Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 12, March 23, 2007

Dear Floridian:

Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and I would like to extend an invitation to you to attend the first of a series of workshops on “Conversations on Climate Change.” This workshop will be held on Tuesday, April 3, 2007, at 11:00 a.m. after the Florida Cabinet meeting.   

This workshop will feature national experts in areas such as the science of rising sea levels, renewable energy sources, the impact of climate change on the insurance and financial industries, and more.  The sessions will also give elected officials, business leaders and Floridians the opportunity to understand how these challenges and potential solutions present opportunities for the growth of new industries in our state.

We hope you can join us, as we begin this important dialogue to make more informed decisions about Florida’s future.

Guest speakers for Tuesday’s conversation will include:

Governor Charlie Crist, Senator Burt Saunders, Dr. Meg Lowman, Dr. Stephen Mulkey, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, Karry Emmanuel, Tim Wagner, Dan Reicher and Keith Allan.

 Sincerely,

 --Alex Sink


Vanguard Fire & Casualty ordered into liquidation

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis has ordered Maitland-based Vanguard Fire & Casualty Company into liquidation, effective Monday, to ensure policyholder claims continue to be paid.  The Department of Financial Services was named receiver in January for purposes of rehabilitation and has paid more than $6 million in claims using company assets, but has determined the company’s cash and reserves are not enough to keep up with claims. 

The department has a request pending in the same court asking for permission to allow the company’s approximately 57,000 homeowner policyholders to be offered replacement coverage by either Royal Palm Insurance Company (Royal Palm) or Security First Insurance Company (Security First).  If the court approves, replacement coverage will be effective April 25, 2007, or upon expiration of the policyholder’s Vanguard coverage, whichever occurs first.  Policyholders also will be free to choose other companies for coverage. 

“Getting the company into the liquidation process will allow us to immediately begin paying claims from the state’s Florida Insurance Guaranty Association,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who as CFO oversees the department.  “Our top priority is to take care of policyholders and ensure their claims are paid.” 

The company consented to being placed in receivership for rehabilitation on January 19.  At that time, Vanguard had already announced it had stopped writing new coverage in early January and would not write renewal coverage after April 19, 2007.  As a result of the liquidation order, signed Thursday, Vanguard homeowner policies will be cancelled at 12:01 a.m. on April 25, 2007. 

Questions relating to current Vanguard policy, coverage and claim issues should be directed to Vanguard Fire & Casualty Company at 1-866-830-6423.  Policy-related questions should continue to be directed to Vanguard Fire & Casualty Company at 1-866-830-6423 until further notice. Beginning on Monday, claimants who need to check on the status of an existing claim, or report a new claim should call the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association at 1-866-928-4310.   

For any other questions, consumers can call the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-882-3054.   


ALEX SINK HONORED FOR LEADERSHIP IN JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT  CAPITAL CAMPAIGN

As chair of the 2003-2005 Junior Achievement Capital Campaign, Alex Sink gave support and leadership to help this Tampa Bay program succeed.

The Bill Poe Family Junior Achievement Center in Tampa houses a world-class learning facility where fifth grade students explore the world of business in a mini-city consisting of 20 public and private enterprises. JA Enterprise Village has an annual capacity of 14,000 students and the 15,000 square foot center features a state-of-the-art training facility for educators and volunteers. Through Junior Achievement’s partner, the School District of Hillsborough County, the center has been built on school board property located in the 13000 block of North 22nd Street in Tampa.  

The mayor at the Junior Achievement Enterprise village declared the thirtieth day of November as Alex Sink Day. This center was built as a result of Ms Sink's tireless dedication and passion. Because of her hard work, students will be able to participate in this wonderful program for years to come.

Tampa Bay elementary students now have the opportunity to experience a day like no other; a day that is referred to by students as "the very best day ever!"

 


INSPECTOR TRAINING CLASSES NOW AVAILABLE FOR MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

Classes are currently being offered for those interested in becoming home inspectors for the My Safe Florida Home program.

The law creating this program requires the Department of Financial Services to work with Wind Certification Entities (WCEs) that provide a workforce of inspectors who have successfully undergone the required criminal background check protocol, drug screening and completed specialized training and testing in hurricane mitigation survey and residential retrofitting procedures.

In the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Services class,  My Safe Florida Home procedures will be covered and participants who wish to take part in the state qualified "Wind & Hurricane Mitigation Inspectors" program can voluntarily take the certification exam following the class.

The first part of the presentation is intended to provide background information on wind characteristics, wind and building/structural interaction and common terms associated with structural design for wind loads.

The class will introduce the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) Program that was established by the Legislature to help Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes against hurricane force winds and to reduce hurricane damage exposure in our state.

The second part of this presentation is to provide a process for assessing the current condition of a residential building and providing an outline for potential cost effective measures to strengthen the home.

If you would like more information on current inspector training classes, please click on the link below. Below is the upcoming class schedule of inspector trainings hosted by the University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Services. To register, please visit www.energy.ufl.edu/cecampus/. 

Program for Resource Efficient Communities
University of Florida
Phone: 352-392-5684
Fax: 352-392-9033


UF Inspector Training Classes

Wind and Hurricane Mitigation Inspector Training Dates: 

All training will start at 8:00 a.m. and finish at 5:00 p.m. 

April 6 – Orlando – Orange County Extension Office 

April 17Ft. Pierce – St. Lucie County Windstorm Mitigation Education Center 

April 18Cocoa – Brevard County Extension Office  

April 19 Davie – Broward County Windstorm Mitigation Education Center  

April 23St. Augustine – St. Johns Windstorm Mitigation Education Center 

April 27Ft. Myers – Lee County Extension Office 

May 1West Palm Beach – Palm Beach County Extension Office 

May 2Davie – Broward County Windstorm Mitigation Education Center 

May 16Pensacola – Escambia County Windstorm Mitigation Education Center 

TBDSt. Petersburg/Largo 
 


IRS WEB SITE, WHERE'S MY REFUND, SEES INCREASED USE

The Internal Revenue Service released statistics today showing that taxpayers’ use of IRS.gov, which includes features such as Where’s My Refund is increasing.  Use of the IRS website has increased 9 percent over this time last year to 83.3 million visits.   

Where’s My Refund is the IRS Internet-based service taxpayers can use to check on the status of their federal income tax refunds.  Nearly 21 million requests have been received on Where’s My Refund this year, representing a growth of more than 3.9 million users compared to the same period last year.

“Where’s My Refund is easy to use,” said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. “It is the fastest way to check on a refund.  Taxpayers who file Form 1040EZ-T can also take advantage of Where’s My Refund to find out about the telephone excise tax refund.”

Taxpayers can check their refund status online anytime from anywhere.  It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, worldwide, only by visiting IRS.gov.  Taxpayers can securely access their personal refund information by entering their Social Security number, filing status and the exact amount of their refund.  These shared secrets, known only to the taxpayer and IRS, verify the person is authorized to access the account.

Taxpayers can check on the status of their federal income tax refunds seven days after they e-filed their return.  If they file a paper return, they can check four to six weeks after mailing their return. 

For the first time this year, taxpayers who chose direct deposit can split their refunds among as many as three accounts held by up to three different U.S. financial institutions.  Split refunds offer taxpayers the opportunity to manage their money by sending part of their refund to one account for immediate needs and another part to a savings or investment account.  The average refund at this point, which typically declines between now and the end of the filing season, is more than $2,800.  

Where’s My Refund will include a message confirming the refund was split and the expected deposit date.  It will not specify the amount of individual deposits or the accounts to which the deposits were made.

Taxpayers can use Where’s My Refund to verify when their refunds are scheduled for direct deposits or mailing, initiate a trace on lost or missing refund checks, and/or notify IRS of address changes in case of undeliverable refund checks.

The IRS reminds taxpayers they can avoid undelivered refund checks by having their refund checks deposited into a personal checking or savings account.  Direct deposit also guards against theft and lost refund checks.  Direct deposit is available for both paper and electronically filed returns.

Compared to this time last year, there is a 5.6 percent increase in the number of taxpayers who have chosen direct deposit for their refund.  So far, refunds total about $110 billion, a 9 percent increase over last year.   

The IRS also reports a substantial increase in the number of taxpayers who are preparing their returns and filing online. 

The table below shows an 8 percent increase in self-prepared online filing over the same period last year.  Tax professional e-file also has increased by close to 4 percent over last year.  Overall, e-filed returns are up nearly 5 percent, with about 45.5 million taxpayers e-filing their return. 

In addition, this year’s filings show about three in 10 tax returns are not requesting the one-time telephone tax refund. The standard amount ranges from $30 to $60 and is based on the number of exemptions a taxpayer is eligible to claim on their return. Although some of these taxpayers may not be eligible, others may qualify and not know it. The IRS urges taxpayers to check their eligibility for this special refund by visiting the Telephone Excise Tax Refund section on IRS.gov.  Taxpayers who are not required to file a return can request the Telephone Excise Tax Refund by filing the 1040-EZT. 

2007 FILING SEASON STATISTICS

Cumulative through the weeks ending 3/10/06 and 3/9/07

Individual Income Tax Returns

2006

2007

% Change

Total Receipts

60,657,000

61,123,000

0.8%

Total Processed

56,028,000

56,974,000

1.7%

 

 

 

 

E-filing Receipts:

 

 

 

TOTAL

43,356,000

45,498,000

4.9%

Tax Professionals

31,010,000

32,156,000

3.7%

Self-prepared

12,346,000

13,342,000

8.1%

 

 

 

 

Web Usage:

 

 

 

Visits to IRS.gov

76,449,000

83,365,000

9.0%

 

 

 

 

Total Refunds:

 

 

 

Number

50,656,000

50,515,000

-0.3%

Amount

$122.752

Billion

$128.736

Billion

4.9%

Average refund

$2,423

$2,548

5.2%

 

 

 

 

Direct Deposit Refunds:

 

 

 

Number

37,031,000

39,088,000

5.6%

Amount

$101.009

Billion

$110.090

Billion

9.0%

Average refund

$2,728

$2,816

3.3%

 

FREE FILE AVAILABLE FOR REQUESTING TELEPHONE TAX REFUND
Service Includes People Who Do Not Need to File a Tax Return

The Internal Revenue Service reminds telephone customers who do not normally file tax returns that they can use Free File to request the telephone excise tax refund. This group includes low-income people, many of them senior citizens. IRS's Free File is the easiest and quickest way to request the refund, which, if directly deposited, could arrive in the taxpayer's bank account in two weeks or less.

“This program provides the option for most people to do their taxes electronically and for free," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "Free File is a great choice for people who don’t normally need to file a tax return but who are entitled to this special telephone excise tax refund.”

The refund covers the 3-percent tax paid on long-distance and bundled service billed after Feb. 28, 2003, and before Aug. 1, 2006.

Federal long-distance excise taxes paid on land line, cell phone, fax and Internet phone service qualify for the refund. This includes bundled service — local and long-distance service provided under a plan that does not separately list the charge for local service. Bundled service includes, for example, phone plans that provide both local and long-distance service for either a flat monthly fee or a charge that varies with the time for which the service is used.

The tax no longer applies to these kinds of service, though it continues to apply to local-only phone service.

Telephone customers have two choices for requesting the refund. They may:

·          Use the actual amount of tax paid, as shown on phone bills and other records; or 

·          Use a standard amount. This amount ranges from $30 to $60, based on the number of personal exemptions the customer is eligible to claim.

Both choices are available through IRS Free File. Just go to IRS.gov, click "2007 Free File" and follow the directions. Three Free File Alliance members are providing free access to Form 1040EZ-T to request the standard amount. Some Alliance members are also offering free access to Form 8913 to request the actual amount.

Free File is a program run by the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a consortium of tax preparation software companies. Seventy percent of the nation’s taxpayers — those with an adjusted gross income of $52,000 or less — are eligible for Free File. Each company sets its own criteria for who can use the service. The program is available only through IRS.gov.

Alternatively, low-income telephone customers who prefer having someone else prepare their refund request can get free help by visiting one of more than 12,000  neighborhood tax-assistance sites nationwide. Trained community volunteers fill out telephone tax refund requests and basic income-tax returns for low-income people and senior citizens. To locate the nearest volunteer tax-help site, call AARP at 1-888-227-7669 or the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

Free File users who forgot to request the telephone excise tax refund can file an amended return using Form 1040X. To avoid delaying a refund request, the IRS recommends that Free File users wait until three weeks after they filed their original return before sending in Form 1040X. This form cannot be e-filed; it must be filed by paper. Form 1040X can be downloaded from IRS.gov.


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