Archive for July, 2010
What is an IRS whistleblower? An IRS whistleblower is someone who presents the IRS with evidence that proves that an individual or company is evading taxes or otherwise committing tax fraud. In the United States some form of income tax has existed off and on since 1862. With the establishment of the tax, whistleblowers have been around for almost as long. The laws rewarding and protecting IRS whistleblowers have changed remarkably little over the years.
Some of the main changes have occurred in the last decade. While an IRS whistleblower reward used to be discretionary, the awards are now formalized in the law. To submit information and apply for an award in regard to that information, the IRS even has a form to file, IRS Form 211. This form should be filed with the new IRS Whistleblower Office at Internal Revenue Service, Whistleblower Office, SE: WO, 1111 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20224. The rewards can be substantial, up to 30% on cases involving over $2 million or individuals earning over $200,000 per year, and up to 15% on smaller cases. There are even websites trying to entice you into becoming a professional whistleblower.
The most recent changes to the law regarding IRS whistleblowers occurred in 2006. Since there appear to be some questions as to the legality of the new law, the policy hasn’t changed much yet. Rewards for information leading to the recovery of less than $2 million in taxes are still not required. The IRS may or may not pay an award, at their discretion.
The main concerns an IRS whistleblower may have are confidentiality and protection. In most cases, the IRS tries to keep the identity of the informant a secret. However, if the IRS whistleblower is needed to testify in court, they will inform the whistleblower of this and then make their decision whether to proceed. We have all heard of famous whistleblowers. Their lives change drastically once they decide to proceed. Of course, not all of them were IRS whistleblowers. Some were able to keep their identity hidden for decades, such as Deep Throat.
For the most part, you have to follow your conscience when you decide whether to become an IRS whistleblower. The types of crimes committed haven’t changed significantly. Even back in the old westerns, you could see the bad guys keeping two sets of books, one for the government officials and one, the real one, for themselves. That is still a common problem, as is paying employees with cash and then not reporting the income to the IRS. For a while fraudulent income tax shelters were leading the news. They haven’t disappeared.
Another common crime is making up fictitious deductions on your income taxes. Sure, that houseboat was a business expense, why didn’t I think of that! Maybe because keeping your family entertained while you work is not a business expense? The IRS is most interested in the large cases, the ones that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. If you find yourself privy to information which could lead the IRS to recover that kind of money owed to the government, you should seriously consider reporting the fraud on IRS Form 3949-A. It should be mailed to Internal Revenue Service, Fresno, CA 93888. If you were hoping to call the IRS whistleblower phone number, try calling your local IRS tax assistance center. An overall number does not appear to exist.
If you have a family that could be impacted by your decision to report a fraud, be sure to at least inform the adults in your immediate family of your decision and the impact it may have on their lives as well.
Are you trying to establish a credit rating? If you have never had a credit card before or a loan, then you probably do not have a credit history. Depending on your circumstances it can be difficult to be approved for a credit card. That is where the Platinum Zero™ Secured Visa® Credit Card from Applied Bank comes in. Since it is a secured credit card, you have a much better chance of being approved for this card. In order to apply for this credit card from Applied Bank, you simply need to open a deposit account with Applied Bank in the amount of $500 or more. This account will secure your credit card.
That means you need to maintain at least $500 in your deposit account since that is the limit on the Platinum Zero™ Secured Visa® Credit Card. Applied Bank will report your payment history on the credit card to the credit bureaus. If you manage to pay your credit card bills on time, this should establish a good credit rating for you, and put you on your way to securing a more favorable loan when you need one. There is no application fee to apply for this credit card.
One of the really nice features of the Platinum Zero™ Secured Visa® Credit Card from Applied Bank is the zero percent annual rate on card purchases. That makes this card a very convenient way to buy a more expensive item when you find it at a good price. You can then pay it off over a time period that fits your budget without having to pay finance charges. Remember, you do have to make the minimum monthly payments. You also will be charged a monthly maintenance fee of $9.95. Take that into consideration when you plan your purchases. If this is the only way you can establish a credit rating, then perhaps it is worth the $9.95 per month.
Obtaining a credit card can bring all sorts of problems along with it. Identity theft is rampant these days. The Platinum Zero™ Secured Visa® Credit Card from Applied Bank comes with free personal ID theft protection and zero fraud liability. Having personally experienced the fraudulent use of my credit card, I can tell you that is a nice feature. Even with this feature it can take months of processing to get fraud issues resolved. Imagine the headaches without it. With any credit card it is important to read the entire credit card agreement, so you know what you are agreeing to. This card has a lot of nice features but it also has a lot of fees if you should happen to not comply with one of the rules. Expect to pay between $30 and $35 every time you break a rule such as sending in your payment late or not having enough funds in your account to cover the payment.
This is where you need to remember that the whole point to getting a Platinum Zero™ Secured Visa® Credit Card from Applied Bank is to establish a good credit rating. The only way that will happen is if you pay close attention to the terms of the card, pay on time and don’t break any of the rules. If you manage that then the only fee you should have to worry about is the monthly maintenance fee. Most secured credit cards have such a fee. They aren’t advertised heavily so read the fine print if you are comparing two different credit cards. The maintenance fee for this card is not unusually high, so if you like the features, this card may work for you.
Allstate Auto Insurance was founded in 1931. They have been offering innovative car insurance ever since. It is one of the few insurance companies most people have heard of, in part because of their consistent advertisements which emphasize a family theme. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have actor Dennis Haysbert advertising for them after he gained a large following playing president David Palmer in the television series 24. At this time, they provide insurance products to more than 17 million households. That is about 16% of all US households. Their auto insurance advertisements like to suggest significant savings when you switch to Allstate. To find out for yourself, you can get a quote.
One of the nice features of the Allstate website is that you can get a ballpark estimate of what your insurance may be within minutes. It isn’t personalized but it does take your location, age, accident history and vehicle into consideration. A very fast way to get a quote when you are still comparing companies. Of course, a personalized quote will be more accurate but this gives you a good idea of what to expect. It certainly beats having to wait for a quote to arrive in the mail which seems to be the preferred method of another insurance company.
Allstate Auto Insurance offers all sorts of discounts. There are discounts for safe drivers with no accidents during the past three or even better five years. You can lower your rate even further if you voluntarily take a defensive driving course. Having a safe car helps too. If your car has anti-lock brakes or airbags, look for a discount. Of course, there are multiple discount options for good students and even seniors. Allstate Auto Insurance seems to provide most of the discounts available in the industry so you should be able to qualify for some discount.
Looking at the reviews for Allstate Auto Insurance which you always have to take with a grain of salt, especially with a company with this many customers, one of their main problems seems to be with automatic payments from customer’s checking accounts. That is an easy one to get around. Just don’t use that service. I would find it hard to believe that 17 million households are putting up with a company they aren’t at least reasonably satisfied with. They do offer online access for their customers.
One of the more innovative programs Allstate Auto Insurance offers is their Safe Driving Bonus® which offers a rebate check of up to 5% of your premium for every 6 months that you manage to drive without an accident. This may really appeal to you if you are a good driver. Of course, you want to make sure your insurance rate is reasonable to begin with, so these checks are a bonus. I know I can go for years without getting into an accident. Receiving a bonus check every 6 months sounds great.
Allstate Auto Insurance really concentrates on accident prevention incentives so another one of their incentives are Deductible Rewards. You get $100 off your collision deductible for every year you drive without having an accident until you reach $500. Personally, I like that feature. A $500 deductible on collision coverage is quite standard and this lets you get the lower rate that comes with the $500 deductible and still get the benefit of no deductible should you ever need it after your five years of driving accident free. Hopefully, you won’t need it but it is nice to know you can save those $500.
There you are, trying to order a copy of a document you desperately need online but they want you to pay their fee with a credit card. Now what? You lost your credit card a while ago when you failed to make payments on it. The banks have turned your applications for credit cards down since then. Are you surprised? Which profitable business wouldn’t? You ruined your credit score and now you don’t look like an acceptable risk anymore. Don’t despair. There is hope for you yet. You can apply for a Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Credit Card.
This is a way for you to slowly reestablish a better credit rating. You will have to open a deposit account at Applied Bank®. The amount of money you need to deposit in this account equals your desired credit limit. For the Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Credit Card that can be anywhere between $200 and $500.
With a secured credit card, you are depositing the money you intend to spend before you spend it. You have to maintain that amount of money in the account while you have the credit card. It is the bank’s guarantee that you won’t skip out on payments. In return, Applied Bank® will report your payment history on the credit card to the credit reporting bureaus. As you build a history of ontime payments, your credit score will begin to climb again.
Don’t expect this to be a fast process, but in the meantime you do have the use of a credit card for those transactions that really make life easier when you have one. Imagine arriving at a self service gas station late at night when there is no attendant on duty anymore. Most gas pumps now accept credit cards. I have yet to see one that accepts cash.
The Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Credit Card comes with a low fixed rate annual percentage rate of 12.99% on purchases and cash advances. Banks tend to have lower APRs on secured credit cards since they know the money to pay for your purchases is in the bank already. Your credit card is still accepted at all the same places an unsecured credit card would be accepted at. You are also protected by zero fraud liability, so if someone you don’t know uses your credit card, your money is protected. Just don’t hand your credit card to someone else. Negligence is not covered by the liability protection.
Applied Bank makes it very easy to apply for their secured Visa® credit card. After all, they offer this credit card because they want customers. You don’t have to worry about the safety of your deposit account. It is FDIC insured and Applied Bank is considered among one of the top banks for financial strength.
Should you be in the unfortunate position of not having quite mastered the art of paying every bill on time, this may be the bank you should look at. Many secured credit cards have increased annual percentage rates once you are late with a payment. At Applied Bank, they won’t raise your rate if you happen to make your payment late.
Do remember that you are trying to improve your credit score though. You really do not want to make your payments late. You want to be a model bill payer. You want to see your credit score rise so sometime in the future you may be able to qualify for a bigger loan such as a car loan or even a home mortgage. To make sure, your efforts are being reported, request your credit history annually from the credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free annual report from each of the three credit bureaus.
If you find yourself at the admirable age of 62 or above with the house of your dreams but very little cash to pay the bills, you may think you will be forced to consider selling the house and moving to a smaller house. There is another option though. You could get monthly income with a ‘One Reverse Mortgage’ and remain in your dream home. If you have no children you wish to leave the house to this may be the perfect solution. Even if you wish to pass down the home, it may work for you.
A reverse mortgage lets you tap into the equity in your home. The law does not permit reverse mortgages to be given to people under the age of 62. You also need to have substantial equity in your home for a reverse mortgage to make sense. As a rough guide you can expect to be able to get a reverse mortgage for up to half the value of your home if you own it free and clear. There are different options with reverse mortgages. You can receive it as a lump sum payment, as monthly payments or as a line of credit to draw on when you need it.
A reverse mortgage needs to be paid back when you move out of the house the mortgage is on, either because you decided to move or because you passed away. At that point you or your estate can sell the house to pay back the mortgage or refinance the mortgage. The title to the house remains in your name when you get a reverse mortgage. You are not selling your home when you decide to use this method to get monthly income. It is simply another investment tool. Fees are lumped in with your mortgage. Expect to get an inspection of your home. You will also be required to meet with an independent consultant to discuss whether a reverse mortgage makes sense for you.
The website for ‘One Reverse Mortgage’ has a fairly detailed description of the process you will go through to obtain a reverse mortgage. They also provide a calculator to give you an estimate of what you can expect to receive as a lump sum or monthly payment based on your home’s value, any mortgage you have remaining on the house and your age. The amount of money you qualify for is based on the age of the youngest person listed on the house title.
This is not a way to get out of taking care of your home. You are not selling your home when you a ‘One Reverse Mortgage’. You will still need to maintain it, pay taxes and insurance on it. In fact, it will probably be part of the reverse mortgage loan agreement that it is your responsibility to maintain that house in good shape.
No company wants to lend money on a deteriorating asset and you don’t want your walls to crumble around you either. Remember, you are looking at this type of loan because you want to stay in the home so expect to act accordingly and take care of it. Your children will thank you for it too. If the plan is to let your children inherit the home, they will have a much easier time refinancing a home that is in great shape than one that needs to be renovated to meet current building standards. For most people their home is their biggest investment. Getting a reverse mortgage is simply another way of allowing you to have some income while preserving title to the home you wish to keep.
Do you need help getting back on track? Is your credit rating about as bad as it gets and now you realize you will never be able to qualify for a load so you can buy that house you dreamed of? Don’t despair. There are companies willing to help you out. One such company is Orchard Bank. They offer the Orchard Bank® Visa® Credit Cards which do not require a credit check. They offer four different credit cards under the Visa brand, three unsecured ones and one secured credit card.
The unusual thing about Orchard Bank is that they will take a look at the information you enter in the online application and let you know which of the four credit cards they are willing to approve you for. At that point, you need to read the terms through carefully and decide whether you like the one they are offering to you. All four of them have an annual fee associated with them. For the secured credit card the annual fee is waived for the first year. It is an easy way to find out just how bad your credit rating really is if you didn’t already know.
You know you have your work cut out for you if they are only offering you a secured credit card. Orchard Bank® Visa® Credit Cards are offered and administered through HSBC bank, a subsidiary of one of the ten largest banking holding companies in the United States. The good news is that despite your miserable credit, you can get a secured credit card and start rebuilding your credit rating. With a secured credit card you are obligated to maintain an amount of money in an account with the bank that at least equals the credit limit on your secured credit card. Most of these accounts do not pay any interest. At Orchard Bank the minimum security deposit required for a secured credit card is $200.
If you are lucky enough not to have ruined your credit rating quite that badly, you are looking at a Platinum, Gold or Standard Visa credit card. The annual fees for these vary between $35 and $79 with a processing fee ranging from $0 to $39. Reestablishing your credit rating will not be cheap but there aren’t many options open to you. Hopefully, you will get the money back in the future in the form of savings on loans once you have built your credit rank to a level where a loan for a car or house would be possible. The whole point of having a good credit rating is being able to qualify for better terms when it really counts.
If you are looking to buy a $50,000 house with a $10,000 down payment, the difference in your monthly payments between a 6% and a 5% interest rate 30-year mortgage is $25 per month. Paying the annual fee on that credit card will have been made up with just two or three monthly savings on your mortgage payment. Of course, no one can guarantee that it will make a difference of 1% but that kind of difference can easily be found between credit card interest rates for purchases offered to people with better credit ratings and those with worse credit ratings. In fact, on credit cards the difference tends to be larger. For the Orchard Bank® Visa® Credit Cards the APR on purchases ranges between 14.9% and 28.9% for the unsecured credit cards. Quite a range, so when you check to see what they are willing to offer you, make sure you understand what your APR will be.
Still looking for a prepaid debit card? The Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® is yet another choice available to you. As with most prepaid debit cards the Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® does not require a credit check in order to qualify for one. It also does not have overdraft or penalty fees. That comes with being prepaid. You can only spend what you have deposited in the account.
They want to encourage you to use direct deposit to fund your prepaid MasterCard, so they are offering a $10 incentive that will be deposited into your account within 5 days of the first direct deposit being made to your account by your employer or the government. The direct deposit has to amount to at least $250 though. Still, a 4% bonus is not bad in this economy.
One feature I really like about the Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® is that they have a network of 15,000 ATM machines where you can withdraw money without a fee. This is a rare feature among prepaid debit cards. Not as rare is the free direct deposit and online bill pay. In fact, I haven’t seen any of the banks offering prepaid debit cards charge for direct deposit. Being charged for the use of an ATM machine to withdraw money is very common though. You are quite lucky if you live near an ATM that belongs to their network. With most prepaid debit cards you have to pay a $2.50 ATM withdrawal fee plus whatever charges the bank whose ATM machine you are using charges.
The Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® has an easy online application form. You will find that it does not take long to fill it out. For the privilege of using this prepaid debit card, you will be charged a monthly fee of $5.95 unless you have $1000 deposited onto your card that month or make 30 transactions. This card is offered through Synovus Bank, one of the largest community banks in the Southeastern part of the United States.
Currently you can take advantage of the cancellation of the $4.95 activation fee, that is normally charged by Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard®. This prepaid MasterCard will not expire for at least a year from the date you set up the debit agreement. So it makes a reasonable emergency debit card for when you need to travel to a remote location. You do have to be at least 18 years old to obtain one of these, so it will not work for your child’s first trip without your supervision. It will, however, do a reasonable job at providing what you haven’t been able to do without a checking account.
Since the laws have been tightened for applying for any type of financial account, you will need to hand out your social security number, name and address, to even be considered. This is to prevent these types of accounts from being used by illegal aliens. This is the type of card any legal citizen of the United States can carry.
You may make purchases at any store that accepts MasterCard debit cards. Unfortunately, the Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® does not come with the warranty extensions you would find on most regular credit cards. You are limited to the manufacturer’s warranty for the products purchased. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying large sums of cash around and you have some financial circumstance in your past which does not allow you to qualify for a regular credit card, this may be the card for you. The prepaid MasterCard gives you a chance to prove that you can be fiscally responsible and perhaps allow you to be approved for a standard credit card in the future.
Do you feel wary about carrying a lot of cash? Would you rather carry a debit card but you can’t qualify for one? There are several companies that offer prepaid debit cards that may work for you. One of these is the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card which acts like a debit card but is much easier to get than a regular credit card since it is prepaid.
Prepaid means that you have to fund it before you can use it. Actually, that is the way most debit cards are meant to work. Generally a debit card gives you access to your checking account and the money is deducted from your account the instant you purchase something using the debit card. The NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card gives you the opportunity to do this without having a checking account. You can add up to three cards to your account so if you wanted to have this as an emergency fund for your family, you could give your kids one of these.
They highly encourage you to fund your prepaid debit card with direct deposits. One of the benefits this would entitle you to is a 5% annual percentage rate savings account. With interest rates as low as they are in this economy, I find 5% very attractive. You want to be careful though. There are two payment plans for the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card. Depending on how you plan to use this prepaid debit card, you will want a different payment option.
If this is meant as your emergency backup system in case someone in the family gets stranded without cash, then you do not want the plan with the monthly fee. You will want to apply for the payment plan that does not charge a setup fee or a monthly fee but rather charges on a per transaction basis. The ATM access fee is $2.50 which is quite standard these days. This payment plan also has per transaction fees of $1 or $2 depending on the type of transaction. That is perfect if you don’t plan to use it much. In fact, in combination with the 5% APR for direct deposit, this could be very attractive.
On the other hand if you are looking for a card that you want to use for most of your purchases, perhaps because you don’t have easy access to cash, you will want to consider the monthly fee plan, called FeeAdvantage. Your monthly fee is $9.95 but there are no per transaction fees other than the $2.50 ATM fee. One of the advantages of the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card is that there is no credit check. So even if you have no chance at being approved for a regular credit or debit card because of some financial problems in your past, you can get this one. The application can be completed online in about a minute.
Decide before you apply, how you plan to use this card so you can choose the appropriate plan for you. It doesn’t cost any money to get the card but once you use it, expect to pay fees. The fee you do avoid by selecting a prepaid debit card is the overdraft fee. Since the card has to be funded in advance, you will simply run out of available money. There will not be any extra fees because you spent more than you had. They do offer a $10 cushion if you qualify for their NetSpend Premier program which seems to require direct deposit. Luckily, direct deposit is free.
Yet another alternative for rebuilding your credit rating is the AccountNow® Prepaid Visa®. This card is offered by MetaBank and deposits are FDIC insured up to the federal limit. Technically, this is not a credit card since it is prepaid. However, it does have the Visa brand on it and can be used anywhere Visa Debit is accepted. Why would you use this instead of cash?
Good question. The best answer is to improve your credit rating. MetaBank reports your payment history to all three of the credit bureaus monthly when you have one of these cards. Rebuilding your credit rating takes time but having a monthly record of your good payment history will improve your chances of succeeding. They will report your transactions as far as online bill paying goes and any action associated with borrowing money. One of the benefits of having a prepaid card is that you will not be paying any late fees on your credit cards since the money has to be on the card before you spend it.
The AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® makes it fairly easy to add money to your card. The company highly recommends direct deposits from your employer. They even give you a $25 bonus if you sign up for direct deposit of at least $100 that recurs at least twice within 35 days. You actually need to keep it up for a bit longer than that to receive your bonus since it is paid 65 days after your first deposit and your direct deposit order still has to be active at that time. With that little caveat, it is a nice bonus for your direct deposit.
You can also add money via Paypal, a checking or savings account or any of over 100,000 locations offering MoneyGram, Western Union, Green Dot Money Pak or Visa ReadyLink. When using most of these options, your money will be available immediately.
If you don’t have a checking account, the AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® is a possible alternative. With direct deposit you will be able to access your money easily and since they offer online bill paying free of charge, you have the main functions of a checking account available to you. This card does charge a monthly fee which currently is $9.95 once you load money onto your card. If you are currently cashing your checks at stores or banks that charge a fee for this service, you may save enough in check cashing fees to make this card a worthwhile savings tool.
MetaBank does not do a credit check before issuing this card so it is a good tool if you have ruined your credit history and would not get approved for a credit card otherwise. They have 100% guaranteed approval. The minimum age for obtaining one of these cards is 14 years. This may be a reasonable alternative to cash if your child is headed off on a lengthy trip and you don’t want them to travel with a lot of money but want there to be an emergency backup system. You could even have the child apply for one of these cards and not even load any money onto it. Applying is free and if you don’t load any money onto the card, there is no monthly fee. So as an emergency backup, your child could travel with the card, and if you need to load money onto it, you could do it from your Paypal account.
AccountNow has an A rating from the Better Business Bureau. This does not mean they do not get complaints but it does mean that they resolve most of them. They have been listed with the Better Business Bureau since 2006.
Here is another credit card provider with a unique twist. The Orchard Bank Classic Master Cards are provided through HSBC bank and as such don’t have any unusual features. The annual percentage rate for purchases is at the high end with 28.9% which even goes up to 29.49% if you fail to make a payment on time. So what is special about the Orchard Bank Classic Master Cards? The application process.
Orchard Bank asks you to pre-qualify for one of their cards. You give them some information and then they let you know which one of their credit cards you could get. Read the terms and conditions they provide you at that time very carefully. If you have no idea whether you can qualify for a credit card, this is certainly an easy way to find out. If they don’t think you are a good risk, they may offer you a secured credit card.
Secured credit cards usually require you to open an account with the bank offering the secured credit card with an amount of money maintained in it that equals the credit limit on the credit card. Most of these accounts do not pay any interest, however, the APR on purchases does tend to be lower than the APR offered on unsecured credit cards. The main reason to get a secured credit card is to reestablish a better credit rating after you destroyed it. For most people who have not yet had a credit card, there are other options available. It is the people that used to have credit but didn’t pay it off according to the terms they obtained it under that may not have another option open to them. If this happened to you, you know what I am talking about. Banks have gotten tougher on loan approvals.
Anyhow, there is no harm in finding out whether you could qualify for an Orchard Bank Classic Master Card. Even if you decide you don’t like the terms, at least you now know what your chance at being approved for any credit card is. If Orchard Bank pre-qualifies you for their highest level credit card, then you know that you have a reasonable chance at a credit card at similar banks. When it comes to credit cards, you really need to decide what features are important to the way you use your credit cards. If the Orchard Bank Classic Master Card would work for you then pre-qualify for a Orchard Bank Classic Master Card and find out if they think you match their risk profile.
In general, the new credit card laws have increased the number of consumer protections but that doesn’t mean the banks can’t make money off you. They can and they do. It is up to you to research what types of benefits each credit card offers and decide whether that benefit is something you would use. The benefits that come with the Orchard Bank Classic Master Card are online access to your account, online bill pay at no charge, fraud protection and the opportunity to request balance updates via email and text messages. You can even sign up to have them send you a message if you have a payment coming due soon.
Mostly, the Orchard Bank Classic Master Card will appeal to people who need to rebuild their credit rating. Those with outstanding credit ratings can qualify for credit cards with better annual percentage rates on purchases. Orchard Bank’s method of letting you pre-qualify and informing you which credit card they would be willing to approve you for is certainly their best draw. It takes the guessing out of your search.
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