FindLaw Insider - The FindLaw.com News Blog

April 2009 Archives

How to Stop Harassing Debt Collectors

In these uncertain times falling behind on bills and debts can be stressful, especially if the bill collectors become more persistent. While it is generally legal for debt collectors to call at home or work (unless your employer prohibits it), they are not allowed to utilize abusive or fraudulent tactics to get you to pay.

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) regulates the activities of independent debt collection agencies - but not the original creditor - and provides specific guidelines as to the tactics they can use to collect a debt.

Just a few of the activities prohibited under Fair Debt Collection Act include:

  • Discussing your debt with third parties except for your attorney, a credit reporting bureau or the original creditor
  • Contacting you at unreasonable times
  • Threatening or using violence against you, or using profane language
  • Claiming or representing a legal authority unless they are an attorney
     

There are options for someone being harassed by a bill collector under the FDCPA, including the option to file a complaint. Some states also have consumer protection laws that regulate the amount interest or fees that can be accrued over time, as well as other debt collection related activities. For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, check out: What you Can Do if a Bill Collector Crosses the Line.

The 5 Most Misspelled Legal Terms

FindLaw's five most searched terms that are misspelled are:

  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Bankruptcy
  3. Mortgage
  4. Libel
  5. Foreclosure

 

Don't Let Boating "Under the Influence" Spoil Fun on the Water

(ARA) - Heading out to enjoy a day of fun on the water this summer? If it involves boating, jet skiing or water skiing, you may want to think twice about the beverages you bring. More than half of all boating accidents involve alcohol or drugs. And with more than 17 million boats crowding our shorelines and inland lakes and rivers, our nation's waterways are second only to highways as the scene of accidental deaths in our country.
 
Because of the dramatic increase in boating-related accidents involving alcohol and drugs, more states and the federal government are getting tougher on pleasure boaters and fishermen who operate boats under the influence, also cited as a BUI. However, it can be an uphill battle, primarily because of open container laws that allow boaters to publicly display alcoholic beverages while in a boat, creating the perception that drinking while boating is okay.

Marijuana: a Smokin' Legal Issue

Marijuana has regularly ranked in the top ten most searched terms on FindLaw.com this year. Much of the recent popularity for the topic can be attributed to increased media attention on the debate for/against legalization; and current events related to the Mexican drug cartels - a major supplier of the "weed" sold in the US. 

According to the DEA, it is generally illegal to grow, own or sell marijuana. The Federal Government and all 50 states have penalties and enforcement policies pertaining to usage, possession or distribution of the drug. For Example, the Department of Justice has penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines up to two million dollars if found guilty of trafficking marijuana.

FindLaw Recommends Preparing for Next Year's Tax Season Early

(ARA) - You may feel relieved that tax season is over for another year. But 2010 tax time will arrive before you know it, and a few pro-active steps throughout the rest of 2009 will help you avoid an audit, minimize your tax burden and reduce your stress level next April 15.

With a little planning and the wise use of a trustworthy tax accountant or tax attorney, more Americans could avoid a run-in with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and reduce their tax burden. The key is not waiting until April 15, the nationally recognized deadline, to prepare for doing your taxes or to submit year-end tax returns to the IRS.

Last Minute Tips to Avoid Penalties for Paying Taxes Late

Today is the deadline to file 2009 taxes and FindLaw is experiencing a jump in the number visitors looking for information about filing taxes late. If you do opt to file for an extension with the IRS or your state, keep in mind that penalties and interest may apply. See FindLaw's Quick Guide to Tax Penalties for more information.

If you are one of the many Americans who wait until the last second to begin filing, you don't have all of the information you need to file or you need more time there may be options for you. FindLaw has helpful Tips for Last Minute Filers. Or you can read more about the process of Requesting an Extension to pay your taxes.

For Those Who Just Can't Afford to Pay their Taxes
The IRS and the State understand that the economy is making it difficult for some to pay their taxes on time. In some instances they are willing to work with taxpayers who are trying in good-faith to pay their tax debt. You can go to IRS.gov to learn more or check with your state's government tax site.

When a Few Grays Lead to a Pink Slip

A number of recent articles and labor statistics have been reporting those over the age of 45 are spending longer periods of time unemployed than their younger counterparts. The New York Times yesterday published an article based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that those forty five and older spend 22 weeks on average looking for work compared to 16.2 weeks for younger workers. Once they return to work, wages are often lower despite their years of experience. The upside to these stats is the lower rate of unemployment for older workers -- 6.5% versus the overall average of 8.5%. And many companies have so far shown reluctance at having to let go of their more experienced workers when layoffs or downsizing are necessary.

Celebrity and Tax Evasion Do Not Mix

The LA Times today published the list of California's top 250 tax evaders who collectively owe $143 million in back taxes to the State. Three notable celebrities -- actors Sinbad and Burt Reynolds, and Singer Dionne Warwick -- were on this year's list.

The economy has brought out considerable anxiety in Americans concerned with how, and how much, they will be required to pay this year. As the tax deadline looms more people are rushing to online resources to help them. With foreclosures & unemployment up and the value of investment portfolios and taxable assets down; the idea of paying less, paying late, or even not paying at all are options some may be forced to consider.

The consequences for not-paying what is owed the government can be steep. Penalties for attempting to evade or defraud the federal government can be as much as 75% for each month the tax is due, plus fines and jail time on top of the original amount.

Check out FindLaw's Tax Penalties:Quick Reference Guide or the Tax Evasion section of FindLaw's Crimes pages for more specifics by government agency and type of penalty.

 

Help for Taxpayers

"I Need More Time to Pay My Taxes"

Taxpayers unable to complete their returns by the April 15th deadline have the option of filing for an extension. In some cases interest and late penalties may apply but they will be far less than not paying at all. For more details about this or other tax related issues, check out FindLaw's Filing An Extension page or peruse the 2009 FindLaw Tax Center which contains how-to information, helpful tips, videos, podcasts and links to government tax sites.

 

"I Need Help to File but I can't Afford to Pay Someone"

For those who need assistance in completing their tax returns and are unable to afford a professional accountant or tax-preparation service, there are many free and low-cost tax assistance resources available. FindLaw has compiled a State-by-State list of resources as well as national tax assistance organizations and websites that may be able to help. 

Small Business TV Mentions FindLaw in its Daily News

SBTV.com, an online television network devoted to the small business market; referred to FindLaw on its April 8th, daily video newscast. Mentioning FindLaw's March 20th survey about the percentage of Americans who have considered or have started a small business, the newscast stated "A new survey finds most Americans have considered launching a small business. A phone survey of a thousand adults conducted for Find law dot com found sixty-one percent of American have either started or considered launching a small business!"

Read the full FindLaw small business survey release here.

Useful Small Business Resources
FindLaw.com's Small Business Section attracts thousands of small business owners each month and provides helpful content and useful links for those interested in starting and maintaining a small business from formation and taxes, to employment and operations.

FindLaw also recently launched its new small business blog called Free Enterprise, providing daily updates on the latest popular legal news affecting small businesses. Readers can get the Free Enterprise updates sent directly to them by subscribing to its RSS feed at https://feeds.findlaw.com/freeenterprise, and then follow the directions to add the feed to your favorite news reader or to your personal blog or webpage.

 

Even if You Don't Own Much, a Will is Important

FindLaw's June 2008 survey that found "60% of American Adults Don't Have a Will" continues to garner attention. Today for example, The North Virginia Daily cited the survey in a local piece about "Last Wishes" classes for those interested in learning the importance of creating a will.

Estate Planning is one of FindLaw's most popular topics and provides helpful information and resources for those who wish to create a will, trust, or power-of-attorney. Even a basic will outlining your wishes can be useful in the event it is needed and can help your family avoid a lengthy probate process.

Minnesota PRSA Honors FindLaw

The Minnesota Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has recognized FindLaw with an award for its 2008 "Everyday Law" media relations campaign. The accolade was part of it's 31st annual PRSA Classics Awards. The Minnesota PRSA chapter is the tenth largest in the country.

 

FindLaw.com Introduces New Home Page Sections

The newly updated FindLaw.com Home Page incorporates a handful of new sections highlighting the freshest content on the site:

What's New at FindLaw
- Daily updates of Legal Commentary from FindLaw's popular guest legal authors.
- Up-to-the-minute Legal News and featured legal documents.
- The latest legal questions from the FindLaw community called FindLaw Answers.

Latest FindLaw Consumer Blog Posts
Fresh legal info on the topics everyone is thinking about from five of FindLaw's new consumer law blogs:

Check out all of FindLaw's blogs and RSS feeds for consumers and legal professionals.


Protection From Loan & Mortgage Fraudsters

The US government announced today that it is implementing a multi-agency crackdown on fraudsters who attempt to scam homeowners and mortgage-holders looking for loan relief and modifications.

Since the housing crisis began, officials have seen a 26% increase in mortgage fraud claims. According to the San Francisco Chronicle Rhode Island is current top state for this type of fraud followed by Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Michigan, California, Missouri and Colorado.

Borrowers looking for assistance often have options at their disposal and should take the time to fully understand them before taking action including understanding the alternatives to foreclosure and knowing what to do if behind on monthly mortgage payments.


If It's Too Good to Be True...
Not all mortgage modification services or professionals are fraudulent, but distressed borrowers seeking help would be wise to work with a reputable and established financial institution, organization or professional. The borrower should clearly understand their rights, ask questions and beware of predatory lending practices. For more information, check out FindLaw's Common Law blog post about Mortgage Loan Modification Scams.

 

 

American Entrepreneurial Spirit is Alive & Well

Last Monday FindLaw released a survey that found 60% of Americans have started or considered starting their own business. A number of small business blogs including Travel Agent Central, CEOSelf and small business columnist Jan Norman picked up the release.

This week FindLaw proudly launched its own small business blog called Free Enterprise written by in-house attorney editors and providing current legal news & information for the small business community.

Go it Alone - With Help

FindLaw's small business section offers a wealth of free up-to-date information on the topic and is a great starting point for understanding the legal implications of starting a business, finance and taxes, and hiring employees. FindLaw even offers low cost do-it-yourself forms for structuring a business, or filing for a patent or trademark.


It's a good idea to hire a qualified professional like a small business lawyer or accountant to help with important issues when starting & running a business; And experienced small business people recommend learning from the mistakes and successes of others. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is another excellent resource for free or low-cost advice from seasoned business owners and executives willing to help new entrepreneurs establish and grow their businesses.  

Taxpayers Want to Know "How to Pay Taxes" in 2009

ComScore's February 2009 Inside the Ratings report, which came out last week, remarked on "another strong month for the Tax category" as more Americans began the process of filing their 2008 returns. The report cited a surge in traffic of 22% over the month before with 30 million visitors going online to find information. FindLaw's 2009 Tax Center (http://taxes.findlaw.com) and related pages have seen a similar increase this year; not surprising with the tax deadline looming just a few short weeks away.

Paying Property Taxes When Your Home's Value is Underwater

More notable is the increase in FindLaw visitors looking for free tax information specifically related to real estate and property taxes; Up 23% in March from the month before and a whopping 60% increase over the same time period last year. With experts and analysts identifying more than 8 million of US mortgage holders owing more on their houses than they are worth, even homeowners not at risk for foreclosure aren't sure what to do, or how much to pay to the county treasurer this year. The most popular FindLaw property tax information includes: Property Tax Basics, Determining Property Tax Rates, and Property Tax Assessments.