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

         Volume 5, Number 15, April 11, 2008
 


Floridians all across our state are experiencing the increasing burden of the cost of living. As we approach Tuesday’s midnight deadline to file a tax return, it is very important that taxpayers understand the requirements for receiving the economic stimulus payment and eligibility for the earned income tax credit.

Starting in May, the U.S. Treasury will begin sending economic stimulus payments to more than 130 million households. To receive a payment, taxpayers must have a valid Social Security number, $3,000 of income and file a 2007 federal tax return. The Internal Revenue Service will take care of the rest.

  • Floridians already filing a 2007 tax return do not need to take any additional steps to receive their federal economic stimulus payments.
  • The IRS estimates approximately 1.5 million Floridians receiving Social Security, certain Veterans’ and Railroad Retirement benefits, and low-income workers need to file a federal tax return this year in order to receive their economic stimulus payment.
  • For additional information on the special economic stimulus guidelines, please see IRS Fact Sheet FS 2008-16 Stimulus Payments, available online at www.irs.gov.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) sometimes called the Earned Income Credit (EIC), is a refundable federal income tax credit for low-income working individuals and families. Congress originally approved the tax credit legislation in 1975 in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit.

To qualify, taxpayers must meet certain requirements and file a tax return, even if they did not earn enough money to be obligated to file a tax return.

For more information and qualifications, go to www.irs.gov/eitc/ or call 1–800–829–3676


CFO SINK VISITS BABCOCK RANCH IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
CFO Alex Sink had the opportunity to visit Babcock Ranch (a 73,239 acre parcel of land located in Charlotte and Lee counties) this week. The land was bought by the state in 2006 for $350 million. Prior to being in state ownership, portions of the land were used as a working farm, which included tenant farming, beef cattle, pine timbering and some eco-tourism. The land purchase was notable for several reasons. First, the law authorizing the purchase required that the land remain as a working farm. Second, the law required that the land retain its conservation values, including preserving imperiled and threatened species, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Since 2006, the land managers have operated under a Management Agreement. All the interested parties have been working on a new document, titled the Management Plan, which will become part of the Management Agreement when it is adopted by the Board of Trustees in July. The management plan provides greater detail on how lands will be managed into the future.

Arnie Sarlow, general manager and Vice President of Babcock Ranch, LLC, hosted the tour for the CFO and staff. The CFO saw the beef cattle operation on the ranch, areas where watermelon farming is occurring, and areas where pine timbering has occurred. She toured the Cypress Lodge, which is located at the Telegraph Swamp, and which will become part of the eco-tourism facilities in the future.
 

CFO SINK CHAIRS  PANEL AT WAKE FOREST CONFERENCE

CFO Alex Sink joined New York Times columnist, author and commentator David Brooks and former Pepsi-Co CEO Steve Reinemund at a Wake Forest University conference life – “Why Work? Business, Professions and the Common Good, ”a two-day event examining how to balance making a good living with having a meaningful life.

“Work provides a venue for social interaction, involvement in civic activity for the betterment of the community and intellectual stimulation,” Sink told the assembled crowd of more than 700. “Balance is an essential part of the equation for me, and includes faith as my moral compass; the privilege as a parent to mold future citizens; a responsibility to make the most of the talents I’ve been given as a professional; and the obligation to give back as a volunteer.”

CFO Sink also served as a panelist in a second session, “The Demands of Public Service” led by former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton, Michigan Congressman Fred Upton and Knoxville, Tennessee Mayor William Haslam.

This conference was part of Wake Forest’s “Voices of Our Time” speaker series, which exposes students, the university community and the general public to some of the world’s leading thinkers for discussions on the important national and international issues of our time.


STATEMENT BY CFO SINK ON SENATE COMMITTEE’S PASSAGE OF CAT FUND PROPOSAL

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink applauded the Florida Senate Committee on General Government Appropriations for unanimously passing Senate Bill 2156 by State Senator Bill Posey (R-Rockledge), which reduces Floridians’ risk of hurricane assessments from the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

“Eliminating $5.5 billion of hurricane assessment risk after a bad storm is the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said CFO Sink. “I thank Senator Alexander, Senator Lawson, Senator Posey and their colleagues for their leadership and support of this bipartisan proposal to reduce the risk of hurricane assessments on Floridians and businesses.”

The companion bill is HB 7021, sponsored by State Representative Ron Reagan (R-Sarasota/Bradenton).


CFO SINK ADDRESSES THE FHBA IN TALLAHASSEE

CFO Alex Sink spoke with the Florida Home Builders Association Monday at their Spring Legislative Conference in Tallahassee. Sharing her take on this year’s legislative session, she highlighted issues facing Floridian’s homeowners and homebuilders, like affordable housing, mitigation, and the rising costs of insurance. CFO Sink also stressed the importance of innovation and the benefits of efficient, environmentally friendly homes.  

The Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) is the state affiliate for 28 local associations in Florida. About one-third of FHBA’s 17,000 members are home builders and/or remodelers. The remainder are “associates,” working in closely related fields within the housing industry.


THE CAPITOL WELCOMES ANNUAL FEAST

What do you get if you mix 1,540 pounds of chicken, 620 pounds of  Valencia rice, 450 pounds of fish, 380 pounds of shrimp, 450 pounds of lobster tails, 450 pounds of clams, 310 pounds of sweet peas, 20 pounds of garlic and 10 cases of beer with lots of hungry people?  The “World Famous Paella Fest” at the Capitol, a Miami-Dade County Days' tradition.

The enormous paella pan, capable of serving up to 3,000 meals, had been hauled in behind a truck and was bubbling hot by noontime, when the serving lines started snaking around the courtyard.

CFO Sink joined in the fun, spooning out the bright-orange dish with other dignitaries, including many friends visiting the capital from Miami-Dade.


Money-Smart Idea of the Week

Idea: Reduce Credit Card Debt

There are plenty of positive reasons to use a credit card instead of cash. Convenience, frequent flier miles and credit rating are a few. However, as so many have learned, credit cards are only advantageous if used correctly. Credit card debt has emerged as a significant financial concern for millions of card holders. Getting out of credit card debt is an arduous task. Avoiding it in the first place is much easier, if you have the self-discipline to follow a few simple rules.

1. Choose your credit card wisely - shop around and compare cards based on interest rates and fees.

2. Establish good credit card spending habits - it is not a free pass to spend money you don’t have or will need to borrow.

3. Pay in full at the end of each month.

4. Keep good records by keeping all credit card receipts and reconcile them with your statement each month.

5. Make sure you have the numbers of all credit cards on hand in case you lose one.

If you get into good credit card habits early, you will avoid having to get out of credit card debt.

For more financial savings tips click here http://www.myfloridamoney.com/FLSaves.htm


SAVE MONEY FOR YOUR FINANCIAL SECURITY

Saving money is an ongoing challenge. Paychecks only go so far, making it worthwhile to develop money-saving strategies.

1. Track your spending. Keep a record of where you spend your money, then evaluate the results to identify if you're using money for unnecessary things. Look at the places where you can save money; even small outlays can add up.

2. Pay yourself first. This is a strategy that starts a consistent savings program. You should put money into savings first every month and if you get a raise, add that money to the amount you are putting aside each paycheck.

3. Start a tax-advantaged savings plan. Many companies offer 401(k) or similar plans and you should take advantage if one is offered. If not, open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Use direct deposit for these retirement savings accounts so you're not tempted to spend the money elsewhere.

4. Save the credit cards for emergencies. Limit yourself to one or two credit cards with the best rates, and use them for only major purchases or emergencies. Also, pay off your credit card balances monthly.

5. Learn to comparison shop. Be on the lookout for lower prices, discounts, sales, and coupons, while the Internet provides an easy way to compare prices. Shop from a list rather than by browsing the aisles, and establish a policy to not buy on impulse.

6. Save on the cost of your home. Look for lower mortgage rates and refinance when the numbers add up. Also, while paying your home mortgage each month, pay extra on your principle. You can pay off the loan faster, and save interest over time.

7. Save on utilities. Review offers from competing phone and electric companies. Look for energy-saving appliances, and save money by turning off the heat/air when the weather invites open windows.

8. Be smart about your car. Find a mechanic you trust before paying big for repairs. Look for lower gas prices, and keep your engine tuned, trunk uncluttered, and tires properly inflated to save on gas.

9. Discuss ways to save money and establish good spending habits in your household.

10. Read the fine print. Review your bills carefully, including your credit card statements. Errors in billing cost customers millions of dollars each year. Read the fine print carefully on contracts and warranties - buy service warranties only when the wear on the item will make the warranty pay off.


CROOKS USE STATE'S NAME TO ATTEMPT IDENTITY THEFT

The Office of Financial Regulation has been alerted that someone has been making phone calls claiming to be with the State of Florida Division of Securities in an effort to obtain personal financial information.

Con artists know that people trust government agencies. This is why they are using the “State of Florida’s” name in an attempt to obtain confidential information from consumers and businesses.

These callers trick you into revealing personal financial and private information. Fraudsters use the information they obtain to steal your identity and your financial assets. These types of identity theft scams are commonly referred to as "phishing schemes.”

The Division of Securities will not ask for your PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for your credit card, bank or other financial accounts. CONTINUED

If you receive a phone call from someone who claims to be from the State of Florida Division of Securities or another government agency asking you for confidential information, assume that the call is fraudulent and do not provide the information.

Instead, you should “independently verify” that the person actually represents the government agency. Do that by contacting the state agency yourself and confirm that the person who called you actually represents that office.

Likewise, be cautious of e-mails asking you to verify or provide account information. Only give personal information to someone if you initiate the contact and you know how your information will be used.

If you have been contacted by someone misrepresenting himself as an employee of the State of Florida, Division of Securities, please notify us by calling 850-410-9701.


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-My-FL-CFO
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