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

         Volume 5, Number 8, February 22, 2008
 

Sunday will mark the kick-off of the first ever Florida Saves Week, February 24 – March 2, 2008. This year, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has partnered with the Financial Literacy Council, the University of Florida Extension and local Saves campaigns to bring the message of saving money and building wealth to our state.

Florida Saves is a part of America Saves—a national public awareness campaign that emphasizes increasing savings, reducing debt and strengthening personal financial security.

Representatives from CFO Sink’s Division of Consumer Services will hold events ranging in topics from investor education to finding money to save. Consumers interested in participating in Florida Saves activities should visit www.myfloridamoney.com/FLSaves.htm and contact their local Consumer Services office for more information.

Through our Web site Floridians can also access savings tips and links to information about the national America Saves campaign.
 

GOVERNOR CRIST CREATES TASK FORCE TO PREVENT HOME FORECLOSURE

Experts in mortgage and banking industries, consumer advocates and policy experts to develop recommendations

Governor Charlie Crist  created the Florida Home Ownership Promotes the Economy (HOPE) Task Force by Executive Order 08-27 to develop an action plan to address Florida’s escalating foreclosure rate. The Florida HOPE Task Force will bring together experts in the mortgage and banking industries, as well as consumer advocates and policy experts, to review Florida’s foreclosure rate and its impact on Florida’s economy.

“Last year one out of every 95 households experienced foreclosure in our state with filings up more than 275 percent over the previous year,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. “Working with the Governor’s H.O.P.E. Task Force, my office will be focused on identifying solutions to help families work through the often confusing and difficult process of retaining their homes.”

“Foreclosure hurts all Floridians by depressing home values and causing families to lose homes, jobs and hope,” said Governor Crist. “As this task force comes together to explore solutions, we will search for ways to restore hope to Florida’s families – and to our state’s economy.”

In 2007, Florida ranked second in the number of home foreclosures, with twice as many foreclosures than in 2006. The Florida HOPE Task Force will develop an action plan to address the foreclosure rate and identify ways to preserve home ownership for Floridians.

The task force will meet four times, beginning on March 3, 2008, in Tallahassee. Other meetings are planned for March 19 and April 2, also in Tallahassee. The fourth meeting will be held via conference call on April 9. They will present recommendations to the Governor, Speaker of the House and President of the Senate by April 18, 2008.

Governor Crist appointed Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp as chair of the Florida HOPE Task Force. Other members appointed by the Governor are Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Senator Bill Posey, Senator Tony Hill, Representative Franklin Sands, Representative Garrett Richter, Alex Sanchez of the Florida Bankers Association, D. Ritch Workman of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers, Mike Fields of Bank of America, Thomas Kuntz of SunTrust, Nancy Riley of Florida Realtors Association, Bill Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network and Steve Auger of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

In developing the state action plan to address Florida’s foreclosure rate, the task force will assess Florida’s banking and mortgage industries, including the subprime market and subprime borrowers, as well as the current laws and regulations related to the foreclosure process. They will also identify and assess public and private financial resources and educational opportunities available to assist Florida homeowners.


CFO SINK TO INCREASE FINANCIAL LITERACY AWARENESS DURING FLORIDA SAVES WEEK
DFS to hold financial literacy events across the state

In an ongoing effort to increase financial literacy, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the Department of Financial Services (DFS) will partner with the Financial Literacy Council, University of Florida Extension offices and local Saves campaigns to host financial literacy events across the state in conjunction with Florida Saves Week, February 24 – March 2, 2008.

“As the state's fiscal watchdog, helping Floridians learn how to manage and protect their money and assets is one of my highest priorities as the state’s fiscal watchdog,” said CFO Sink, who oversees DFS. “It is imperative that Floridians understand the importance of saving and investing their money to avoid debt.”

CFO Sink’s Division of Consumer Services will hold events highlighting the purpose of the Florida Saves campaign: saving money and building wealth. Presentation topics will range from investor education to finding money to save. Consumers interested in participating in Florida Saves activities should visit the Web site www.MyFloridaMoney.com/FLSaves.htm and contact their local Consumer Services office for more information.

CFO Sink is a strong proponent of financial literacy.  Through many community outreach coordinators, the DFS aggressively reaches out to local communities to educate consumers on topics such as the wise use of credit cards for teens, credit card identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance and first-time homebuyer workshops.  Last year alone, the department conducted over 2,680 outreach events around the state.

Financial literacy education is essential, as recent news reports show that American consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and spending every dollar they earn.  In fact, the U.S. government recently calculated consumer savings at the lowest levels since the Great Depression.  In essence, too many consumers are spending more than they earn and not saving for future needs.


STATEMENT BY CFO SINK ON THE HOUSE JOBS & ENTREPRENEURSHIP COUNCIL’S UNANIMOUS PASSAGE OF HER LEGISLATION TO REDUCE RISK OF ASSESSMENTS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today applauded the Florida House Jobs & Entrepreneurship Council for unanimously passing PCB JEC 08-01 – the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund Risk Reduction Bill.

“On the eve of another Hurricane Season, the Legislature has taken an important step to reduce the risk of billions in assessments forced on Floridians when we have a bad storm,” said CFO Sink. “I thank Chairman Reagan and the members for their leadership on this bipartisan proposal and for recognizing the tremendous impact of these hidden taxes on the people of Florida.”


Money-Smart Idea of the Week

Idea: Saving money is often easier than you think.

Be aware of incidental cost associated with accounts that can cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Below are a few tips that can easily help you save money.

  • Reducing credit card debt.
    Reducing debt by $1,000 can save you up to $200 a year – potentially even more if you are paying penalty rates of about 20 – 30%.

  • Make your monthly credit card payment on time.
    By avoiding a late fee each month you can save nearly $420 a year per account.

  • Use only the ATMs of your bank or credit union.
    Using the ATM of another financial institution can be costly. Weekly withdrawal fees can cost you more than $150 over the course of a year.


WORKERS’ COMP INVESTIGATORS HELPING HOMEOWNERS, MONITORING CONTRACTORS IN TORNADO-DAMAGED AREAS

Panhandle residents whose homes and businesses were damaged by tornadoes that struck the region last Sunday are urged to be cautious when selecting repair contractors. In addition to verifying that contractors are licensed and asking for references, CFO Sink said consumers should ask for proof of workers’ compensation coverage and check the Department of Financial Services’ website to ensure compliance.

The department has also dispatched compliance investigators to the area to hand out brochures and provide information to property owners and monitor contractors responding to the area to ensure compliance.

CFO Sink said consumers must be proactive and protect themselves because property owners can be held liable if a worker is injured on their property and the contractor does not have workers’ compensation coverage. To verify that a company has workers’ compensation coverage or a state-approved exemption, log on to http://www.myfloridacfo.com/WCAPPS/Compliance_POC/wPages/query.asp.

In addition, consumers may access the Compliance Stop-Work Order Database, which lists employers who have been issued stop-work orders for failing to comply with the coverage requirements of Chapter 440, F.S. The database contains each employer’s name, the date the stop-work order was issued, the date the stop-work order was released and the type of non-compliance violation. To access the Compliance Stop-Work Order Database, click on http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/WCAPPS/SWO/SWOquery.asp.

On Sunday, Feb. 17, a series of tornados swept through northern Escambia County, damaging or destroying more than 60 structures in the Molino area north of Pensacola. By Wednesday, Feb. 20, compliance investigators from the Pensacola office of the department’s Division of Workers' Compensation, Bureau of Compliance, were in the area. So far, they have distributed dozens of Insurance and Reconstruction Information for Property Owners fliers to residents who suffered damage to their homes and/or businesses, and provided crucial information to victims on insurance information, finding a licensed contractor, entering into repair or reconstruction contracts and canceling a contract, as well as key state agency contact information.

One stop-work order was issued to an electrical contractor who had two employees working without workers' compensation insurance.


INFORMATION ON STIMULUS PAYMENTS FROM THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

Starting in May, the U.S. Treasury will begin sending economic stimulus payments to more than 130 million individuals. The stimulus payments will go out through the late spring and summer.

The vast majority of Americans who qualify for the payment will not have to do anything other than file their 2007 individual income tax return to receive their payment this year. The IRS will use information on the tax return to determine eligibility and calculate the amount of the stimulus payments.

For more information on the stimulus payments, including the amounts and eligibility requirements:

  • View IR-2008-18, IRS Will Send Stimulus Payments Automatically Starting in May; Eligible Taxpayers Must File a 2007 Tax Return to Receive Rebate.
  • View FS-2008-15, Facts about the 2008 Stimulus Payments.
  • View Questions and Answers on the stimulus payments.
  • View IR-2008-21, More Information on Stimulus Payments Posted to IRS.gov; New Details for Recipients of Social Security, Veterans Benefits
  • Listen to the Feb. 13 media briefing on the economic stimulus checks.
  • Listen to IRS acting Commissioner Linda Stiff summarizing the key points of the economic stimulus payments in English or in Spanish.

Stimulus Payment Examples
The eligibility for and amount of stimulus payments to taxpayers will vary according to their income and family situations. Here are the various scenarios:

Information for Recipients of Social Security Benefits

The IRS and Treasury will be working closely with the Social Security Administration along with beneficiary organizations to ensure that all eligible individuals know what to do to receive a stimulus payment. In many cases, the taxpayer will be able to use the short tax return Form 1040A.

Information for Recipients of Veterans' Benefits
The IRS and Treasury will be working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs along with beneficiary organizations to ensure that all eligible individuals know what to do to receive a stimulus payment. In many cases, the taxpayer will be able to use the short tax return Form 1040A.

Consumer Alert on Rebate Scams
Taxpayers should be aware that there are identity theft scams involving the proposed advance payment checks, known informally as rebates to many Americans. The IRS knows of at least one telephone scam making the rounds which uses the proposed rebates as bait.



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