Volume 7 Number 45 November 5, 2010

Dear Floridian:

With the holiday season quickly approaching, it’s a good time to remind Floridians to go to www.FLTreasureHunt.org to check for unclaimed property. Just this week, our Bureau of Unclaimed Property returned more than $1,800 to a woman in Miami; and next week, we are holding phone banks in Miami and Jacksonville to remind more Floridians to check our website.

The Bureau currently holds nearly 10 million unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1.5 billion, and receives new accounts regularly. It takes just a moment to see if we have money waiting for you, and wouldn’t that be a nice holiday surprise!

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink and FEMA Encourage Floridians to Be Prepared As They Turn Their Clocks Back on Sunday

With Daylight Saving Time coming to an end, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is encouraging Americans to take advantage of the November 7 time change as a reminder to make sure their families are prepared for a possible emergency. A few simple steps like checking smoke alarms, developing a family communications plan, and putting an emergency kit together can go a long way toward keeping families safe.

State Fire MarshalCFO and State Fire Marshal Sink reminds Floridians that a properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the only thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Check the alarm's expiration date on the label, replace the batteries if needed, and clean dust away from the slots so that smoke can enter freely. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke. Smoke alarms must be maintained!

A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all, so test your smoke alarm monthly by pushing the “test” button, if it has one. All smoke alarms, hard-wired and battery-powered, should be replaced every ten years. These simple steps will help ensure that you and your family will have the best chance of surviving if fire should strike. If your smoke alarm is powered by battery, the battery needs to be replaced annually unless it is a long-life battery (check the owner’s manual). All batteries should be maintained and replaced in accordance with manufacturer’s guidance.

"As we all get ready to turn our clocks back this Sunday, it's important for families to use this opportunity to get ready for possible emergencies," said FEMA Administrator (and former Floridian) Craig Fugate. "As a nation, we can only be as prepared as our public - the most important member of our emergency management team. I encourage everyone, as we fall back an hour, to also take a few simple steps to prepare their homes and loved ones for emergencies, including checking their smoke alarms and putting together an emergency kit."

Ready.govInformation on preparing for emergencies can be found at Ready.gov. Steps include developing a communications plan to ensure family members know how to get in touch with each other during an emergency, putting together an emergency kit, and staying informed of potential risks. It's important to remember that an emergency could be a large-scale catastrophic disaster, or a smaller-scale event like a car accident or house fire.

In addition to visiting Ready.gov, the United States Fire Administration is encouraging families to ensure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire so it's important to test alarms regularly and keep them properly maintained. This includes checking the manufacture/expiration date on the label, replacing the batteries, and cleaning dust away from the slots so that smoke can enter freely.

For more information about home smoke alarms and fire sprinklers, please visit: www.usfa.dhs.gov/smokealarms.


Insurance Consumer AdvocateFlorida Insurance Consumer Advocate Makes Recommendations to Curb Fraud and Improve Personal Injury Protection Coverage

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

The interim Insurance Consumer Advocate, R. Terry Butler, Esq., delivered a report to legislative leadership yesterday detailing recommendations to improve Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law.

Florida’s No-Fault Law requires registered motor vehicle owners and drivers to buy and maintain Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance to provide coverage for medical expenses for minor injuries sustained in auto accidents. The No-Fault system is designed to reduce litigation by having the costs for treatment of minor injuries covered under each driver or owner’s PIP coverage regardless of who caused the accident. However, based on the 2010 National Insurance Crime Bureau’s report and testimony from professionals who handle PIP claims, it appears that PIP coverage is being abused. The Insurance Consumer Advocate’s recommendations are aimed at curbing fraudulent activities and ensuring that PIP coverage remains a cost-effective benefit to Florida’s drivers. These recommendations grew out of a roundtable convened by the Consumer Advocate’s Office to discuss problems in the No-Fault system with representatives of insurance companies, medical providers, health care clinics, fraud investigators, attorneys and state regulators.

The recommendations include:

A copy of the report is posted on the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ICA/.


AWI Announces Automated Tax Credit Application Process

New e-system saves employers time, money

Agency for Workforce InnovationAgency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo announced that employers can apply for a federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) using a new online system that can dramatically speed up the approval process.

“The Work Opportunity Tax Credit allows employers hiring workers from several target groups, including veterans and people receiving several types of public assistance, to receive from $2,400 to $9,000 in tax savings for each eligible worker added to the payroll,” said Director Lorenzo. “Our new automated system helps Florida’s employers take advantage of this valuable tax savings as they help Floridians get back to work, a win-win for businesses, families and communities.”

The electronic WOTC application process saves employers time and money by eliminating the need to mail paper copies of applications to AWI. Employers are notified via email if their application is accepted or if additional information is needed, and can monitor their applications’ progress on the agency’s website at www.floridajobs.org. Using the agency’s secure online application process can also reduce the time it takes to receive a determination.

In the most recent federal fiscal year, October 1, 2009, to September 30, 2010, nearly 54,000 WOTC certifications were issued for a potential tax savings to Florida employers of more than $129.5 million. With the new, easier e-WOTC system, the agency hopes an even greater number of employers will take advantage of this federal tax credit.

A new video explaining the e-WOTC process is available on the agency’s website, www.floridajobs.org, under “Quick Links – How-to Videos.” More information on WOTC, including eligibility requirements and Frequently Asked Questions, is available online at www.floridajobs.org/workforce/wotc.


Consumer CornerSave Money on Auto Insurance

When it comes to shopping for automobile insurance and finding the best deals, it pays to shop around. But many of us don’t and we may end up paying more for our insurance than we should.

When shopping for auto insurance, make sure you are comparing prices on comparable policies, and then keep these tips in mind:

Finally, ALWAYS verify you are dealing with a licensed insurance agent and insurance company by checking our website.

Always read and make sure you understand what you are buying before you sign anything, and if you are confused about terms in your contract, visit the Insurance Library.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?Hurricane Checklist: It’s not too late

Homeowners Financial ToolkitWhat can you do to prepare? Being prepared to evacuate your home will help to prevent major financial and banking headaches down the road. Here are some steps you can take:

Know Your Insurers. Write down the names of your agent and agency, your insurance company, your policy number and telephone numbers to report claims. Remember that the name of your insurance company might differ from that of your agent, agency or underwriter.

Do you have enough cash? Remember to withdraw money before a pending disaster. Since carrying or keeping large amounts of cash in your home can be unsafe, take out only as much as you’ll need. Financial institutions usually close for at least two days after a direct hit by a hurricane, and ATMs could be out of commission even longer. Be sure to get receipts for cash purchases right before a storm.

Do you have enough credit? Keep and protect a credit card with an available balance of at least $1,000.

Consider paying bills early. If you pay bills by phone or online, try to pay them before a disaster hits, even if they are not yet due. Hurricanes and wildfires could interrupt phone service, causing you to miss payments and incur late charges. If you pay by mail, send payments as soon as possible. The U.S. Postal Service will not pick up mail within 24 hours of a hurricane strike. Keep copies of all payments mailed within three days of a natural disaster, if possible.

Be sure to safeguard your records. Keep insurance and financial papers in a secure and accessible place like a safe deposit box, or with a relative or friend. Include your insurance policy, inventory records, agent or company telephone numbers for reporting claims, mortgage and other loan contracts and payment records. You might need quick access to this information. If you need to evacuate, take records with you.

Although the end of hurricane season is in sight, Mother Nature does what she wants and Floridians always need to be prepared. It’s never too late to make a plan.

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


Florida Housing HelpFlorida Housing Help in Lakeland

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services will offer a Florida Housing Help workshop tomorrow in Lakeland. Struggling homeowners will be able talk to certified HUD counselors about foreclosure issues and options as well as speak to representatives from Chase Bank along with other community resources. The workshop is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Lakeland Public Library, 100 Lake Morton Drive, Lakeland, Florida 33801.

To date, CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services held nearly 150 Florida Housing Help workshops across Florida, helping more than 14,000 Florida homeowners connect with their lenders or housing counselors. Details on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp.

An upcoming workshop:
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church
200 Mt. Fair Avenue Brooksville Florida 34601
10 a.m.-2 p.m.


Safeguard Our SeniorsStop and Smell the Roses

On Friday, November 12, caregivers will have a stress-free day filled with fun activities and education on fraud and scams as part of CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors initiative.

The program is hosted by the Lee Memorial Health System and, as part of the program, the Department of Financial Services will offer a presentation on what seniors need to be aware of to make informed decision concerning their finances.

The program will be held in Ft. Myers at the First Church of the Nazarene from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For financial tips and information on Safeguard Our Seniors, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877- MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


My Family CFOThinking of Creative Ways to Save Money

1. Shop with cash or debit card only.
2. Shop smart with discount coupons, manufacturers’ coupons and store deals without coupons.
3. Buy loss leaders and don’t be tempted by full-price items.
4. Use it up before buying more - toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, soap, etc.
5. Don’t pay to use an ATM; use your bank’s ATM or get cash back free.
6. Avoid late fees by paying bills on time - automate where you can.
7. Stick to a budget.
8. The next time you get ready to buy, ask if the expenditure is helping get you out of debt. If the answer is no, don’t spend the money!

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling, the nation's largest and longest-serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization, offers these tips on the advantages and disadvantages of using credit cards:

1. Understand the terms of your credit card.
2. Consider using a debit card to control spending.
3. Use your credit card enough to keep it active, but do not get into the habit of putting all purchases on it.
4. Only carry your credit card with you when you intend to use it, as more plastic in your wallet equals more temptation.
5. Do not charge more than you can pay in full when the bill arrives.
6. Record each charge in your check register as though you were paying for the purchase on the spot.
7. Never use more than 30% of your available credit line.