2011-01-07 / Community

Dept. of Consumer Affairs Offers 2011 Financial Tips

Now that the holidays have past and all the gifts have been unwrapped, many New Yorkers are tackling their debt. Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Jonathan Mintz has issued a list of financial resolutions that New Yorkers can make to protect their money in 2011.

“Thankfully, the New York economy is starting to rebound, which has created a spike in consumer spending this holiday season, but many New Yorkers continue to struggle with their finances,” said Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “Whether you spent too much this holiday season or have been feeling overwhelmed by money worries for a while, there are smart steps you can take to protect your money and grow your family’s finances in 2011.”

Top Ten Financial Resolutions for 2011: Do Your Taxes Early…File for Free or at a Very Low Cost to Get Your Refunds.

Did you know the tax refund is the single largest check that many families receive all year, particularly the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)? In 2011, you’ll have more options than ever to file your taxes for free or at very low cost. You can prepare your own taxes for free online, you can have them done for you at a free tax prep site, or you can get them done at participating H&R Block sites for $29 if you use the City’s coupon. For more information about these tax filing options, including sites and requirements, call 311 and ask for tax preparation assistance or visit nyc.gov/taxprep.

Save for the Unexpected … Even Just a Little.

Unexpected emergencies like health problems or job loss can throw over a tight budget. “Resolve” to start saving on a regular basis in 2011, even just a small amount. Try an automatic savings plan that helps you effortlessly save every payday using direct deposit or automated transfers.

Find Easy Ways to Cut Down on Your Expenses.

The start of the New Year is a great time to cut out those unnoticed expenses that really add up. Did you know that cup of coffee that you buy on your way to work can cost you $800 a year? Buying a $10 lunch, five days a week, means that in a year you’re spending $2,600. In 2011, you can brew your own coffee; open up a safe banking account and withdraw money only from ATMs at your bank; make lunch and take it with you; and watch your savings grow!

Make a Plan to Pay Down Your Debt.

One of the best ways to take control of your finances and start to pay down your debt in 2011 is to get professional financial counseling. The City’s Financial Empowerment Centers offer FREE, one-on-one, professional financial counseling in English, Spanish, and Chinese. Counselors can help you negotiate with creditors and debt collectors, consolidate payments, or create a payment plan and a 2011 budget. Visit nyc.gov/ofe or call 311 and ask for a Financial Empowerment Center near you.

Check Your Credit Score and Protect Your Identity.

Make it a New Year’s resolution to safeguard your personal information. Start the New Year by checking your credit report and clearing up any inaccuracies. Throughout the year, be sure to shred all documents with personal information like account numbers and Social Security information to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, place an alert on your credit report, file a police report, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Open a Safe Bank Account.

If you don’t have a bank account, start the New Year by opening one that’s safe and right for your needs. Safe and affordable banking does exist. All New Yorkers can open an NYC SafeStart Account—the City’s FREE bank account with an ATM card, no overdraft fees, and no monthly fees if you have a minimum balance of only $25 or in some cases even less.

Call 311 and ask about the NYC SafeStart Account.

Don’t Let Debt Collectors Push You Around.

Protect yourself in 2011: debt collectors must be licensed by DCA, provide you with proof of debts, and cannot harass you even if you do owe money. If you are contacted by a debt collector, check immediately if the business is licensed and demand proof of the debt in writing. To check a business’s license status or to file a complaint, visit nyc.gov/consumers or call 311.

Claim Every Public Benefit for Which You Qualify.

Make 2011 the year you find out what programs and services are available that can earn or save you money. Visit nyc.gov/accessnyc to identify whether you qualify for benefits, including Food Stamps and child care assistance, health insurance, housing or employment, and much more. Ask your employer about pre-tax transit and medical cost programs, and college and retirement savings programs. At “Tax Time 2011”, use the City’s network of FREE tax preparation services and get all the refund-boosting tax credits you deserve.

Shop Smart.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. If you’re considering debt consolidation, debt settlement, or mortgage loan modification or using an employment agency, do not pay fees before you receive services. Get contracts that are clearly written, make sure you understand them before signing, and keep all receipts from your transactions. Looking to fix up your home? Get quotes, shop around and get references before making your choice, and check with DCA to find out if the contractor you’re considering is licensed. Looking to buy a used car? DCA licenses and inspects used car dealers.

File a Complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Do you feel a business misled or took advantage of you during the holiday shopping season? DCA licenses more than 71,000 businesses in 55 industries and helps New York consumers when businesses don’t do right by them. DCA enforces the Consumer Protection Law and other related business laws throughout New York City. Ensuring a fair and vibrant marketplace for consumers and businesses, DCA licenses more than 71,000 businesses in 55 different industries.

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