Oct 1

By Gerri Detweiler – Credit.com

It took a debt collector less than a month to sue our reader, Monique. She received a letter about a past-due debt and then, less than a month later, a court summons. She’s made arrangements to pay, but she is worried about how this will affect her credit. “I’m not trying to get out of paying,” she said. “I just don’t want it on my credit report.”

The debt may already be on her credit report. Debt collectors do not need to wait 30 days before reporting a debt to credit reporting agencies. The 30-day verification period is a period during which consumers can seek verification from debt collectors.

Monique can find out whether a particular debt appears on her credit reports by getting a free annual copy of each of her credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com. (Consumers can also check credit scores, and the factors that affect them, with Credit.com’s free credit report summary, which includes two credit scores and updates monthly. Keeping track of what’s in your credit report, and making sure it’s accurate, is good credit hygiene and can save you trouble down the road by allowing you to spot and correct any inaccuracies.) [read more]

Sep 30

By Paul Solman – PBS

This is the story of two housing markets — one that’s doing quite well and another that’s still treading water.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman spoke with Nick Retsinas, who teaches real estate at Harvard Business School, about the second, larger, lower-end market. Strolling around Cambridge, Massachusetts the two discussed how there can be bidding wars in one neighborhood and foreclosure signs in another. In the latter neighborhood, banks have refused to refinance mortgages despite the depreciated values of the homes.

Paul Solman: Are there really two housing markets now — one that’s doing well and another very large one that’s just not moving at all?

Nick Retsinas: Well, it’s a big country. So there are many markets. But generally speaking, it is a story of two markets. The higher-end market is doing very well, as a matter of fact, maybe too well. The lower-end market is kind of mired and stuck in the housing crisis.

Paul Solman: So houses on this street in Cambridge, not far from Harvard Square, how much are they?

Nick Retsinas: They’re million dollar homes, easily. Sometimes more.

Paul Solman: And I hear that there are now bidding wars!

Nick Retsinas: There are bidding wars, because so few come up for sale. A lot of these people have lived here a long time, so when they bought the house it might not have been a million dollars, but now they’re living in million dollar homes.

Paul Solman: They’re snapped up — people are bidding more than the asking price, right? [read more]

Sep 29

By Parrish Alleman – WIAT

Your phone rings and the person on the other end says you owe them money; pay up or you’re going to jail.

It sounds like a lot of scams you’ve probably heard about, but the Better Business Bureau warns some legitimate debt collection agencies are using this shady practice.

The BBB says they have gotten dozens of calls about this kind of debt collection tactic. They say it’s not necessarily a scam because it’s an actual law firm and some of the debts may be real. It’s the way the firm is trying to collect that is the problem, and the BBB says it’s not legal.

Two months ago, the Better Business Bureau of Central and South Alabama had never heard of Brewton Law Firm in Atlanta. Then the calls starting pouring in from people in Alabama complaining the law firm was harassing them.

“Where they were being told they needed to pay up on bad checks written to a grocery store up to 15 years ago,” David Smitherman, President and CEO of the BBB of Central and South Alabama, said.

If you look up Brewton Law Firm on the BBB website, you’ll see they have an “F” rating and a long list of complaints. [read more]

Sep 28

By Todd Campbell – The Motley Fool

Americans often struggle to talk about money and when they do, they often downplay how much they owe on their credit cards. That finding by researchers at the New York Federal Reserve Bank calls into question debt surveys commonly relied upon to determine how Americans are doing financially, but it also speaks to why so many of us fall short in tackling our debt and preparing ourselves for a financially secure retirement.

A big gap

For decades, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has conducted its Survey of Consumer Finances, or SCF. Arguably the broadest survey of its kind, the SCF is something public and private economists rely on heavily to evaluate the average American’s balance sheet. However, because the SCF is a survey, its accuracy relies on Americans’ having a clear picture of their debt situation and reporting their debt honestly.

Unfortunately, survey respondents’ track record, at least in regard to credit card debt, is poor. After comparing SCF debt survey responses from 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010 with the actual debt levels lenders report to Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, researchers discovered that Americans do a good job reporting their housing and auto loan debt, but that they significantly underreport their credit card debt.

On average, Americans told surveyors they had 40% less credit card debt than they really did. Some of that gap can be explained by people’s failure to report business credit card balances that still show up on their credit report, and by the fact that some respondents might not have any credit at all, but even after accounting for those explanations, researchers still determined that people underreported their credit card debt by 37%. [read more]

Sep 25

By Byron Harris – WFAA

First, Pete Foster said they harassed his wife. Then he says they harassed him at his business in Addison, with a barrage of calls from a person impersonating a police officer.

“The person said they were a lieutenant in the sheriff’s department, and if we didn’t call back by a certain time, there would be further action,” Foster said.

Legal action was the implication, he added.

But there was no police officer and no legal action. The calls — seven in all — were coming from a local bill collector, who Foster told to stop calling.

Foster later surmised the company had targeted an acquaintance of his, and was trying to dredge up information.

“I consider the phone calls and the messages an outright lie,” Foster said. [read more]

Sep 24

By David Dayen – Salon

For all the impact of the financial crisis, we’ve seen only rare glimpses into its effect on popular culture. Hollywood has largely shrunk from depicting anxiety in the age of inequality, the pain of the recession on ordinary Americans caught in its wake.

But in “99 Homes” — which begins showing Friday in Los Angeles and New York, and opens nationwide on October 9 — director Ramin Bahrani offers the most authentic portrait of the foreclosure crisis ever committed to film. Bahrani spent weeks in Florida researching the subject, immersing himself in every facet of the sprawling foreclosure industry. And he found people at the mercy of an economy beyond their control, from homeowner victims living in transient motels along Highway 142 to real estate brokers forced to become agents of misery to survive.

The movie, which premiered at the Venice and Telluride film festivals last year, stars Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash, an Orlando construction worker struggling to find work after the housing bubble collapses. One day, real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), oozing sinister charm (having him vape throughout the film is a genius touch), appears at his door with a local sheriff, a clean-out crew and an order: You have two minutes to gather your belongings and leave the property. Nash leaves and finds a hotel to stay in; he says it’ll only be a couple days, and one of the residents replies, “That’s what I said two years ago.” [read more]