Credit reports have a huge influence on so many aspects of our lives – from our mortgage rate to our ability to secure a loan to various job prospects. So it’s important to understand how ratings are formulated, how to improve scores and how to correct mistakes (which are more common than you would think and can cost more than you might realize).creditcards

Details of what is allowable (and what isn’t) is found in 15 U.S. Code Section 1681c. The law states consumer reporting agencies can’t make a report that includes:

  • Cases that fall under the Bankruptcy Act or title 11 that date back more than 10 years.
  • Records of arrest or civil lawsuits or civil judgments that go back more than 7 years or beyond the governing statute of limitations expiration (whichever is longer).
  • Tax liens that have been paid and which date back more than seven years.
  • Accounts that have been placed for collection or charged to profit-and-loss that date back more than seven years.
  • Any other adverse information (other than a criminal conviction) that goes back more than seven years.
  • Name, phone number or address of any medical provider that has filed notification with the agency (with a few exceptions, including credit holder’s engaging in the business of insurance).

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A company that promises to protect consumers from identity theft has been accused of violating a federal court order that requires it to keep those promises and refrain from deceptive advertising. lock

The case against LifeLock dates back several years, but now,  the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announces LifeLock has agreed to a $113 million settlement in the matter – the largest monetary award ever wrangled by the commission in an enforcement action.

The FTC first took action against the firm five years ago, when it alleged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona that the company didn’t deliver on advertising claims promoting its identity theft services. The firm vows to keep consumers’ sensitive personal information shielded from thieves. But the FTC alleges the company failed to provide the kind of protection it promised, meaning it misled consumers with advertising that was deceptive. Continue reading

The U.S. Senate recently took one major step toward protecting the rights of consumers and the integrity of capitalism in the 21st Century with its passage of the Consumer Review Freedom Act (S. 2044, H.R. 2110). The bill targets so-called “gag clauses” or “non-disparagement agreements,” which some companies use to curb criticism online.enterkey

Although many companies have argued that competitors or others are unfairly using online tools to spread falsehoods or maliciously damaging their reputation without cause, the flip side is that consumers have been penalized thousands of dollars for posting negative – but honest – online reviews. These reviews are widely used by prospective customers to determine whether to buy a service or patronize a location, so there is a lot at stake on both sides.

These dubious non-disparagement clauses are often tucked into the fine print of the purchase agreement, and have been found on even the most seemingly inane purchases, such as cellphone accessories. Others have been found in rental agreements with landlords, wedding contractors or sellers of weight loss products. Continue reading

Renters in Miami are being bled dry by a combination of sharply rising housing costs, stagnant wages and lower-than-average incomes. miami1

A report from the website, based on figures from the most recent 2014 U.S. Census, reveals that no other city in the county had as many renters as cost-burdened as those in Miami. Two out of every three renters in Miami are paying a third or more of their salaries to their landlord. Renters who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered “cost-burdened.”

Of course, rents aren’t necessarily as high as what you might see in Boston or New York or San Francisco. But people here in South Florida are earning much less in terms of salary. Further, home ownership is not an option that is available to many people who live here because home prices have skyrocketed as the housing market stabilizes from the housing crisis. South Florida had been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, and while the uptick in housing prices has been good for some folks, it has meant others have lost their homes and/or are stuck in high-price rentals. Continue reading

Florida residents are protected from dubious debt collection practices by two laws: The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and F.S. 559.72. cash

The laws prohibit things like:

  • Using or threatening to use violence;
  • Communicating or threatening to communicate with a debtor’s employer before obtaining a final judgment against debtor;
  • Disclosing information to anyone other than debtor or family information that may affect debtor’s reputation;
  • Using abuse, vulgar or obscene language;
  • Claiming or enforcing a debt when it is known the debt isn’t legitimate.

The problem, as highlighted recently by The New York Times, is that most state laws were written many years ago, long before the digital age. At the core, these statutes were written to protect people from becoming completely destitute. But debt collectors are now finding new ways to secure court judgments that allow them to garnish paychecks or seize bank accounts belonging to debtors. Continue reading

A recent analysis by online residential real estate site Trulia encourages people in their 20s and 30s to take the plunge into home ownership, citing in its “Rent vs. Buy Report” that purchasing a home is now 23 percent less expensive than renting. That figure holds true across the country. Assuming a buyer age 24-to-34 can plunk down a 10 percent down payment, and combined with an interest rate that hasn’t been lower since 2012 and soaring rents in urban areas, Trulia calculated it’s actually 36 percent cheaper to buy than rent. house

It would seem a solid argument. But millennials don’t seem to be buying it – or those houses.

For a very long time, owning a home was an important ideal and a rite of passage in American culture. And to be sure, there can be plenty of benefits, including the fact that mortgage interest payments are tax deductible. Plus, monthly payments go toward helping the buyer – rather than a landlord – acquire and maintain an asset. Continue reading

In a recent article for the Daily Business Review, a highly-regarded legal industry publication, Miami Foreclosure Attorney Bruce Jacobs of Jacobs Keely weighs in on the issue of why lenders can’t flout the statute of limitations.gavel3

The piece, “Statute of Limitations Applies to Everyone, Even Lenders,” stems from the mortgage foreclosure case of Bartram v. U.S. Bank, for which the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on appeal from the 5th DCA on November 4th.

Statutes of limitations exist in both criminal and civil law for purposes of keeping the law both fair and predictable and preserving the court’s order. So for example, in personal injury cases, claimants have up to four years to file a claim, after which point the right to sue expires. For written contracts (which includes mortgages) the statute of limitations is five years. A claimant who waits any longer than that loses out on the right to have that case heard – regardless of whether damages are $10 or $10 million. Continue reading

Much has been written about the lack of accountability of the U.S. banking system – particularly of high-ranking individuals – for the central role played in the economic crisis of 2008. Headlines like “Too Big to Jail” have been splashed on various covers, while these corporation leaders, after receiving massive public bailouts, were able to essentially pay their way out of prison.prison

Meanwhile in Iceland, criminal bankers are having a tougher time.

In two separate Icelandic Supreme Court and Reykjavik District Court rulings, the top five bankers from Kaupping and Landsbankinn (the two biggest banks in that nation) were found guilty of embezzlement, breach of fiduciary duties and market manipulation. Those convicted will serve between two-to-five years in prison. All combined, these individuals will serve 74 years in prison. The maximum penalty for such crimes is six years, though there is a pending case in the Supreme Court to determine whether that sentence should be lengthened. Continue reading

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has two major regrets when it comes to his agency’s handling of the financial meltdown of

First, he says he should have been more aggressive with his public relations to explain to the public why massive bailouts of the companies that caused the crisis were necessary. Secondly, he says many more Wall Street executives should be serving prison sentences right now for the role they played in triggering the Great Recession.

With regard to the later, he says in his new memoir, The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath, that the Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies were more focused on indictment or threats against large financial firms. Very little of the investigations focused on individual executives. And after all, he noted, wrongful and illegal acts that precipitated the economic crisis were not carried out by abstract firm. Rather, these were actions taken for the benefit of individuals. Continue reading

A growing number of renters in South Florida report they have endured great expense and frustration as a result of receiving little-to-no notice that they must vacate their rental after it’s been resold through foreclosure. The Miami Herald recently reported families have been uprooted multiple times, some given no more than 24 hours notice that they must vacate.sad2

Miami foreclosure defense lawyer Bruce Jacobs, as an authority on real estate litigation and landlord-tenant law in South Florida, was asked to weigh in.

The best thing tenants can do, Jacobs said, is to become educated about their own situation, become involved in the legal process and have contingency plans.

“Rather than just putting your heads in the sand and waiting for the sheriff to show up – that’s the worst situation to be in,” Jacobs said. Continue reading