Wedding expense not limited to bride and groom

From https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2018/04/01/weddings-expensive-and-not-just-bride-and-groom/473707002/, clarionledger.com

PDF: Weddings expensive for everyone

The world is getting green again. Everywhere, people are lining up at garden centers, shopping carts loaded with spring flowers. Suburban neighborhoods are full of the buzzing of lawn mowers, and everywhere are signs of new life. And one rite of spring is already happening as the mailman brings wedding invitations for the summer wedding season.

According to The Wedding Report, which compiles statistics on weddings and the wedding industry, the number of weddings in the U.S. has climbed each year since bottoming out after the 2008 recession. The website pulled statistics from a number of sources to report that 2.21 million couples got married in 2016. The average cost of a wedding: just under $27,000. All that activity supported a growing industry which brought in more than $59 billion that year.

Weddings are a symbol of hope and anticipation for most people and bring the excitement of seeing a couple in love start their lives together. But it also means there is travel to arrange, as well as gifts and clothing to buy, functions to attend, and all kinds of decisions to make.

While the bride and groom and their families will bear most of the cost, for some attendees — especially those in the wedding party — it could get expensive. According to a new report from Bankrate.com, the average wedding-party member can expect to spend an average of $728 when it’s all said and done.

Members of the wedding party not only have dresses and tuxes to consider, they also are expected to attend bachelor/bachelorette parties, wedding shower, gifts and more. And that cost escalates if the wedding requires distant travel. But even guests who are not part of the wedding party can expect to spend an average of $628, Bankrate says, with more-distant friends and family members paying about half that. All that expense can break a budget if not anticipated. In previous studies, Bankrate reported that only 39 percent of people have enough savings to cover an unexpected expense of $1,000.

“Wedding season can be a stressful time, and not just for the bride and groom,” noted Bankrate.com analyst Robert Barba. “While it’s fun to celebrate with friends and loved ones, the associated costs add up fast and can wreak havoc on your budget if you’re not prepared. It’s imperative to start planning early — open a dedicated savings account to start your own wedding fund. However, you shouldn’t go into debt to celebrate others. If you feel you can’t afford the financial burden of attending, think twice before RSVPing.”

There are some ways to avoid a financial catastrophe if you’re about to attend a wedding. One of the best suggestions is to begin setting aside $100 a month the moment your friend or family member announces their engagement on social media. That’s well before the invitations and save-the-date cards go out, giving you extra notice. Since the average engagement lasts about 15 months, that should give you plenty of time to build up savings. And putting money away in savings is something we all need more of, anyway.

For more tips on how to save money when attending a wedding, Forbes’ Jennifer Calonia has an excellent article at https://bit.ly/2pQ7sld.

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Toys R Us gift cards: Use ’em or lose ’em

via Toys R Us gift cards: Use ’em or lose ’em, clarionledger.com

PDF: Use Toys R Us gift cards

With the recent announcement by Toys R Us that the toy retail giant is closing its doors forever, a shudder went through the world of many a child who grew up wanting to roam the aisles of the iconic chain. The company announced earlier this month that it will close or sell all its 735 U.S. stores after filing for bankruptcy in September.

It’s a little sad. A whole generation of children grew up hearing Toys R Us ads populated by the lovable Geoffrey the Giraffe, and my kids’ Christmases and birthdays often included items from Toys R Us. (That being said, I won’t miss the huge crowds and checkout-line chaos that characterized a visit to the store during the holidays, or the way you had to navigate a maze of popular toys as soon as you stepped in the front door.)

This day of reckoning has been coming for some time. The company had been struggling to compete in the online marketplace (after all, who can compete with Amazon), and a devastating holiday shopping season only hastened its demise amid a reported $5 billion in debt. An original plan to close only the most unprofitable stores was scrapped after the company’s situation went from bad to worse. When the company announced it was closing all its stores (affecting an estimated 33,000 employees), it also noted that customers who are holding Toys R Us gift cards have until April 21 to use them in existing stores or online. After that date, you will be out of luck.

In the past, companies in their death throes have left customers holding millions in unredeemed gift cards. In 2011, when Borders went belly-up, it left customers with about $210 million in worthless gift cards. Despite a lawsuit that nearly made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, cardholders found themselves holding worthless pieces of plastic after a judge threw out the case in part because he said the cardholders had waited too long.

This experience is not uncommon. A few years ago, I bought my lovely wife a spa day for her birthday. But when the spa went out of business soon thereafter (and she hadn’t been able to find a day to use it), we learned a painful lesson about gift cards: Redeem them quickly.

Gift cards are beloved by retailers because they work, but they can be a raw deal for consumers. Studies have shown that people who come into a store or shop online with a gift card are likely to spend more than the card’s value, and often pay full price for items instead of shopping for bargains. And unused cards are a blessing for companies because someone has already spent the money to put on the card, and the retailer gets to keep the money if it’s never redeemed.

Since they’ve become a favorite gift both for giver and receiver, the number of gift cards has skyrocketed. As a result, many households have a collection of gift cards just sitting around. The best advice I’ve seen is to use them right away. For smaller cards in the $5-$10 range, it will be difficult to use them without spending more than that, but it can be done. Or, you can sell it to a site like Gift Card Granny, Cardpool or Cardcash.

It’s also important to know the terms and conditions of the card’s use. Federal law prohibits a gift card from expiring less than five years from the date of issue, and the law limits the fees that can eat away at the card’s value. But there are still some fees that can be applied, so it’s important to know the rules.

For now, if you are holding a Toys R Us or Babies R Us gift card, you can use it in a store (if you don’t mind the liquidation crowds) or online at ToysRus.com or BabiesRus.com.

AGS: Data breach bill protects companies, not consumers

via Data breach bill protects companies, not consumers, clarionledger.com

PDF: Hood data breach law

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and 31 of his colleagues have written Congress to urge them to oppose parts of a pending bill that would allow businesses attacked by security breaches to take more time to notify the public.

The Data Acquisition and Technology Accountability and Security Act preempts all state data breach and data security laws, which includes laws that require notice to consumers and state attorneys general of data breaches.

In a news release Wednesday, Hood warned that, if passed, the bill would “allow breached entities to use their own judgment of whether there is ‘a reasonable risk that the breach of data security has resulted in identity theft, fraud, or economic loss to any consumer…’.” Hood and his colleagues are concerned that the current version of the bill allows companies to determine whether consumers have become victims of identity fraud related to the breach before making the breach public, and “would remove any opportunity for the consumers to take pro-active steps to protect themselves from identity theft before it happens, not after the fact.”

“This bill puts consumers further in danger of becoming a victim of identity theft by not making them immediately aware that their personal information was compromised,” he explained. “It’s my job as attorney general to protect Mississippi’s consumers, and it’s the job of those in Congress to pass laws that protect our country’s citizens, not its corporations.”

In addition, he noted, the proposed law exempts insurance companies from reporting breaches, despite previous data breaches at Nationwide, Anthem and Premera Insurance companies.

In recent months, Congress has been debating new laws that would strengthen requirements for reporting data breaches, such as last summer’s Equifax breach, which affected more than 150 million Americans (and about 1.3 million Mississippians). Equifax allegedly knew about the breach at least a month before it announced it, potentially taking away options for consumers to protect themselves. “By passing the data breach bill,” Hood cautioned, “Congress is clearing the way for such failures to continue.”

The new law would supersede a patchwork of differing state laws regarding data incursions such as the Equifax breach. But, attorneys general wrote in their letter, state laws requiring corporate transparency have often been the first line of defense in getting breaches known and stopped.

“With this transparency, our offices have been able to learn about breaches and investigate the reasons for them,” they wrote. “These investigations have revealed that some entities have failed to take sufficient data security precautions. Understanding where data security failures occur has allowed us to require companies to implement data security fixes. For that reason, we urge you to avoid limiting our ability to learn about data breaches and to require companies to improve their data security measures going forward.”

Facebook: Here’s how to quit or sorta quit the social media

via Facebook: Here’s how to quit or sorta quit the social media, clarionledger.com

PDF: Fed up with Facebook

I’ve wanted to delete my Facebook account several times, but I’ve never really quit. Over the past couple of years, as Facebook and other social media sites have become increasingly hostile and politically polarized, I’ve considered quitting cold turkey. After one particularly nasty experience about a year ago, I actually deleted the app on my phone and held off posting for a week or so. But after a friend shared a particularly inspiring message and I heard about it, I logged in once again and pretty soon my old habits had returned.

That’s the paradox of Facebook. I’ve heard from many friends (real ones, not just Facebook friends) that they are about to cut the cord on this pervasive social media platform, which has — at 2 billion users — become larger than the world’s three biggest countries by population. A few have actually posted, “I’m done with Facebook” or something similar, but their accounts go dark after a while. Eventually, many find themselves returning.

It’s safe to say that much good has come from Facebook and other social media. These platforms have provided opportunities for people who need help to get that help. They’ve made us aware of situations and needs in our own communities, which would have otherwise gone unmet. And — for better or worse — they’ve given amateur poets, philosophers, craftspeople, and storytellers a platform they otherwise might not have had.

But social media have become problematic for many people. Given the political climate today, those who dare espouse any political view on their social media pages are likely to get slammed by trolls who call them nasty names and even threaten bodily harm. Gone are the days when we could have pleasant conversations on social media (if that day ever actually existed). Perhaps it’s just a reflection of our fractured society.

And then there’s the chance your information will be harvested and used for profit or political purposes. A recent scandal in which a company collected data on Facebook users who took part in an innocuous-looking poll has highlighted the risks we take when we use social media. Cambridge Analytica is accused of collecting information about 50 million Facebook users through a poll called “thisisyourdigitallife.” The data could have been used to target political messages to other users. This and similar stories have caused a lot of people to think anew about cutting ties with Facebook and other social media.

If you’re one of those, there are several ways to do it. In a recent article, Consumer Reports notes there are three ways you can cut back or pretty much remove your Facebook experience. But there is a big caveat: In the digital world, things really never disappear entirely.

  • Option 1: Deactivate your account. Facebook offers you the option to deactivate your account (temporarily) without deleting it. You’ll be able to reactivate it at any time. Deactivating it will remove your profile from Facebook, and people won’t be able to find you via Facebook. “To deactivate,” Consumer Reports notes, “click on the downward-facing arrow in the top-right corner of any Facebook page in your web browser. Scroll down to Settings, then select General in the column on the left of the page. Choose Manage Account and click on Deactivate.”
  • Option 2: Delete your account. Deletion is a much more serious action because it can’t be reversed. All of your photos, posts, and messages will be gone. Facebook will give you a “few days” to change your mind, however. And before you delete, you can get an archive file sent to you, containing all your information.
  • Option 3: Turn off your Facebook Platform. If you’re worried about the information being collected about you on Facebook but still want to use it, this may be a good option for you. Since many websites and apps use Facebook to connect, it’s likely you have a few of these. By turning off the Facebook Platform, though, all those links are severed. If you use Facebook to log in to other websites, you’ll need to connect another way.

While going “off the grid” of social media seems to be getting harder to do with each passing day, there are still some ways to do it (at least to some extent). And if can you do so successfully, you may find yourself rediscovering parts of your life that you thought were lost somewhere in cyberspace.

Beware first responder charity scams

via Firefighter charity scams use emotional appeal to encourage donations, clarionledger.com

PDF: Beware first responder charity scams

Every day, people in nearly every community put their lives on the line to protect our lives and property. First responders often work with low pay, in dangerous situations and with little or no recognition despite performing daily heroic acts facing criminals, running into danger and keeping our communities safe. Without police, firefighters, paramedics and others to do this work, our communities wouldn’t be places in which we’d want to live.

Many first-responder units are supported by charities that raise funds to help those injured in the line of duty, as well as helping family members who are left behind when a first responder dies in the line of duty. Over the past decades, charity organizations have also helped finance the purchase of needed equipment, funded counseling services and helped support first responders’ kids’ education.

But we are increasingly hearing about “charities” calling people to request donations but are really scams designed to appeal to donors’ emotions and appreciation for the work of first responders. Recently, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, who is also the state fire marshal, warned Mississippians about a phone scam in which callers requested donations for members of the fire service.

The state fire marshal’s office reported receiving numerous reports that someone has been calling to solicit funds for the Fallen Firefighters Association and the Mississippi Firefighters Association, as well as someone calling fire stations to seek donations for the Mississippi State Fire Academy. But, Chaney warned, it’s all a ruse.

“These organizations and the State Fire Academy do not raise funds in this manner; these calls are most often scams operating in our state,” Chaney said.

Scammers often use an emotional appeal to encourage donations and may use the name of a real organization to solicit funds. In some cases, they’ll use names that are very similar to more well-known organizations to trick you into thinking you’re supporting the better-known organization.

If you get a call like this, remember that just because someone says they’re calling on behalf of a particular organization doesn’t mean it’s true. And, Chaney added, “Do not give out any personal information via phone or email to anyone who calls you about a donation like this.”

Although a particular fund-raising organization may be legitimately soliciting funds for a local department, they often take a major part of donated funds to pay for the fund-raising, so ask how much of your donated dollar will go directly to help first responders.

And even if the solicitation sounds legitimate, you don’t have to make a decision over the phone. Ask for them to send you something in the mail and follow up with a call to your local police or fire department to verify the caller’s information and ask whether that’s the best way to help.

If you believe you’ve gotten a suspicious fund-raising call, you can report the number to the Consumer Division of the attorney general’s office at 601-359-4230 or 1-800-281-4418.

We’re not saving enough

via Are you putting money away in savings?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Not Saving for the Future

If you were to ask the people around you to tell you honestly whether they are putting money away in savings, some would proudly nod their heads and reply that, yes, they are trying to put something aside for the future. Others would probably sheepishly look at you and reply that they would like to but can’t put aside as much as they would like. Still others would give you a blank stare, as if they didn’t understand the question and wonder why anyone would ask such a thing.

In this credit-fueled age, saving has become an antiquated concept for some people. But it wasn’t always so; saving money was something many of us were taught to do from childhood, and many children grew up in families that required them to save for things they wanted, instead of buying on credit.

Having money in savings is just as much a path to financial independence as it was 50 years ago; savings is a bulwark against many things that can ruin your financial future: job loss, unexpected expenses, medical problems and many others. On a larger scale, individual savings have traditionally been an indicator of a nation’s financial health.

I was reading through a recent study by Bankrate.com about Americans’ savings habits, and it doesn’t provide a lot of good news. According to the report, one in five workers say they aren’t saving anything, and a substantial percentage of those aren’t saving enough. All this is despite positive economic indicators.

“With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement. That amounts to a financial fail,” stated Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.

Apparently, many employed people who would like to be saving aren’t doing it because they’re living beyond their means. Nearly 40 percent of those responding to the survey listed other expenses as the roadblock to putting money away. Others (16 percent) said their jobs just don’t pay enough or they just “haven’t gotten around to it.” Thirteen percent blamed debt, while about 6 percent said they don’t need to save money, either because they think they have enough or don’t see it as important.

The study did reveal a couple of bright spots, though: Millennials report saving at higher rates than their parents and are second only to their grandparents. “Among age groups, younger Millennials (aged 18-27) were second only to seniors between the ages of 64 and 72 years old,” the report noted.

There are many great ways to start putting money away. Most financial websites have some great ideas for developing ways to become a better manager of your money, and making it work for you (instead of the other way around). Here are three:

  • Create a spending plan and follow it. A good budget that includes setting aside money for the future will not only help you be a better master of your money, it will help you develop your long-term financial security.
  • Take advantage of employee matching. Many employers offer to match money you put into a retirement fund. This will effectively double your contribution, and many people are leaving money on the table if they don’t take advantage of this common benefit.
  • Encourage your kids to save. There are many great ways to teach children good savings habits. One common approach is the Moonjar or similar approaches, in which kids take their allowance, birthday money or other income and divide into three containers for saving, spending and giving. As the amount of money in the jars grows, they will develop solid habits that can last their entire lives.

And if you’re interested in teaching financial literacy to your kids, there are many great resources out there. My personal favorite is www.feedthepig.org, which is run by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Saving can be hard to learn, but just like nearly everything else that requires us to change our habits, it takes time, commitment and dedication. Arming yourself with the right tools is the first step towards taking control of your money.

Fraud: Medicare seeks to thwart ID thieves with new card numbers

via Fraud: Medicare seeks to thwart ID thieves with new card numbers, clarionledger.com

PDF: New Medicare Cards

Mississippians should start getting their new Medicare cards this summer, the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced recently. The agency is sending a new Medicare card to all 60 million or so Medicare beneficiaries (including more than 560,000 in Mississippi), as part of a long-awaited shift away from using the Social Security number as the card’s identifier.

However, don’t get in a rush in anticipation; Mississippi residents will be among the last set of states to get their new cards. Although the CMS will start mailing cards in April to residents in some states, the agency is using a seven-phase roll-out of the card distribution, and the agency states that Magnolia State beneficiaries will start getting their cards “after June 2018.” Don’t feel slighted, though; residents of Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and the U.S. Virgin Islands are all scheduled to get their cards in Phase 7 as well.

CMS has been under pressure the past several years to replace the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier, which has traditionally been the same as the beneficiary’s Social Security number. In 2015, Congress passed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, which requires Medicare to replace the old identifiers with a new, 11-character Medicare Beneficiary Identifier by April 2019.

Identity theft has become such a big problem in recent years that most agencies and businesses have stopped using the Social Security number as a primary identifier. While it was once convenient, the Social Security number became widely used by identity thieves. The bad news is that scammers are still trying to get consumers to give up their Social Security numbers by using a variety of tactics.

A 71-year-old man in Austin, Texas, told a local TV station recently that he’d gotten five calls in a single day from scammers who promised to pick up the card in exchange for money. Others have reported getting calls claiming they have to send in their old cards before the new ones can be mailed, being threatened with loss of benefits, or told their cards are expiring. Don’t believe any of it.

CMS notes that no one will call you about the new card, and you don’t have to do anything. It will come in the mail to you at the address Medicare has on file for you. And if you talk to somebody in another state who has already gotten their card but yours hasn’t yet arrived, don’t fret; remember that the cards are being sent out gradually, state-by-state. Once you get your new card, destroy the old one immediately (but keep your Medicare Advantage card) and put the new one in your wallet or purse. It’s important to protect it as you would any other sensitive information. Physicians and other providers who bill Medicare are already getting instructions about the new cards, and how to implement them in their systems so they should have no trouble with your new card.

For more information, visit www.cms.gov/medicare/new-medicare-card/nmc-home.html.

Debt collection tops national complaints list

via Debt collection tops national complaints list, clarionledger.com

In November, the consumer website Nerdwalletreported that the average American is carrying $15,654 in credit card debt, amounting to about $905 billion. Those staggering numbers mean a substantial portion of the U.S. population is in hock to a degree unmatched in history. It also means a lot of those debtors are going to miss some payments and let their debts lapse, leading to calls from collection agencies.

Some of those calls during 2017 led to complaints to various public and private agencies in the U.S. and Canada, which in turn reported them to Consumer Sentinel, a government-owned database. Consumer Sentinel issues an annual list of the most common complaints reported by consumers. While collection agency complaints topped the list this year and accounted for about 23 percent of all the 2.7 million complaints filed, there was actually some good news for the industry: Collection-agency complaints were down from the previous year.

The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017 Snapshot provides a good look at some of the things about which consumers are angry. Fraud is a rising concern, with consumers reporting that they lost $905 million this year. Two types of fraud rounded out the Top 3 this year: identity theft and imposter scams.

Mississippi was about the middle of the pack (27th) when compared with per-capita rates in other states for the number of reports filed. Of the more than 15,000 reports filed by Mississippians in 2017, the percentage tracked national numbers for debt-collection reports (23 percent), which topped the list.

In all, 2,064 Mississippians reported being victimized by identity thieves, with the numbers being evenly split among tax- or employment-related identity theft and credit-card fraud (the actual number is probably much higher, because many consumers don’t report being victimized. And some of those are probably attributable to the “W-2 Scam,” in which businesses and organizations get an email pretending to be from the IRS and asking for information on their employees. Many organizations have taken the bait, providing sensitive information to scammers.

Nationwide, nearly 14 percent of consumers who complained did so after being hit by identity thieves, who stole their credit card information then used it to steal. Tax fraud was also a big category of identity theft, primarily caused by thieves who filed fraudulent tax returns, then made off with the refund that should have gone to the taxpayer.

“While we received fewer overall complaints in 2017, consumers reported losing more money to fraud than they did the year before, “said Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This underscores the importance of the FTC’s work in educating consumers and cracking down on the scammers who try to take their money.”

For the first time, the 2017 data book includes details on fraud losses broken out by age groups, noted the FTC in a news release. Millennials were the most common fraud victims, with about 40 percent reporting losing money to fraudsters. While people over age 70 were frequently victimized as well, the percentage was lower — about 18 percent of them saying they lost money. But when they were hit, the older consumers lost more on average.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a big increase in imposter scams, in which a scammer pretends to be a government official, tech support representative, a loved one in trouble or someone else so they can get victims to send money. “Consumers reported losing substantially more money to imposter scams — a total of $328 million — than any other type of fraud,” said the agency. Nearly one in five consumers who reported an imposter scam indicated they lost money to the fraud.

Here are a few more highlights of the report:

  • The average victim lost $429, but consumers who reported travel, vacation and timeshare fraud reported losing a median amount of $1,710 — the highest individual loss amount compared with other scams.
  • Military consumers reported losing the most money to imposter scams ($26 million in total). The median fraud losses reported by members of the military were more than 44 percent higher than the general population, with military consumers reporting a median fraud loss of $619.
  • Wire transfer was the most widely used form of payment, with 70 percent of consumers reported being solicited over the phone.

To see the entire report, visit https://www.ftc.gov/policy/reports/policy-reports/commission-staff-reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-2017/visual-snapshot

What will you do with your tax refund?

via What will you do with your tax refund?, clarionledger.com

PDF: More Americans planning to save tax refunds

Back in April, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that it had refunded more than $268 billion in taxes to taxpayers during the 2016 filing season and had processed 135.6 million returns to date. That’s a lot of money going back into taxpayers’ pockets, and recent tax legislation will likely mean a little more cash for most people. While getting a big refund actually means you’re letting Uncle Sam use your money interest-free until it’s returned to you, many people have come to depend on it for a little extra cash.

With this year’s filing season in full swing and the average refund adding up to about $2,700, many Americans are going to find that cash quickly burns a hole in their pocket, instead of going to savings or paying down debt. While that’s a windfall for retailers and puts some short-term cash into the economy, it’s not too good for Americans dealing with sky-high personal debt.

But there is encouraging news this year: More Americans are planning to hold on to that money or put it to work to reduce debt. Each year, the National Retail Federation surveys consumers to find out what they plan to do with their tax refunds, and this year’s survey found that nearly half (49 percent) plan to put their refund into savings. That’s up a full percentage point from last year and the highest number in the survey’s 12-year history.

“Tax return season is a time when consumers plan and prioritize financially, whether it is paying down debt or saving for a rainy day,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “With the passage of tax reform and the expectation of more disposable income, we expect to see consumers prioritizing how and when they spend their hard-earned dollars, especially during the back-to-school and holiday seasons.”

While a lot of retailers hope to cash in on extra cash that will be rolling into bank accounts, only 22 percent say they’ll use their refunds on everyday expenses. Twelve percent will use the money for vacations, while only about 8 percent will use that money to make major purchases, such as appliances or vehicles.

In the meantime, as you wait for your refund, the Internal Revenue Service recently took to its website to bust some common myths that crop up around filing time each year. Here are a few things that are commonly believed about taxes, but which are patently false or misunderstood:

All refunds are delayed. This persistent myth comes up every year, and with refund fraud increasing in recent years, is making the rounds on social media again. But, the IRS notes, it issues nine out of 10 refunds in less than three weeks. Signing up for direct deposit makes it happen even faster. In fact, by law the IRS can’t even begin issuing refunds before Jan. 29, and if the return includes Earned Income Tax Credits or Additional Child Tax Credits, they can’t be issued before mid-February.

Ordering a tax transcript is a “secret way” to get a refund date. No, ordering a tax transcript will not enable you to find out exactly when your refund will be deposited. Using the “Where’s My Refund” feature on the IRS’ website (see below) can help you get an idea, though.

The IRS will call or email taxpayers about their refund. Ignore this one at your peril. Scammers know that people might be intimidated to get a threatening call or email from the IRS, so they’re using this tactic to convince people they’re about to be arrested, or to get them to give up sensitive information. Don’t fall for it; the IRS will never call you about your refund.

To use the secure “Where’s My Refund” link (you’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status and the expected amount of your refund from your tax return), visit https://sa.www4.irs.gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetstatus.jsp.

Citigroup to refund $335M to customers

via Citigroup to refund $335M to customers, clarionledger.com

PDF: Citigroup to refund 335

If you have a Citigroup credit card account and had missed a payment but got your payment history back on track, you could be getting a check in the mail later this year. The financial services giant announced last week that it had failed to properly reduce interest charges on about 1.75 million card accounts since 2011, and will be refunding the money to customers later this year.

Under a federal law known as the CARD Act, credit card companies are required to regularly review credit card accounts to determine whether they should receive a rate decrease in certain cases. But the company admitted on Feb. 23 that it had failed to perform this duty properly for about 10 percent of its cardholders since 2011, and issued a statement on its website announcing the refunds.

“While we believed our methodology was sound, a periodic internal review identified potential flaws in the methodology being used to reevaluate interest rates that affected some cardholder accounts,” noted the company in a statement attributed to Liz Fogarty, head of global consumer banking public affairs. “We informed our regulators and revised our methodology going forward. We also conducted a comprehensive review to identify any customers who were impacted to determine how this happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Of course, we are deeply disappointed and sincerely apologize to those affected,” noted Citi’s statement. “While we did identify the issue, it should have been identified sooner.”

The company went on to say that the average customer will get about $190 in refunds, in the form of a check, later this year. The CARD Act requires lenders to review the accounts of customers who made late payments and got hit with a penalty rate, but have resumed good payment histories for six consecutive months.

“This refund won’t have much of an impact on Citi, but for millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, $190 matters,” said Ryan Feldman of Bankrate.com. “It may not change their lives, but they will certainly welcome it, especially since they shouldn’t have had to part with it in the first place.”

This provision of the CARD Act is a very important one,” Feldman added. “Before the CARD Act, someone who was hit with a penalty rate could be stuck with that super-high rate indefinitely. That shouldn’t happen anymore. That’s great news for people who hit a rough patch financially and then get their feet back under them shortly thereafter.”

Late payments on credit accounts are one of the things that can profoundly affect your credit score. Making your payments on time and establishing a track record tells future lenders you are a good risk, while missing payments repeatedly can ding your credit score and keep you from getting the best interest rates on future credit.

While there are consumers for whom a late or missed payment is very rare or nonexistent, many cardholders slip up occasionally. If it happens once in a blue moon, it’s probably not a big deal. But repeated missed or late payments can seriously hurt your credit in the future. If you have to miss a payment for whatever reason, the worst thing you can do is not communicate with the credit card company. Most creditors will be glad to work with you, and if it’s your first time to be late, many will waive late fees.

And if you have been missing payments but have gotten back on track with timely payments, the good news is your credit score will improve over time.