Thursday, November 29, 2018

Student Loans and Bankruptcy

Student Loans and Bankruptcy: Why the Student Debt Crisis Hits Black Borrowers Harder 

 By Dana Mathura

By now, we have all heard how immense the student debt crisis actually is. So, it should come as no surprise that student loans continue to wreak havoc on the lives of students who graduate with loan repayments. What is more, though, is that the loans carry on their effect long after students graduate.
In the mix of this predicament, black students who borrow funds for their college careers end up getting hit the worst by the effects of the debt crisis. Oftentimes, the black student-borrower who is in debt was a first-generation college student. What this has the potential to mean, is that their family did not predict the high costs of college and all that goes along with it. But even if they did, sometimes their family savings are not enough to send their child off for their studies without a loan.
It all starts somewhere and in this case, there are societal reasons. Black borrowers have less wealth in their names compared to other races. This speaks to their lack of inherited wealth from parents, grandparents and other family members who leave items to them in their Wills and by other means. The lack of wealth also comes from how much they personally earn in their own jobs. Black students are not always afforded the same job opportunities or the same pay as their white peers.

According to a Nerdwallet article, there are more black borrowers than there are white or Latino borrowers. That number rounds off to 87% of black students who borrow, compared to the other two ethnic groups. “A quarter-million federal direct student loan borrowers see their loans go into default for the first time every quarter,” the Urban Institute stated in their research. On top of that, black borrowers are more likely to default on their loans. A default on a federal student loan occurs after nine months of inactive payments. Once that goes into effect, the federal government then has the right to seize their paychecks. In addition to that, the student who has defaulted on their loan can be sought after by debt collectors.

This all puts a massive dent in the student’s credit score and directly affects how they will purchase a home, vehicle or any costly item in the future. A year or two before the student defaults on their loan their credit score sees a 50 to 90 point decline, as reported by the Urban Institute.
What further envelops black borrowers into more debt is their enrollment in graduate school after receiving their bachelor’s degrees. The need for more schooling after completing their undergraduate studies stems from the lack of opportunities offered to black graduates with just bachelor’s degrees. Black students typically decide that obtaining their master’s degrees will heighten their job prospects but in doing so, they have a wider pool of loans with higher amounts they can delve into. But, this puts them in the red zone for defaulting on their grad school loans more than they would for their undergraduate school loans.

It must be noted that, the reasons why black borrowers default on their student loans and fall into more debt are simply unavoidable, unless there is a complete overhaul of society.  In the meantime, black borrowers should apply for federal aid before they decide on federal or private loans. This can be done through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application which not only issues Pell Grants, but also work-study opportunities. Secondly, it is best to seek scholarships which are handed out not only based on academic excellence, but according to different criteria met by the applying student. After trying the above methods and incorporating your own savings, if possible, and college is still too expensive, then opt for a federal loan before you apply for a private loan. Federal student loans for college include Direct loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized), Perkins loans, Parent PLUS loans, andGradPLUS loans. Typically, federal loans are favored because they offer lower interest rates and some recourse of forgiveness. They are aimed at making higher education a possibility for every student in the nation.

If you are a borrower, but especially a black borrower, be wary of your due dates and sketch a plan of payment so you keep on top of your loan before it gets out of hand. Should you foresee a missed payment or begin to fall behind on your loan repayments, reach out to the loan servicer. Loan servicers know you are not the first student to experience the hardship repayment brings. Reaching out to them could result in a collaborative plan of action you both put together. A lack of communication could end up costing you so much more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How Can SIJS Help Immigrant Children Obtain a Green Card?

How Can SIJS Help Immigrant Children Obtain a Green Card?
By Chereen James

Quite often, the welfare of immigrant minors is raised among news outlets. In recent news, we heard about an alarming number of children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border and held in detention facilities. But what about children who overstayed their visa or were brought to the United States by other means? They too, can obtain permanent residency through a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) proceeding.

SIJ status is granted to children who are under the age of 21, but preferably under the age of 18, as the Trump Administration threatens a restriction on the age limit. In order to obtain a Green Card through SIJ status, a Juvenile Court of their State of residence must deem those children as abandoned or neglected by their parents. A child can be deemed abandoned or neglected when at least one parent refrains from providing them with adequate food, shelter, education or emotional support, and other issues that can be brought to a Court to prove abandonment—including the death of a parent.  

Once it is established that a child has been abandoned or neglected, the Court will order a guardianship or a related custody order so that their needs can be met. The guardian or custodian does not need to be a citizen of the United States; however, they must not have any criminal records neither should other members of their household. An Order from the Juvenile Courts will be used to petition USCIS for the child to be granted a Green Card.

In 2017, Eber, from Guatemala, was granted SIJ relief and obtained his Green Card after his older brother was appointed to be his guardian. He left his home because he was physically abused by his father and both parents abandoned him. He faced deportation when he came to the United States illegally. His application for guardianship, with the Court finding that his parents abandoned him, enabled him to receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and thus he was able to obtain his Green Card.

Not all cases are as extreme. Sometimes a Court will find neglect if a parent passed away and there is no one else to care for the child in the home country. Other times, the Court will determine that an abusive parent is neglectful and will place the child with an appropriate guardian.

Brian Figeroux, Esq., the attorney who advocated for Eber’s SIJ petition, said, “too many children who are abandoned in the United States, don’t get proper advice either because the people they live with do not care, or they don’t get multiple consultations from seasoned AILA lawyers.” He also pointed out that social workers who work with immigrant children need to understand that SIJ proceedings are the solution to many of these children’s problems. He further said, “my concern is that those children are missing out on many opportunities to get a proper education and jobs, which can lead them to be frustrated, depressed and suicidal.” Mr. Figeroux extends a free consultation to anyone who needs advice on this matter.   

Many children, who were brought to the United States by family members or came on their own, should know that there is a way to find relief and obtain permanent residency. The SIJ status is one way whereby they can remain with loving relatives or be appointed new guardians who would care for them in the United States. They can find assistance with an immigration attorney who also has experience with family law matters, specifically with the Special Immigrant Juvenile petition. A legal consult will open the door for a future without the fear of deportation. Call the Law Office of Figeroux & Associates at 855-768-8845 for a free consultation.

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 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 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  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!