Just because you have a poor credit report doesn’t mean you can’t get credit. Creditors set their own standards, and not all look at your credit history the same way. Some may look only at recent years to evaluate you for credit, and they may give you credit if your bill-paying history has improved. It may be worthwhile to contact creditors informally to discuss their credit standards.
If you’re not disciplined enough to create a workable budget and stick to it, to work out a repayment plan with your creditors, or to keep track of your mounting bills, you might consider contacting a credit counseling organization. Many credit counseling organizations are nonprofit and work with you to solve your financial problems. But remember that “nonprofit” status doesn’t guarantee free, affordable, or even legitimate services. In fact, some credit counseling organizations — even some that claim non-profit status — may charge high fees or hide their fees by pressuring consumers to make “voluntary” contributions that only cause more debt.
Most credit counselors offer services through local offices, the Internet, or on the telephone. If possible, find an organization that offers in-person counseling. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Your financial institution, local consumer protection agency, and friends and family also may be good sources of information and referrals.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, be aware that bankruptcy laws require that you get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for bankruptcy relief. You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at http://www.usdoj.gov/ust, the website of the U.S. Trustee Program. That’s the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Be wary of credit counseling organizations that say they are government-approved, but do not appear on the list of approved organizations.
Reputable credit counseling organizations can advise you on managing your money and debts, help you develop a budget, and offer free educational materials and workshops. Their counselors are certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors discuss your entire financial situation with you, and can help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions.
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How to Prevent Fraud Against Homeowner Associations
Fraud on a homeowners association hurts all of the homeowners and makes the association board look bad. It’s a financial loss, of course, but it also causes suspicion and mistrust of the board members, as well as the sense of guilt the board members feel for failing to prevent it. The most common fraud against these organizations involves conflict of interest, bribery and illegal gifts, false reimbursement of expenses, over billing, check tampering and cash theft.
Require two board members’ signatures on all checks and account transfers over a certain amount. No single person should be able to make the decision to pay a large bill or move a significant amount of the association’s money around. A common limit is $500. Many routine bills, such as utility payments, may approach this amount, but paying larger items should be a shared responsibility. Also, don’t give over the check signing or bank transfer authority to an outside manager.
Avoid making checks out to cash or having board members sign blank checks for later payment. It’s tempting, with busy schedules, to have some checks pre-signed so the board officer responsible for issuing checks doesn’t have to hunt down a co-signer at an inconvenient time. Don’t give in to the temptation. The convenience is not worth the risk of signed checks getting into the wrong hands or being misused.
Obtain multiple bids for all major contracts and check references. Make it a policy to avoid conflicts of interest by not soliciting or accepting bids from board members, their friends or relatives. Open bidding keeps all contractors on the same level and makes it possible for the board to objectively compare the bids and get the most competitive price.
Set low limits on any credit cards issued to board members or association employees. It’s also a good idea to have a different board member approve payment of the card expenses than the one who makes the charges.
Review thoroughly invoices and supporting documentation before signing payment checks. The same is true for reimbursement checks to board members, employees or homeowners who make purchase on behalf of the association. Also, make sure any work done by vendors is inspected and satisfactorily completed before paying an invoice.
Keep association records up to date and require regular financial reports at each board meeting. Reconcile all bank accounts monthly, and segregate responsibilities by have a different board member reconcile the bank than the one who pays the bills.
Keep a minimum of petty cash and have board members count it periodically on an unannounced basis.
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