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Thursday, May 29, 2014

What Employers Should Know about DOMA

The June 26, 2013 Supreme Court decision to end the Defense of Marriage Act (commonly known as DOMA) means many employers have a new set of responsibilities.

Under the FMLA: 
The U.S. Department of Labor has traditionally held that same-sex couples were not entitled to FMLA benefits because the partners in these couples did not fit the legal definition of a "spouse". As of August 2013, same-sex couples who reside in states where same-sex marriage is legal are now entitled to full FMLA benefits.

Under your company Benefit Plan:
Before the end of DOMA, employer-provided health benefits were calculated as income for same-sex couples because the partners of these couples did not fit the the legal definition of a "spouse" for the federal exemption from income tax for health benefits provided to a spouse. Now, same-sex couples will not longer be federally taxed on the value of their employer-provided health coverage, regardless of what state they reside in.

The end of the Defense of Marriage Act signifies a major change in our society and therefore in law. It is important for employers to stay up to date on what their obligations and responsibilities under the new law. It is wise to contact an attorney who is well versed in employment law if you have any questions or concerns.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Increasing Your Credit Score When Applying for a Loan

When you are applying for a mortgage or car loan, you want your credit score to be as high as possible. Below are some simple tips that can increase your credit score when you need it most.

1. You shouldn't spend above 50% of your maximum credit amount.
You can expect a decrease in your credit score if you charge above this percentage, even if you pay all of your bills on time. Ideally, you should use around 10-20% of your available credit at a time.

2. Always pay your mortgage on time.
Being timely with your mortgage payment can have a BIG effect on your credit score. Alternatively, missing even one payment can cause a 40-50 point drop in your score.

3. Don't co-sign other people's loans.
Co-signing a loan involves significant risk. If the borrower defaults on the loan, not only are you responsible for the remaining payments, but your credit score will take a hit if you are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the remaining balance. Don't let the financial decisions of family members or close friends affect your credit.

4. Don't run your credit too many times.
A pull on your credit can cause your score to drop up to 5 points. While this is not a significant decrease all by itself, credit pulls (and points) can quickly add up. Make sure that your credit is pulled only when absolutely necessary.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What is a Property Condition Report?

A Property Condition Report is a necessary document to have when purchasing a property, whether commercial or residential. Property Condition Reports must be done by qualified property surveyor who will carefully examine the entirety of the property in order to find any potential issues or damage with the property.

The surveyor should include:
- the grounds such as the pavement, railings, irrigation and outside lighting
- the roof and roof subfloor
- structural items such as the foundation and walls
- the drainage facility and ventilation systems
- soundness of fire and other safety alarms
- an inspection of the property's "soft goods", such as furnishings

It is important to note that a Property Condition Report does not cover any damage that may be hidden in concealed areas of the property, such as the foundation, plumbing, and gas pipes. A clean bill of health from a PCR cannot guarantee that the property will not develop problems in the future.

The PCR will also include the expert's recommendation about the property. These recommendations are vital information for potential property owners to gauge the property's true worth and the time and money they may need to invest in it. PCRs can be requested by either the buyer or the original property owner. In fact, many property owners request a PCR before they even begin showing the property and make this information readily available to potential purchasers.

If you have any questions or concerns about buying a property, or Property Condition Reports, feel free to contact my office at (718) 317-5007.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Divorce and Alimony

Divorce is difficult and the process costly. Often a judge will order for one party to pay the other alimony. Alimony is used to limit the negative economic effects divorce can cause by compensating a non-working or low-income spouse.

Of course, there are regulations guiding alimony. The New York Courts' version of alimony is called maintenance or spousal support. In New York, alimony is calculated by a formula. For your own purposes, alimony can be roughly estimated by subtracting 20% of the supported spouse's income from 30% of the paying spouse's income. There are also websites where you can plug in both parties income and it will calculate the alimony amount.

Another important term to know is "Pendente Lite". Pendente Lite is money paid as temporary maintenance while the divorce is in process. A judge will order "Pendente Lite" to be paid when one spouse needs immediate financial assistance. Pendente Lite orders end once the judge has made a final decision about alimony.

Either party can request the judge to review the maintenance agreement at a later date if their financial situations change.

Additionally, you should know that alimony should be reported as income by the receiving spouse.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Information About Federal Tax Returns

Did you know that if you owe money on past-due debts, you federal tax refund can be affected? Well it's true. Many of us look forward to receiving our tax refunds after the stressful tax season, but some may find their refund isn't everything they hoped for. Below is some information that you may find helpful if your tax refund has been affected.

1. Past-due child support can and will negatively affect your refund amount. Other popular causes for seized refunds are past tax debt, recent Chapter 13 bankruptcy, or student loans you have defaulted on.

2. If the Bureau of Fiscal Service (the organization in charge of tax refunds) takes some or all of the funds in your tax refund, you will receive a notice by mail shortly thereafter detailing your original refund amount, the offset amount, and the contact information of the agency that received your payment.

3. If you filed a joint tax return and your refund was affected, you should submit Form 8379, called the Injured Spouse Allocation Form, to request your portion of the refund. You may be entitled to some of the taken money.

The IRS can also hold your federal tax return. Holding the return is a different situation from seizing it altogether. The IRS can hold your tax return for several reasons, such as not filing taxes in previous years or mistakes on your tax return. You should contact the IRS for more information if your refund is held.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The HUD-1 Settlement Statement and How it Affects Your Future Home Purchase

There has been an important change made to the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, a form used during home closings to itemize all ingoing and outgoing funds. The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, also known as RESPA, requires that the HUD-1 Settlement Statement be properly filled out in each and every closing transaction involving a federally regulated mortgage loan.

Instead of the HUD-1 Settlement Statement, a new form called the Closing Disclosure Form should be used. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed the new form so that home buyers can clearly identify their amount of their loan and the interest rate that will be due on it, as well as a projection of their monthly payments.

Additionally, buyers must be given the Closing Disclosure Form an additional three (3) days before the closing in order to give them ample time to consider the commitment of the mortgage loan.

It is important for all home buyers to review and carefully consider the paperwork involved at closing. A real estate attorney can help guide you through the process and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Real Estate Terms You Should Know Before Buying A Home

For those out there that are first-time homebuyers, or simply want to brush up on your real-estate lingo, below is a list of important terms you will want to know when purchasing a home.

Adjustable rate mortgage: This is a mortgage whose rate (interest) is linked to a "market indicator". There are several market indicators that are used, such as LIBOR, which is the rate that international markets are trading at. Entering into an adjustable rate mortgage means that you will not have a fixed monthly payment for the duration of your mortgage term. Instead, your payment will change, depending on market indicators of the time, at some point during your mortgage term. Adjustable rate mortgages often start with a lower rate which then increases after several years, so be sure to calculate this disparity into your budget.

Closing Costs: Closing costs are the money that need to be paid at the end of the closing. For buyers, these costs include: lender's fees, property taxes, real estate commission, and insurance premiums. There are several online calculators you can use to that will help estimate your closing costs.

Escrow: escrow is a money held by a neutral third party, most often an attorney, until the sale of the home is completed. This assures all parties that the funds held in escrow will be released after the transaction is successfully completed.

Affidavit of title: An affidavit of title is a certified document that proves ownership of a property. This document is needed to show that the seller is the true owner of the home, there are no liens or other obligations levied on the property, and that the property is not sold to anyone else.

Assessed value: This is the value of a property certified by the county and determined by an assessor.

Competitive Market Analysis: A listing of homes on the market that are similar to yours, based on location, style, and size, and the price that they were sold for. These are often referred to as "comps" and can help you determine what price you should put your property on the market for.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What You Need to Know (Legally) About Co-Parenting

The goal of Family Court judges is always to advocate for the best interest of the child or children in question. Traditionally, this meant that mothers had primarily physical custody, often with the fathers sharing joint legal custody. This meant that children physically lived at their mother's residence most of the time, both parents had an equal say in the child's upbringing, medical decisions, and schooling. Today, especially in New York, many judges have moved away from this system.

Family Courts are now finding new ways to split parenting. Instead of "all-or-nothing" decisions about custody, Judges may now chose to delegate several different areas of parenting to either the mother or father of the child(ren). For example, a recent case in Kings County resulted in a judge awarding the mother care of the medical and educational decision-making while the father was awarded joint decision authority on all other custodial matters. Judges may favor this system because it encourages cooperation and mutual agreement while co-parenting.

Remember, the Court's goal will always be to rule for what it is the best interest of the child(ren), therefore showing a willingness to amicably co-parent with your ex-spouse can go a long way. Judges who observe one of both parents openly showing hostility or antagonism towards the other may find it is better to delegate decision-making authority to one parent in certain areas instead of taking on the difficult task of co-parenting.