Thursday, April 20, 2006

Better Business Bureau Alerts & News

BBB Warns Spring Time Brings Home Improvement Scams

For Immediate Release
[Arlington, VA – April 12, 2006]

With warm weather approaching, the Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada are warning homeowners to be on the lookout for home improvement scams. This is the time of year when less-than-reputable or unqualified contractors breeze into town promising a variety of services at cut-rate prices. They may show up at your door, advertise in local papers or deliver fliers to your home.

Complaints to the BBB concern a wide range of problems, including high-pressure sales tactics, confusion over contract terms, poor workmanship, incomplete job performance, over-charging and in some cases, home foreclosures.

“It’s not your lucky day when a contractor shows up on your doorstep offering a too-good-to-be-true deal on a project. The salesperson may claim he has materials left over from a recent job at your neighbor’s house or the ‘house down the street.’ This is a common ploy of fly-by-night contractors who are based out-of-state and use their pick-up trucks as their place of business,” said Steve Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Complaints against home improvement/home repair contractors are among the most common consumer complaints received by the Better Business Bureau. And there is little wonder, considering how lucrative the business is. Americans spent over $200 billion in 2005 on home remodeling/repair projects, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

“There are thousands of reputable contractors who will deliver quality work, on time and within budget. Consumers can avoid costly mistakes and scams by doing some research before opening their wallets,” said Cole.

Comparing cost before making a financial commitment toward any home improvement project is very important. In doing so, you should solicit at least two or three bids from prospective contractors based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and time needed to complete the project.

When looking for a reliable contractor, consumers should employ a contractor with an established business in their area. Ask for references and check them out. Look into the contractor’s standard of work and his professional affiliations; verify his insurance; and check to see if he needs to be licensed. Check with the BBB for a report on the contractor.

Do not permit work to start without a signed written contract that includes all verbal promises that were made by the contractor. Be sure that the written contract includes a start and completion date, a breakdown of the cost and information about the contractor, including license number, street address and phone number.

If you need financing for your project, it may not be wise to agree to financing through your contractor or someone he suggests. “Consumers complain that they were pressured to sign a lot of papers and only later found out they had agreed to a home equity loan with a very high rate, points and fees. Carefully read every document before you give your consent. You can usually get a better deal on financing by shopping around on your own and comparing loan terms from several lenders,” Cole added.

If you are asked to pay for the entire job up-front, this should raise a red flag. Arrange for payments to be made as parts of the job are completed. Final payment should not be due until the job is done. And, homeowners should pay by check or credit card, never cash.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bankruptcy Credit Counseling in Southern California

A well publicized requirement of the bankruptcy reform laws that went into effect in October 2005 is that most individual debtors must obtain credit counseling prior to filing for bankruptcy. All of the counseling agencies provide the services over the Internet or via telephone. Some provide services at a local office. Below is a list of the credit counseling agencies currently approved for debtors in the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego and Imperial County:

Alliance Credit Counseling, Inc.
15720 John J. Delaney Dr., Suite 100
Charlotte, NC 28277-2747

Best Credit Service, Inc.
2400 Crestwood Road, Suite 203
North Little Rock, AR 72116

ByDesign Financial Solutions
5628 E. Slauson Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta Inc.
100 Edgewood Avenue, Suite 1800
Atlanta, GA 30303

Consumer Credit Counseling Services of San Francisco
150 Post Street, 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108

Consumer Credit Counselors of Kern County
5300 Lennox Avenue, Suite 200B
Bakersfield, CA 93309

Consumer Credit Counselors of Orange County
1920 Old Tustin Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Consumer Credit Management, Inc.
28124 Orchard Lake Road, Suite 102
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

Credit Advisors Foundation
1818 South 72nd Street
Omaha, NE 68124

Credit Counseling Centers of America
9330 LBJ Freeway, Suite 900
Dallas, TX 75379-8039

Garden State Consumer Credit Counseling, Inc.
225 Willowbrook Road
Freehold, NJ 07728

GreenPath, Inc.
38505 Country Club Drive, Suite 210
Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3429

Hummingbird Credit Counseling and Education, Inc.
3737 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 100-106
Raleigh, NC 27612

Institute for Financial Literacy, Inc.
449 Forest Avenue, Suite 12
Portland, ME 04101

Money Management International Inc.
9009 West Loop South, 7th Floor
Houston, TX 77096-1719

Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management Inc.
4351 Latham Street
Riverside, CA 92501

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Discharged Debt Still On Credit Report

Question: I filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two years ago and received a discharge of all my credit card debt. One credit card company still reports me as being past due every month. If it was discharged, can they still report me each month as late?

Answer: Assuming that you properly listed the debt in your bankruptcy, the credit card company should report the balance owed as zero and it should also correct your credit report to show that the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. You should send a certified, return receipt letter (keep a copy) to the credit card company and enclose a copy of your discharge. Demand that they correct this entry on your credit report. If they fail to do so, contact a local bankruptcy attorney for further assistance. Failing to correct a credit report can be a violation of the discharge order and the bankruptcy court could order the credit card company to pay you damages if they fail to correct the error.

You should also write a dispute to the three credit reporters: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, and have them insert it in your report, i.e. "This debt was discharged in bankruptcy on _____ (date)." For further information on how to get a free copy of your credit report and further assistance, please click here to read our previous article on disputed inaccurate information on your credit report.

This publication is NOT INTENDED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult with a licensed attorney if you require legal advice.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II, has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.