FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 43 October 22, 2010

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Dear Floridian:

One thing I love most about Florida is the many small businesses and entrepreneurs who choose to start their businesses right here in our state. As a successful business leader for 26 years, I know how important it is promote educational opportunities to help our small businesses, and this month, my department is hosting a series of forums in honor of Women’s Small Business Month.

Representatives from my department have partnered with the Small Business Administration, the IRS, local colleges and universities, and chambers of commerce around Florida to offer their resources and help to ensure that our small businesses have the tools they need to succeed. Small businesses are imperative to helping our state establish a stronger, more diverse economy, and I encourage potential and current small business owners to check out our calendar for events in their area.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Sink Honors New American Bar Association President Stephen Zack

At a reception Monday in Tallahassee, CFO Alex Sink recognized Miami Attorney Stephen Zack, who is currently serving a one-year term as president of the American Bar Association. Mr. Zack has a long history of civic engagement in Florida, having served as special counsel to Governor Bob Graham, chair of the Florida Ethics Commission, and a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. Mr. Zack is the first Hispanic-American president of the American Bar.

“Mr. Zack’s election as ABA president is a fine recognition by his peers of his public service and leadership,” said CFO Sink. “I know he will continue the distinguished tradition of Florida lawyers providing strong leadership to the ABA.”

The reception also honored attorneys in government service, and CFO Sink was joined at the reception by former ABA President Martha Barnett, judges, many state agencies’ lawyers and generals counsel and other dignitaries.


Consumer Corner: Insuring Your One-Person or At-Home Business

October is Women’s Small Business Month and Florida CFO Alex Sink is encouraging small business owners to review their insurance needs. Examining different insurance options can help small business owners address a number of business concerns, even make your business more marketable for loans and help you recruit and retain employees.

If you run a home-based or one-person business, do not assume that your homeowners or renters insurance policy will cover the professional equipment in your home or your liability needs. Most homeowners and renters policies specifically exclude coverage for property used in a business. If your home-based business involves products, inventory or walk-in customers, you will need a business insurance policy. A business policy will insure you separately with property and liability coverage as though you were renting space for your business.

Many insurance companies have developed special insurance policies for at-home businesses. With the help of a good agent, your property and liability needs may be easy to meet. If you want health coverage, you may have to shop around for an individual policy or a health maintenance organization (HMO) until you qualify for a small-group policy. If your spouse works for an employer that offers health care coverage, you may be insurable under his or her employer’s plan. You also may be able to take advantage of group insurance through your membership in associations or professional organizations.

Visit CFO Sink’s Family Fiscal Fitness website to see a list of Florida resources for small business owners: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FamilyFiscalFitness/smbusiness.aspx .

The Department is hosting a series of forums in honor of Women’s Small Business Month. These forums are open to any business owner seeking assistance. For all of DFS’ outreach events, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyRegion.asp or call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


Insurance Consumer Advocate: Help in Selecting a Health Insurance Policy

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Ever since health insurance has become expensive and often hard to obtain, consumers have complained about the lack of information that is available to help them select a health insurance policy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has added new information and tools to its website that should help consumers make more informed decisions about their health insurance choices. By giving consumers access to information about thousands of different policies available from hundreds of different companies, the goal is also to increase competition among insurers and therefore help lower costs for consumers.

The information on the website was provided to HHS by more than 225 insurance companies. It includes information on more than 4,400 policies providing individual coverage and family coverage. Information is available for policies in every state and the District of Columbia. Consumers can search for and compare information on plans available to them based on their age, gender, family size, tobacco use and location.

The agency’s website, www.HealthCare.gov, contains price estimates for private insurance policies that are available. Since price is always of major concern, this enables consumers to compare health insurance plans at a single location rather than by contacting insurer agents for different companies one at a time. Don’t just compare prices however. Health insurance policies are not uniform in covering various diseases or medical conditions and are not uniform in the amount that is paid for medical treatment. Try to make an apples to apples comparison by identifying policies that are similar and that meet your needs.

The site includes some new information that was generally not available to consumers before now. This information, including the following should help consumers make more informed choices:

Consumers are now able to find information about health insurance options such as:

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.


Hurricane Checklist: Don't Let Your Guard Down, It's Not Over Yet

Florida has been lucky this hurricane season; however, that luck should not be turned into complacency. Now more than ever Floridians should be on alert and ready for a disaster.

What should you do to stay prepared?

What do you do after a hurricane?

Get more hurricane tips and resources at the Department Web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Florida Housing Help: Lee County Residents Receive Mortgage Assistance

As of Monday, October 25, 2010, residents of Lee County who are unemployed or underemployed may be eligible for mortgage assistance through the Florida Hardest Hit Fund. Lee County was chosen as a pilot because the metro area of Ft. Myers-Cape Coral has had some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.

Those who qualify for the program may receive loans to help with monthly mortgage payments for up to 18 months or for the Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment Program (MLRP), to assist with loans to be issued to bring past-due mortgage payments current for up to four months.

The homeowner’s loan must be older than Jan. 1, 2009, and the balance of the mortgage must not exceed $400,000 at the time of the application. Also, the homeowner’s mortgage service provider must agree to the plan and sign up for the program.

All Florida counties will be eligible to participate in the program in 2011. Those that are interested in participating in the program are urged to visit the Florida Housing Corporation’s Florida Hardest Hit Fund website often for updates.


SOS Attends the Annual Convention of the Southern States Crime Prevention Association

Florida’s seniors, our greatest generation, have been losing their life savings to dishonest agents who are undeterred by the laws of this state. Florida CFO Alex Sink fought for three years to change all of that with the Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) legislation.

The Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services, along with representatives from the department’s Divisions of Insurance Fraud and Agent and Agency Services, presented CFO Sink’s SOS outreach program this week at the Annual Convention of the Southern States Crime Prevention Association. The SOS presentation is part of CFO Sink’s ongoing statewide initiative to protect seniors from financial fraud through education and increased awareness.

Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 500 Safeguard Our Seniors workshops throughout the state. Read the Safeguard Our Seniors Calendar of Events to find a program near you.


My Family CFO: Create Fun Decorations for Halloween Spookiness

Halloween falls on Sunday this year, so you will have the weekend to get your scary projects ready. Carving or decorating pumpkins is a favorite activity, associated with the harvest season and becoming the scary emblem of Halloween when carved into jack-o’-lanterns. The pumpkin patch, farmers’ market or grocery store should have a suitable selection of carving pumpkins. Choose a big one or get several sizes to decorate your spooky Halloween house. Plan on carving a day or two before Halloween as jack-o'-lanterns don’t last long.

Remember, carving pumpkins aren’t the best for making pies but pie pumpkins can be found in the grocery store or farmers’ market. Pumpkin seeds from the carving pumpkins are great for roasting and should be separated from the pulp, rinsed under cold water, placed and stirred on an oiled baking sheet in a single layer, sprinkled with salt and baked at 325 degrees until toasted – about 25 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.

Carving Tips

Use a water-based marker to draw your pattern. You can erase with a damp sponge or paper towel. Use a sturdy, sharp, straight-edged kitchen knife or one of the serrated kid-friendly pumpkin saws. Children should carve only under adult supervision. Markers, paint and stick-on items can give very young children the opportunity to decorate pumpkins on their own.

Scrape out seeds and stringy goo with a large spoon or ice cream scoop. Save the seeds to roast. Work out from the center of the pattern to the edges and cut larger holes in smaller sections. Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin. Use a craft knife for details and the tip of a potato peeler to make small circles and curves.

Make holes large enough to provide adequate ventilation for the candle. Flatten a spot in the base of the pumpkin for the candle and make sure the candle flame is not too close to the top of the pumpkin. To extend the life of the jack-o'-lantern, cover the cut edges with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to seal in moisture. Extinguish the candle and cover the pumpkin with a damp towel when not on display.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO