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Backers Optimistic Medicaid Plan Will Make Nebraska Ballot

Posted on June 20, 2018 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

By Grant Schulte

Lincoln, Neb. (AP) - Organizers of a petitition drive to expand Medicaid in Nebraska say they are making progress toward placing the issue on the November general election ballot, thanks in part to a national group that successfully championed a similar effort in Maine last year.  

The Insure the Good Life campaign has already passed the minimum signature threshold in Nebraska's two largest counties - Douglas and Lancaster - and is sending volunteers to collect signatures in more rural areas, said campaign mananger Meg Mandy.

Organizers need about 85,000 signatures by July 5 to qualify.  They must also gather signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in 38 of Nebraska's 93 counties.

"We're on the right track to meeting the qualifications," Mandy said.  "We're very confident."

Organizers have also raised more than $912,000 in cash and in-kind contributions since the committee was formed, according to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. 

More than 93 percent of the donations have come from the Fairness Project, a Washington-based group formed by labor unions to push for minimum wage ballot measures. The group has since branched out to promote "economic fairness" ballot measures, including Medicaid expansion.

Other major donors include Nebraska Appleseed, a public-interest law firm that has lobbied for expanding Medicaid, and the Nebraska State Education Association, a union representing public school teachers.

The Fairness Project played a pivotal role in the 2017 vote to expand Medicaid in Maine, the only state to do so through a ballot measure. In addition to the Nebraska campaign, the group is working this year on Medicaid expansion ballot measures in Idaho, Montana and Utah. 

Jonathan Schleifer, the Fairness Project's executive director, said the latest ballot measures could help demonstrate the public's support for Medicaid expansion even in conservative states. 

"There's nothing liberal or conservative about wanting our most vulnerable populations to have health care," he said. "It's a fundamental value."

Nebraska lawmakers have rejected six previous attempts to expand Medicaid under former Peresident Barack Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman opposed the efforts, arguing it would create long-term budget problems.

The Nebraska measure would require state officials to submit a coverage plan to the federal government to insure certain residents who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level - about $16,750 a year. The federal government would then have to approve the plan. 

It also would prevent state officials from placing 'additional burdens or restrictions' on residents who qualify. Some Republican-led states have sought to impose work and other requirements on able-bodied adult recipients as part of theri proposals. Critics have said Medicaid isn't a jobs program. 

Expanding Medicaid would provid coverage to an estimated 90,000 low-income adults between the ages of 19 and 64 who have no dependents. Many residents who fall into the so-called coverage gap work in service jobs with no benefits, such as hotel, fast-food and construction workers. 

Roughly 11 million people nationally have gotten coverage through the expansion of Medicaid. The health care law appeared to be in jeopardy last year, but President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have reapeatedly failed to repeal it.  

Mandy said Insure the Good Life is relying on a combination of volunteer and paid circulatiors provided through Fieldworks, a Washington-based group that ran the successful signature-gathering campaign to raise Nebraska's minimum wage in 2014.  Insure the Good Life still had more than $327,000 in cash on-hand as of last month, according to accountability and disclosure filings. 

A leading opponent of expanding Medicaid said he hopes to defeat the measure if it goes before Nebraska voters, but his group doesn't yet have plans in place. It's not clear if the group will raise enough money to campaign effectively. 

"If it does make the ballot, we'll fight it tooth and nail," said Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom.

Kagan said he recently encountered petition circulatiors in Omaha who pitched the measure as a way to "expand insurance choices in Nebraska" while avoiding the phrase "Medicaid expansion," a term associated with the health care law.  He noted that most of Insure the Good Life's funding has come from out-of-state sources. 

"We think they're being very disingenuous," he said. 

Schleifer defended his group's contributuions to the campaign, saying they would help give the public a chance to voice its opinion and reduce partisan influence. 

"This campaign is being led by in-state Nebraskans, and most fundamentally, the voters - the deciders of this - are going to be Nebraskans," he said. The ballot measure "allows us to separate the issue of heath care from all the partisanship. Frankly, health care shouldn't be political."

The Daily Record - June 14, 2018

New worries cause bitcoin to plummet

Posted on June 19, 2018 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The price of bitcoin fell to a four-month low of $6,370 on Wednesday, days after South Korean digital currency exchange Coinrail said hackers had stolen over $37 million, or almost a third of the virtual currency it had stored.  

After Coinrail announce the theft, the price of bitcoin dropped to $6,333.95 per bitcoin.  It is down $1,374.10 in the last week, according to Coinbase.  At 3:30p.m., bitcoin was quoted at $6,306.95. 

The decline also follows a Wall Street Journal report that U.S. regulators have asked virtual currency exchanges to provide trading data to aid an investigation into virtual currency manipulation.  The reports raised concerns abou the future of virtual currency markets. 

Bitcoin is known for its volatility.  Last year, the virtual currency increased sixfold in value and hit a record high of $19,783 per bitcoin in December.  By February, its value had already fallen back to around $5,900.  Bitcoin is "a classic case of an economic bubble," says David Jones, chief market strategist at Capital.com.  As the market dropped back down, interest waned.  On Wednesday, The New York Times cited a paper by academic researchers that found last year's price bubble may have been caused by one digital currency exchange know as Bitfinex. The researcheres found patterns where bitcoin's prices would be supported any time Bitfinex would issue more of its own digital currency, Tether, which was supposed to be backed up one-to-one with dollars.  

The theft at Coinrail is not the first time a digital currency exchange has been broken into.  The most famous example was Mt. Gox, which got broken into in 2014.  Thieves were able to steal $480 million in digital currencies.  Another exchange, Coincheck, had at least $400 million stolen in digital currency earlier this year. 

Lincoln Journal Star June 15, 2018


How NOT to behave post-bankruptcy

Posted on May 9, 2018 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

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Credit Card Debt

Posted on May 9, 2018 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

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Medical Debt

Posted on May 9, 2018 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

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Personal bankruptcy is not a rich people problem

Posted on May 8, 2018 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By Jana Kasperkevic

When we think of bankruptcy, we often think of celebrities who have gone broke, companies that failed and crooks who are trying to cheat the system. But as it turns out, bankruptcy is most common among middle-class Americans.

On this week’s “Make Me Smart” episode, Sen. Elizabeth Warren answered the “Make Me Smart” question.

What is something that you thought you knew and you later found out you were wrong about?

“Many, many years ago when I first started studying families in bankruptcy I thought I knew who filed for bankruptcy. I had come from a family that had been turned upside down financially but my family had never filed for bankruptcy. So I figured, you know, the people who actually go into bankruptcy, they are probably trying to cheat the system, take advantage,” said Warren. 

However after taking a closer look, the senator said she realized she was “very, very wrong.”

“People who filed for bankruptcy were by and large hard-working middle-class families — folks who had worked hard, gone to college, gotten married, bought a house, had kids and then had just been turned upside down by a serious medical problem, a job loss or a death or divorce in the family,” she added. 

She is right.

Who files for bankruptcy?

When Jonathan Fisher, a research scholar at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, looked at who filed for bankruptcy in the U.S., he found that it was mostly middle-income Americans. According to his analysis, “median income for bankruptcy filers is $42,000, which is $6,000 less than the national median.”

“Bankruptcy filers are more likely to be employed than the U.S. as a whole, and they are more likely to be employed 50-52 weeks,” he wrote. “Bankruptcy filers are more likely to be veterans. It is known that veterans have a higher likelihood of financial difficulty, but it was not known that these financial difficulties also translated into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filers are less likely to be immigrants but more likely to be disabled. Another important fact established here is that the bankruptcy population is aging faster than the U.S. population as a whole. Since 2004, bankruptcy filers are now over-represented among those 55-64, while that age range was under-represented in bankruptcy before 2004.”

What it means to declare bankruptcy.

Filing for bankruptcy means that a person or business is unable to pay their debts in full. Getting bankruptcy protection and discharging their debt — including credit card and medical debt — could mean a second chance for people who struggle financially. Individuals can file for two different types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and you have valuable assets, those assets will be liquidated and used to pay off a portion of your debts. Under Chapter 13, instead of selling off your assets, you come up with a debt repayment plan for the next three to five years.

The most crippling type of debt is medical debt

Back in 2009, researchers from Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University found that medical bills are involved in 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. The research was based on survey of families who declared bankruptcy in the early 2007. About 75 percent of the people who said they went bankrupt because of their medical debt had health insurance.

In 2013, NerdWallet estimated that 1.7 million people would declare bankruptcy that year due to outstanding medical bills. Their research found that people who have high medical debt often use up all of their savings, end up racking up credit card debt, and are unable to pay for necessities such as food and rent.

What about student loan debt?

Earlier this year, the Department of Education announced that it is reviewing the policies that make it nearly impossible to shed student loans when declaring bankruptcy. Currently, to get rid of student loans through bankruptcy, the borrower must be found “hopeless” by court. The department is seeking public comments from student loan borrowers to help it understand whether the rules are too strict and need to change.

About 44 million Americans owe nearly $1.4 trillion in student loans.

When asked by the U.S. Congress about whether this kind of debt could have an impact on the economy, newly appointed Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that it “absolutely could hold back growth.” He said he was “at a loss to explain” why we don’t allow student debt to be discharged in bankruptcy.

“This is fiscal policy. This is something for you, not something for the Fed,” Powell told the U.S. Congress.

When Paying the Mortgage Becomes a Struggle

Posted on March 22, 2018 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (1)

The possibility of losing your home because you can’t make the mortgage payments can be terrifying. Perhaps you’re having trouble making ends meet because you or a family member lost a job, or you’re having other financial problems. Or maybe you’re one of the many consumers who took out a mortgage that had a fixed rate for the first two or three years and then had an adjustable rate – and you want to know what your payments will be and whether you’ll be able to make them.

Regardless of the reason for your mortgage anxiety, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know how to help save your home, and how to recognize and avoid foreclosure scams.

Know Your Mortgage

Do you know what kind of mortgage you have? Do you know whether your payments are going to increase? If you can’t tell by reading the mortgage documents you received at settlement, contact your loan servicer and ask. A loan servicer is responsible for collecting your monthly loan payments and crediting your account.

Here are some examples of types of mortgages:

Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs): Mortgages that have fixed payments for a few years, and then turn into adjustable loans. Some are called 2/28 or 3/27 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate and the second number refers to the years the loan has an adjustable rate. Others are 5/1 or 3/1 hybrid ARMs: the first number refers to the years the loan has a fixed rate, and the second number refers to how often the rate changes. In a 3/1 hybrid ARM, for example, the interest rate is fixed for three years, then adjusts every year thereafter.

ARMs: Mortgages that have adjustable rates from the start, which means your payments change over time.

Fixed Rate Mortgages: Mortgages where the rate is fixed for the life of the loan; the only change in your payment would result from changes in your taxes and insurance if you have an escrow account with your loan servicer.

If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.

If You’re Behind On Your Payments

If you are having trouble making your payments, contact your loan servicer to discuss your options as early as you can. The longer you wait to call, the fewer options you will have.

Many loan servicers are expanding the options available to borrowers – it’s worth calling your servicer even if your request has been turned down before. Servicers are getting lots of calls: Be patient, and be persistent if you don’t reach your servicer on the first try.

You may qualify for a loan modification under the Making Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) if:

your home is your primary residence;

you owe less than $729,750 on your first mortgage;

you got your mortgage before January 1, 2009;

your payment on your first mortgage (including principal, interest, taxes, insurance and homeowner’s association dues, if applicable) is more than 31 percent of your current gross income; and

you can’t afford your mortgage payment because of a financial hardship, like a job loss or medical bills.

If you meet these qualifications, contact your servicer. You will need to provide documentation that may include:

information about the monthly gross (before tax) income of your household, including recent pay stubs.

your most recent income tax return.

information about your savings and other assets.

your monthly mortgage statement.

information about any second mortgage or home equity line of credit on your home.

account balances and minimum monthly payments due on your credit cards.

account balances and monthly payments on your other debts, like student loans or car loans.

a completed Hardship Affidavit describing the circumstances responsible for the decrease in your income or the increase in your expenses.

For more information, visit Making Home Affordable.

If you’re interested in refinancing to take advantage of lower mortgage rates, but are afraid you won’t qualify because your home value has decreased, you may want to ask if you qualify for the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) or the HOPE for Homeowners (H4H) program. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Avoiding Default and Foreclosure

If you have fallen behind on your payments, consider discussing the following foreclosure prevention options with your loan servicer:

Reinstatement: You pay the loan servicer the entire past-due amount, plus any late fees or penalties, by a date you both agree to. This option may be appropriate if your problem paying your mortgage is temporary. 

Repayment plan: Your servicer gives you a fixed amount of time to repay the amount you are behind by adding a portion of what is past due to your regular payment. This option may be appropriate if you’ve missed a small number of payments.

Forbearance: Your mortgage payments are reduced or suspended for a period you and your servicer agree to. At the end of that time, you resume making your regular payments as well as a lump sum payment or additional partial payments for a number of months to bring the loan current. Forbearance may be an option if your income is reduced temporarily (for example, you are on disability leave from a job, and you expect to go back to your full time position shortly). Forbearance isn’t going to help you if you’re in a home you can’t afford.

Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications may include reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A modification also may involve reducing the amount of money you owe on your primary residence by forgiving, or cancelling, a portion of the mortgage debt. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, see www.irs.gov. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income or increased payments on an ARM.

Before you ask for forbearance or a loan modification, be prepared to show that you are making a good-faith effort to pay your mortgage. For example, if you can show that you’ve reduced other expenses, your loan servicer may be more likely to negotiate with you.

Selling your home: Depending on the real estate market in your area, selling your home may provide the funds you need to pay off your current mortgage debt in full.

Bankruptcy: Personal bankruptcy generally is considered the debt management option of last resort because the results are long-lasting and far-reaching. A bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, and can make it difficult to get credit, buy another home, get life insurance, or sometimes, get a job. Still, it is a legal procedure that can offer a fresh start for people who can’t satisfy their debts.

If you and your loan servicer cannot agree on a repayment plan or other remedy, you may want to investigate filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have a regular income, Chapter 13 may allow you to keep property, like a mortgaged house or car, that you might otherwise lose. In Chapter 13, the court approves a repayment plan that allows you to use your future income toward payment of your debts during a three-to-five-year period, rather than surrender the property. After you have made all the payments under the plan, you receive a discharge of certain debts.

To learn more about Chapter 13, visit the U.S. Trustee Program, the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees bankruptcy cases and trustees.

If you have a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Veterans Administration (VA), you may have other foreclosure alternatives.

Contacting Your Loan Servicer

Before you have any conversation with your loan servicer, prepare. Record your income and expenses, and calculate the equity in your home. To calculate the equity, estimate the market value less the balance of your first and any second mortgage or home equity loan.

Then, write down the answers to the following questions:

What happened to make you miss your mortgage payment(s)? Do you have any documents to back up your explanation for falling behind? How have you tried to resolve the problem?

Is your problem temporary, long-term, or permanent? What changes in your situation do you see in the short term, and in the long term? What other financial issues may be stopping you from getting back on track with your mortgage?

What would you like to see happen? Do you want to keep the home? What type of payment arrangement would be feasible for you?

Throughout the foreclosure prevention process:

Keep notes of all your communications with the servicer, including date and time of contact, the nature of the contact (face-to-face, by phone, email, fax or postal mail), the name of the representative, and the outcome.

Follow up any oral requests you make with a letter to the servicer. Send your letter by certified mail, “return receipt requested,” so you can document what the servicer received. Keep copies of your letter and any enclosures.

Meet all deadlines the servicer gives you.

Stay in your home during the process, since you may not qualify for certain types of assistance if you move out. Renting your home will change it from a primary residence to an investment property. Most likely, it will disqualify you for any additional “workout” assistance from the servicer. If you choose this route, be sure the rental income is enough to help you get and keep your loan current.

Housing and Credit Counseling

You don’t have to go through the foreclosure prevention process alone. A counselor with a housing counseling agency can assess your situation, answer your questions, go over your options, prioritize your debts, and help you prepare for discussions with your loan servicer. Housing counseling services usually are free or low cost. 

While some agencies limit their counseling services to homeowners with FHA mortgages, many others offer free help to any homeowner who is having trouble making mortgage payments. Call the local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the housing authority in your state, city, or county for help in finding a legitimate housing counseling agency nearby. Or consider contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF); 888-995-HOPE. HPF is a nonprofit organization that partners with mortgage companies, local governments, and other organizations to help consumers get loan modifications and prevent foreclosures.

When choosing a counselor, beware of anyone charging large up-front fees or guaranteeing you a loan modification or other solution to stop foreclosure. They shouldn’t be charging you high fees or making any guarantees. Take your business elsewhere. 

Consider Giving Up Your Home Without Foreclosure

Not every situation can be resolved through your loan servicer’s foreclosure prevention programs. If you’re not able to keep your home, or if you don’t want to keep it, consider:

Selling Your House: Your servicers might postpone foreclosure proceedings if you have a pending sales contract or if you put your home on the market. This approach works if proceeds from the sale can pay off the entire loan balance plus the expenses connected to selling the home (for example, real estate agent fees). Such a sale would allow you to avoid late and legal fees and damage to your credit rating, and protect your equity in the property.

Short Sale: Your servicers may allow you to sell the home yourself before it forecloses on the property, agreeing to forgive any shortfall between the sale price and the mortgage balance. This approach avoids a damaging foreclosure entry on your credit report. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS, and consider consulting a financial advisor, accountant, or attorney.

Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: You voluntarily transfer your property title to the servicers (with the servicer’s agreement) in exchange for cancellation of the remainder of your debt. Though you lose the home, a deed in lieu of foreclosure can be less damaging to your credit than a foreclosure. You will lose any equity in the property, although under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt on your primary residence may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe. However, it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, contact the IRS. A deed in lieu of foreclosure may not be an option for you if other loans or obligations are secured by your home.

Be Alert to Scams

Scam artists follow the headlines, and know there are homeowners falling behind in their mortgage payments or at risk for foreclosure. Their pitches may sound like a way for you to get out from under, but their intentions are as far from honorable as they can be. They mean to take your money. Among the predatory scams that have been reported are: 

The foreclosure prevention specialist: The “specialist” really is a phony counselor who charges high fees in exchange for making a few phone calls or completing some paperwork that a homeowner could easily do for himself. None of the actions results in saving the home. This scam gives homeowners a false sense of hope, delays them from seeking qualified help, and exposes their personal financial information to a fraudster.

Some of these companies even use names with the word HOPE or HOPE NOW in them to confuse borrowers who are looking for assistance from the free 888-995-HOPE hotline.

The lease/buy back: Homeowners are deceived into signing over the deed to their home to a scam artist who tells them they will be able to remain in the house as a renter and eventually buy it back. Usually, the terms of this scheme are so demanding that the buy-back becomes impossible, the homeowner gets evicted, and the “rescuer” walks off with most or all of the equity.

The bait-and-switch: Homeowners think they are signing documents to bring the mortgage current. Instead, they are signing over the deed to their home. Homeowners usually don’t know they’ve been scammed until they get an eviction notice.

Source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0187-when-paying-mortgage-struggle

Debt Collection

Posted on December 12, 2017 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Misconceptions about Bankruptcy

Posted on November 3, 2017 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

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Nuts and Bolts

Posted on November 3, 2017 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)

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