Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ex-Spouse Benefits and How They Affect You

Ex-Spouse Benefits and How They Affect You

Just like during tax season, it’s good to have all the information you need early so you can prepare and get any money you are due.

If you are age 62, unmarried and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you may be eligible to receive benefits based on his or her record. To be eligible, you must have been married to your ex-spouse for 10 years or more. If you have since remarried, you can’t collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce, or death. Also, if you’re entitled to benefits on your own record, your benefit amount must be less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work. In other words, the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible will be paid, but not both.
You can apply for benefits on your former spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t retired, as long as you divorced at least two years before applying. If, however, you decide to wait until full retirement age to apply as a divorced spouse, your benefit will be equal to half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount or disability benefit. The same rules apply for a deceased former spouse.

The amount of benefits you get has no effect on the benefits of your ex-spouse and his or her current spouse. Visit Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced  at www.socialsecurity.gov to find all the eligibility requirements you must meet to apply as a divorced spouse. This benefits planner gives you an idea of your monthly benefit amount. If your ex-spouse died after you divorced, you may still quality for widow’s benefits.

Remember, to visit  www.socialsecurity.gov  and visit Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced today to learn whether you’re eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. That could mean a considerable amount of monthly income. What you learn may bring a smile to your face … even on tax day!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Families Are Getting Savvier Paying for College

Families Are Getting Savvier Paying for College

College costs may be on the rise, but families are as determined as ever to make higher education a reality for their children. What’s more, families are becoming savvier about how they meet the expense, suggests a new study.
   According to “How America Pays for College 2017,” a national study from Sallie Mae and Ipsos, students and parents shared paying for college responsibilities equally in academic year 2016-17, each contributing about one-third of the expense, with scholarships and grants covering most of the rest.
   In addition, 98 percent of families surveyed took proactive measures in order to reduce college costs. That included choosing an in-state school, living at home, and enrolling in an accelerated program.
   “Throughout our 10 years of conducting this study, families have consistently demonstrated they are determined to make college happen, and they’ve also become more value-conscious as they pay for higher education,” said Raymond J. Quinlan, chairman and chief executive officer, Sallie Mae.
   For those families with college-bound students, Sallie Mae recommends a 1-2-3 approach.

• Maximize money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Scholarships and grants paid 35 percent of college costs last school year; and scholarships were used by 49 percent of all families.

You can get in on this action by utilizing free scholarship search tools from companies like Fastweb, Chegg, and Sallie Mae. To stay organized, maintain a spreadsheet of each scholarship’s details, including application due dates.

• Explore federal student loans. All college-bound students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, no matter what they believe their eligibility is – and repeat this every year they are in school. This is the key to securing federal and state financial aid for college. To learn more, visit fafsa.ed.gov.

• Consider a responsible private student loan. Regardless of cost, nearly all families (98 percent) agreed college is an investment in a student’s future, and 86 percent of families said they expected their child to attend college since he or she was preschool age or younger. Even further, 59 percent said they expected their child to pursue a graduate degree. Making these dreams happen may require seeking out a private student loan. Be sure you turn to a responsible lender so there are no surprises down the line when it comes time to pay back the loan.
   Higher education remains an important aspect of the American dream for many families. As cost remains a deciding factor, more families are taking creative and proactive steps to make college affordable. (StatePoint)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Estate Planning: Selecting An Attorney

 Estate Planning: Selecting An Attorney

Planning what to do with your estate is no easy task. There are emotional and financial decisions that go into creating a solid estate plan, so hiring an attorney should be among your first steps.
   What exactly is your estate and why is it important to plan what happens to it after your death? Your estate is made up of all of your personal property, real estate, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other assets. While the law contains an official chain of events related to the disposing of these properties, it is best to figure out the details of what happens to your assets well before the task falls to the courts.
   This is where an estate planning attorney is key. You want your will and trust to be written in a way that covers all your bases. This can be a complicated issue, so it’s best to leave it in the hands of a licensed professional.

When looking for an estate planning attorney, be prepared to invest significant time and energy to find the right fit for you. This is an important decision that requires diligent research on your part. Start by visiting your state or local bar association’s website, where you will find an active list of members that can be searched by specialty.
   You also can call a local attorney’s office for an initial consultation to go over your specific needs. Some attorneys will charge you for this session, while others won’t. Be sure to ask up front so you know what kind of investment will be required.

Board Certified Specialists
Some states allow attorneys to become certified specialists in a particular area of law, such as trusts and estates. If professional certification is available in your state, the bar association will have information about the requirements.
   Before applying for certification, an attorney must have a certain number of years of experience practicing law in a particular area, usually at least five. To become certified, an attorney must submit a number of professional references, take additional courses in that area of law and pass a lengthy written exam.

Ask Around
There are no better referrals than trusted friends and family members. Ask the people around you if they or someone you know has had a great experience with an estate planning attorney.
   Be sure to get all of the pertinent details from your connections, including cost of the estate planning process, the length of time it took to build the necessary documents and their thoughts about the attorney’s professionalism and communication skills.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Single Women Are Buying Homes Faster Than Single Men: Here’s Why

Single Women Are Buying Homes Faster Than Single Men: Here’s Why

Skip the spouse. Buy the house. The news and research about women and money can be dreary. Women earn less than their male counterparts, pay harsher workplace penalties for pursuing parenthood, struggle more with debt, and save less for retirement.  But there’s one area of personal finance where single women are outpacing men in the U.S., and it's a significant one: home ownership.

With low interest rates and uncertainty as to where the real estate market will be in the next six months, many people are opting into ownership and investing in a home. Interestingly, according to the National Association of Realtors, approximately 17 percent of home buyers in the United States last year were women, which is a much higher percentage than the 7 percent of single men who invested in a home. While the statistics may be interesting enough on their own, here are some of the reasons why women may be opting in. 

Single Parent Security

The numbers don't lie, and it's a fact that there are a much higher number of single mothers in the United States than fathers, which makes home ownership that much more of a benefit. With low interest rates, it's common sense that many single mothers will be flocking towards the housing market to find stable housing for their family in a market that may fluctuate in the coming months.

Making a Lifestyle Choice
The days are long gone of women having to invest in a home when they get married, and for many women being single is a very popular lifestyle choice. This means that many single women are choosing to invest on their own terms and at their own time so that they can reap the benefits of home ownership. As Jessica Lautz of the National Association of Realtors says, "They really value home ownership, and they're willing to give up a lot to have a home of their own."

It's In the Numbers
There are certainly more than a few reasons why single women are flocking to the real estate market, but demographics are changing rapidly. While it was once the case that most people were married, or would marry, more single women are opting out of marriage and opening up a wider market for single-person home purchases. Given the low interest rates and the increasing number of women choosing to be single, purchasing a home offers a solid bet and a financial boon.

With a home offering up the benefit of security and the advantage of being a good financial choice, it's no surprise that increasingly women are turning to home ownership on their own. If you're contemplating purchasing a home of your own, you may want to contact one of our local real estate professionals for more information about opportunities in your area at 888-670-679

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

DCA Warns Immigrant About "10-Year Visa Scam

DCA Warns Immigrant About "10-Year Visa Scam

Immigration Service Providers and Immigration Lawyers Misleading Immigrant New Yorkers into Believing that they Can Obtain a Visa or Green Card Based on 10 Years of Residency within the United States

NEW YORK, NY—Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today issued a warning to consumers about an immigration scam called the “10-Year Visa Scam.” Preying on fears and desperation to find a legal way to stay in the United States, some immigration service providers and immigration lawyers are telling immigrants, through word-of-mouth and deceptive advertising, that they can obtain a visa or green card if they have lived in the U.S. for 10 years. The scams are sometimes advertised under the banner “easy way to obtain a green card!” What these individuals fail to disclose is that, as part of the process for obtaining a green card or visa based upon residency, the immigrant must first enter deportation proceedings. They also often fail to explain the other requirements for this so-called “10-year visa,” including that the immigrant must prove “extreme, unusual, and exceptional hardship” to their family members, which is not “easy” to do. In at least one example, an immigrant paid a provider approximately $25,000. As a result of this scam, these consumers are left paying high costs for a service that they have been deceived into believing is safe and easy – when in fact the opposite is true.

This scam is placing immigrant New Yorkers at extraordinary risk while grossly misrepresenting the visa application process. These deceptive tactics violate the City’s Consumer Protection Law and DCA is proactively investigating anyone who engages in this practice. We encourage consumers who have witnessed advertisements promoting the 10-Year Visa Scam or who have fallen victim to the scam file a complaint about “false advertising” at nyc.gov/dca or call 311.

“Some immigration service providers and immigration lawyers are preying on the desperation and fear of immigrants, all so they can turn a profit,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “We want to make sure that all consumers know the hidden risks involved in this 10-Year Visa Scam, which requires immigrants to actually enter into deportation proceedings without the guarantee that their visa application will even be approved. DCA encourages New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status, to utilize the City’s free and secure services to ensure they are keeping themselves and their families safe.”

In addition to the 10-Year Visa Scam, DCA would like to warn New Yorkers about illegal and predatory immigration assistance providers who prey on vulnerable New Yorkers’ fear by luring them with false promises of work authorization, green cards, or citizenship when they may not be qualified to provide the services and do so in exchange for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of their hard-earned dollars.

“The City is working to alert immigrant communities against fraudsters offering this 10-Year Visa Scam,” said Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “This scam, rather than granting ‘easy’ access to green cards, could in fact put more people at risk for deportations. I thank the Department of Consumer Affairs and Commissioner Salas for their help in informing immigrant New Yorkers of dangerous scams. And as we have done through our Know Your Rights Forums across the city, I encourage New Yorkers to call 311 to report fraud."

Additional information for immigrants:

·  Do not believe any provider that claims to have special influence with immigration authorities.

·  In New York State, a notary public, or notario público, is not an attorney. A notary public cannot give legal advice, draft legal papers, or review documents for legality.

· If someone is not an authorized immigration service provider, they can only read the form to you, translate, and write down information that you provide.

· Get a second opinion before filling out any immigration applications.

Get a consultation from an attorney who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Call right now to set up an appointment. Call 718-222-3155. Remember, the lawyer you hire, does make a difference!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Immigrants’ Access to Counsel Topic of New Rulemaking Petition

Immigrants’ Access to Counsel Topic of New Rulemaking Petition

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Immigration Council (Council) have petitioned the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to issue new regulations that will ensure all immigrants have access to legal counsel in secondary and deferred inspection, as well as overseas consular interviews. If the agency fails to respond or denies the petition, AILA and the Council may pursue litigation in federal court.
Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director, explained:
“Due process is never optional but this is especially true in today’s tumultuous atmosphere. Everyone needs access to legal counsel in immigration proceedings, from start to finish – when applying for visas at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, when seeking recognition or relinquishment of U.S. citizenship or nationality status, and when seeking admission to the United States. Earlier this year, many immigrants were detained for hours by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at airports around the country and denied access to counsel even as officers were asking them detailed, complicated questions about their immigration status. Immigration law is incredibly complex and denying someone access to counsel is contrary to basic American principles of due process.”
Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the Council, noted:
“Access to counsel in government proceedings is fundamental to ensuring that our laws are properly executed and that due process is afforded those navigating the immigration system. Barring lawyers from participating—particularly when a complicated legal issue arises—can result in both citizens and noncitizens being subjected to prolonged and unnecessary detention and questioning at a port of entry. Moreover, the lack of meaningful access to counsel can result in an unjust refusal of a visa, denial of admission, or removal from the U.S.  The presence of counsel allows proceedings to move more efficiently and effectively, a benefit for the government in a time of backlogs and delays in the immigration arena.”
  • With few exceptions, lawyers are generally not permitted to accompany their clients to visa interviews and other proceedings at U.S. Embassies and Consulates, or during the secondary or deferred inspection processes.
  • Even close relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as employees of U.S. corporations and non-profit entities, are often denied access to their attorneys at critical stages of the immigration process.
  • Further, individuals seeking to pursue complex claims to U.S. citizenship or nationality, or to relinquish their U.S. citizenship, are often denied access to counsel.
  • The presence of counsel could improve the quality and efficiency of immigration decision‐making by ensuring that immigration officers have relevant evidence and legal analysis and by encouraging clients to be as forthcoming as possible.
  • Attorneys could also protect the rights of their clients, who often lack the specialized knowledge required to properly present their own claims, whether the issue is eligibility for a visa or admission, or a claim to U.S. citizenship.
  • For example, a U.S. business may invest many thousands of dollars in a process that ends in the unnecessary denial of a visa at the consulate. A U.S. citizen can be separated from family for years due to an easily correctable issue. While many consular adjudications and admissions decisions are based on sound reasoning, there are also countless examples of improper and unjust refusals of admission and visa denials that are ultimately overturned.  Access to counsel can make a critical difference. 
  • On February 9, 2017, Senators Harris (D-CA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Carper (D-DE), Gillibrand (D-NY), Markey (D-MA), and Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill to guarantee access to counsel to those who are held or detained at a port of entry or at a detention facility overseen by CBP or ICE. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative Jayapal (D-WA).

Friday, June 2, 2017

Student Loan Debt Is Strangling Generations

Student Loan Debt Is Strangling Generations

Graduation season is in full bloom. And, many students are graduating into the doom of student loans. Student loan debt can be an albatross around the neck of recent graduates. Although the number of students with debt didn’t increase by much between 2004 and 2014, the amount of debt held by students did, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About 69% of 2014 graduates from public and nonprofit universities and colleges had debt, compared to 65% in 2004. The average debt held by 2014 graduates was $28,950 per borrower, an increase that was twice the rate of inflation. It’s gotten so bad that student loans are now delaying the decision to get married which does not forecast a promising romantic future.
   Mike Kantrow, one of the nation’s leading financial experts, in an article, Why the Student Loan Crisis Is Even Worse Than People Think, Time.com, looks at the lasting impact of student lives stating: “I also found that students who graduate with excessive debt are about 10% more likely to say that it caused delays in major life events, such a buying a home, getting married, or having children. They are also about 20% more likely to say that their debt influenced their employment plans, causing them to take a job outside their field, to work more than they desired, or to work more than one job.”
   Soaring student loan debt also poses a risk to the nation's future economic growth. Before the Great Recession, total outstanding student loans ranked well below mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and home equity lines of credit as sources of household debt. Now it trails only mortgage debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. About 40 million consumers have at least one student loan, and the average debt was $29,000 last year, according to credit reporting firm Experian. Worse for students, delinquency rates on college loans are rising even as they decline for other types of household debt. The debt weighs down millions of Americans who might otherwise buy homes or start businesses. And the financial horror stories of debt-saddled students, combined with continued increases in tuition, could deter others from attending college and could produce a less-educated workforce.
  "The impact on future [economic] growth could be quite significant," said Cristian deRitis, who analyzes consumer credit economics for Moody's Analytics. The amount of outstanding student loans has skyrocketed, 76% to almost $1.2 trillion since 2009 as college costs have shot up and graduates have had difficulty finding good-paying jobs.

   The strangulation continues. Retirees  are now facing $36 billion in student loan debt. A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has people talking about Americans aged 60 and older who owe billions of dollars in student loans. Really? Senior citizens? Student loans? That’s right. And what’s more, older borrowers are seeing their social security checks garnished for repayment of delinquent student loans. Some of the debt is new, taken on when the borrower decided later in life to go back to school. Some of the debt has been hanging around for years, with balances growing while the borrower struggles to keep up with payments. Still others borrowed on behalf of a child or grandchild.

   What can be done? How do we save generations from the strangulation of student loans? In a piece written for YES! Magazine, Raúl Carrillo, co-organizer for The Modern Money Network offered a solution that goes beyond debt forgiveness by arguing that instead of private or publicly funded college loans, the federal government should simply pay the tuition for those seeking higher education.

   "To put it bluntly," writes Carrillo, "there is no fiscal reason why the U.S. student debt crisis should exist. You may find this argument hard to believe," he continues, recognizing that "the way most politicians and journalists talk about the national debt and deficit spending makes free higher education sound impossible."

   Carillo says there's another way of looking at the crisis of student debt and funding of higher education—"a vision advocated by a growing movement of economists, lawyers, students, and financial practitioners who deal with the institutional nuts and bolts of the economy on a day-to-day basis."

   In simplest terms, Carillo's argument rests on the idea that the U.S. federal government, capable of printing its own money, is simply "not broke" in the way that deficit hawks, who always find money for war and prisons and tax breaks for corporations, say it is. The demand should be that government print money into existence on behalf something good, a public investment, like education.

Monday, May 15, 2017

AILA Attorney Hosts Series of Immigration Training Seminars to Combat Deportation of Immigrants

AILA Attorney Hosts Series of Immigration Training Seminars to Combat Deportation of Immigrants 

New York’s top immigration attorney, and American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) member, Brian Figeroux, launched a series of immigration forums in April to defend at least 2.2 million immigrants against deportation. 

In February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island to detain and arrest more than a dozen undocumented residents in their homes and workplaces.

 According to the Pew Research Center’s five facts on illegal immigration, there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S in 2014, accounting for at least 5 percent of the U.S. labor force. Some undocumented immigrants hope to receive permanent residency through a green card, a permit that allows a national to work and live in the U.S, the naturalization test, obtaining citizenship after an application and exam, enrolling in the U.S. military member or being a dependent of an armed forced member.

There are no shortcuts to U.S. citizenship. Some foreign-born residents, however, are lured to the U.S. by a company’s promise of jobs and economic opportunity. According to the Urban Labor Institute, employment-based green cards are sometimes used as a tool in labor trafficking, forcing undocumented people to work less than the minimum wage.”

 “Women and men subject themselves to green card slavery,” said Figeroux, who finds that immigrants only do jobs that Americans don’t want.  “Go by Home-Depot, pick up workers for a day. If you need a nanny you’re not getting a U.S citizen or green card holder – you are hiring an undocumented person.”
For years, the U.S. had a bittersweet relationship with the nation’s rising immigrant population. In the early 1930s, the Mexican Repatriation movement sent more than a million Latinos to the U.S. to work during a labor shortage after the Great Depression. Despite a history of using immigrants to work in the U.S. the anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in the country.
 “The atmosphere for immigrants changes from one decade to another,” Figeroux said. “Sometimes they like us. Sometimes they don’t. We want to look at immigration from a civil rights perspective.”
If an undocumented person is served with a Notice to Appear (NTA), it means that they must appear in Immigration Court on the date specified or at a scheduled date in the future, according to Figeroux. The NTA will list the reasons for an alleged removal including if a person is not a U.S. citizen, citizen of a home country or if they entered the country through a different city and whether the entry was authorized.
Figeroux advises clients to access the information or documents that U.S immigration officers have collected on them through a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act), where they can request a copy of their immigration file. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the FOIA requests can take up 35 days to process for individuals who are scheduled for a hearing before an immigration judge.
For more information or immigration advice contact the Law Offices of Brian Figeroux and Associates at (718) 834-0916. Also, new immigration training sessions begin on Saturday, July 5, 2017 at 1pm. For more information, visit www.freeparalegal.org or call 718-722-9217.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Making the decision to rent or buy

Making the decision to rent or buy

Buying a home is exciting. It’s also one of the most important financial decisions you’ll make. Choosing a mortgage to pay for your new home is just as important as choosing the right home.

Becoming a homeowner can be a great decision for many people, but it isn’t the right choice for everyone. Home ownership makes sense for different people at different stages of their lives. If you’re not sure whether you should make the move to buy your own home, it makes sense to consider both your personal and financial goals.

Buying a home is one of the largest financial decisions most people make and it’s also a big personal decision. Some people buy because they want more space, the freedom to decorate and renovate, or because they want to live in a particular school district. Many people become homeowners because they want to build equity and have stable housing costs. On the other hand, some people rent for the flexibility of knowing they could move if they needed to, or because they’re not ready to take on the financial and maintenance responsibilities that come with home ownership, or because it is more financially advantageous in their circumstances. Here is one common financial consideration to keep in mind as you decide whether or not owning a home is the right decision for you right now.

Understand when you will—and won’t—build equity
At some point, someone has probably told you that if you rent, you’re “throwing away” money. When people say this, they’re usually talking about the opportunity to build wealth in a home over time by building home equity. If you rent, you won’t build wealth in your home over time.
Home equity is the difference between the market value of your home and the amount of money you owe on it. Essentially, it’s the wealth you hold in your home. The equity in your home grows over time as you pay down the balance of your mortgage. If the market value of your home increases, your equity will also increase. If the market value of your home decreases, your equity will also decrease.
Buying a home is a long-term financial commitment and you will build home equity by paying down your mortgage over time. In the first several years of your mortgage, you build equity slowly. That’s because your monthly mortgage payments primarily go towards interest in those first years of ownership—not towards building equity. That’s why you shouldn’t depend on being able to sell your home to get out of a mortgage, especially in the early years. 

If you hold on to your home for many years, the share of your monthly payment that goes towards paying down the principal—and building equity—increases, and the share that goes to paying interest decreases. That means that the longer you’ve had your mortgage, the faster you build equity with your monthly payments. But remember: your home equity also goes up or down as the market value of your home increases or decreases. 

If you decide, or need, to move and sell your home within the first few years of owning it, it’s possible that after paying the transaction costs of selling the home, you will not have any more equity than you started with. In fact, you may even have less equity than you started with. Keep in mind that if home prices go down instead of up—as they did from 2007-2012—you could lose some or all of your equity, including the initial down payment, when you sell.

Extracted from an article by Nicole Shea, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 
Next posting will focus on: Understand how having a mortgage will—or won’t—affect your taxes

For assistance, contact Equity Smart Realty Inc at 888-670-6791.

Friday, April 7, 2017

USCIS Reaches FY 2018 H-1B Cap

USCIS Reaches FY 2018 H-1B Cap

WASHINGTON - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has reached the congressionally mandated 65,000 visa H-1B cap for fiscal year 2018. USCIS has also received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the 20,000 visa U.S. advanced degree exemption, also known as the master’s cap.

The agency will reject and return filing fees for all unselected cap-subject petitions that are not duplicate filings.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap.  However, please keep in mind USCIS suspended premium processing     April 3 for up to six months for all H-1B petitions, including cap-exempt petitions. Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, will also not be counted toward the congressionally mandated FY 2018 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:
  • Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.
U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in occupations that require specialized knowledge.

If you are interested in learning about Getting A Green Card Through Employment, please register for our FREE seminar at:  goo.gl/qtvxWj