Volume 8 Number 8 February 25, 2011

Dear Fellow Floridians:

At the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, I had the honor of sponsoring a resolution recognizing Feb. 20-27 as Florida Saves Week. In concert with Florida Saves Week, I encourage Floridians to learn more about the importance of saving and preparing financially for their futures. Healthy money management is not just about practicing good savings habits for one week. It is a lifestyle change, and I hope each of you will take time every week to learn more about preparing financially for your future. Setting up an attainable budget with a savings plan is the key to achieving financial prosperity.

One way some Floridians can get started on their savings this year is to claim an immediate cash refund of up to $5,000 this tax season. As many as 200,000 Floridians are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit which is a refundable tax credit designed for lower income working families and individuals. The amount of the credit varies depending on your level of income and how many dependents you support. According to the IRS, as many as one in five people across the country qualify but don’t file for this tax credit.

Floridian Lazara Diaz knows firsthand the impact that this tax credit can have for hard-working families looking to save for the future. Through this credit, she has been able to pay off her debts and save for her daughter’s college education.

As a proud partner with the University of Florida, America Saves campaign and the Financial Literacy Council, I urge all Floridians to strive to reach their financial goals. I applaud the work of the University of Florida, and the other organizations throughout the state who promote financial education and smart saving habits. For more information on how you can save, please visit my office’s website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/familyfiscalfitness/.

Sincerely,

Jeff





Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


Financial Literacy Tips

You can save money at the pump with cash

Can paying cash save you money? At some gas stations, the answer is yes.

Credit and debit card swipe fees have some retailers deciding to offer a discount to customers who pay for their gas with cash instead of using a card. A cash transaction saves the retailer the cost of the swipe fee and some are passing along those savings to their customers.

So be sure to check next time you pull up to the tank. The price you will pay is on the pump when you swipe your credit or debit card. If the advertised prices are cash prices, that should be clearly noted.


The IRS adds helpful information for victims of the BP Oil Spill

This week the IRS announced it has added information to its website to help individuals and business affected by the BP Oil Spill. The site now has updated questions and answers, guidance on income averaging for fisherman, information on reimbursements and many other new features. If you have been affected by this preventable disaster, please be sure to look over this new section carefully to ensure you are fully compensated for your losses.


CFO Atwater's Interview with Mercado de Dinero, USA

This week CFO Atwater was featured in an interview with Mercado de Dinero, USA in their special edition in celebration of “Mes del Consumidor” or Consumer Awareness month. Mercado de Dinero is an international paper circulated in Florida and is published in 14 countries including Spain, United Kingdom, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia and many more. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Do you believe the consumer has changed with the economic crisis?
The foreclosure crisis and the BP oil spill have driven some to seek our help, who otherwise might not have, but my department consistently serves a wide variety of consumers from all economic backgrounds and age groups – from young families looking to buy their first home to seniors who need help with a questionable annuity sale.

What are the most important financial concepts that a consumer should understand about their personal finances?
I can advise unequivocally that we each must take responsibility for our own financial decisions. We cannot and should not rely on any one person’s advice, no matter how knowledgeable or nice that person may seem. We must read and understand every document we are asked to sign, and we must be aggressive in getting clear answers to our questions and walking away when an offer seems too good to be true.

Looking to the future, what can the consumer expect about the state's finances? Will we have to "tighten our belts"?
Just as Floridians across the state are tightening their belts to meet their financial obligations, so must the state. We must ensure that we are spending within our means and that programs funded using taxpayer dollars are providing value to Floridians. If programs don’t provide clear value, they should be eliminated. We owe it to our fellow Floridians to determine what works and what doesn’t in their state government and to direct any savings we can accomplish back to them.


Enforcement Roundup

This column will regularly highlight the work of the department’s enforcement divisions. This week’s column features the Division of Insurance Fraud, a sworn law enforcement agency within the Department of Financial Services responsible for investigating fraud in all lines of insurance. Following is a summary of two recent cases.

Hammer Falls Again on Tampa Bay Fraudster
Former Tampa Bay-area insurance agent Joe Dohalick was convicted a second time on Feb. 14, this time for defrauding a 79-year-old widow. Dohalick was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $218,302 Dohalick pocketed while using his daughter’s insurance agent license to continue his scheme.

Dohalick was previously sentenced on April 9, 2010, to 20 years in prison for five felony counts of grand theft and was ordered to pay $467,397 in restitution. Two days after that conviction, Fraud detectives arrested Dohalick the second time. The Department’s divisions of Consumer Services, Insurance Fraud and the Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, have so far been able to return more than $34,000 to the widow.

Who’s got my bail?
Bail Bond agents Fabiola Gomez, 38, and her husband Juan Tomas Gomez, 59, of Miami, were arrested Feb. 17 after an investigation found that Gomez Bail Bonds, at 215 SW 17th Ave., had misappropriated at least $13,000 in funds. The investigation also determined that Juan Tomas Gomez is a convicted felon and does not have a bail bond license.

The Gomezes were transported to Dade County Jail. They each are charged with grand theft, a second degree felony, and unlicensed bail bond activity, a third-degree felony. If convicted on the charges, they each face up to 15 years in prison.


Division of Legal Services Receives National WasteWise Award

The Department of Financial Services’ Division of Legal Services was recently recognized as one of five WasteWise partners in the southeast by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for outstanding achievements in reducing environmental impact.

The division implemented several environmentally friendly practices, such as electronic filing of documents, enabling energy-save mode for electronics, reducing employee travel, freezing non-mission critical office supply ordering, encouraging double siding of draft documents, and others. The division’s paper reduction efforts saved Florida taxpayers more than $1 million in 2009. Their switch to I-Serve, an electronic tool which processes lawsuits for insurers, reduced paper use by 1.5 million pages per year, and saved more than $85,000.

WasteWise is a free, voluntary partnership program that helps businesses reduce their environmental impact and find cost savings through innovative waste reduction and recycling activities. The program currently has over 2,700 participating partners and endorsers.


CFO Jeff Atwater Recognizes Florida Saves Week and Encourages Eligible Floridians to Claim Earned Income Tax Credit

At a Cabinet meeting this week, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater sponsored a resolution recognizing Feb. 20-27 as Florida Saves Week. In concert with Florida Saves Week, CFO Atwater is encouraging Floridians to learn more about the importance of saving and preparing financially for their futures at one of a series of workshops his office is hosting.

“Setting up an attainable budget with a savings plan is the key to achieving financial prosperity,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “I applaud the work of the University of Florida and other organizations throughout the state that are using this week to promote financial education and smart saving habits.”

One way some Floridians can get started on their savings this year is to claim an immediate cash refund of up to $5,000 this tax season. As many as 200,000 Floridians are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is a refundable tax credit designed for lower income working families and individuals. The amount of the credit varies depending on your level of income and how many dependents you support. According to the IRS, as many as one in five people across the country qualify but don’t file for this tax credit.

“We not only want to make Floridians aware that they may qualify for this money,” said CFO Atwater, “we also want to arm them with the information they need to wisely use the dollars they get back.”.

Floridian Lazara Diaz knows firsthand the impact this tax credit can have for hard-working families looking to save for the future. Ms. Diaz, a single mother and hotel manager, took a more flexible job with a significant pay cut so she could go back to college and earn her degree. In 2009, she received a credit of $2,000 and is expecting a larger credit this year. Using the money from the credit, Ms. Diaz was able to pay off her debts and start a savings account for her daughter’s college education.

According to Kaye Schmitz, president of the Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP), there are a number of studies that show taxpayers with incomes between $30,000 are $35,000 are unaware that they may qualify for the refund or they don’t pursue a refund because they need help with filing for the tax credit. The FPP collaborates with more than 130 organizations statewide to help improve the financial stability of low-to-moderate-income Floridians.

“We are pleased to partner with CFO Atwater and use Florida Saves Week as an opportunity to connect eligible Floridians to free income tax preparation and to reach as many families as we possibly can,” said Schmitz, whose partner organizations have prepared more than a half million free tax returns generating $500 million in refunds for Floridians.

CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services is hosting events throughout the state during the month of February as a part of the national America Saves initiative. Topics include the Earned Income Tax Credit, use of credit cards, identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance, financial fraud and first-time homebuyer workshops.

To find a free tax site in your area and a schedule of events occurring throughout the state for Florida Saves Week, logon to CFO Atwater’s financial literacy Web site, Family Fiscal Fitness, at www.myfloridacfo.com/FamilyFiscalFitness.