Nov 27 2014

Leak of grand jury information could cost Attorney General Kane

HARRISBURG — As an assistant Lackawanna County prosecutor, Kathleen Kane testified at the 1999 trial of Judge Francis Eagen, charged with taking bribes. He had sought information about the investigation, she said, and she told him that grand juries operate in secret and their “strict rules” cannot be violated.

“For me to give out information to somebody who is not going into the grand jury is actually a criminal offense,” Kane told the jury.

The panel found Eagen guilty of obstruction.

Fifteen years later, a statewide grand jury in Montgomery County is investigating whether Kane, 48, of Clarks Summit, now state attorney general, leaked a grand jurys information to a Philadelphia newspaper. If Judge William Carpenter determines she did and finds her in contempt of court, Kane could be sentenced to six months in prison.

Other potential criminal exposure for Kane is hindering prosecution, obstruction or perjury, depending on the facts and her testimony, experts say.

At the least, they note, she has risked her credibility as a prosecutor and tarnished her political image.

Kane and her attorneys insist she did nothing wrong. But they acknowledge that she knew her office this year released an internal memo from a 2009 investigation of a political activist, J. Wyhatt Mondesire.

The probe never resulted in criminal charges. Mondesire could not be reached for comment.

Kanes defense sounds like she has “one foot on a banana peel,” said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who otherwise is supportive and sympathetic.

Before heading into the grand jury last week in Trooper, near Norristown, Kane told reporters that releasing information to the Philadelphia Daily News “was done in a way that did not violate statutory or case law regarding grand jury secrecy.”

The leak suggested that former Chief Deputy Frank Fina, who is at odds with Kane, did not aggressively pursue the Mondesire case, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in September.

Kane did not commit a crime, nor did she cross an ethical line, her lawyer, Gerald Shargel of New York City, told reporters.

“Prosecutors view preventing leaks out of the grand juries as one of the most serious things they handle,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who heads the criminology, law and society program at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.

In a US Attorneys Office, “the place goes into a shutdown if they think theres a leak of grand jury information,” he said.

Leaks, leaks, more leaks

Even if the grand jury does not recommend criminal charges, “this is not something that will sit well with the community of prosecutors,” Antkowiak said. Leaking grand jury information “is a blow to the credibility of any prosecutor.”

Grand jury secrecy protects defendants, witnesses and the integrity of an investigation, Antkowiak said.

The Montgomery County grand jury, run by a special prosecutor, was authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“It is interesting that certain reporters have spent thousands of words rewriting stories about the attorney generals alleged illegal leak when they ignore the plain language of the law about what is or is not grand jury information, and who is or who is not covered by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act,” said one of Kanes lawyers, Lanny Davis, a crisis communications specialist who helped President Bill Clinton.

“Yet they have ignored all the leaks they are receiving about grand jury information concerning this current grand jury,” Davis said. “Is it possible the reason they are ignoring that story is because they are the recipients of the leaks?”

There is precedent in Pennsylvania for a jail sentence for contempt stemming from a grand jury leak.

In 2007, James Kolojejchick, a former agent in the Attorney Generals Office, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for violating a grand jury secrecy oath by making information available to a newspaper. The judge, Barry Feudale, pushed for stiffer penalties for such violations. The Supreme Court raised the maximum to six months.

Public relations disaster

Kane has insisted that court orders prevent her from telling the public the full story.

Voters might not understand the ins-and-outs of grand jury leaks, but the appearance that Kane is immersed in a serious legal battle is not good for her political image, said Jack Treadway, former political science chairman at Kutztown State University.

“When someone keeps showing up in these messes, its not just a coincidence,” said Treadway, referring to a string of political difficulties for Kane, including her decision not to prosecute Philadelphia lawmakers who took cash from an undercover lobbyist, and an ex-traffic court judge who accepted a $2,000 bracelet, because she claimed the videotaped encounters were legally flawed.

“If youve done nothing wrong, you dont need all these high-powered lawyers coming in,” Treadway said in reference to Shargel, one of the top criminal defense lawyers in New York and Washington-based Davis, who was Clintons special counsel.

Kanes appearance before the grand jury started another bad week for her, some observers said.

“The attorney general has certainly had a few bad days in what has been a tumultuous year,” said Chuck Ardo, former press secretary for Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. “While we dont yet know whether her legal judgment in deciding not to prosecute in the public corruption case was sound, what we do know is that it was a PR disaster.

“In the same vein, hiring a high-powered criminal defense attorney and a well-known crisis manager to represent her in the grand jury leaks investigation sends the wrong message,” Ardo said. “Whether she is found to have violated the law or not, she has created the appearance of impropriety. Her status as a rising political star has dimmed considerably.”

Said Davis: “Only those who have a biased perspective would say that a public figure unfairly attacked, who is unable to respond due to a court order, would say that the public figure had a ‘bad week. ”

‘One thing after another

The day after her grand jury appearance, Kane implied for the first time, in a CNN interview, that child pornography was included in the email scandal centered in the Attorney Generals Office. Her aide Renee Martin backtracked the next day, saying the material did not rise to the level of child porn and was not prosecutable.

The day after that, Martin doubled back: “When I said that the Pennsylvania attorney general has decided not to prosecute regarding the emails as pornography, including depictions of children contained in some emails, I misspoke.”

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Turnpike corruption case Kane touted in early 2013 ended with guilty pleas by two final defendants. Her office agreed to plea bargains for all eight men charged; none will go to prison.

It was a tough case, said former Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter, who resigned in August. Brandstetter often was the only state prosecutor against a dozen or more defense lawyers in the case.

“We often know corruption is going on. Proving it is a different story,” she said when asked whether the outcome disappointed her.

No single incident — such as dizzying press statements — has much impact on the publics perception of Kane, said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College.

“People misspeak all the time,” Kopko said. The problem for Kane is “its just one thing after another.”

In an email to other district attorneys, Morganelli cited troubling issues not just for Kane.

“If our elected AG can just be the subject of court orders barring her from speaking, investigating, etc., I would like to know on what authority, and who asked for it and why? This should be a huge concern of all of us,” Morganelli wrote. “I know many of you do not like Ms. Kane, or feel that she is not doing the right things, but what is happening to her and what she is saying or not being able to say scares me.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Medias state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

Nov 26 2014

PTS Financial and eCredable Help Rent-to-Own Customers Build Credit

PR Web

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB) May 28, 2014

eCredable, a credit reporting agency that helps consumers without a traditional history prove their creditworthiness to potential creditors, today announced an exclusive marketing relationship with PTS Financial. PTS Financial Services provides a premium club program to the Rent-to-Own industry which provides a variety of benefits to their members, such as Product Protection, Prepaid Gold Debit Card, ATamp;T 10% Discount, and a Free Prescription Discount Card.

We are very excited to be working with PTS Financial, the leading provider of consumer benefits to the Rent-to-Own industry, said

Steve Ely, CEO of eCredable. Adding eCredable as a member benefit provides the Rent-to-Own consumer the opportunity to leverage their monthly on-time payment to help them build a credit history with eCredable. The consumer can include this payment in their AMP Credit Report® which includes their AMP Credit Rating®, allowing the consumer to qualify for credit-dependent offers from mainstream financial providers.

Rent-to-Own customers have had credit building at the top of their list for quite some time, said

Tony Farrell, CEO of PTS Financial. eCredable has developed an innovative approach to using the on-time payment the consumer makes to the Rent-to-Own business to build a credit score they can use to qualify for products like auto loans and home loans. This is a big win for many of these consumers who may be credit challenged. Its also a big win for the Rent-to-Own company – the consumer has a real incentive to make their monthly payments on time, now that their payment is being shared with a Credit Reporting Agency.

eCredable uses bill payments that are not typically reported to the national credit bureaus, to create a credit report and credit rating which can be used by lenders and creditors to qualify the risk of the consumer. Bills like rent, mobile phone, utilities, and insurance have proven to be predictive in determining risk of payment default. eCredables product guides the consumer on a journey of building their own AMP Credit Report® with contains verified payment information, which also includes an AMP Credit Rating®, which lets the consumer and the lender know where the consumers stands on a scale of A-F.

About eCredable
eCredable is an alternative Credit Reporting Agency that helps consumers demonstrate their creditworthiness to prospective creditors. Launched in 2009, eCredable allows creditors to comply with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), which requires any creditor using credit related information to assess the creditworthiness of an individual to consider any similar payment information the consumer puts forth to demonstrate their creditworthiness. eCredables credit information gathering product allows consumers to record their monthly bill payment accounts, monitor their progress towards their AMP Credit Rating® goal with AMP Rate Watch®, request verification of their payment history, and create a verified AMP Credit Report® that meets all financial industry standards. The consumer can then share their AMP Credit Report and AMP Credit Rating with any potential creditor, service provider or employer. eCredable uses a unique AMP Credit Rating that shows the consumer, and the potential creditor, where the consumers credit rating stands on a clear, straightforward scale of A to F. eCredables AMP Credit Rating provides a powerful tool to assist the consumer in understanding the importance of making payments on time. AMP stands for All My Payments. The company is headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia.

About PTS Financial
PTS Financial Services headquarters is located in Calhoun, Ga. They offer their clients many services including PTS Tax, PTS Auto Club, and PTS Direct Benefits. PTS Tax is a full service, turnkey tax operation in which PTS partners with other businesses through a hybrid franchise agreement. With the PTS Auto and Direct Benefits Club Program they offer their clients the ability to provide their customers with extra benefits by means of discount programs and merchandise protection.

Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/05/prweb11886785.htm

Nov 26 2014

What You Need for a Small Business Loan

People often ask me how to get a loan to start a business, or what type of documentation is needed to apply for a small business loan. Although every bank has its own requirements, many documents are mandatory across lenders. Before applying, here are the basic small business loan requirements to keep in mind.

Loan Application Form: Many of the biggest banks – and some of the smaller ones – have invested in technology that will allow online small business loan applications.However, far too many banks still require would-be borrowers to come into their branches and fill out paper applications in order to get funding. Applying for loans at multiple institutions can be harmful because each one will do a hard pull of your business credit history. The more hard pulls, the less chances you have of getting money because the banks interpret it as a sign of desperation that you are shopping around. Thus, they will question your creditworthiness.

Personal Information: Banks expect borrowers to provide basic personal background information.This data includes current and previous addresses, aliases, criminal record (if any), educational level, and other information.

Business Plan: Anyone looking to secure a small business bank loan should have a business plan. The document provides a detailed explanation of what the business is and where the owner hopes to take it.The business plan should include:

  1. Executive Summary: A one-page explanation of the business, its goals, operations, marketing efforts, and revenue model is very important. In fact, it may be the only portion of the business plan that a loan officer will bother to read, so be sure that it is succinct.
  2. Business Description: What does the company do? How will it make a profit?
  3. Local Market and Competitive Landscape: Describe where the business will be based and who the target audience will be. Assess the competition as objectively as possible and then describe how you plan to differentiate your business.
  4. Product or Service: Explain how your product or service works.Highlight what makes your business one that will attract customers.
  5. Sales, Marketing and Promotion: Outline how you will inform the marketplace about your company and build awareness.Describe the marketing tools you will use, including a web site, advertising, public relations (traditional and social media), trade shows, sampling, sales promotions, etc.
  6. Management Team: Describe who will run the business and their experience level(s).
  7. Financial Data: Provide a break-even analysis, cash flow projection, sample balance sheet and profit-and-loss statements.
  8. Investment Information: Lenders want to know how much money the owners are putting into the company. If you are unwilling to invest much of your own money into it, investors will be wary about doing so. Provide an estimate of sales, revenues, and what type of return investors can expect.
  9. Appendices: Any research you have conducted, charts, graphs, logos, and other images.

Personal Credit Report: Your lender will obtain your personal credit report as part of the application process. However, you should obtain a credit report from all three major consumer credit rating agencies before submitting a loan application to the lender. Inaccuracies and blemishes on your credit report can hurt your chances of getting a small business loan approved. It’s critical you try to clear up any discrepancies before beginning the loan application process.

Business Credit Report: If you are already in business, be prepared to submit a credit report for your company.It is important to review your business’ credit report before beginning the application process. A score of 650 or higher generally is considered a good score. If your business credit score is 600 or lower, you may have a difficult time securing financing from a traditional lender, such as a bank or credit union.

There are tried and true ways to increase your business credit score if you have a poor history or perhaps no credit history at all.Clearing up past-due debts and opening business credit cards and paying the monthly balances in full and on time are steps in the right direction.

Income Tax Returns: Most banks require applicants to submit personal income tax and business income tax returns for the previous three years. Providing business tax returns for a startup is difficult, of course. For new businesses, the personal return carries a lot of weight.

Financial Statements: Banks typically look for profit and loss (PL) documents, cash flow statements, and a balance sheet. Many lenders require one year of personal and business bank statements to be submitted as part of a loan package.

Collateral: Some financial institutions do not require collateral, but many of them do. Loans involving a high degree of risk will require substantial collateral. Lenders want to know the cost/value of personal or business property that will be used to secure a loan.

Legal Documents: Banks may require borrowers to submit the following items:

*Articles of Incorporation, which may be filed by an attorney or a service provider

*Franchise agreements

*Business licenses and registrations required for you to conduct business

*Copies of contracts you might have with any third parties

Banks, both large and small, and credit unions often have similar lending criteria. Many big banks turn away requests for startup loans because of their requirements of providing three years worth of financial data. In such cases, smaller, regional banks and credit unions may be more favorable. They understand the local environment better and are vested in helping local businesses grow.

Since the crash of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing “credit crunch,” the approval of SBA-backed loans (with 75% guarantees) have become increasingly popular.Each year, the SBA seems to report new records in funding amounts.However, as with any transaction involving government entities, there is much paperwork to be filed and the process can become very time consuming.

For borrowers who need money quickly or who have poor credit scores – or perhaps no credit history at all – alternative lenders is an option to consider.Cash advance companies, microlenders and CDFIs are often willing to lend when traditional institutions will not.However, the money comes with a premium price; some lenders charge 30-40% interest on the loans. Before you know these details before signing on the dotted line.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending has grown tremendously in the past few years, but it is a form of financing more common for startups, non-profits, and artistic ventures.P2P lending is a challenge for businesses that are not sexy – like construction companies, for example. Further, there are certain types of professionals, including doctors and dentists, who may not want to be seen having to raise money in such a manner.

Rohit Arora is co-founder and CEO of Biz2Credit, an online resource that connects 1.6 million small business owners with 1,300+ lenders, credit rating agencies and service providers such as CPAs and attorneys. Since 2007, Biz2Credit has secured more than $1.2 billion in funding for thousands of small businesses across the US Follow Rohit on Twitter @biz2credit and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/biz2credit.

Nov 26 2014

Downtown West Palm Beach Launches New Arts & Entertainment District







Nov 25 2014

Could Warren Buffett’s Investing Strategy Include Marijuana Stocks?

Few investorsare as highly regarded — and as successful — as
the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.#160;In just over six
decades, Buffetts investing strategy has grown his wealth from
about $10,000 to more than $71 billion. Not too shabby,
right?

The secret to Buffetts investing strategy is
really no secret at all

. In fact, Buffetts primary path of success has merely been to
locate high-quality businesses and stick with them over the long
term. He understands that time is his most powerful ally and
allows dividends and stock appreciation to work their magic over
years and decades. This has transformed his conglomerate,
Berkshire Hathaway

, into a $350 billion, highly diversified juggernaut.

Generally speaking, Buffett is a straight shooter. He likes to
buy established brands whose products and services could
practically sell themselves regardless of how skilled the
management team happens to be. Buffett likes products with lots
of demand around them — so its worth considering whether there
could#160;be room in Warren Buffetts portfolio for marijuana
stocks.

Source:
Flickr

user Oswaldo.

On the surface theres plenty of potential in the marijuana
sector. The most bullish long-term outlook comes from GreenWave
Advisors, which recently released a report predicting that the
legal marijuana market could be worth
as much as $35 billion by 2020

if the federal government legalized the drug. Even if the US
Drug Enforcement Administration doesnt change its tune on
marijuana,#160;GreenWave forecasts that 37 states will legalize
marijuana for medical purposes by 2020 and a dozen states will
legalize recreational use of the drug. This timeline predicts a
$21 billion market value for legal marijuana by 2020.

Certainly a market that could grow from just a few billion
dollars to $21 billion-$35 billion in six years would attract
Buffetts attention, right?

Warren Buffett would probably like this

On one hand, marijuana stocks do offer a couple of factors that
Buffett looks for in the companies he buys.

Source:
Flickr

user Gabor Basch.

For starters, Buffett relies on long-term trends to dictate
his buying or selling habits. He tends not to worry about a bad
quarter or two from one of his companies ifthe businesses is
positive over the long term. Banks, insurers, soft-drink makers,
and so on are all set to benefit from a growing population that
needs access to cash, protection from disasters, and something to
drink. Meanwhile, an October 2013 poll from Gallup , which showed
more people in favor of marijuana legalization than opposed,
strongly suggests the marijuana movement might be unstoppable on
a state level.

Marijuana could also see inelastic demand and pricing
regardless of how well or poorly the US economy is doing.
Buffett loves buying stocks that offer the potential to
outperform in any environment.

Yet, Buffett would also disapprove of this

However, there are also quite a few reasons why Warren Buffetts
investing strategy might not be a good match withmarijuana
stocks.

First, Buffett likes to buy into companies that have natural
moats, as calls them. You might know them better as barriers to
entry. While rules and regulations certainly limit the number of
marijuana retailers, and patents would protect any drugs that
could be developed by cannabinoid researchers
GW Pharmaceuticals

and
Insys Therapeutics

, entering the marijuana industry isnt too difficult. All you
need to do is look around at the myriad of unqualified

penny stocks

with paper-thin business models to understand that the barriers
to entry are minimal.

Source: GW Pharmaceuticals.

Second, there
arent many viable ways

#160;today to play the growth in the marijuana market beyond its
medical aspects (thus why I mentioned GW Pharmaceuticals and
Insys above). The problem there is Buffett and Berkshire have
little to no patience when it comes to keeping up with the ins
and outs of clinical trial data. Buffett much prefers that the
businesses he buys are easy to understand from the get-go, and
that they maintain their growth prospects for years or decades.
The finite patent life of drugs, compounded with the need to stay
up to date on GW Pharmaceuticals and Insys pipelines, would
likely keep Buffett away from these plays.

Third, Buffett wants to see a consistent history of
profitability and cash flow. Though Insys is profitable, that
would preclude the predominantly clinical-stage GW
Pharmaceuticals, as well as practically every penny stock
associated with the marijuana industry, because theyre all
losing money.

Finally, I suspect the biggest concern of all is the ongoing
legal cloud that hangs over the marijuana industry. Even with 23
states(and Washington, DC) approving medical marijuana, and
four states (plus DC) passing recreational marijuana laws,
theres no guarantee the federal government, which still
classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, wont take a more
active role in regulating pot in the future.

Could Warren Buffetts investing strategy incorporate
marijuana?

In spite of its rapid growth prospects and favorable opinion in
polls, I believethe idea of marijuana finding its way into
Buffetts portfolio is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Buffett would demand greater investing diversity than just the
two companies listed above. Additionally, marijuana businesses
would need to show a steady history of profitability and strong
cash flow in order to attract the Oracle. Dividends are
practically a necessity for a Buffett stock, and regular stipends
all start with strong cash flow. Finally, the legal questions
surrounding marijuanas long-term future would have to be
resolved.

For now, I suspect marijuana will remain a
highly emotionally charged investment

, and I would strongly suggest anyone considering marijuana for
their portfolio weigh their own risk tolerance and investment
time horizon carefully before taking the plunge.

Marijuana may not be on Buffetts radar, but this
disruptive technology certainly has the Oracle of Omaha
terrified!

At the recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffett
admitted#160;this emerging technology is threatening his
biggest cash-cow. Buffetts fear can be your gain.#160;Only a
few#160;investors are embracing this new market, which experts
say
will be worth over $2 trillion

. Find out how you can cash in on this technology before the
crowd catches on, by jumping onto one company that could get
you the biggest piece of the action.
Click here

#160;to access a
free

investor alert on the company were calling the brains behind
the technology.

The article
Could Warren Buffetts Investing Strategy Include
Marijuana Stocks?

originally appeared on Fool.com.

Sean Williams

#160;has no material interest in any companies mentioned
in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen
name

TMFUltraLong

, track every pick he makes under the screen name

TrackUltraLong

, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the
handle

@TMFUltraLong

.

The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends Berkshire
Hathaway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services
free for 30 days

. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe
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reserved. The Motley Fool has a

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Nov 25 2014

A Complete List of Books Written by the Investing Gurus

Reading the techniques and philosophies of successful portfolio managers can be useful to beginning and seasoned investors alike.

Many of the investors followed by GuruFocus have penned some of the most influential books in the field. The following is a list of books authored by our gurus. Two of these authors are not current active investors, but are nonetheless essential reading for the value investor investor — Ben Graham and Peter Lynch.

If there are any books that have been left off this list, or you would like to recommend one, please let us know in the comments section below.

Charles Brandes(Trades,Portfolio)

  • Value Investing Today
  • Brandes on Value: The Independent Investor

Warren Buffett(Trades,Portfolio)

  • Essays ofWarren Buffett(Trades,Portfolio): Lessons for Corporate America
  • Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters

David Dreman(Trades,Portfolio)

  • Contrarian Investment Strategies: The Psychological Edge

This edition is a major revision of the 1998 version of the book

David Einhorn(Trades,Portfolio)

  • Fooling Some of the People All the Time: A Long Short (And Now Complete) Story

Benjamin Graham

  • Security Analysis
  • The Intelligent Investor
  • The Interpretation of Financial Statements

Joel Greenblatt(Trades,Portfolio)

  • The Little Book that Still Beats the Market
  • You Can Be a Stock Market Genius: Uncover the Secret Hiding Places of Stock Market Profits
  • The Big Secret for the Small Investor: A New Route to Long-Term Investment Success

Seth Klarman(Trades,Portfolio)

  • Margin of Safety: Risk-averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor

There are only about 5,000 copies of Margin of Safety, which sell for almost $2,000 on sites like Amazon and eBay. Klarman holds the copyright, but has not spoken about reprinting or revising the book. Margin of Safety has become a value investing icon, and is reportedly one of the most stolen books from public libraries. Free PDF versions and notes circulate online.

Peter Lynch

Nov 24 2014

Getting sick, and then sicker from the debt

And although access to health insurance can help stave off medical debt, it doesnt solve the problem. About 10 million insured Americans have medical bills they are unable to pay. The Harvard researchers found that three-quarters of the medical debtors they studied had health insurance.

Unlike a car or home purchase, sudden illness and the often exorbitant cost of treatment cant be planned for. But creditors dont treat medical debt differently from any other debt. In 2010 alone, collection agencies targeted more than 30 million Americans for unpaid medical bills, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Thats not right. There is a real difference between credit-card debt and unexpected medical bills. More often than not, consumers who defaulted on credit cards also had other negative information weighing down their credit scores, whereas consumers with medical collections on their records often had excellent profiles before their medical crises.

Even a medical debt of as little as $100 is likely to be referred to collection, and that alone can lower a credit score by 80 or more points. The Federal Reserve estimates that about one in six credit reports in the US contain a medical-debt collection, and that nearly 17 million American adults have received a lower credit rating because of high medical bills.

Even when medical collections are paid or settled, they are not removed from your credit reports. They remain there for seven years from the date the original debt went into default. A new study released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that both paid and unpaid medical debt unfairly penalized a consumers credit rating.

The Medical Debt Responsibility Act, which was introduced in Congress last year, would help by requiring credit firms to remove settled or fully paid medical debt from credit reports within 45 days. But, although the bill has a wide range of support from groups, including the American Medical Association and Consumers Union, it is stalled in committee. Advocates continue to push for passage, but there is good reason to be pessimistic about the bills chances. Similar legislation died in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

In the absence of congressional action, consumers should take action to protect themselves. It is important to keep track of balances and communicate regularly with health providers and insurers, particularly if a payment is going to be late or if you want to try to negotiate a payment schedule.

Consumers should also always ask for an itemized bill and report any potential errors or inconsistencies promptly. They should ask about financial-assistance programs offered by the health provider and develop realistic payment plans. Whenever possible, consumers should avoid using credit cards to pay for health care, and they should be aware that many of the credit cards issued specifically for health care come with higher fees and interest. Finally, if a medical bill has been sent to collection, consumers should ask to attach a statement to their credit files explaining the debt.

A lot of attention is paid to helping people cope with the physical limitations and emotional turmoil that accompany a serious illness. But the long-term financial chaos and stress from medical troubles can be just as devastating. Congress should act on the Medical Debt Responsibility Act so that the economic toll of illness doesnt continue to plague patients long after they have recovered. And in the meantime, consumers should do everything they can to protect themselves.

Steve Trumble is president and CEO of the national financial education nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling.

Nov 24 2014

Cupich Names New Vicar General of Archdiocese of Chicago

Rev. Francis Kane, who has been serving as Vicar General of the Archdiocese, requested to return to his role as Episcopal Vicar of Vicariate II, the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a release.

Hicks has served on the faculty of St. Joseph College Seminary and currently serves as the Formation Director of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary.He speaks fluent Spanish and spent five yearsw working in El Salvador.

Nov 24 2014

CFPB Signals Renewed Crackdown on Credit Rating Data Providers

Consumer credit rating companies, and the firms that feed them with consumer data, have been put on notice by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that they must do a better job addressing complaints and inaccuracies.

In a bulletin issued on Wednesday, companies that supply information to consumer reporting companies, also known as “furnishers,” will be under added scrutiny by the CFPB when they investigate disputes forwarded by the consumer reporting companies. An upgraded, electronic database is intended to better enable then to review information provided with disputes and documents submitted by consumers.

Consumers may file a dispute with a consumer reporting company about an incorrect or challenged item on their credit report. If they do, the consumer reporting company typically inform their furnisher of that dispute and forward all relevant materials.

An electronic system, known as “e-OSCAR,” is used by the three largest nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax Information Services, TransUnion, and Experian Information Solutions – to send information relating to consumer disputes to furnishers. In a December 2012 study, the CFPB flagged the fact that this system did not provide any means for credit reporting companies to forward to furnishers any documents submitted by consumers.

Since then, the CFPB has been working to ensure that the dispute system was improved. The “e-OSCAR” system has now been upgraded so that the three companies can now send furnishers any relevant dispute documents mailed in by consumers. The CFPB is also currently working to expand the capacity of the system.

With this national database in place and operational, the CFPB issued the notice to detail its ongoing expectations of how furnishers should comply with the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, particularly when it comes to investigations of consumer disputes.

The CFPBs expectations detailed by the CFPB include:

  • When a consumer files a dispute about a credit report item, companies need to be able to receive information about the dispute and must investigate the consumers concerns.
  • Furnishers must report the results of the investigation to the consumer reporting company that sent the dispute originally.
  • Furnishers are required to report the results of the investigation to nationwide consumer reporting companies if those companies may have received inaccurate or incomplete credit information. Furnishers also have to modify, delete, or permanently block disputed information that is incomplete, inaccurate, or cannot be verified.

If the CFPB determines that a furnisher has engaged in any acts or practices that violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act or other federal consumer financial laws, it will take supervisory and enforcement actions, possibly including restitution to harmed consumers.

The CFPB accepts consumer complaints about credit reporting. If a consumer is dissatisfied with the resolution of a dispute with a consumer reporting company or if the consumer reporting company does not respond, consumers can submit a complaint with the Bureau.

Nov 23 2014

Public pension funds are investing workers out of their jobs

Public pension funds should invest the retirement savings of government workers to secure their financial future, not undermine it. Yet across the country, these funds are financing companies that privatize their own workers’ jobs. And because many of these investments are funneled through private-equity companies, the problem is still largely hidden from public view.

Pension trustees who are rightly concerned about these investments too often find themselves silenced by a subtle legalistic maneuver that took place six years ago last month and that could be stopped with the help of President Barack Obama’s Labor Department.