Posts by Mandi Woodruff
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance1 day ago
The debt collections industry in the U.S. is so under-regulated these days that even debt collectors are getting scammed by debt collectors, as the illustrated in a lengthy feature this past weekend.
When a debt is left unpaid, it’s common practice for lenders — banks, credit card companies, cell phone providers, hospitals, car dealers — to sell the debt to companies (debt buyers) willing to chase after the borrowers. The amount owed could be $2,000 or $20. For a debt buyer, it’s a heck of a bargain. Charged-off debts sell for an average of according to a Federal Trade Commission study, and debts older than 15 years can cost practically nothing. Buyers of that debt then pass off the borrower’s information to a debt collector, who tries to collect the debt. If they succeed, it can prove to be a lucrative investment. In the same FTC study, researchers found the top nine debt buyers in the U.S. held debts with a face value of $143 billion, which they purchased for just $6.5 billion.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance1 day ago
A new map released by the Tax Foundation shows exactly how far $100 would go in all 50 states.
Using recently released data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Tax Foundation was able to show exactly how the varying prices of goods, housing and income taxes in each state can impact consumers’ purchasing power.
Southerners and Midwesterners have a serious edge over those along the East and West Coasts. A hundred bucks goes the furthest in Mississippi, where $100 will buy you what would cost $115.74 in another state that's closer to the national average. As the Tax Foundation puts it, Missippians are about 15% richer than their nominal incomes suggest. The next low-price states are Arkansas ($114.16), Missouri ($113.51), and Alabama ($113.51). Meanwhile, $100 would only be worth $84.60 in the District of Columbia, the priciest state, $85.32 in Hawaii, $86.66 in New York and $87.64 in nearby New Jersey.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance2 days ago
The rich and famous may have a knack for earning millions of dollars, but that doesn’t always translate to holding onto that money, or investing it wisely. For every financially savvy celebrity coupon clipper, like Kristen Bell, there’s a Nicolas Cage (had to pay the IRS $6 million in back taxes in 2012) or Toni Braxton (filed for bankruptcy twice) or Teri Polo of “Meet the Parents” fame (filed for bankruptcy this year): celebrities and other rich folks who, through overspending, overconfidence and general short-sightedness, manage to bungle their finances and squander their wealth.
For the rest of us, some of the best financial lessons can be learned from watching the fortunate foul up.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance6 days ago
The college financial aid application process can be tough for any family to manage on their own, but is it worth the money to bring in a professional?
Certified college aid planners and consultants promise to help families maximize their chances of securing financial aid. Since the recession, the National Institute of Certified College Planners, which offers a certificate in college aid planning to financial professionals, has doubled its membership, from 600 in 2006 to 1,300 this year, according to co-founder Ron Them.
Some of these pros play dual roles, counseling families through the college application and selection process, and then helping them handle financial aid applications afterward. Others are traditional wealth managers or accountants who have begun offering college aid planning as a bonus to their existing roster of clients.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance7 days ago
After decades of operating as wardens of modern-day debtors’ prisons, the reign of payday lenders may soon be over.
Since the spring, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a set of rules that could for the first time impose nationwide regulations on the payday lending industry as a whole. Meanwhile, state regulators have redoubled their efforts to crack down on the growing predatory practices of payday lenders as they increasingly move from traditional neighborhood strip malls to the Internet.
The anti-payday lending movement hit the mainstream this week. Consumer advocacy group hijacked Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” campaign, swapping out the killer fish for predatory payday lenders. And in a on the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday, host John Oliver (with an assist from comedian Sarah Silverman) begged Americans to “literally do anything else” but take out payday loans.
“Basically, payday loan companies are the Lay’s potato chips of finance,” he said. “You can’t have just one and they’re terrible for you.”
Shtick aside, Oliver has the right idea.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance12 days ago
People who struggle to qualify for new loans because of old debts can celebrate a pair of significant victories this week.
First, FICO — the creator of the most widely used credit score in the U.S. — that it would no longer weigh unpaid medical debt as heavily when computing consumer credit scores. The news was followed by a by the Department of Education that would make it easier for students and parents who are carrying unpaid debt to qualify for federal PLUS loans.
In different ways, each of these changes would make it easier for cash-strapped consumers to access credit. It’s a reversal of the trend that took hold in the wake of the financial crisis, when banks and lenders went from handing out risky loans like candy to making it difficult for subprime borrowers to access new credit.
Improving access to credit is what many economists have argued is necessary to help jolt what has been a sluggish recovery.
But others are more cautious about loosening credit standards for certain borrowers who might end up taking on more debt than they can handle.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance13 days ago
So far, the outlook is pretty bright for shoppers who like to buy more than just their party supplies and holiday candy at dollar stores.
Dollar Tree, which is already the No. 1 dollar-store chain the U.S., will raise its storefront count to more than 13,000 with the addition of Family Dollar. But the chain still faces competition from contenders like Big Lots (BIG) and Dollar General (DG), not to mention retail heavyweight Walmart (WMT), which hasn’t taken too kindly to the fact that dollar stores have been eating into its customer base.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance14 days ago
We’re still shaking our heads over a New York hotel’s ridiculous attempt to thwart negative online reviews: by threatening wedding parties with a $500 fine each time one of their guests posted a jab online. The Union Street Guest House, a boutique hotel in upstate New York, buried this particular clause in the contract clients sign when they rent their facilities for events. “...There will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event,” the policy says. The hotel has since denied that it was serious about implementing the fine, but it left some consumers wondering if an absurd policy like that is even legal. Businesses can certainly sue customers who write bad reviews (and win), but they have to at least prove the remarks were either factually incorrect or written maliciously, says Scott Michelman, an attorney with Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group. The idea that a company could impose fines on customers over a bad review that is factually correct and based on a person’s opinion seems unreasonable, not to mention out of the bounds covered by the First Amendment. “I think under all state contract laws, it would be unenforceable to stick something in fine print that says a customer can’t disparage a business,” Michelman says. There’s one situation in which there might be an exception: If a customer and the business agreed upfront (with legal representation on both sides) to include a non-disparagement clause in a contract, the business may have legal grounds on which to sue if the other party didn’t hold up their end of the agreement. Even then, the fact that a business would try, by any means, to stop customers from telling others about their service should raise a red flag. “You have to check the fine print for these nasty clauses,” Michelman says. “That may be a signal to the consumer that this is an unscrupulous business and they might want to think twice about [doing business with them].” How do you know you’ve gone too far? You don’t need a law degree to tell when a company like Union Street Guest House has gone too far to protect their reputation. But as more businesses and professionals fight back against consumers who post negative reviews online, it’s helpful to know the difference between what is harmless opinion and what could be grounds for a lawsuit. Write about your personal experience: After news broke about Union Street’s policy, a lot of people started flooding their Yelp page with one-star reviews. That’s precisely the kind of review that a company could sue over. You can win a lawsuit if a negative review is based on your personal experience, but not if it’s something you heard from a friend or wrote simply to damage their business. “A consumer can always say what the consumer thought,” Michelman says. “It gets
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance19 days ago
In early 2010, things weren’t going very well for San Francisco-based romance novelist Bella Andre. Brick-and-mortar bookstores were shutting down in large numbers, and after seven years, eight books and two publishers, she learned she had been axed from her latest contract.
“I was hanging on by my fingernails,” says Andre, 41, who was trying to carve out a niche in contemporary romance. Peers advised her to try a different pen name, to change genres, to write anything but love stories. With a degree in economics from Stanford University and a background in music, she wasn’t short on career options.
- Mandi Woodruff at Yahoo Finance21 days ago
Credit reporting bureaus started offering free annual credit reports to consumers more than a decade ago. But few consumers — 4% of Americans, to be exact — ever bother to take advantage of this financial resource.
Part of the problem is that credit reports were never designed with consumers in mind. From Day 1, credit bureaus have had one primary customer: experts at banks and credit lenders who have been trained to understand them.
Until now, the average Joe has pretty much been on his own.
“If you look at , these are reports that are made for banks, so it’s full of technical jargon,” says Ken Lin, CEO of consumer finance site . “These are the things a lot of consumers get frustrated with.”