quarter cash bonuses to employees following last month’s passage of the tax reform bill.
» RELATED: What to expect from the new tax legislation
While some may see this as money to spend immediately, PNC offered five things to think about for how to use the funds:
FIVE FAST BUSINESS READS
Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
— With the recent tax changes, the usual end-of-year assortment of tax moves is likely more complicated in 2017.
These changes affect everyone from single mothers to millionaires to most sports fans who buy event tickets.
“I’d love to tell you that everyone has a handle on this,” said Mark Bradstreet, founder of the Bradstreet & Co. Inc. accounting firm, which has offices in Centerville and Xenia. “I’m not sure anyone does. I would be suspicious if someone said they did.”
Prominent among the changes: The 1,000-page legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump caps at $10,000 the amount of state and municipal taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal tax bill.
Some filers — those with high property tax bills who aren’t using the standard deduction — are scrambling to pre-pay property taxes for the coming year before the cap takes effect, according to national reports. In 2017, that deduction has no ceiling.
While the new tax bill lets local municipalities decide whether to allow taxpayers to pre-pay property taxes, it blocked filers from pre-paying local sales and income taxes.
Bradstreet said it’s OK to pre-pay real estate taxes for most taxpayers. Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties will allow filers to pay property taxes early, he said.
“They’re all more than happy to take your money,” he quipped.
If you fall under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) — and if you don’t itemize your deductions — paying property property taxes early won’t help, Bradstreet said.
“For most people, though, it’s ‘no harm, no foul’ pre-paying it this year,” he said.
But an IRS announcement was triggering more confusion early Thursday.
In a notice, the IRS said pre-paying property taxes may work, but only under certain conditions. Real estate taxes may be paid in 2017, but the taxes must also be assessed in 2017.
William Duncan, a certified public accountant with Dayton firm Thorn, Lewis & Duncan, said taxpayers should check with accountants to see if they will fall under the AMT in 2017.
Duncan called the tax changes “wild.” With newly lowered tax brackets and higher standard deductions, he said he has clients with seven-figure incomes who will opt to take the standard deduction this year instead of itemizing.
That’s the first time in his career he has seen that, Duncan said.
The standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly is $24,000, noted John Venturella, a Dayton shareholder with Clark Schaefer Hackett.
“I think you are just going to see a lot of people using the standard deduction,” Venturella said.
The new law introduces some wrinkles for University of Dayton Flyers or other college and professional sports fans, too.
If you buy University of Dayton basketball tickets in the lower arena and pay for a seat license, current law lets you deduct 80 percent of that as a charitable deduction. That benefit is going away in 2018, Duncan said.
The university is inviting ticket-holders to pre-pay for seat licenses in 2017, Duncan said, which Adam Tschuor, associate athletics director for revenue and partnerships at UD, confirmed.
“It may be to your advantage to pay for next season’s ASP (Arena Seating Program) donation or beyond before Jan. 1, 2018,” the university said in a letter sent to ticket-holders just last week. “These payments would still be tax deductible under existing tax law.”
Tschuor said the university has always allowed fans to prepay their “ASP donation in all the way up to the conclusion of the announced ASP cycle.”
Another change: Your tickets for UD, Wright State, Ohio State or Cincinnati Reds or Bengals games will no longer be tax-deductible as a business entertainment expense.
“If you’re a businessperson and you want to take clients to the UD game next year, you’re not going to be allowed to take a tax deduction for the entertainment value of those tickets,” Duncan said.
For businesses, Duncan said it’s important this year to try to defer whatever income you can, push it to 2018, and pay the expenses you can in 2017.
Most accountants scoff at the notion, pushed by the bill’s proponents, that it has simplified the tax code. For higher-income earners in particular, as well as many small businesses, tax law remains at least as complex as ever. And the bill has injected a new layer of uncertainty because so many changes are temporary and could be reversed in a few years.
Donating to charities
December is a critical fundraising month for charities. Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons, or to extend the spirit of Thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to charitable giving.
DON’T succumb to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow – after you’ve had time to do your homework.
DO think before you give. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, take a minute or two to “think.” Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. If you decide to donate, don’t give cash. Write a check made payable to the charitable organization, not an individual.
DO check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to www.give.org to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
DON’T assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.
SOURCE: Better Business Bureau
Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM
— It's that time of year again when parents and college or college-bound students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The idea of wading through a form – especially one that requires financial information – is definitely not an appealing idea, but the FAFSA could be a tremendous help in getting your student money to attend college.
The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA.
Fill it out – you have nothing to lose.
You may think that you don't need to fill out the FAFSA, especially if you believe you might not qualify for need-based aid. But there's no income cut-off point with federal student aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the FAFSA can help you qualify for all kinds of grants, loans and scholarships, including those offered by your state, school or private organizations.
By investing a few minutes of time, you could reap thousands of dollars in potential rewards.
Submit it ASAP.
The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better, according to consumer adviser Clark Howard. Although the federal deadline isn't until June 30, 2018, you should check with the financial aid administrator at colleges you're interested in to make sure their deadlines aren't earlier.
Submitting earlier will help you plan how you'll pay for college. You'll also have a better chance of getting as much aid or scholarship money as possible since some colleges distribute their available money on a first-come, first-serve basis, Howard says.
Gather the information you'll need.
The FAFSA asks questions about the student as well as his or her parents if the student is a dependent.
You'll need the following information on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:
Watch out for common mistakes.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators points out some common mistakes that can delay your form's submission or cause you to not get the aid and scholarships you might qualify for. They include the following:
Keep an eye out for requests for more information.
Your FAFSA may be selected for verification, which means you'll have to provide some additional or supporting information, U.S. News & World Report explains. This process doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything wrong. You may have a discrepancy or mistake on your form, but some FAFSAs are just randomly selected for verification (lucky you!).
Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM
— With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.
Here are some options:
Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.
The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Equifax from here on out due to the recent data breach.
You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.
This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com
While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.
This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.
Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.
If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.
Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.
To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.
Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.
Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.
It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.