Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Workers' Compensation

Workers' Compensation
By Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

More than a century ago, pirates were some of the world’s first advocates for workers’ compensation. Known for their trademark eye patches and wooden legs, pirates were paid for loss of body parts. While hopefully, your career is not as dangerous as a pirate, if you’re injured on the job, first check out your state’s local protocol.

Workers’ compensation is an insurance or wage replacement offered to employees injured on the job. Under New York State law, workers’ compensation covers employees working in for-profit businesses and excludes most independent contractors. Independent contractors are self-employed workers and not employees.

After an injury, it’s important to first receive medical care from a health care provider designated by the Workers Compensation Board. Within 30 days of the incident, notify the employer in writing about the accident. Then file a claim for worker’s compensation and mail it to the nearest Workers Compensation Board.

Whether you slipped on a banana peel, inhaled toxic fumes or strained your back while lifting boxes, there are rules to remember when filing a claim. Depending on the laws in the state, after a claim, a worker might be drug tested. If the injury was caused by the intoxication, then the benefits can be denied.

On the other hand, small businesses cannot forgo workers’ compensation and may face high fines as well as lawsuits for doing so. Uber is currently facing a class action lawsuit after one of its California drivers was allegedly attacked on the job. Since Uber classifies workers as independent contractors, the driver is not required to receive workers’ compensation.

This is one of the drawbacks of Uber’s business model of employing independent contractors. While Uber can avoid insuring drivers, they also run the risks of costly lawsuits. This varies from state to state. In New York, however, Uber drivers are given workers’ compensation benefits under the Black Car Fund, which provides protection and insurance for drivers who are classified as independent contractors.

If an agency is concerned about the cost of workers’ compensation, the penalties for forgoing the costs are far worse. According to New York State’s Workers Board Employee Handbook, if you do not carry coverage and you have fewer than five employees within a 12-month period, then you risk a misdemeanor fine between $1,000 and $5,000. If you hire more than five employees and do not provide coverage it is a class D felony and you face a fine between $5,000 and $50,000.

If a business keeps inaccurate payroll records, that can affect workers’ compensation premiums, they may face a penalty of $2,000 for each ten-day period of non-compliance. These laws do not discriminate against celebrities either. In 2013, TMZ reported that Jim Carrey was fined $72,000 for not providing workers compensation for employees at a New York art studio.

Higher workers’ compensation premiums are most often seen in industries with more dangerous conditions such as construction zones, landscaping or other risk-prone locations.

Here are some quick tips for reducing your workers’ compensation premiums. First, establish and maintain a safety program to reduce work-related injuries. For example, some employers join a drug-free workplace program regulated under Code Rule 60 of New York State’s Department of Labor. In addition, it is important to be aware of fraudulent claims. If someone is out of work for a knee injury – an investigator might expose that they’re engaging in activities that impede on their safety. Lastly, consider joining a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) to assist in loss control and safety. They are experts in providing administrative support such as payroll processing and human resources. Reducing injuries not only ensures a safer work environment but allows the owner to build a profitable and sustainable business.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

How to Avoid Legal Trouble When Renting to Immigrants and Non-Citizens

How to Avoid Legal Trouble When Renting to Immigrants and Non-Citizens

By Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

Housing discrimination can take on many forms. According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot project bias against non-citizens.
   Recently, in a one-hour live webinar, Douglas D. Chasick, the president of the Fair Housing Institute, instructed owners of multifamily housing properties, managers of multifamily properties, leasing agents and attorneys and other rental property advisors on ways to avoid violating U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and fair housing rules.
   Chasick also advised how to avoid lawsuits from applicants and residents who claim you discriminated against them on the basis of national origin, the challenges of implementing a policy restricting residency to U.S. citizens and dealing with complaints arising from cultural differences among residents.
   With more than a million undocumented immigrants living in New York City, thousands live in apartments and may face discrimination. Local legislation, however, can protect undocumented tenants. According to New York City’s Human Rights Law, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on their actual or perceived immigration status.
   This includes threatening to deport tenants or report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), retaliating against non-citizens by refusing to make repairs to their apartments and requiring tenants to provide proof of citizenship or documentation detailing their immigration status.
   A couple in Massachusetts is all too familiar with how these laws pan out. When a landlord asked the wife of a prospective tenant, “Where are you from?” it sparked a $60,000 rental discrimination lawsuit. The Boston Fair Housing Commission issued $10,000 in emotional damages, $44,000 in attorney’s fees and costs and a $7,500 civil penalty against the broker.
   “While the fine was eventually reduced it was not by much,” Chasick said. “[the landlord] casually said where are you from? And [the prospective tenant] said “Venezuela.” The prospect and her husband went on to find an apartment a month later — the prospect found the question about her national origin insulting and upsetting.
   When landlords are renting to undocumented immigrants there are some protocols to follow. It is important not to single out applicants who may appear “undocumented” or foreign-born. For example, if an application does not call for a prospect’s driver’s license — do not inquire about a driver’s license from someone perceived to be undocumented. Also, you cannot ask for extra information, unless you ask all applicants for this information. It is recommended to keep records of screening information for all tenants and prospective renters if a lawsuit or fined is pinned to a landlord.
   For undocumented immigrants, it is usually difficult to run credit history and background checks. Experts at Landlord Forums.com recommend looking at the last twelve months of bank statements to see their payment history. A County’s Sheriff’s Office is a good place to look up criminal records, especially because it is public information. Also, it is less likely that undocumented immigrants will be late on their payments because at court hearings they may risk deportation.
   If an undocumented tenant is having an issue with a landlord, they should call the New York State Office of New American’s hotline at 1-800-566-7636 or file an online complaint to the Attorney General’s Office.To file a discrimination lawsuit, call the Law Offices of  Figeroux & Associates at 718-222-3155 to set up an appointment.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

4 Smart Money Habits That Will Help You Save Up a Mortgage Down Payment

4 Smart Money Habits That Will Help You Save Up a Mortgage Down Payment

Are you ready for home ownership? The prospect of owning your own house or apartment is an exciting one, but with any financial transaction this large, there are some things to consider. The first is your down payment – that is, the initial payment you'll put against the cost of the house to reduce the amount that you're borrowing in a mortgage. Let's have a look at four habits that will help you to get your down payment saved up faster.

Build (And Stick To!) a Reasonable Budget

The first and most obvious tip is to stick to a reasonable budget. Determine how much you have coming in and going out of your bank accounts and credit cards each month. Group everything into areas like 'food,' 'utilities,' 'dining out,' 'entertainment' and more. Then, reduce each area to a reasonable amount and avoid any overspending.

Figure Out Your 'Latte Factor' – And Eliminate It
If you're unfamiliar with the term, a 'latte factor' is that one consistent purchase that you make each day which, over time, drains your bank account. For example, if you spend $5 each day on your coffee habit that adds up to almost $2,000 per year in unnecessary costs. Pay close attention to your spending habits and try to eliminate anything that you can.

Make Automatic Payments to a Down Payment Fund
If you're working a stable job and have regular pay periods, you may want to explore setting up a separate savings account for your down payment. Once you have this account opened, set up automatic deposits from your regular bank account after each pay day. This limits your ability to spend your cash while building up your down payment fund automatically.

Don't Carry Credit That You Don't Need
Finally, try not to carry credit that you aren't going to use. This includes department store credit cards, extra bank credit cards or lines of credit. While it won't necessarily harm your credit score to have available credit, if you do have it you're far more likely to use it than if you don't. You'll need to be disciplined to save up your down payment. So, don't bother with extra credit that may be too tempting to resist using.

These are just a few of the smart money habits that will help you get your mortgage down payment saved up as quickly as possible. When you're ready to discuss mortgage financing for your new home, contact our team of mortgage professionals. We'd be happy to share options that suit your budget as well as other tips for getting your down payment saved up. Call us at 888-670-6791

Buying a Foreclosure: 5 Things to Know

Buying a Foreclosure: 5 Things to Know

Buying a property out of foreclosure can be a very smart move, financially. But it can also be complicated, expensive, and stressful. Here are 5 things to keep in mind before you take a first step in that direction:

Cash or Pre-approval Required
Buying a house that has been returned to the lender through foreclosure means dealing with bureaucracy rather than with a motivated seller. Large lenders are notorious for taking their time to approve a contract, even if the offer is for the exact amount specified.
Then there's the paperwork, which can seem endless. Most lenders require that prospective buyers have cash on hand, or a pre-authorized loan in place in order to even submit an offer.

There's Little Room for Negotiation
Although in certain circumstances there may be an opportunity for some discussion about the price, that is not the norm in a foreclosure. The minimum price is usually written in stone, even during an on-site property auction, and the only direction is up! The days of buying foreclosures for a song are long past, if indeed they ever really existed.

As-Is Condition Means Just That

Some buyers specialize in foreclosures while other investors run in the other direction. There are pros and cons, of course, to every transaction. Sage advice is to always pay the fee for a property inspection on a foreclosed property, even if you have experience. A third-party evaluation is especially valuable if the home has been vacant for an extended period of time, if the utilities have been turned off, or if there are extensive visible defects.
   Foreclosures can be like icebergs: What you see may be nothing compared to what lies below the surface. Also, with the findings in writing, always confirm that your loan commitment and insurance quotes will be honored in spite of the existing condition.

The Need for an Experienced Realtor
Navigating the landscape of property foreclosures is a specialty field, and caution is the name of the game. As a prospective buyer of a pre-foreclosure, a short-sale or a foreclosed home, an experienced realtor is your best resource. A real estate professional will help you deal with all timelines and requirements, and has the knowledge and expertise to recommend lenders, inspectors, insurance agents and contractors to help you make a decision.

Always Consider Future Value

Although the initial price might be right, there are additional variables at play in every real estate transaction. What can you expect in terms of appreciation over the short term? What is the long-term outlook for the neighborhood? Will needed repairs and improvements add to the home's value, or simply bring its condition up to standard? Do you plan to live in the home, or is it strictly for resale?
  Your trusted real estate professional is the best resource to help you thoroughly evaluate all the information about every foreclosure.
   We are happy to help and share our insight and experience to help you with the buying process. Schedule an appointment today. Call 888-670-6791.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will. Why You Shouldn't

Estate Planning Should Start Today

By Dana Mathura

You are growing older each day. As much of an unwanted reminder that may be, it too comes with the joys and woes you have experienced all throughout your existence.
We all reach an age where we find ourselves inundated by the inevitable. Perhaps this has happened to you when the doctor provided some news about a condition or you looked down at your birthday cake only to see more candles than icing. As much as we shy away from talking about it, death is the one experience we all share in common.

As society has it, it is essentially too taboo of a topic. However, in not talking about it, we lose out on much needed information during our lives. By this, I am of course referring to the planning of an estate or a will. You may think the act is only regarded for the wealthy who have plenty to go around and need the organization that planning offers. But the fact of the matter is, you too could benefit from the organization and planning of an estate or will.

For one, it allows what you have—be it a little or a lot—to be allocated to the people you would like. No amount is too small because what happens after your death is a tale to be told. Time and time again, we hear the horror stories of one member of a family passing without a will and their money bringing horrific family feuds to the dinner table.

The simplest solution is to create a plan. An estate plan boils down to an arrangement outlining the future of your valuables and assets—think houses, cars, life insurance, pensions, stocks, even debt—after you are gone. Establishing one with a lawyer ensures there are no holes in your plan or desires. A will is not dissimilar, as it is a legal document ordering what items go to which loved one. An estate plan, though, takes the process further and incorporates some belongings a will does not cover.
As painful as it may seem to contemplate your own death, you would be doing your family a great service. After your death, the division of property, funds, and other valuables could turn complicated and even aggressive in nature. Having your wishes visible in writing has the ability to hold up in court. Your family, friends and other loved ones you leave belongings to, will also be more likely to respect your wishes if you declare them beforehand.
Pre-planning is always a good habit to get into. Luckily, if you do pre-plan your estate or will, it translates into direct savings for your loved one’s bank accounts. They will not need to take on the headache of paying a lawyer after your passing if you already did the bulk of the work while you were living. Money is also saved from having to pay probate costs when you draft a valid estate plan. Without one, the state you resided in will have a say in how your possessions are disseminated. This option does not even guarantee it will go to your family.
If you are a minority, you might already be at a higher risk of not seeing the need to have these affairs in order. You would be making a large mistake and contributing to the $2 billion that probate fees cost families left behind each year, states Black Enterprise Founder, Earl G. Graves, Sr. It only goes to show that much is to be done on that front. Graves goes on to mention that collectively, African-Americans hold about 2 million businesses in the United States. If these businesses are not rightfully handed down to the next of kin, then they are subject to your state’s decision in who will receive it. This is a route no one should aim for.

There is a dire need to protect minority-owned assets. In doing so, it will help contribute to the future of minorities as they use the funds and property gained from estate planning to attend college and build businesses in the coming age. This creates an ever-sustainable economy if the cycle can continue on. Preserving your family’s wealth could never be a bad idea.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Need to Change Your Name on Your Social Security Card?

Need to Change Your Name on Your Social Security Card?

By Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications
Social Security Administration

Are you changing your name? If so, let Social Security know so we can update your information, send you a corrected card, and make sure you get the benefits you’ve earned.
To change your name on your card, you must show us documents proving your legal name change and identity. If you are a U.S. citizen, you also must show us a document proving your U.S. citizenship, if it is not already in our records. You must present original documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them. We can’t accept photocopies or notarized copies.
To prove your legal name change, you must show one of the following documents:
Marriage document; 
Divorce decree;
  • Certificate of naturalization showing a new name; or
  • Court order for a name change.
To prove your identity, you must show an unexpired document showing your name, identifying information, and photograph, such as one of the following:
  • U.S. driver’s license;
  • State-issued non-driver’s identification card; or
  • U.S. passport.
If you don’t have one of those documents available, we may be able to accept your:
  • Employer identification card;
  • School identification card;
  • Health insurance card; or
  • U.S. military identification card.
To prove your U.S. citizenship, you must show one of the following documents:
  • U.S. birth certificate;
  • U.S. Consular Report of Birth Abroad;
  • U.S. passport (unexpired);
  • Certificate of Naturalization; or
  • Certificate of Citizenship.
Whatever your reason for your name change, Social Security is here to help you with the new… you! Fill out the form online and follow the instructions to ensure your Social Security card is delivered in a timely manner. You can also locate your local field office so you can apply for your updated card and show your required documents in person.

For complete instructions, visit our website, which includes information for non-citizens. And remember, if you simply need to replace a lost Social Security card, but don’t need to change your name, you can — in most states — request your replacement card online using your my Social Security account.

Posted on October 9, 2018 


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