State Officials Offer Auto Buying and Financing Guide In Time for Presidents’ Day Sales

Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection PRESS RELEASE

GARDINER – With annual Presidents’ Day auto sales ongoing, Governor Paul R. LePage joined staff at Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, an agency within the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, in offering an auto buying publication.  The Downeaster Common Sense Guide: Automobile Buying and Financing is a 32-page booklet available online or in paper copy free to Maine residents.

Auto Guide 1st Ed Web

“Maine consumers have many reputable auto dealers throughout the state who treat customers well and contribute to their communities,” Governor LePage said.  “Purchasing a car or truck, however, can be complicated.  This guide offers important information and guidance to assist buyers in making sound financial decisions when considering a new vehicle.”

David Leach, the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection Principal Examiner, who coauthored the guide, emphasized that purchasing or leasing an auto is a significant financial commitment that often involves a large number of considerations.  He outlined the topics covered in the guide:

  • Determining how much vehicle you can afford;
  • Understanding how to conduct auto buying research;
  • Learning how to check your credit reports before applying for an auto loan;
  • Determining the lowest Annual Percentage Rate or APR for your vehicle loan;
  • Learning the pros and cons of leasing an auto;
  • Understanding why “No money down” financing can be an expensive decision;
  • Learning how to negotiate the best price for your new vehicle and trade in;
  • Preparing yourself for the “closing room” at the auto dealership; and
  • Evaluating the pros and cons of add-ons like extended warranty programs and credit insurance.

“This guide explains the many important steps involved in responsible auto buying and financing,” Leach said.  “The purchase and financing of a vehicle is a significant economic decision, and one that should be made with as much thought as possible, and not an impulse decision.”

An online copy of the auto buying guide, and several other Downeaster Common Sense financial publications, can be found at www.Credit.Maine.gov by clicking “Publications.”  Copies can also be ordered by calling the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at 1-800-332-8529 (toll-free in Maine) or 624-8527.

Relatives and caregivers need to be aware of targeting practices

Bangor Daily News columnist Julia Bayly’s recent column alerts family members and others to attempts to solicit funds from vulnerable seniors and others.

Legitimate solicitations for funds can be just as dangerous to seniors as scams

How to spot dirty tricks when buying a used car

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 13, 2017, at 10:12 a.m.
Click image to see 10 ways to spot a flood-damaged car

Click image to see 10 ways to spot a flood-damaged car

Buying a used car is one of the most stressful purchases a consumer can make. Here are some suggestions intended to ease the tension.

Check first with an established dealer. Maine’s used car dealers are bonded. Their vehicles must have valid inspection stickers, and sales include “clear” titles with no encumbrances. Shady Sales in Anywhere, Maine, might save you a few dollars, but there could be big headaches that follow.

Consumers can check with the attorney general’s office to see if dealers they’re considering have large numbers of complaints against them. Another source of information is the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in the secretary of state’s office.

Mark Silk is chief detective at the bureau. He recommends consumers deal with known dealers, because “there are so many more protections” than dealing online or through private sales.

He suggests asking to see the title to the vehicle. It should indicate its prior use — taxi, fleet vehicle, police, etc. The title also might show some “red flags,” such as having been rebuilt after a crash.

The title also should show the odometer reading when the prior owner stopped driving it. If the odometer has been replaced, it must read either zero — with accompanying door sticker stating that fact — or the same mileage as the odometer that it replaced.

Silk also urges car shoppers to look closely at any used car, for the following signs of trouble:

— Watermarks in the engine compartment.

— Rust or flaking on the undercarriage.

— Stiff wiring under the dash.

— Mud, sediment or sand in door panels.

All of the above might be signs that the car is flood-damaged. If your nose is keen, you can likely smell trouble before you buy. In any case, have a trusted mechanic check out a car before you sign a sales agreement.

Mark also reminds buyers that there is nothing in Maine law that requires a dealer to charge a document fee. While those fees can run into hundreds of dollars, charging them is up to the dealer. If they are charged, they must be conspicuously posted.

Note to readers

A few parting words are in order, as this is the last column I’ll be writing for Consumer Forum. Since its founding in 1972, a lot has changed for Northeast CONTACT (originally named C.O.M.B.A.T., for Consumers of Maine Bringing Action Together). At its peak, our all-volunteer group helped walk-ins in need of mediation or other assistance; our assistance saw the return of thousands of dollars to wronged consumers. We counseled consumers on all manner of marketplace issues, spoke at meetings and took action when it needed to be taken.

As the information era came of age, demand for our services tapered off. Soaring oil prices forced the sale of our building eight years ago, and the volunteers who were the heart and soul of Northeast CONTACT found other ways to do good work.

Now, Jane and I are also finding a new avenue, one that we hope will assist consumers. Our hearty thanks go to those many volunteers I mentioned. We plan to continue our blog, https://necontact.wordpress.com. We’ll post news about scams, recalls and items we hope will be helpful; you can search the site for past columns. There will still be links to government and nonprofit agencies with resources beyond our means.

Finally, our thanks go to the people at the Bangor Daily News who’ve offered support, encouragement and the space for this column. And to those of you who have had kind words about the work we’ve done, you will remain in our thoughts.

 

Maine Ranks Among Most Affordable States for Personal Auto and Homeowners Insurance

PRESS RELEASE – Bureau of Insurance, 2/10/2017

The State also has the nation’s second lowest percentage of uninsured drivers at 4.7%, and continues to have the lowest average homeowners premiums in New England

GARDINER –Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa announced that Maine continues to be among the top states in the nation for most affordable homeowners and personal auto insurance rates.

For the fourth year in a row, Maine ranks 3rd for lowest average auto insurance premiums, nationally, and for the third year in a row the state ranks 10th for lowest average homeowners premiums nationally, according to recently released reports by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Maine continues to have the lowest average homeowners premiums in New England.

  • The NAIC’s Auto Insurance Database Report provides the average costs associated with personal automobile insurance and includes state-by-state auto insurance data and analysis for insurance regulators, consumers and lawmakers.  The types of auto insurance coverage included in the report are bodily injury and property damage liability, uninsured and underinsured motorist, medical payment, collision, and comprehensive.
  • The NAIC’s Homeowners Insurance Report provides data on market distribution and average cost by policy form and amount of insurance.  Data is collected from insurance statistical agents or reported directly to the NAIC and includes national and state-specific premium and exposure information for homeowners policies, as well as non-commercial dwelling fire insurance policies.

“Despite having coverage requirements that exceed those in most other states, Maine continues to have consistently low average auto premiums,” Superintendent Cioppa said.  “And our State also remains among the most affordable for homeowner’s insurance.”

According to the Insurance Research Council, Maine also continues to have one of the lowest percentages of uninsured motorists, at 4.7%.

More information is available from the NAIC (www.naic.org).  Maine consumers and business owners with questions about auto, home, business or other lines of insurance are encouraged to contact the Bureau of Insurance by calling 1-800-300-5000 or sending a message to Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.

How to avoid getting hit with a big fee to cash tax refund checks

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 06, 2017, at 8:07 a.m.
The Internal Revenue Service or IRS recommends that anyone earning $54,000 or less find out more about the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Last year 27 million Americans qualified, and the EITC average was more than $2,455. This year, officials say even more taxpayers will qualify.

As we’ve written earlier, IRS officials will be scrutinizing reviews to curb fraud; that will slow the pace of returns for those claiming EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit. Once those refunds do arrive, some consumers will face hard choices about cashing those refund checks.

Those are consumers who do not regularly use a bank or credit union. Often referred to as “the unbanked,” these consumers use a variety of alternative methods to pay monthly bills and buy goods in other than brick-and-mortar stores.

In doing so, they rack up on average more than $2,400 per year in interest charges. Financial advisers say much of that interest burden could be reduced or eliminated.

Many of those advisers suggest turning first to local banks and credit unions. Responding to competition from multi-state banks, Maine-based financial institutions have been looking for ways to attract customers who until recently may have avoided traditional banks or credit unions.

“The playing field has expanded as far as low or no-cost banking services go,” David Leach, adjunct professor of banking at the University of Maine at Augusta, said. “I think the challenge for policy makers and politicians is to get the word out, through social service agencies and through governmental regulatory agencies, that there are low- and no-cost banking services.”

Lloyd Lafountain III is superintendent of banking for the state of Maine. He said Maine-based financial institutions combine the latest technologies with local knowledge.

“Many offer low-cost accounts, and consumers can avoid overdraft fees by not using paper checks and not opting into overdraft protection programs,” he said.

Check-cashing outlets, pawnshops and payday loans are costly substitutes for a bank or credit union. Federal and state officials have launched efforts over the years to attract consumers to the world of traditional banking. Still, millions of Americans find themselves using short-term, high-cost solutions to get past the next round of bills.

A lot of those quick-fix solutions are found on the internet, but many are less than economical. Few of them offer the kinds of customer service that face-to-face relationships can provide.

Tips on opening a low-cost account can be found online at maine.gov/pfr/financialinstitutions/consumer/saveandprotectyourmoney.pdf.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

You can’t avoid death and taxes, but you can dodge identity theft

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 30, 2017, at 8:25 a.m.

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service, the states and tax professionals teamed up to reduce incidents of taxpayer identity theft.


The crime occurs when a criminal steals your Social Security number and files a return in your name; the thief claims a refund to which he’s not entitled. When you file your legitimate tax return, the IRS flags it because it has already received a return in your name.

It’s believed that more diligent enforcement helped the IRS to prevent more than $180 million from going to fraudulent claimants. Now, officials are doubling down on their efforts to fight taxpayer ID theft.

The Federal Trade Commission has proclaimed the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 3 as Tax Identity Theft Week. The agency is offering a series of events to educate consumers and business people on ways they can minimize the risk of thieves stealing refunds.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, the FTC and Identity Theft Resource Center will hold a Twitter chat dealing with tax identity theft, ways to protect yourself and what to do if you are a victim.

A similar session is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, about tax ID theft for service people, veterans and their families. At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, FTC and the IRS will hold a tax ID theft chat for small business people. Find a link to these and other events at www.ftc.gov and look under “Latest News.”

Income tax season is big business for high-tech criminals, so be on guard for all sorts of scams. You might get a call from someone posing as an IRS official, seeking to “verify” tax return information by phone.

Other scammers may mention news reports of tax fraud and try to trick victims into “verifying the last four digits of their Social Security number.”

Others might pretend to be from the tax preparation industry … in short, they’ll use any tactic they think might work to fool consumers.

The crooks also take aim at business people. They might call human resources professionals and ask for information found on W-2 forms; a variation of that scam has an email message bearing the name of a corporate officer seeking personal information about an employee. Some scammers have posed as providers of software to trick tax preparers.

The variations are virtually endless. The IRS lists many of the most often used tricks at its website, www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

Many tax pros suggest filing early, thereby giving the crooks less time to file fraudulently ahead of you. Once you have filed, you can check the status of your refund at www.irs.gov/Refunds.

You also can call the IRS Identity Theft toll-free at 800-908-4490 or visit www.irs.gov/identitytheft.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Items bought in Maine come with an implied warranty

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 23, 2017, at 9:18 a.m.

Tap Image for Link to Maine AG’s Consumer Info

An underused law in Maine might prompt many consumers to skip buying the extended warranties store clerks are all too eager to sell.

Maine’s Uniform Commercial Code includes an implied warranty of merchantability. It states that any goods sold in Maine for personal or family use should, under normal use, work as intended for up to four years after purchase.

When a clerk asks if you want a one-year extended warranty, you might ask, “Why? Don’t you think your product will work longer than a year?”

The law conveys an implied warranty that goods sold in Maine are not seriously defective. It applies to all new or used goods sold by merchants (except used cars), and the warranty must be recognized by the store that sold it and the manufacturer.

A consumer who invokes the implied warranty law must prove the product was purchased in Maine. It must have been used in accordance with any directions and not abused, misused or improperly maintained. Normal wear is not covered by the law.

According to the state attorney general, Maine is one of just 10 states with an implied warranty law on the books. You can find a summary of Maine laws dealing with sales to consumers at the AG’s website, maine.gov/ag/consumer/purchasing_goods/index.shtml.

A consumer from eastern Maine wrote to us recently, saying he has used the law successfully on several occasions. Currently, a 2-year-old smartphone is acting up. At first, he was told repairs would cost up to $200. Later conversations with store personnel suggested that when he brings it in, he might be given a refurbished phone as a replacement.

Our consumer wondered how the swap would be covered by Maine’s implied warranty law.

Martha Currier, complaint examiner at the Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Service, said the standard is the same: The law applies from the original purchase date.

When he receives the refurbished phone, Currier said the clock does not restart.

“If something happens to the refurbished phone within the next two years we can still mediate under the implied warranty,” she added. Consumers with problems can write to the Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Service, 6 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

You may also call (626-8849 or 1-800-436-2131) from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays or email consumer.mediation@maine.gov.

During our conversation, our consumer related the story of his girlfriend’s mother, who purchased an extended warranty on a large, flat-screen TV. After he told her about Maine’s implied warranty law, she returned to the store, asked for and received a refund on the extended warranty.

Our consumer also said the Maine law has prompted him to rethink large electronics purchases. He said he refuses to shop for such items in New Hampshire, even though such a purchase might save considerable money in sales taxes.

“Buying within the state guarantees you that protection [of implied warranty], and that peace of mind is priceless,” he said.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewe, MEr 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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