REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 11, 2016

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

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April 11, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

April 8, 2016

Tax Refunds Into Mortgage Payments

By David Reiss

photo by 401(K) 2012

TheStreet.com quoted me in Investing Your Tax Refund Instead of Spending It Boosts Retirement Savings. It opens,

Ramping up your emergency cash fund or IRA with your tax refund is a better option than spending it on a new smartphone or vacation.

Three out of four taxpayers received a refund of $3,000 in 2015. Although many consumers look forward to this windfall each year, it is not a “cause for celebration,” said Joe Jennings, a wealth director for PNC, a Pittsburgh-based financial institution.

“If you are receiving a large refund check, it actually means that you have loaned money to the government throughout the year and the next year the government is paying you back without interest,” he said.

Adjusting your withholdings is a good strategy if your refund exceeds $1,000. Changing the number of exemptions on your W-4 means you will net more income from each paycheck.

Bankrate.com, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company, found that 31% of Americans who receive a tax refund this year plan to save or invest it. The survey revealed that 28% will use the funds to pay down debt, 27% will spend it on necessities like food/utility bills and 6% will splurge with a shopping spree or vacation.

Some consumers view the refund as a method of forcing them to save money each year or a way to pay down existing debt such as credit card balances with high interest.

Pay Off Existing Debt

Use your refund check to pay off as much as your credit card or student loan debt as possible since the amount of interest you are paying each month adds up quickly, said Jonathan Bochese, director of resolution services for Tax Defense Network, LLC, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based tax resolution company.

“The best use for any tax refund is to use it to pay off high interest revolving debts,” he said.

With the current low interest rate environment in money market funds and CDs, paying down debt is a no-brainer.

“If you can only make 3% on your investment and your debt is at a higher rate, pay off the debt,” said Carl Sera, a portfolio manager with Covestor, the online investing marketplace and managing principal of Sera Capital Management, a registered investment advisor in Annapolis, Md. “Don’t make it a habit to receive a tax refund, because it is money you have lent the taxing authority at a zero interest rate.”

Homeowners who do not have any other debt should pay down their mortgage by making an extra payment or two instead of stashing the refund in a savings account that is only receiving minimal interest, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

“By doing so, you are making the equivalent of a pre-tax return of the interest rate on your mortgage,” he said. “If your mortgage has a 5% interest rate and your savings account has a 0.1% interest rate that is like getting a 4.9% higher rate of interest without taking any risk at all.”

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April 8, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

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April 7, 2016

Protecting Seniors’ Home Equity

By David Reiss

photo by Ethan Prater

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued and Advisory and Report for Financial Institutions on Preventing Elder Financial Abuse. The Report defines elder financial exploitation as

the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or assets. Studies suggest that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and yet only a small fraction of incidents are reported. Estimates of annual losses range from $2.9 billion to $36.48 billion. Perpetrators who target older consumers include, among others, family members, caregivers, scam artists, financial advisers, home repair contractors, and fiduciaries (such as agents under power of attorney and guardians of property).

Older people are attractive targets because they may have accumulated assets or equity in their homes and usually have a regular source of income such as Social Security or a pension. In 2011, the net worth of households headed by a consumer age 65 and older was approximately $17.2 trillion, and the median net worth was $170,500. These consumers may be especially vulnerable due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical disability, health problems, and/or the recent loss of a partner, family member, or friend.

Cognitive impairment is a key factor in why older adults are targeted and why perpetrators succeed in victimizing them. Even mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can significantly impact the capacity of older people to manage their finances and to judge whether something is a scam or a fraud. Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Studies indicate that 22 percent of Americans over age 70 have MCI and about one third of Americans age 85 and over have Alzheimer’s disease. (8-9, footnotes omitted)

The CFPB recommends that financial institutions consider

  • training staff to recognize abuse;
  • using fraud detection technologies;
  • offering age-friendly services; and
  • reporting suspicious activities to authorities.

These recommendations are a step in the right direction, although they offer no panacea. As the Report acknowledges, even if financial institutions report suspicious activities to government authorities, there is no guarantee that they will be acted on. But if these recommendations are publicized, they may deter some predators who think that they can act freely within the fog of their victims’ cognitive decline. And a few well-publicized prosecutions of relatives, caregivers and advisors who violate the trust that was placed in them would help to spread the message that ripping off senior citizens is no easy path to riches.

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April 7, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

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April 6, 2016

All The Single Ladies . . . Buy Houses

By David Reiss

house-insurance-419058_1920

Realtor.com quote me in More Single Women Hunt for Homes, Not Husbands. It reads, in part,

Alayna Tagariello Francis had always assumed she’d marry first, then buy a home. But when she found herself footloose, free, and definably single in her early 30s, she decided to make a clean break from tradition: She started home shopping for one.

“After dating for a long time in New York City, I really didn’t know if I was going to meet anyone,” she says. “I didn’t want to keep throwing away money on rent or fail to have an investment because I was waiting to get married.”

So in 2006, Francis bought a one-bedroom in Manhattan for $400,000—and was surprised by how good it felt to accomplish this milestone without help.

“To buy a home without a husband or boyfriend wasn’t my plan,” she says, “but it gave me an immense sense of pride.”

It’s no secret that both men and women are tying the knot later in life. A generation ago, statistics from the Census Bureau showed that men and women rushed to the altar in their early 20s; now, the median age for a first-time marriage has crept into the late 20s—and that’s if they marry at all.

The surprise is that even though today’s women still make 21% less than men, more single women than men are now choosing to charge ahead and invest in a home of their own. It’s changing the face of homeownership in America.

And while that decision to buy can help build wealth and ensure financial stability, plenty of women are finding the road from renter to owner is filled with unforeseen obstacles—and plenty of soul-searching.

*     *     *

Why women shouldn’t wait

But then again, few of us have fully operational Ouija boards we can pull out of storage to pinpoint exactly when our ideal significant other will arrive on the scene. So putting house hunting on pause is something fewer women are willing to do.

“Women today don’t sit around and wait for Prince Charming,” says Wendy Flynn, a Realtor® in College Station, TX, who has helped numerous single women buy homes. After all, Flynn points out, “The time frame for meeting your dream man, getting married, and having kids—well, that’s a pretty long timeline.” So even if you do meet The One a day after closing on your home, “you could sell your home in a few years and still make a profit—or at the worst, probably break even.” If you buy right, that is.

That said, women who do want to marry and have kids as soon as possible will want to eye their potential home purchase with that in mind. Is the new place big enough for a family? Or, if you think you’ll sell and move into a larger place once you’re hitched, how easy will it be to sell your original home—or are you allowed to rent it out?

And if you marry or a partner moves in, make sure to consult a lawyer if you want your partner to share homeownership along with you.

“You definitely should not assume that your spouse’s home is transferred automatically to you once you get married,” says David Reiss, an urban law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

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April 6, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

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April 6, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments