What are Consumer Protection Laws?

Consumer protection laws are federal and state statutes that regulate seller and lender practices concerning consumer goods. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are federal agencies that handle product safety standards and consumer complaints, respectively.

These laws typically go beyond the traditional legal remedies available for breach of warranty. These laws are found in nearly every state, but the details may vary.

  • Fair Debt Collection Act (FDCPA)
    • Limits what debt collectors can do when contacting or seeking you out to repay a debt.
    • Specifically prohibits such things as harassment.
    • Statutory damages and attorney’s fees can be awarded for debt collectors that do not comply.
  • Truth in Lending Act (TILA)
    • Covers a broad range of conduct, such as charging exorbitant interest rates on credit cards and other loans.
    • Covers hiding fees and penalties in the fine print of agreements.
  • False or Misleading Advertising and Pricing
    • This is covered under federal law, and most states have their own statutes that address such practices.
      • Many states tie-in warranty clauses.
    • Examples of false or misleading practices can include car salesmen using “bait and switch” tactics. Another example could be a seller selling you a broken product, whether intentionally or negligently.

A big problem that consumers face is the relatively small amount of economic damages that they suffer as a result of a company’s improper conduct.

A class action lawsuit helps to equalize or tip the balance of power. An individual whose rights have been violated can join together with others who have similar claims against the same defendant.

In ordinary lawsuits, a plaintiff can typically only recover his or her actual losses. However, many consumer protection laws allow consumers to seek additional penalties, which can drastically increase the damage award, sometimes even tripling the amount of actual damages.

If you think that your rights have been violated, contact a consumer rights lawyer that can answers your questions and get you the help that you need. Many lawyers offer free consultations, and there are statute of limitations to consider in some cases. Thus, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

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Need an Attorney for Tax Law?

In the United States, tax laws are difficult to comprehend without a professional at your side. A number of lawyers are also CPAs, and other types of attorneys focus on tax litigation.

Different regulations dictate when the government can tax citizens for personal income, real estate, business profits, gifts, estates and a variety of other sources.

Is the IRS Claiming You Owe Back Taxes?

Income tax is a common source contention between the government and individuals and/or business owners. When a person owes back taxes, the worst thing he or she can do is ignore the notices from the IRS. The sooner you can review the situation with a tax lawyer, the better. Tax attorneys can negotiate with the IRS on the behalf of a person or business, and litigate the issue in tax court when necessary.

When an individual ignores IRS collection notices, penalties and interest will start to build. Further, if the IRS places a lien on a piece of property or a business asset, you will likely lose the ability to file bankruptcy and discharge the tax lien.

Can Bankruptcy Lawyers Help People with Tax Problems?

Bankruptcy can be an extremely useful tool for individuals with income tax debt. Certain income tax debt is dischargeable if it meets the eligibility requirements.

Once an IRS debt becomes a tax lien on a piece of property, it changes from being an unsecured loan to a secured loan. This has the effect of making the lien non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. However, you may be able to stop foreclosure from the tax lien by filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations to review your debt situation and offer you options.

How Do Estate Planning Lawyers Minimize Taxes?

The federal government exempts a certain amount of a person’s estate from taxation. In 2015, this amount was over $5 million. Therefore, estate taxes (sometimes referred to as “death taxes” as an anti-estate tax political euphemism), only affect multi-million dollar estates. Some states have their own estate taxes, with exemptions that are typically lower than the federal exemption. A few states also have separate inheritance taxes, which affects those who receive portions of an estate.

An attorney who plans estates attempts to lower the total taxable value of an estate so that little or none of the estate is taxable. Lawyers who plan estates for clients can utilize several techniques in order to lessen or altogether eliminate the effect of taxes on a person’s estate. Depending on a client’s specific situation, an estate planning lawyer may advise actions such as the following:

  • Irrevocable trusts – Trusts involve the owner of an estate setting aside funds to reserve for beneficiaries. Most importantly, money in a trust is not taxable. However, the owner of the trust usually is unable to access the funds. Certain trusts may allow benefits to be paid out to beneficiaries when the owner dies or they may allow a spouse or other person to access the funds.
  • Designate a beneficiary through an annuity, IRA or other fund – Certain types of funds allow owners to name a beneficiary who gains from the fund after the owner passes away. These funds are typically exempt from the estate tax.
  • Lifetime gifts– Another way for estate owners to limit estate taxes is to be generous and give funds to future beneficiaries before passing away. Anyone may give gifts worth up to $14,000 annually before gift tax liability would apply. Those seeking to lighten their estates can avoid the gift tax altogether by paying for another person’s medical bills or college tuition directly.
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Can I Receive Social Security Disability?

Social Security provides financial assistance for those with disabilities. People in these situations can apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Those who apply for and successfully receive Social Security may receive benefits to help them live as they are unable.

However, these programs differ in a few important ways, and if you are considering applying for Social Security, you should speak with a Social Security lawyer who can find out if you are eligible for the program and assist you with the application process. A rejected claim will cost you time and may cause you to lose important benefits. A skilled attorney can make sure your claim is accepted. Be wary of non-attorneys who practice SSDI or SSI law; they will likely charge similar fees even though they are not lawyers. If you need assistance with an SSDI or SSI claim, always hire an attorney who has experienced in Social Security law.

Am I Eligible for Social Security?

To be eligible for either kind of Social Security, you must have a disability that affects your ability to work. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), an individual is disabled and potentially eligible for benefits if that individual has been or expects to be unable to work for at least 12 months due to one or more mental or physical health issues.

What is the Difference Between SSD and SSI?

Knowing the differences between SSD and SSI is important when applying for Social Security. Some of the primary differences between these two types of programs include:

  • SSD applicants generally must be less than 65 years old. SSI has a specific plan for those who are 65 or older.
  • Funding for SSI derives from federal tax revenues, while SSD benefits come from payroll taxes.

Possibly the most significant difference for applicants is the qualifications for both programs. Though those applying for SSI and SSD must have some type of disability, only those with low income and few assets may apply for SSI. Specifically, individuals applying for SSI must:

  • Own less than $2,000 in assets
  • Have no more than one automobile
  • Have only one home that serves as the applicant’s primary residence

Married couples have most of the same criteria, but they can possess up to $3,000 in combined assets.

Why Should I Hire a Social Security Attorney?

A lawyer who understands Social Security law can give you more information about specific eligibility requirements and work with you to file your Social Security application. If the SSA denies your claim, you will need to file an appeal in order to get necessary benefits. In this situation, a lawyer can compile the evidence for you and make a case for your right to receive benefits.

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What Can a Lawyer Do for My Small Business?

Starting a small business can be a daunting but ultimately rewarding challenge. Small business owners face a number of complicated laws that a business lawyer can help them understand. Business lawyers train themselves to understand all the legal complexities that businesses of all sizes face. They can assist businesses with a number of legal issues that can arise when starting or growing a small business, as well as any legal conflicts that may arise during business.

An attorney who works with small business owners can provide a number of valuable services for clients. Some of the legal issues these attorneys know how to handle include:

  • Choosing a business structure – Many different types of organizations exist. Should you start a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation? What is the difference between a limited liability partnership (LLP) and a limited liability company (LLC)? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a corporation? Is your business eligible to become a nonprofit organization? The answers to these questions are unique to every business, and a business attorney can talk to you about the structure that would most benefit your small business.
  • Employment Law – Employees have very specific legal rights that may vary from state to state. A business lawyer can allow employers to understand the rights of employees in order to protect employers from wrongful termination cases or other lawsuits. An attorney can also establish contracts for employees and include noncompetition or nondisclosure agreements to protect employer rights.
  • Business Conflicts – Issues such as breach of contract, construction disputes, unfair trade practices, commercial lease disputes and a number of other problems can threaten a small business. Corporations can experience highly complex issues such as shareholder disputes. Lawyers can not only allow businesses to avoid many of these conflicts altogether, but can work to get small businesses through conflicts that have already arisen.
  • Mergers and Dissolutions – Whether a business owner seeks to grow a small business by acquiring other companies or intends to dissolve a business or remove a partner, a lawyer who handles the intricacies of small business can provide valuable services. An attorney can work with businesses on restructuring issues that accompany mergers and acquisitions or work with them to remove a partner or dissolve a company according to the law.

Working with a Small Business Lawyer

The list above is not comprehensive, and lawyers can assist a small business with many aspects of operation. Finding a lawyer who handles business law can improve your company’s likelihood of thriving.

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What Should I Know About Retirement Planning?

Preparing for retirement can be a complex process, but fortunately lawyers can ensure that those considering retirement have legally sound, effective retirement plans. Attorneys who specialize in elder law, estate planning law or probate law may be able to assist clients with retirement preparations. These attorneys may be able to handle all the details concerning retirement and estates in order to meet the goals of those arranging for retirement.

Important Factors in Retirement Planning

Retirement preparations are about utilizing your savings and any sources of income to ensure you are able to stop working. However, it can also include preparations for the later future, such as long-term care and administering your estate. When planning for retirement, some details for which you may want to prepare include the following:

  • Retirement plan – Though lawyers cannot make investment decisions for you, they may be able to structure an IRA, 401(k) or other plan so you can reach your retirement and estate planning goals. An attorney can give you information about what you can and cannot do with a retirement plan and how you can optimize it to meet your needs.
  • Medicaid – An attorney may be able to give you information about Medicaid and decide what medical care options are best for your retirement. If Medicaid is the best option, you can receive assistance preparing all the necessary documentation for a Medicaid application.
  • Long-term care – Whether you eventually plan to move into a nursing home, arrange for a caretaker or some other form of long-term care, planning can be beneficial. You may also want to arrange for a guardian to handle your personal business and take care of your estate.
  • Living will or advanced directive – You may want to prepare for a situation in which you are unable to make medical decisions. Advanced directives can give physicians and loved ones information about how you want to handle certain situations. You can also appoint someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Estate planning – Readying your estate to give to beneficiaries is important. You should have a will to provide specific instructions about how to handle your estate when you pass away. Additionally, a lawyer can work with you to prepare trusts and find other ways to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to your wishes.

 Get Retirement Planning Assistance from an Attorney

Preparing for retirement is not easy, which is why you should not have to do it alone. An experienced lawyer who handles the legal aspects of retirement planning can make the process smoother for you.

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How Do Zombie Foreclosures Have an Effect on Me?

Zombie foreclosures involving vacant homes have become a plague to many local governments, which have to deal with cleaning up weeds, boarding windows and other upkeep on empty properties.

Additionally, if you live in an area with a high amount of vacant homes, it can drag the property value of your home down.

Some experts think that banks are taking their time to foreclose on the homes, as they would have to pay back taxes, code enforcement fees and other things associated with the process.

TIME Magazine had an interesting story about zombie foreclosures, which involve homes abandoned by their owners that have not yet been taken over by banks. According to the news outlet, as of last month, there were 141,406 homes in the zombie foreclosure process, down 16 percent from a year ago.

It is upsetting that there are so many vacant homes in existence in this country. Keep in mind, if you are facing the threat of foreclosure, there are programs like the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and the Home Affordable Mortgage Modification Payment (HAMP) that could work to reduce your mortgage payment.

The Aylward Law Firm, LLC – Maryland Bankruptcy Attorney


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Can banks sell annuities?

The competition between banks and insurance companies is likely to heat up after the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision that national banks can sell annuities. Although more sophisticated than the basic savings accounts that used to dominate banking, today’s annuities are directed at the same investment needs of the customers.
The National Bank Act provides that banks may exercise “incidental powers” necessary to carry on the business of banking. The Court agreed with the reasoning that selling annuities, like lending money or taking in deposits, is incidental to banking. While banks are not allowed to sell insurance, which is protection against loss, annuities are not considered insurance under the Act.

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Can a savings & loan sue the United States for breach of contract?

As an inducement for healthy savings and loans to take over ailing thrifts in “supervisory mergers,” federal regulators agreed to permit the healthy thrifts to apply an especially advantageous accounting method to their acquisitions during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. When Congress later passed legislation in response to the savings and loan problems, that law effectively disallowed the same method of accounting.
Three savings and loans that ran into trouble with the regulators successfully sued the United States for breach of contract, overcoming various defenses based on the sovereignty of the federal government. The decision means that the government may be exposed to billions of dollars in liability, not only to the savings and loans that sued, but also to over 100 other institutions that are in the same situation.

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Can a collection agency by sued for “mass-produced debt collection”?

A collection agency employed by a magazine subscription clearinghouse took a “mass production” approach to its task. Over a period of a few years it sent out millions of computer-generated collection notices. If a customer did not respond to the first notice with payment, he would receive another mass-produced dunning letter, but this time it would come from an attorney, with hints of a coming lawsuit.
An investigation by the Federal Trade Commission culminated in a suit against the agency and the attorney for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A judgment imposing substantial civil penalties on the defendants stood up on review by a federal appellate court. The collection notices violated three sections of the Act by (1) threatening consumers with legal action that the debt collector did not intend to take, (2) using false representations or deceptive means to collect a debt, and (3) sending notices with contradictory information about how long a consumer had to dispute a debt.
The sheer number of accounts and letters laid a foundation for the lawsuit because the collection agency admitted the impracticality and unlikelihood of suing any one debtor. The attorney whose name appeared on the second notice not only never exercised judgment as to the accounts, he never even saw the letters, signed them, or knew the identities of the recipients.
The defendants argued that the notices did not threaten suit, and instead merely informed the debtor that a lawsuit would be considered. The court was not inclined to adopt this “hyper-literal” interpretation of the language in the notices. To protect the gullible as well as the shrewd, most courts have applied a “least sophisticated debtor” standard in evaluating alleged violations of the Act.

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Are credit card late payment fees based on the laws of the state where you reside, or the state where the bank who issued it is located?

As part of the National Bank Act legislated over 100 years ago, Congress gave nationally chartered banks the power to charge their loan customers interest at the rate allowed by the laws of the state in which the banks are located. When a California resident holding a credit card issued by a bank based in South Dakota challenged late-payment fees as being invalid under California law, the bank used the old federal law to defend the suit successfully.
The U.S. Supreme Court found that the “interest” referred to in the statute included fees for late payment of a credit card balance. As a result, a bank can charge such fees if it is allowed under the law of the state where the bank is located. Contrary laws of any other states where its customers reside do not apply.

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