Legal Aid is devoted to assisting low-income individuals and families in addressing financial pitfalls and scams that may prevent them from climbing out of poverty and achieving economic stability.

The Consumer Unit works with community organizations to educate clients about important issues and to effect systemic changes on issues which may hurt the low-income community.

Consumer Matters We Handle

  • Mortgage Foreclosure
  • Bankruptcy/Debtor Relief
  • Mortgage Predatory Lending
  • Collection (Repossession/Garnishment)
  • Contracts/Warranties
  • Collection Practices/Creditor Harassment
  • Predatory Lending Practices
  • Payday Loan
  • Loans/Installment Purchases
  • Public Utilities
  • Unfair and Deceptive Sales Practices

FAQs

I need help with a foreclosure. What can I do? Close

Please see our Foreclosure page for information.

I have fallen behind on paying my bills. Can bankruptcy help me get back on my feet? Close

Please see our bankruptcy page for information.

A creditor is threatening to repossess my car or has repossessed it already. What should I do? Close

If you are having problems making your car payments but your car has not yet been repossessed, you should contact the creditor to attempt to make arrangements for payment. Ohio law does not require the creditor to give you a notice before attempting to repossess your car. Repossession can occur at any time if you have fallen behind on your payments.

Once your car has been repossessed, the creditor must send you a notice of sale of your vehicle. This notice must:

• Tell you the date, time and location of the sale
• Notify you of the minimum sale price for the car
• Advise you that you will have to pay the difference between what you owe on the car and what the car sells for at auction.

You may attempt to contact the creditor to redeem the car before it is sold.

Next Steps

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is not currently representing people in this type of case.

Visit a brief advice clinic or visit the Ohio Legal Services website for information about consumer rights in automobile transactions.

You may be able to find an attorney who can help you by contacting:

Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
(216) 696-3532

I have fallen behind on payments on my credit cards. What will happen and is there anything I can do? Close

If no lawsuit has been filed against you, call your credit card company to attempt to work out an arrangement for payment.

If a lawsuit has been filed against you for a credit card debt, contact Legal Aid immediately. Although we are unable to directly represent consumers in credit card collection cases at this time, we may be able to give you information and resources to help you prevent the lawsuit from progressing further.

Once a court decision is entered against you, the credit card company or collection agency may seek to garnish your wages or your bank account. To do this, a separate request must be filed with the court, and you will have the opportunity to request a hearing on the garnishment. No more than 25% of your paycheck (after taxes) may be garnished.

Next Steps

For help in determining how to handle your debt, contact:

Consumer Credit Counseling
12200 Fairhill Road, Suite C140-A
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 231-5322
(800) 355-2227

Visit a brief advice clinic or contact Legal Aid if a lawsuit has been filed against you.

Other Resources

Be Smart About Managing Your Debt, How to Deal with Debt Collectors

Visit the Ohio Legal Services website for information regarding debt collection.

Is it possible to get rid of my student loan debt? Close

Federal law allows specific categories of borrowers to get a discharge (cancellation) on their student loans. You must fit within one of the categories listed below:

  1. You did not have a high school diploma or GED at the time of enrollment. The student loan must be from 1986 or later.
  2. The school closed while you were enrolled or within 90 days of when you withdrew from the school. The student loan must be from 1986 or later.
  3. You did not complete the program, and the school did not properly return part of the loan to the lender. The student loan must be from 1986 or later.
  4. You had a status or condition at the time of enrollment that was a legal barrier to employment in the field. The student loan must be from 1986 or later.

    Examples include:

    • You were in a security guard program, but had a felony criminal record.
    • You were in a nursing assistant or custodial maintenance program, but you had a physical or mental disability that prevented you from working in those fields.
    • You did not have a high school diploma AND a high school diploma is necessary to take a license or certification exam that is required for the job.
  5. The borrower is now deceased or totally and permanently disabled.
  6. The borrower’s signature on the loan application was forged.

Next Steps

If you fit into one of these categories, you can begin the process of discharging your loan at the U.S. Department of Education website.

If you do not fall into one of these categories, you are not eligible for a discharge on your student loan. You must contact your lender to determine what options you have for payment. In circumstances of extreme financial hardship, a student loan may be discharged through bankruptcy.

I am low-income and am involved in a civil case. Is there a way to reduce or eliminate fees? Close

When a person wants to file a civil case, the court requires that person to pay a filing fee to start the legal process.   Also, a person who is a party to a case and wants to ask the court to do something by filing a “motion” or a “counterclaim” must also pay a fee.   In order to fully participate in a legal proceeding, courts often require payment of many different costs and fees.

In many situations, you can file your documents in court without payment or with a lower payment if you also file a “poverty affidavit.”   A poverty affidavit is a written, sworn statement that you are low income and do not have enough money to pay the fees.   You will need to list your income, assets and dependents on the affidavit.   Once you file a poverty affidavit in a case, the clerk will either not charge you any money or will only charge a small fraction of the normal fee to file most other documents in the same case.

You can complete a poverty affidavit at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, even if you are not represented by an attorney from Legal Aid.   If you need a poverty affidavit, go to any Legal Aid office during normal business hours (note recent changes) and request the form from the receptionist.   Be sure you also have the form notarized, which Legal Aid can do as well.   You will need photo identification to have the poverty affidavit notarized.

After you complete a poverty affidavit, you must take it to the clerk of courts where your case is being heard.   The poverty affidavit will only apply to that specific case.   If you have another case at the same or a later time, you will need a second poverty affidavit.   Also, in Ohio, the poverty affidavit allows you to file documents in a case without payment or with lesser payment but does not eliminate all fees.   At the end of the case, you might still be responsible for some fees such as court costs.

This article was written by Legal Aid attorney Anne Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

I received a phone call demanding money in exchange for a kidnapped family member. What should I do? Close

Beware!   A new telephone scam is sweeping throughout Northeast Ohio and is targeting members of the Hispanic community, though everyone should be on guard.   Those affected by this scam report that they received a phone call and were told that a close family member of theirs had been kidnapped, and in some instances, the scammer was able to provide that family member’s name.   The scammer then asks for a sum of money to be wired or the family member will be killed.   Please be aware of this scam and immediately contact the police if you receive one of these calls.

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

How do I teach my child about internet safety? Close

Children young and old now use computers and other electronic devices almost daily.   They are often more aware of how to use the internet than adults.   The risks children and youth face when online are serious. It is important to talk to them about how to safely use cellphones, mobile devices, and computers. Adults can also set parental controls to limit what kids can do.   Here are some guidelines:

  1. Living Online. Kids should post only what they’re comfortable with adults seeing. Remind them that, once they’ve posted something, it can’t be taken back.   They should never pretend to be someone else, and should ignore or block messages from people they don’t know.
  2. Video and Mobile Games. Many games allow players to talk and play with other people, or buy things.   Check for controls to let you block games with certain ratings, disable internet access, and restrict purchases.
  3. Phishing. Kids and adults alike should never reply to text, email, or pop-up messages that ask for personal and financial information. Never follow links in these kinds of messages, or download attachments from emails.
  4. Computer Safety. Kids – like all of us – should keep Social Security numbers, account numbers, and passwords private. Kids can help beat hackers by using long passwords with upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers. Remind kids to watch out for free stuff, which might infect their computer with malware.   If they share music, games, or software online, tell kids to use security software to scan any files before downloading them.
  5. Sexting and Photo-Sharing. Tell kids not to send or forward sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages.   It’s often illegal.   And with any kind of photo, it’s best to ask for permission before posting pictures of other people online.
  6. Cyberbullying. Let kids know that they can’t hide behind the words they type and the images they post.   If your child is targeted by a cyberbully, block the bully’s username or email address. Contact the website if profiles were posted or changed without your child’s consent, and ask to have them taken down.

For more information about being safe online, visit OnGuardOnline.gov/ or consumer.ftc.gov/topics/kids-online-safety.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.   She does not express the views of the FTC or of any individual commissioner.

This article was written by Federal Trade Commission Attorney Maria Del Monaco  and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.

What should I know about student loans? Close

Student loans give needed financial assistance to people who want to attend college but can’t afford it.   Many colleges and universities offer many student loan options.   The information in this article will help people when making important decisions about where to go to school and how to pay for it.

Choose a College Carefully. There are three different types of colleges and universities to choose from:

  1. Public colleges and universities (eg. Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University)
  2. Non-profit colleges and universities (eg. Baldwin Wallace University)
  3. For-profit or “proprietary” schools (eg. Lincoln College of Technology)

In general, Ohio’s public universities have the cheapest tuition for Ohio residents.   For example, one semester tuition at Tri-C in an associate degree program costs as little as $1,200,[1] and one semester tuition at Cleveland State University in a bachelor’s degree program costs about $4,700.[2] In contrast, one semester tuition at Lincoln College of Technology in an associate degree program costs as much as $13,200.[3]

Choose a Loan Carefully: There are two basic types of student loans: federal and private.   Federal loans are regulated by the U.S. Department of Education, which sets the terms and limits the interest rates.   Private loans come from private lenders who set their own terms and interest rates.   Before signing any loan contract, compare loan offers from different lenders because some loans are more expensive than others. Always ask lenders the following questions:

  1. How much money are you lending me?
  2. What is the interest rate?
  3. When will interest start to “accrue” (build up)?
  4. When do I have to start paying the loan back?
  5. How much will my monthly payments be?
  6. What kinds of repayment plans are available for this loan?

One advantage of federal student loans is the option for an income-based repayment (IBR) plan for borrowers who have a financial hardship.   Under IBR plans, monthly payments are limited based on the borrower’s income.

Remember, student loans must be repaid, even if the student does not graduate, cannot find a job, or was unhappy with the school.   Student loans are not automatically discharged in bankruptcy.

For more information on student loans, visit the U.S. Department of Education website, www.ed.gov.   Another helpful website is www.studentloanborrowerassistance.org, which comes from the National Consumer Law Center.

If you have problems with federal student loans, contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group at www.ombudsman.ed.gov.   If you have problems with private student loans, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Private Student Loan Ombudsman at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint (click on “Student Loan”).

IMPORTANT: Avoid Scholarship Scams! Many colleges and universities have limited scholarships, or money that does not need to be paid back.   Find out how to apply for scholarships on a school’s website or by contacting the financial aid office.

Beware! Some companies claim to offer “scholarships,” but they are actually trying to steal your cash, credit card number, or bank account number.   Ways to protect yourself are:

  1. Never give your credit card or bank account number to “hold” a scholarship “” this is a scam!   Real scholarships do not ask for credit card or bank account numbers.
  2. Real scholarships are free.   If you have to pay money to apply, the scholarship is a scam.
  3. If someone calls and says you were “selected” for a scholarship, but you never applied for any scholarship, this is a scam!   Hang up the phone and do not provide any personal financial information.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Cuyahoga Community College, Tuition & Payment Schedule for 2013-2014 Academic Year, available at http://www.tri-c.edu/payingforcollege/Pages/TuitionPaymentSchedule.aspx.   The cost is about $1,200 for Cuyahoga County residents and about $1,500 for other Ohio residents.

[2] Cleveland State University, Tuition and Fees 2013-2014, available at http://www.csuohio.edu/treasury-services/tuition-and-fees.

[3] Lincoln College of Technology, Net Price Calculator, available at http://www.lincolnedu.com/net-price-calculator.

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Julie Robie and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.

What do I need to know about the 4/30/14 “Save the Dream” deadline? Close

Save the Dream works with approved housing counseling agencies to help homeowners get financial assistance to avoid foreclosure.  Depending on individual circumstances, Save the Dream may help bring a delinquent mortgage current, make mortgage payments for up to 18 months, reduce or eliminate the principal balance on a mortgage, or pay delinquent property taxes.  A person in need of assistance must register by April 30, 2014 and complete an application by July 31, 2014.  Registration and application can be completed online at www.savethedream.ohio.gov, by calling 1-888-404-4674, or by contacting a local housing counselor (available by calling 2-1-1). People facing foreclosure may also be eligible for legal assistance from Legal Aid and should call 216-687-1900 or 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.

Can I get assistance with utility bills? Close

Fuel Funds Provide More Utility Assistance to Low Income Electric Customers.

Electric customers of First Energy, Illuminating Company, and Ohio Edison (not Cleveland Public Power) can apply NOW (March 2014) for additional assistance paying their electric bill.  Individuals must have income below 200% of the federal poverty level and owe no more than $300 on an old account (if trying to start new service) or on disconnect notice (if trying to avoid shut off) .  Required documents include utility bill or disconnect notice, social security numbers for all household members and income verification.

  • Residents of Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Lorain Counties can contact the Consumer Protection Association at 216-881-3434 to request help or in the event of an emergency, can walk in for help at 3030 Euclid Avenue, Suite 105, Cleveland, OH  44115.
  • Residents of Cuyahoga County can also contact the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland at 216-263-6266 or Cleveland Housing Network at 216-912-2211.  Call for location and hours when walk-in applications are accepted.

I feel trapped by payday loans. How can I escape the cycle? Close

A payday loan is a short term, high interest loan designed to cover your expenses until your next payday. Payday lenders increase their profits by making loans with very high interest rates, but borrowers often cannot afford to pay them back.  As a result, borrowers get trapped in a cycle of borrowing more each pay period and paying more fees to cover the original loan.  Payday loans seem like an easy solution for unexpected emergencies like a hospital bill or car repair, but usually end up costing more than you expect.

Below are some steps that you can take to get out of the payday lending cycle.

  1. Consider taking out a small loan with an affordable annual percentage rate (APR) from a credit union to help you get out of debt with the payday loan company. Always compare options from different lenders and find out about the terms of any loan before you commit to it. If you have trouble making your payments, contact your credit union right away to ask for more time or a payment plan.
  2. Contact your local consumer credit counseling service for help working out a debt repayment plan with payday lenders.
  3. If payday lenders are electronically withdrawing money from your bank account, tell the lender in writing they are no longer authorized to withdraw money from your account.  Also, send a letter to your bank to let them know that automatic withdrawals by the payday lender are no longer authorized.  Include a copy of the letter you sent the payday lender.  Be sure you date and sign the letters, as well as keep copies.

Some ways to avoid getting stuck in a payday loan cycle in the future include creating a budget and sticking to it.  Also, begin saving just a small amount each month.  See the article in this issue of The Alert called “Cleveland Saves” for helpful ideas about how to start saving. Additional information about payday lending problems and solutions is available on the Federal Trade Commission website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0097-payday-loans.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer Iva Jeras and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

How can I become better at managing my money? Close

Learning more about money can help you make your own best money choices. Smart money choices can help you reach your goals– whether that’s paying off debt, buying a house, retiring early, or sending your kids – or yourself – to college.  Here are some questions to ask yourself to find out if you are being as smart as possible with your money:

  • Do you have all of the information you need before deciding to make a big purchase?
  • Does your family have a budget and follow it?
  • Do you think carefully about when and how to use credit?
  • Are you saving for the future, even just a small amount?

If you do some of these things, you have chosen building blocks for a strong financial foundation. Other principles that can help you with saving and spending smart are:

  • Create a budget and stick with it
  • Don’t spend more than you make
  • Pay your bills on time
  • Pay yourself first by saving before you spend

The Federal But a prob- lem emerged from this exploding demand for answers: Storing this growing volume of laptop hard drive data recovery was expensive and accessing it was slow. Reserve Bank of Cleveland is part of the Federal Reserve System, our nation’s central bank. The Federal Reserve System serves the public in many ways, including raising awareness about money through education programs and conducting research on money management.

The Fed has learned that children who have bank accounts as they grow up are better money managers as adults. Also, children whose parents talk to them early about family finances are better money managers later on. If you need help talking to your children about money, the Cleveland Fed’s favorite resource is our very own, Great Minds Think: A Kid’s Guide to Money. For free copies of Great Minds Think, call  216-579-3188. The Cleveland Fed also offers free financial literacy resources and information on visiting the Bank’s Learning Center and Money Museum at http://clevelandfed.org/learningcenter.

 

This article was written by April McClellan from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

I want to save more money for emergencies. How do I start? Close

Saving money is hard. If it were easy, we all would have plenty for retirement and at least three months of income socked away in emergency savings accounts. The worst thing people do when it comes to saving is not start at all.

More than 25 percent of Clevelanders are “under-banked” meaning if they have a checking account they don’t have anything in savings or use high-cost non-bank services. More than half of all American families don’t have enough reserves in their savings accounts to pay $1,000 for an emergency.

For every message we hear about saving, there are ten about how to spend. Cleveland Saves, a project of NHS of Greater Cleveland, is all about the message of saving by setting goals, planning, and starting small. One type of savings account that families should strive to set-up and keep separate from spending accounts is an emergency savings account. An emergency account is the best way to avoid borrowing and increasing debt if something unplanned occurs such as a car repair, health issue, or home repair.

Cleveland Saves works with Savers at all income levels.  Some of the best practices to save money are…

  • Split your paycheck, some into checking (about 90 percent) and the rest into savings. Your HR department can help you do this easily with direct deposit.
  • Reduce your eating out budget, especially lunches. Food budgets are one area that we have a lot of control over.
  • Watch spending on credit cards and other loans since paying interest takes away from earning interest.
  • If you get a tax refund, be sure to purchase U.S. Savings Bonds or split your tax refund into a savings account.
  • Leverage community resources that are near or entirely free such as public libraries, free tax preparation, playgrounds, and museums.

Sign-up for Cleveland Saves now. Go to www.clevelandsaves.org  and you will be enrolled in minutes. Remember that saving is a habit. If you start small and think big, the habit of saving will help you during times in your life you earn less, and will be passed on to your children.   Have more questions? Contact one of our financial capability counselors at 216.458.HOME.

 

This article was written by David Rothstein from Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

What should seniors be thinking about when it comes to money? Close

1. Am I eligible for any benefits?

Many benefit programs can help people who have limited income afford living expenses such as utilities, food, health care and transportation. Some of these programs are designed just for seniors and adults with disabilities. You may become eligible for programs once you reach a certain age, experience a new health condition, or lose a source of income.   The easiest way to find out what assistance you are eligible to receive is by completing a Benefit Check Up.  Seniors and adults with disabilities can contact the Aging and Disability Resource Network to complete a Benefit Check Up: 1-855-585-ADRN (2376) or go to www.benefitscheckup.org

2. Have I been a victim of identity theft?

Someone may be using your identity and ruining your credit. If identity theft continues, you could be sued by creditors and you might not be able to borrow money when you need it. You can check your credit report to find out if someone has opened accounts in your name.  Each year, you can get a free credit report from three different companies.  You should request one every 4 months from a different company. To request a credit report call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-397-3742, or Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289.  You can also request reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com.  If your credit report shows activity that you did not authorize, follow the steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission to report and stop identity theft.  See http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.

 

3. Am I financially prepared for an emergency?  

Emergencies are unpredictable but there are some things you can do to prepare yourself.

  • Keep copies of important papers such as insurance, bank account, health care and estate planning information in a safe place you can easily find them.
  • Keep some emergency money in a safe place where you can easily get it, even if you can only spare a small amount.
  • Identify a safe place you can stay temporarily if something happens and you cannot stay in your home.  Also make a plan for how you will get there.
  • If you have someone in your life you trust completely, consider sharing the above information with that person so they can help you if needed.  Do NOT share information about your finances or other important matters with anyone you do not know well and trust completely.

Planning ahead can help keep unexpected costs to a minimum during an emergency.

 

This article was written by Emily Mutillo from the City of Cleveland Department of Aging and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

What are some basic financial rules to use? Close

  • Ask questions before you sign any contract and make sure you understand what the agreement requires you to pay.  Do not sign if you cannot pay it.
  • Keep track of payments you make on any loan.  Ideally save proof of payment such as a cancelled check or receipt, but at least keep a log of when you pay and how much you paid.
  • Never share your benefits cards, debit cards or credit cards with other people.  You are responsible for how they use them, even if you did not give them permission (unless they are stolen, in which case you should make a police report and cancel the cards immediately).
  • You should always know how to access cash in an emergency; families should not rely on just one person to be in charge of the money all the time.
  • In Ohio, the money you and your spouse earn while married is considered marital income.  Keep track of how much you both earn, what accounts (financial institutions or credit) you both open, and what expenses you pay.  You should also be familiar with any retirement savings for yourself and your spouse.
  • Be sure to keep track of the hours you’ve worked each pay period and compare it against your paystub.  Report any errors to your employer immediately.
  • If you lose your job, file for unemployment right away. You can apply by telephone by calling 1-877-644-6562 or online at http://unemployment.ohio.gov.  Be sure to read and keep all papers sent to you about your application for Unemployment Compensation benefits.  If your application is denied, be sure to follow the instructions to file an appeal before the appeal deadline.
  • If you pay rent, ask for and save your monthly rent receipts.
  • If you fall behind on your rent and work out an agreement with your landlord to catch up, write it down.  Both you and your landlord should sign and date it.
  • You should regularly review your credit report.  You are entitled to a free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian).  To access your free credit report online, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Anne Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

Should Seniors Be Cautious When Considering Home Repair Contracts? Close

Warn seniors to be cautious when considering home repair contracts paid for by a reverse mortgage.

In Cleveland, the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs has received complaints from seniors who were unaware that they had signed reverse mortgages after being solicited by remodeling contractors to do work on their home. In some cases, the contractors have taken all of the proceeds from the homeowner and performed little or no work. The contractors tell seniors that there is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program to help pay for the repairs but in fact the seniors are left with a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly known as a reverse mortgage. Caution seniors NOT to rely on advice from anyone who recommends such a product or service. For additional information:

  • Consumers in the City of Cleveland with questions about possible scams can call the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs at 216-664-4529.
  • Consumers with questions about reverse mortgages can call Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland at (216) 458-4663.
  • Consumers who want to file a complaint should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Department at 1-800-282-0515 or online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/consumercomplaint.

I’m facing a tax foreclosure after a tax lien sale – what should I do? Close

Consumers facing tax foreclosure after a tax lien sale, or with certain loans and vehicle issues, should call Legal Aid to apply for assistance!  

Legal Aid will evaluate and might be able to assist with problems related to student loans, payday loans, auto title loans, used auto purchases involving fraud, and auto repossessions.  Additionally, Legal Aid will evaluate cases involving a tax foreclosure or potential tax foreclosure where the county has sold the tax lien debt to a debt collector, and the debt collector is actively collecting on the debt and/or initiating foreclosure.

These matters are new areas of service and are in addition to the numerous other types of problems Legal Aid handles.  Please direct applicants to call 1-888-817-3777 to apply.

Are there new consumer issues that can be solved by Legal Aid? Close

Consumers facing tax foreclosure after a tax lien sale, or with certain loans and vehicle issues, should call Legal Aid to apply for assistance.  Legal Aid will evaluate and might be able to assist with problems related to:

  • student loans
  • payday loans
  • auto title loans
  • used auto purchases involving fraud, and
  • auto repossessions.

Additionally, Legal Aid will evaluate cases involving a tax foreclosure or potential tax foreclosure where the county has sold the tax lien debt to a debt collector and the debt collector is actively collecting on the debt and/or initiating foreclosure.

Some of these matters are new areas of service and are in addition to the numerous other types of problems Legal Aid handles.  Please call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for legal assistance.

 

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How does the IRS help with tax preparation, refunds, and fraud? Close

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made it easier for taxpayers to file their tax returns, as well as to monitor and protect their federal income tax accounts.  Here are some examples:

Complete your tax return for free. If your income is below $58,000 – you can use free federal income tax preparation software.  It is available online 24/7.  The IRS states the process is safe and secure. Refunds may be directly deposited into your bank account. Visit http://www.IRS.gov/freefile for more details.

Obtain tax return and income transcripts at no cost.  If you need your past income  tax or earnings records, for example, because you are applying for a mortgage or a student loan, you may obtain a copy for free. Tax return and income transcripts may be ordered online, without charge, and delivered electronically or by mail. Taxpayers also may sign and submit to the IRS Form 4506-T or call (800) 908-9946 to obtain their free tax return transcripts. IRS forms can be found at http://www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs.

Monitor the status of your refund.  The most up to date information about your refund can be found using the IRS tool “Where’s My Refund?” (http://www.irs.gov/Refunds). Taxpayers also can learn the status of their refund by calling the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954.  If you haven’t received your refund within 20 days of filing an electronic return or six weeks from the time of mailing your paper return, you may contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 and a representative will figure out the status of your refund.

Contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.  If you have a problem with the IRS that you can’t resolve, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is available to help you. TAS is an independent organization within the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers. TAS may help taxpayers who have financial difficulties, who face an immediate threat of adverse action, or who have not heard back from the IRS in response to a question. You can contact the Local Taxpayer Advocate (LTA) at (216) 522-7134 or send Form 911 to the LTA by fax at (855) 824-6409 or by mail to 1240 E. Ninth St., Room 423, Cleveland, Ohio 44199.

Protect yourself from refund fraud related to identity theft. Refund fraud can cause lots of problems for taxpayers. Determine if any of the following problems have occurred:  a.  More than one tax refund was filed for you for a single tax year;

b.   IRS records show you received more wages than you actually earned; or

c.   Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received incorrect information concerning a change in your income.

 

If so, you should immediately act in the following ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

1.  Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490 and

complete and submit to the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit Form 14039;

2.  Notify your local police department to make a report;

3.  Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through its Identity Theft Hotline

at www.consumer.ftc.gov or by calling (877)438-4338; and,

4.  Contact the three major credit bureaus:  Equifax – www.equifax.com or

(800) 525-6285; Experian – www.Experian.com or (888) 397-3742; and,

TransUnion –   www.transunion.com or (800) 680-7289 to tell them you were

a victim of identity theft.

 

Guard against tax preparer abuse. If you believe your tax return was not prepared correctly, immediately complete and submit to the IRS Form 14157. Fraud by tax preparers occurs when the preparer claims inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits and/or excessive exemptions on returns prepared for their clients. For suspected cases of fraud, contact the Ohio Attorney General at 800-282-0515, local law enforcement agencies and an attorney who specializes in civil litigation who will counsel you on your rights and remedies.

 

This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Dennis Dobos and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

How do I apply for Lifeline Telephone Assistance? Close

Stay Connected with Lifeline – Telephone Discount Program!

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) urges qualifying low-income residents to apply for Lifeline Telephone Assistance. Lifeline Assistance makes basic local telephone service more affordable for income-eligible families across Ohio. Those who qualify could receive discounts for monthly telephone bills and/or installation costs of telephone service. And now, some wireless companies offer Lifeline discounts.

Am I eligible?

You may qualify for Lifeline if your household income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or if you participate in one of the following programs:

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/ Food Stamps
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance/Section 8
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) /Ohio Works First
  • National School Free Lunch Program
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

A Lifeline eligibility pre-screening tool is available at www.lifelinesupport.org.

Are there any restrictions?

Lifeline benefits may be applied to only one type of service – landline or wireless – and are limited to one line per household. Customers receiving lifeline benefits must also re-verify their eligibility annually. Other restrictions may apply.

What are the benefits? How do I apply?

Eligible low-income customers receive a monthly discount of $9.25 on basic local landline telephone service, waiver of installation charges, waiver of deposit fees, optional toll blocking at no charge and optional 900/976 blocking at no charge. Wireless carrier plans also include a $9.25 monthly discount for qualified customers. Contact your local landline or wireless phone company at the numbers listed on this info sheet (click here) and ask to apply for Lifeline.

If you have any questions or have a complaint about Lifeline, please contact the PUCO at (800) 686-7826.

Will the Affordable Care Act affect my Federal Taxes? Close

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a new law designed to make health insurance affordable. Under the ACA, the Premium Tax Credit helps reduce monthly premiums.  Additionally, people without health insurance coverage  will incur a penalty when they file their yearly federal tax return, unless they qualify for an exception.

Who is eligible for a tax credit?  People may be eligible to receive the credit if they:

  • are NOT eligible for coverage through an employer or a government plan, e.g., Medicaid;
  • buy health insurance through the Marketplace;
  • have household income between 100 – 400% of the federal poverty level (e.g., individual: $11,690 – $46,760 and for a  family of four: $23,850 – $95,400);
  • do not use the status of Married Filing Separately on their federal tax return (unless they meet the exception for victims of domestic violence); and
  • cannot be claimed as a dependent by another person.[1]

The tax credit reduces the cost of health insurance. Individuals may choose to either give the estimated credit to the insurance company in advance to lower out-of-pocket monthly premiums, or may choose to receive the credit when filing their 2014 federal tax return this year.  The amount of the credit equals the cost of the health care premiums for the household minus the family’s expected contribution.  The “expected contribution” for a family is based on their poverty level, ranging from 100% to 400%; families with the least money are expected to pay the smallest amount toward the cost of health care.

For example, a family of 2 adults and 2 children with household income of $40,000 (170% of poverty) could purchase health care for all 4 family members through the Marketplace for $7,630 per year.  The family could get a credit of up to $5,665.  So, the family might actually pay only $1,965 for health coverage, which equals 4.91% of annual household income.[2]

Who is subject to a tax penalty? Most people must have “minimum essential coverage” to avoid paying a penalty.  “Minimum essential coverage” includes health insurance through an employer, the government, an insurance company or the Marketplace where someone lives.[3]

Some exceptions to the penalty exist in cases of short coverage gaps, hardship, no income tax filing requirement, and others.  For more information on the exceptions see http://www.irs.gov/uac/Individual-Shared-Responsibility-Provision.

For the 2014 tax year, the penalty is $95 per adult, $47.50 per child, or 1% of applicable income, whichever is greater.  The penalty must be paid when filing a 2014 tax return this year.

The open enrollment period to purchase Marketplace health coverage for 2015 ends on February 15, 2015.   However, people can purchase health insurance through the Marketplace anytime a qualifying life event has occurred – such as a change in family size, income, or job situation.

Low-income taxpayers should discuss their personal circumstances with a tax professional before taking any action related to the tax credit or penalties created by the ACA.

 

[1] See http://www.irs.gov/uac/The-Premium-Tax-Credit.

[2] Calculations based on information entered and results provided from http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/

[3] http://www.irs.gov/uac/Individual-Shared-Responsibility-Provision

 

 

This article was written by Legal Aid supervising attorney Dennis Dobos, who leads Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Is Financial Assistance Available for Seniors to Help Pay Property Tax? Close

A new wave of foreclosures hitting greater Cleveland is the result of the county selling property tax debts to institutions that then file foreclosures against the homeowners when they cannot pay the taxes owed.

Seniors on a fixed income sometimes face particular hardship in trying to pay even a small arrearage.  Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) offers a small loan program (up to $6,500) for Cuyahoga County residents over age 55 who need a loan to pay back property taxes and avoid foreclosure.  See more information at by clicking here.

What is the SSA Representative Payee Program? Close

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has authority to appoint a person or organization as representative payee for a beneficiary to manage payments for a beneficiary who is unable to do so.

The SSA follows certain procedures when administering the program in order to:

  1. determine whether it’s in the beneficiary’s best interest to have a payee;
  2. select the proper payee;
  3. have adequate oversight over the payee’s activities; and
  4. provide redress for any misuse of funds.

Read more about each of these procedures at Justice in Aging Fact Sheet: SSA’s Representative Payee Program.  If you know someone who may need a representative payee, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.

How Can I Get Help with Student Loans? Close

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office developed a comprehensive online Student Loan Center to help future, current and former college students understand and manage student loans.

Check out the Student Loan Resource Center.

How can I appeal a decision in the health insurance Marketplace? Close

Are you unhappy with a health insurance decision that has been made
for you in the Marketplace? If so, you may appeal the unfavorable
decision. You must file the appeal within 90 days after receiving the
notice from the Marketplace. Appeals can concern decisions related to:

• Eligibility to buy a Marketplace plan
• Enrolling in a Marketplace plan outside of open enrollment
• Eligibility for an advanced premium tax credit
• Eligibility for cost-sharing reductions
• Eligibility for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance
Program (CHIP)
• Eligibility for exemption from the requirement to have health
insurance

An appeal can be filed by visiting HealthCare.gov/marketplaceappeal.
Download and complete an appeal request form. Mail
the completed form, with supporting documentation, to the address
listed on the form.

You can also write a letter explaining why you think the
Marketplace decision was wrong. Always include supporting
documentation. Mail the letter to the Health Insurance Marketplace,
Attention Appeals, 465 Industrial Blvd., London KY 40750-0061.
An appeal can also be faxed to 1-877-369-0129. Once your
appeal is filed, the Marketplace Appeals Center may request more
information or documentation from you.

It is important to keep proof of when your appeal was mailed
and delivered. If using the U.S. postal service, send your appeal
via certified or registered mail with delivery confirmation. If faxing
your appeal, remember to keep the fax confirmation. This proof
will support the timeliness of your appeal.

If your health situation is urgent, you may request an expedited
appeal on the appeal form. Explain why the time for a standard
appeal would jeopardize your life, health, or your ability to attain,
maintain, or regain maximum function.

You may obtain help to complete the forms. A trusted friend, family
member or other person can act as your authorized representative
to assist with the appeal. Complete and mail the form “Appoint
an authorized representative for my appeal,” available at
HealthCare.gov/marketplace-appeals/getting-help/. The form can
also be requested by calling the Marketplace Appeals Center at
1-855-231-1751. Interpreter services also are available at no
cost to persons with limited English proficiency by calling the
Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596.

You will receive notice of the informal resolution through the mail. If
you agree, the matter shall be considered resolved. If you disagree
or are not satisfied with the informal resolution, you may request a
formal telephone hearing. A final decision will be sent to you within
90 days from when the appeal was received by the Marketplace
Appeals Center.

To find help navigating the Marketplace, go to healthcare.gov and
click on “Find local help.”

This article was written by Dennis Dobos and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What is an ABLE account, and how does it help people with disabilities? Close

Ohio launches first-of-its-kind saving and investment account for people with disabilities to pay for qualified expenses without jeopardizing eligibility for benefits – Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account program.

The ABLE Act of 2014 is federal legislation that authorizes states to establish accounts for people with disabilities that are tax exempt and are not counted when determining eligibility for means-tested federal programs. Ohio is calling its program the State Treasury Achieving a Better Life Experience (STABLE) program.

The accounts will allow people with disabilities to save and invest without losing eligibility for benefits. The STABLE program is open to anyone across the country who meets eligibility requirements, though the fees are higher for people who live out of state.

Ohio residents will pay $2.50 per month to maintain the accounts, while residents of other states will pay $5 per month. Participants can use the money from the account for qualified expenses, including education, health care, housing and transportation.

Participants will be able to choose between five different investment strategies that range in risk levels, including a banking approach that offers no risk and is backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  For more information, see http://www.stableaccount.com/.

I was a student at ITT – what are my options? Close

Attention Former ITT Tech Students! 

Options exist for former students of ITT Tech, a for-profit college with branches in northeast Ohio, that unexpectedly announced on September 6, 2016 it would close its doors. Students enrolled at ITT Tech have options including a tuition refund, student loan discharge, and transferring credits to another institution.   Toggle below for FAQ’s with more information and resources, or click here for Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinics where a Legal Aid attorney will help former ITT students evaluate options.

 

Can I get a refund of my ITT tuition?
Yes.  You may apply for a refund of the tuition you paid by cash, check or credit card for credits you were not able to complete because of the school closing.  The refund is only available for the tuition paid toward classes you could not complete.  You must apply for a refund through the Ohio Student Tuition Recover Fund.  The deadline to apply is September 5, 2017.  For more information and to download the application, see http://scr.ohio.gov/ConsumerInformation/StudentTuitionRecoveryFund.aspx.


Can I sue ITT Tech for closing?
Maybe.  Soon after ITT closed, it filed for bankruptcy.  Any claim against ITT now must be filed in the bankruptcy court.  For most students, compensation for tuition and loans to ITT will be easier to obtain through the resources described below, rather than through the bankruptcy.  If you have particular claims against ITT for additional damages, you should consult an attorney for advice.


What other schools offer similar programs and will take my ITT credits?
You may continue your education in a comparable program at another school by transferring your ITT credits.  The school you transfer to will decide what, if any, credits are transferable.  If you transfer your credits to a new institution, but later decide not to complete your education, you may be eligible for a “closed school loan discharge” for your federal loans that you used to attend ITT Tech.

  • Cuyahoga Community College has set up a website for ITT Tech students at http://www.tri-c.edu/ITT.html to answer questions.
  • Lorain Community College has information sessions scheduled for ITT Tech students.  Go to http://www.lorainccc.edu/academic+programs/pathtolccc.htm for more information.
  • Cleveland State University has a transfer advisor, Adam Sikula, who former ITT Tech students can call at Vice Provost Office at 216-687-2404. For financial advice and information, call CSU’s 411 Department at 216-687-5411. Go to http://www.csuohio.edu/transfer-module for additional information.
  • Lakeland Community College welcomes ITT students who wish to restart or continue their college education at an affordable tuition. Counselors will work individually with students to find comparable programs at Lakeland. For information, please contact Tracey Cooper, director of admissions, at 440-525-7230.


Can I discharge the student loans I took out to attend ITT Tech?
Yes, but if you get a “closed school loan discharge,” you cannot also use your ITT credits toward a program at another school.  The “closed school loan discharge” will discharge outstanding federal student loans you borrowed to attend ITT Tech, will refund you any amounts already paid on such loans, and makes you immediately eligible for new loans and grants.  You cannot use this application for private loans.


How do I find out if I have federal or private student loans?
If you are unsure whether you have federal or private loans, you can find out using the following resources:

Only your federal loans will be listed on the NSLDS or by 1-800-4-FED-AID.  If you have any loans that are not listed, they are probably private loans.


Where else can I go for information about ITT Tech closing?

U.S. Department of Education:
https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/announcements/itt.

Ohio State Board of Career Colleges and Schools:
http://scr.ohio.gov/Portals/0/PDFs/0909-itt-student-memo.pdf.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
http://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/did-you-take-out-student-loans-attend-itt-tech-you-have-options/


Where else can I get help with financial and educational options?

Apprisen (financial counseling)
www.apprisen.com
1-800-355-2227

CollegeNow (educational guidance)
www.collegenowgc.org
216-241-5587
info@collegenowgc.org

 

Will your auto title loan cause problems with employment? Close

“Jobs in Northeast Ohio are least accessible for the people who need them most,” according to Brett Barkley, Cleveland Federal Reserve. Over the last 15 years, Cleveland has experienced a large drop in jobs located near where people live and currently ranks below average for access to employment by public transport.1 In areas of high poverty, this drop has been especially large. Jobs which have lower qualifications, such as those that only require a high school diploma or pay less than $1,250 a month, are the hardest to get to by public transportation.2

Auto title loans are making this transportation and jobs problem worse. An auto title loan is a loan where a person borrows money using the title of their car as “collateral” or security for the loan. These loans usually have very high fees and the borrower often cannot afford to pay off the loan when due. If the borrower does not pay the loan when due, the lender can repossess and sell the car to pay off the loan. Borrowers who cannot pay off the original loan are forced to take out another loan or lose their car. The new loan again includes the high fees. Each time the borrower is unable to pay off the loan, the borrower is forced to take out another loan with the same high fees, so the borrower falls deeper and deeper in debt.3

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports one out of five people who borrow auto title loans lose their vehicle.4 The Center for Responsible Lending reported that in 2013, 135,746 auto title loans were made in the state of Ohio. So, approximately 27,000 Ohioans, in 2013 alone, may have lost their cars due to their inability to pay off an auto title loan.5

Auto title loans may seem like a quick fix in an emergency, but very seldom provide the help a person needs. Because jobs are not always accessible by public transportation, the loss of a car can also mean the loss of a job. For these reasons, auto title loans should be avoided. Not only do these loans create problems for individuals, but they can impact our entire community by undermining opportunities for employment.

1http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports2/2015/03/24-people-jobs-distance-metropolitan-areas-kneebone-holmes
2https://www.clevelandfed.org/newsroom-and-events/publications/a-look-behind-the-numbers/albtn-20151123-a-long-ride-to-work-job-access-and-publictransportation-in-northeast-ohio.aspx
3http://www.cleveland.com/consumeraffairs/index.ssf/2014/08/auto_title_loan_ads_gloss_over.html
4http://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-finds-one-five-auto-title-loan-borrowers-have-vehicle-seized-failing-repay-debt/
5http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/research-analysis/crl_ohio_analysis_nov2015.pdf

By Christopher Kolezynski

I’m on Medicaid/Child Health Insurance Program – How Do I Apply for Federal Student Aid? Close

Resources are available to help Medicaid / Child Health Insurance Program recipients apply for federal student aid.

To access the $180 billion in Federal student aid available, students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at FAFSA.gov.  Beginning October 1st, students will be able to access the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year. Given Medicaid/CHIP eligibility requirements, it is expected that most beneficiaries and their families would qualify for student financial aid.

  • To find a program that fits specific needs, see the new College Scorecard with data on college costs, graduation rates, earnings, and student debt at colleges and universities across the United States. This video shows how the College Scorecard can help with finding a good-value school.
  • To access step-by-step support and additional information, the First Lady’s Up Next texting tool provides advising for FAFSA completion, the college search, and student debt repayment. Text COLLEGE to 44044 to get started.
  • For additional information and support, the Financial Aid Toolkit has ready-made materials for counselors, students, and families to answer the most common questions.

What are my options if I was an ITT Tech or Regency Beauty School student? Close

Did you recently take classes at ITT Tech or Regency Beauty School? These two schools closed down in September 2016. The unexpected shut-downs left many students stranded. If you were stranded, ask yourself two questions. Do you want to keep studying in the same field? Or do you want to get rid of your student loans?

If you want to keep studying, you can transfer your credits to another school and continue taking classes there. If you transfer your credits, you will have to keep paying the student loans you took out at ITT Tech or Regency.

Be sure to research the school you are thinking of transferring to. For instance, is the school licensed? Does it successfully place graduates in the field you are studying? The Ohio State Board of Career Colleges and Schools has a list of schools that will accept transfer credits at http://scr.ohio.gov/. You can also call the State Board at 614-466-2752 for more information.

If you would rather get rid of your student loans, you can apply for a “closed school loan discharge.” A loan discharge means your federal loans will be cancelled. You will not have to pay the loans back. In fact, if you already started making payments, you will get your money back. However, if you get the loan discharge, you will not be able to keep your credits from ITT Tech or Regency.

Only recent ITT Tech and Regency Beauty School students can get these benefits, so how do you know if you are eligible? You are eligible if you were you enrolled at either ITT Tech or Regency when they closed in September 2016. You are also eligible if you withdrew from ITT Tech after May 6, 2016, or withdrew from Regency after May 31, 2016.

For more information about a closed school loan discharge, you can contact Legal Aid. You can also read more from the Department of Education at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repayloans/forgiveness-cancellation/closed-school. Or you can call the Department of Education at 1-800-433-3243.

What if you took out loans from a private bank rather than the federal government? Private loans cannot be discharged in the same way. If you have private loans, you will have to contact your lender to find out your options.

The closure of ITT Tech and Regency Beauty Schools may have been unexpected, but you have the option to either continue your education or get out of debt!

By Rebecca Maurer

Will my tax refund be delayed this year? Close

Changes to the federal tax law may affect when you will receive your federal income tax refund. On December 18, 2015, the federal government enacted a law, “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes” or PATH. This law extends tax credits for most taxpayers; but, if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”), PATH changes how and when the credit will be applied.

The EITC was introduced in 1975 as a bipartisan, anti-poverty law to assist those working, as well as to help low to moderate income families, stay above the poverty line. It has been largely successful. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate Service, during 2013, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty nationwide1.

PATH made permanent an increase in the EITC to $6,242 for working families with three or more qualifying children who earn less than $47, 747 a year for the 2009 through 2017 tax years. While the increase will be beneficial to many low to moderate income families, PATH includes anti-fraud language that places unexpected financial burdens on the same families the EITC was created to assist. Under PATH:

(1) Individuals cannot file an original or amended tax return to claim the EITC for prior years that a qualifying child did not have a Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

(2) The IRS can stop an individual from claiming the child tax credit, in addition to the EITC, for 10 years if the IRS finds the individual has fraudulently claimed either credit; and

(3) The IRS will hold refunds due to a taxpayer who claims the EITC until February 15, 2016 in order to help prevent identity theft and refund fraud.

Most refunds will continue to process within 21 days, unless the refund is partially or completely based on the EITC. The IRS will not release partial refunds, so EITC recipients should anticipate their entire refund being held.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. Taxpayers should call 211 to find a convenient VITA site.

1Drumbl, Michelle Lyon (2014) Beyond Polemics: Poverty, Taxes and Noncompliance (Washington
& Lee Public Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Paper No. 9-2016) Retrieved from www.ssrn.com/
abstract=2761083.

By Arcola Whatley

Should you purchase prepaid funeral arrangements? Close

Many people do not like to think about death or funeral arrangements, but some people do make plans for when they pass. For example, some people choose to purchase “pre-paid funeral contracts.” These contacts allow you to make decisions about your own funeral, and pay for it ahead of time.

These pre-paid contracts give some people peace of mind. But before purchasing such a contract, keep the following issues in mind.

First, under Ohio law, a pre-paid funeral contract must always be in writing. Do not hand over any money if the funeral director does not give you a written contract. The written contract must include a statement of the funeral services you have purchased.

Second, a funeral contract can either be “guaranteed” or “nonguaranteed.” Under a “guaranteed” contract, the funeral home guarantees to provide the funeral services you’ve chosen for the amount you paid at the time. It will not matter if the price of the services increases later on. The funeral home cannot ask your family for any more money.

However, a “non-guaranteed,” contract is different. In that case, the funeral home can hold on to your money and refuse to perform the funeral services you asked for if the money you paid is not enough to cover the cost at the time you pass away. The written contract must tell you whether the contract is “guaranteed” or “non-guaranteed.” Always be sure to ask which one it is.

Third, you can cancel any contract for pre-paid funeral services for seven days after you make the contract. After those first seven days, you can only get your money back if it is a “revocable” contract. (Even if your contract is revocable, a funeral home often can keep some percentage of the money paid.)

Other people want their contract to be “irrevocable” — meaning they cannot cancel it after those first seven days. In fact, if you are buying a pre-paid funeral contract to spend down your assets to qualify for Medicaid, the contract must be irrevocable. The written contract must also tell you whether the contract is “revocable” or “irrevocable.” Always be sure to ask which one it is.

When considering a prepaid funeral contract, be sure to get all the information and read the documents carefully. Do not sign anything until you are certain it gives you the benefits you are paying for.

This article was written by Rebecca Maurer and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Should I buy an “as is” used car? Close

In Ohio, a used car dealer can sell a car “as is.” “As is” usually appears together with the term “no warranty.” It means that the dealer will not be responsible for any problem with a used car once the buyer drives it off the lot. The buyer takes the risk as to the quality of the car and must pay for all repairs after the purchase, even if he or she is financing the purchase with the dealer. The buyer’s duty to make the car payments is not related to the working condition of the car.

Buyers should pay attention to the terms in the retail agreement before signing it. Terms like “as is,” “as they stand,” and “with all faults,” give up all express or implied warranties that would otherwise protect a buyer. A window sticker stating that the car is sold “as is” is also enough to alert the buyer that there is no warranty.

Some consumers are not aware of the legal effect of an “as is” clause when they buy used cars. They think they are only accepting defects of which they actually know. This understanding is wrong and is not an exception to the “as is” disclaimer. Moreover, consumers should be aware that used cars are not protected by the Lemon Law in Ohio. Ohio’s Lemon Law only protects cars from problems for the first year or 18,000 miles.

Buyers should not purchase a used car “as is” unless they are prepared to pay for anything that goes wrong with it. A dealer will not pay for repairs to a car sold “as is,” even if the car breaks down a few blocks from the dealership as the owner is driving it home. Buyers should ask the dealer if they can have a mechanic inspect the car before purchasing, and try to find the car’s repair history. To avoid big surprises when buying a used car, buyers should get at least a 30-day warranty on the major components or include a short return period in the agreement during which they can get their money back for the car if they change their mind for any reason.

This article was written by Sage Wen and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

What consumer protections are there for PUCO regulated utilities? Close

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) oversees companies and makes sure Ohioans have access to safe and reliable utilities. Common utility services include electric, natural gas, telephone, water and waste. As a utility user, you have certain rights and protections against having your service shut-off by utility providers that are regulated by PUCO.

However, not all utility companies are regulated by PUCO. For example, some municipal utility providers like Cleveland Public Power and Cleveland Water Department are not PUCO regulated utilities. To find a list of companies that are regulated by PUCO go to www.puco.ohio.gov.

If you are unable to pay your utility bill, PUCO regulated companies must send you a shut-off notice at least 14 days before the disconnection. Utility companies are allowed to shut off services year-round. However, if an electric or natural gas utility company plans to shut off service during the winter months, between November 1 and April 15, the company must give you an extra 10 day shut-off notice in addition to the 14-day notice. Utility companies must also offer you a payment plan option to help you keep your services connected.

If a member of your household has a medical condition where shutting off the utility service would be dangerous to their health, you may qualify for a medical certification. The medical certification will delay a shut-off (or in some cases allow you to get your service turned back on) for an additional 30 days. For more information on medical certifications, you can call your utility company or visit the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel website, at www.occ.ohio.gov (search “medical certification”).

There are also programs like the Winter Reconnect Order, the Summer Program, and the Home Energy Assistance Program, which help people who are having trouble paying their utility bills and may be at risk of utility shut-off. To find out more about these programs, call (800) 282-0880 or see the Legal Aid Brochure: “Utility Problems?” at https://lasclev.org/utility-problems/.

If you are having problems with a utility provider, you may submit an informal complaint to PUCO. There are four ways to contact PUCO with a complaint:

  1. Fill out the online complaint form located at www.puco.ohio.gov (under the “Contact Us” tab).
  2. Call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-7826.
  3. Fax your complaint to (614) 752-8351.
  4. Mail your complaint to:
    Public Utilities Commission of Ohio
    Attn: IAD
    180 Broad Street
    Columbus, Ohio 43215-3793

If PUCO determines that they are not able to solve your problem or you are unhappy with the outcome, you may file a formal complaint with PUCO by calling (800) 686-7826. If you decide to file a formal complaint, PUCO will open an administrative law case, which will be similar to a court case.

Legal Aid assists consumers in some utility cases. To apply for help from Legal Aid with a utility related problem, call (888)-817-3777, or visit a neighborhood Brief Advice Clinic (see the schedule at www.lasclev.org).

This article was written by Erin Przybylinski and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue! 

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Self Help

Do you need to file papers in court but cannot afford the fees?
You might be able to reduce or avoid paying the

Success Stories

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Judge Palos’ Legal Aid Story
Legal Aid helps people move in the right direction

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Learn more and share your #MyLegalAidStory.

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Akram’s Legal Aid Story
The tireless, compassionate lawyers at Legal Aid protect our patients.... That means our caregivers can focus on the physical ones. Together, we’re building a healthier community for everyone.

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Learn more and share your #MyLegalAidStory.

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Jennifer’s Legal Aid Story
I love working for Legal Aid because the organization levels the playing field for eligible clients who don’t have access to the civil legal system because they can’t afford a lawyer.

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Anne’s Legal Aid Story
There’s a ripple effect in all Legal Aid does.

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Learn more and share your #MyLegalAidStory.

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