We have strict accounting protocols in place that provide the highest level of security to your association funds. Learn more about fiscal responsibility at SCS.

Our Association Management Group Practices Fair Debt Collection  

Our Association Management Group Practices Fair Debt Collection  

Our association makes every effort to work with homeowners in the Carolinas who are having problems paying their assessments. But sometimes people get behind on their payments. We want our homeowners to know that the association adheres to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), and we do not harass homeowners for unpaid assessments.

Carolina Community associations are required to collect assessments, which many state and federal courts consider to be debts. The FDCPA requires those who collect debts from individuals—like homeowners in a community association—to refrain from tactics that might be considered invasive. The FDCPA prohibits the association from:

  • Harassing you
  • Threatening you with violence or harm
  • Publishing names of owners who are delinquent or refuse to pay
  • Annoying you with repeated phone calls
  • Making false statements about you
  • Misrepresenting the amount you owe
  • Depositing your post-dated check early
  • Threatening to take legal action against you when we don’t really mean it
  • Providing your personal information to anyone else without your permission

The FDCPA also requires the association to notify you in writing about your delinquent assessments. This correspondence must state that it is an attempt to collect a debt, include the amount of the debt and the association’s name, and it must state that you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing. If an association violates any of these stipulations, it could be liable to the homeowner for damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs.

For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act practices in the Carolinas visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information page at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection.

Tips For Saving On Home Owners And Renters Insurance

Tips for Saving on Home Owners and Renters Insurance

Whether you own or rent your home in our community, insurance is essential to protect your property and household goods. Comparison shopping for the best rates will certainly save you some money, but you also can save by following these tips:

  • Choose a higher deductible—increasing your deductible by just a few hundred dollars can make a big difference in your insurance premium.
  • Don’t forget to ask your insurance agent about discounts. Dead bolts, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, security systems, storm shutters and fire-retardant roofing material are just some of the home safety features that can often lower your rate. You also may be eligible for a lower premium if you are a long-term customer or if you bundle other coverage, such as auto insurance, with your provider. Some companies also offer senior discounts for customers who are older than 55 years.
  • Be sure not to include the value of the land when you are deciding how much coverage to buy. If you insure your house, but not the land under it, you can avoid paying more than you should. Even after a disaster, the land will still be there.
  • If you’re a renter, don’t assume your landlord carries insurance on your personal belongings. She or he most likely doesn’t. Purchase a separate renters’ policy to be sure your property—like furniture, electronics, clothing and other personal items—is covered.

Don’t wait until you have a loss to find out whether you have the right type and amount of insurance. For example, many policies require you to pay extra for coverage for high-ticket items like computers, cameras, jewelry, art, antiques, musical instruments and stamp and coin collections.

Furthermore, not all coverage will replace fully what is insured. An “actual-cash-value” policy will save you money on premiums, but it only pays what your property is worth at the time of loss (your cost minus depreciation for age and wear). “Replacement” coverage gives you the money to rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

Finally, a standard homeowners’ association policy does not cover flood and earthquake damage. The cost of a separate earthquake policy depends on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area – so Southeastern residents do not have to be as concerned as other HOA residents. Homeowners who live in flood-prone areas should take advantage of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Saving For The Holidays

Saving for the Holidays

In these tough economic times, many homeowners are trying to stretch their dollars and keep their debt as low as possible. The following tips from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), offer easy ways to save:

  • ŸCut $5 a day out of your incidental spending. Mindless spending and impulse shopping take a bigger chunk out of your spending than you might care to admit.
  • Ÿ Empty the change in your pocket into a jar each night. Pocket change can add up to between $30 and $50 a month.
  • Ÿ Resolve to carve $10 a month from each of five discretionary spending categories. For example:
    • Shopping: stay out of malls, and shop only when an item is needed.
    • Medical: sign up for one of the discount plans on prescriptions currently being offered by many national drug chains.
    • Utilities: lower the thermostat at home.
    • Food: plan meals in advance and never grocery shop on the run.
    • Eating out: order water to drink when dining at a restaurant.
  • Eliminate bank fees. Bank with an institution that has ATMs near where you live and work, eliminating any fees assessed by using a machine outside of your network. Don’t pay for your checking account when many banks offer free checking with few strings attached. Never overdraw your account.
  • ŸKick your bad habits. Buying a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket each day can add up quickly.
  • ŸStop charging and pay with cash. Studies show that people who pay for their purchases with cash typically save about 20 percent. Therefore, if you put $1,000 onto a charge card each month, you stand to save big bucks.
  • ŸDon’t have too much of a good thing. Examine your cell phone package. Are the minutes right for your calling patterns? Look at your cable plan. Are you paying for channels you never watch? Switching to a plan that is right for you yields big savings.
  • ŸGet insurance check-ups. You don’t want to be over-insured or underinsured, but if you can handle raising your deductible, it will save you money each month.

For professional help finding hidden money in your budget, call a National Foundation for Credit Counseling member agency. To locate the counselor closest to you, dial (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org. To find a Spanish-speaking counselor, call (800) 682-9832

Surviving Job Loss

Surviving Job Loss

It’s never a good time to lose your job. However, the current economic environment has resulted in business closures, downsizing and layoffs for many in our community. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers the following tips for surviving a layoff:

  • Resist the urge to tell your boss what you truly think of him or her. Remember, you may need him or her as a reference for a future job.
  • Allow yourself to be upset or even afraid, these are natural reactions. However, if they become intense, seek professional help. Talking things through and hearing another person’s perspective can bring relief and restore your positive outlook.
  • Take advantage of any assistance your workplace offers. Many companies provide placement assistance, job retraining and severance packages. Make sure you are aware of all benefits offered.
  • Apply for applicable government benefits. Your HR representative at work will be a good resource.
  • Don’t be tempted to live off of your credit cards. Someone with a good line of credit could actually support the family at the current standard of living by using credit, but there’s no guarantee a new position will materialize any time soon. Expect one month of job search for each $10,000 of annual income you hope to replace. In other words, if you seek a $50,000 salary, it may take you five months to land that job.
  • Resist the urge to solve your problems by spending recklessly. It may feel good for the moment, but the high of spending won’t equal the low of dealing with additional debt when there is no income.
  • Take a personal inventory. Consider all assets, income and expenses. No one wants to liquidate assets to survive, but it is good to know what you have to fall back on.
  • Drastic times call for drastic measures. Nothing is off-limits. Consider selling the second car or recreational vehicle, real estate holdings, rental properties or jewelry.
  • After you review your income versus debt obligations, if you don’t have enough money to make ends meet, calculate how much you’ll need for basic household expenses and HOA fees. Your goal is to pay everyone, but if you must make a choice, keep food on the table and your home life stable by paying your rent or mortgage, association assessments, utilities, childcare, insurance premiums and health care.
  • Contact your creditors to arrange lower payments. Most major credit card issuers have help programs. Explain your situation and what you’re doing to resolve it. The creditor may be able to temporarily lower your monthly payment and reduce interest.
  • Have a family meeting that includes the children. You don’t want family members pulling in different directions, and a joint effort yields a better result.
  • Make cutbacks wherever possible, knowing that your austere lifestyle will only be temporary. Resolve to stop all non-essential spending immediately.
  • Inform your mortgage lender of your situation. Be prepared to provide documentation of your setback, and have a resolution plan in mind. Since the average consumer doesn’t know all the loan modifications available, sit down with a certified housing counselor and map out a plan best suited to your situation.
  • Tracking your spending is always a good idea, but when money is tight, it’s essential. Write down every cent you spend. After 30 days, review where the money went and decide where to cut back. You’ll be amazed how much you can save without feeling the pinch.

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a national nonprofit credit counseling organization. For more information, visit www.DebtAdvice.org or call (800) 388-2227. En Español, dial (800) 682-9832.

Mortgage Loans—Do You Qualify?

Mortgage Loans—Do You Qualify?

If you’re thinking of moving up, but you’re unsure whether you can qualify for the mortgage loan you need, the Federal Reserve Bank website can help. Using its Partners Online software, you can calculate just how much you can afford with either a conventional or FHA loan. It also allows you to compute your principal and mortgage interest (PMI). As an added bonus, if you come up short, the website will suggest options that may help you qualify for a loan. Go to: http://www.frbatlanta.org/partnerssoftwareonline/dsp_main.cfm

 

Extended Warranties And Service Contracts

Extended Warranties and Service Contracts

When you buy cars, computer equipment, major appliances, home electronics or other expensive household items, chances are you will be offered a service contract or extended warranty for an additional fee. Often charged as a percentage of the purchase price, service contracts and extended warranties range in cost from less than $50 to several thousand dollars. While they may seem like a good way to protect your investment and buy some extra peace of mind, consumer advocates generally advise against purchasing this extra coverage and report that it is rarely worth the cost.

Most big-ticket purchases come with a standard manufacturer’s warranty that usually covers the item for a least the first year. More often than not, if a product is faulty, any defects will become apparent during that period and will be covered by the standard warranty. If a product is not defective, problems typically show up much later in a product’s life cycle, beyond the term covered by an extended warranty. In addition, extended warranties often overlap the manufacturer’s coverage—you might buy a two-year extended warranty, but with the manufacturer’s warranty covering the first year, you are really only receiving one additional year of coverage.

Another reason consumers are discouraged from purchasing service contracts is that they can contain so many conditions, terms and exclusions that they are virtually ineffective. In most cases, you will not have protection from common wear and tear, and some manufacturers do not honor contracts if you fail to follow their recommendations for routine maintenance.

One more thing to consider when weighing the pros and cons of service contracts is credit card coverage. Some credit card reward plans will double the length of a manufacturer’s warranty, free of charge, when you purchase the item with the card, making additional coverage unnecessary.

If, however, you do decide to purchase extra protection for a product, make sure you read the fine print in the service contract and ask the following questions to be sure you’re getting the protection you’re paying for:

  • Does the dealer, manufacturer or an independent company back the service contract?
  • How are claims handled?
  • Who will perform the service and where it will be done?
  • What happens to my coverage if the dealer or administrator goes out of business?
  • Is prior authorization required for repair work?
  • Are there any situations when coverage can be denied?

 

 

 

Avoid Silly Mistakes On Your Tax Returns

Avoid Silly Mistakes on your Tax Returns

Tax time is approaching quickly. Many of you prepare your own tax returns, so here are a few common mistakes and offer ways to avoid them.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: you cannot deduct your association assessment. Although they’re used like taxes, assessments aren’t taxes. They are payment for products and services delivered to all residents in the association—utilities and trash removal, for example.

IRS instructions for preparing tax returns are quite useful and thorough. They can be a big help for do-it-yourselfers. However, it’s the silly mistakes that most often creep into your documents and cause problems. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Prepare your tax return as early possible. Waiting until the last minute increases your chances of making mistakes. Give yourself time to gather documents or research details. Better yet, collect these documents throughout the year in a special file so you have them ready at tax time.
  • Use the correct tax rates. Tax tables can be dense and difficult to read, so use extra care.
  • ŸMake sure all of your documents are complete. Attach forms, schedules, supporting statements and explanations. If you need more space, attach separate sheets that are the same size and format as the printed forms. Transfer the totals onto the printed forms. Put your name, social security number and date on all extra pages.
  • Fill in every line. If a line item on a form doesn’t apply to you, put a zero or a strike through where the amounts would be. This indicates you determined it doesn’t apply to you.
  • Pay on time. File on time. The quickest way to get the IRS’ attention is to pay your taxes late or file your return late.
  • Rounding is OK. Round off all amounts on your tax return. Round up to the next dollar all amounts that are 50 cents or more. Round down all amounts that are between one and 49 cents.
  • Reply promptly to all IRS inquiries. Ignoring the IRS invites trouble—you could be audited or have your assets seized.
  • Sign the return. If you pay someone to prepare your taxes, that person must sign your tax return., However, you must also sign and date your own tax return no matter who prepares it.
  • Ask another person to review your tax return to check your math and ensure that all fields are accounted for. Math errors are the most frequent mistakes on individual tax returns.
  • Keep copies of your tax return and all supporting documents. You’ll need them next year and you should keep them for another five to seven years after that before destroying them.

 

Tax Relief From Mortgage Forgiveness

Tax Relief from Mortgage Forgiveness

Usually, when a homeowner receives “mortgage forgiveness,” either through mortgage restructuring or foreclosure, the Internal Revenue Service considers the proceeds from the forgiven debt taxable income. However, according to the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, homeowners who have had their mortgages reduced, restructured or eliminated altogether, during the period from 2007 through 2012, may be able to exclude the proceeds from the forgiven debt—up to $1 million per person or $2 million per married couple—from their taxable income.

There are some restrictions, however. The proceeds must be used for the purchase, construction or substantial improvement of the homeowners’ principle residence and must be secured by that residence. Proceeds from debt forgiveness on second homes, rental property or businesses do not qualify for this tax exemption. Also, proceeds used to pay off credit cards or other similar types of loans do not qualify.

If your debt is reduced or eliminated, make sure you receive Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, from your lender. For additional details, see Ten Facts for Mortgage Debt Forgiveness at http://www.irs.gov/.