Friday, May 22, 2020

WV Courts back open for non-emergency proceedings

Several previous orders issued by the WV Supreme Court of Appeals closing the courts except for emergencies have expired and proceedings including hearings and trials will be happening again in magistrate, family, and circuit courts in our state.

Though all the courts are encouraged to use technology to allow remote attendance for proceedings, each county and court will function a little differently. 

If you have had a court proceeding that was delayed during the pandemic you should expect to get notified about scheduling soon. If you have concerns about your safety appearing in court you can call the judge or magistrate's office and talk to the clerk about how to safely make your appearance.

Here's the most recent order about how the courts will resume non-emergency operations http://www.courtswv.gov/covid19/ResumptionOfOperations-ProtocolsandMap5-6-20.pdf. If you are at least 60 years old and a West Virginian with a legal question or problem you can call WV Senior Legal Aid and talk to an attorney for free. 1.800.229.5068.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Retirement Account Changes

Significant changes relating to tax-deferred retirement account distributions have occurred in recent months.

First and foremost, for 2020, the CARES Act suspended the requirement for older account owners to make mandatory distributions from their retirement accounts during the year because of the economic downturn. Of course, voluntary distributions are still permitted.

Further, for over 30 years, those with retirement accounts knew that voluntary withdrawals, subject to federal income taxes, could begin at age 59 1/2 and that required minimum distributions, based on an age/rate chart, had to start at age 70 1/2 (with certain exceptions).

Now, because of the SECURE Act, the magic age for required withdrawals (other than during the 2020 suspension) is 72.

This federal law became effective in December 2019 and has permanently extended the starting time for future mandatory distributions from retirement accounts to age 72. In these roller coaster stock market times, being able to wait that extra time could allow the account balance to recover.

Many people earmark their retirement accounts as possible inheritance funds for their family. Delaying distributions on these tax-deferred funds as long as the law allows can mean larger future balances.

The new law also changes the after-death rules for distributions to heirs. The full account balance must be paid out within 10 years, with exceptions for spouses and certain other individuals. Previously, many heirs could stretch out distributions over their lifetimes to reduce the income taxes owed from receiving such distributions.

Charitable use of Individual Retirement Account (IRA) funds can also be a way to avoid income taxes. Starting at age 70 1/2, amounts up to $100,000 from an IRA (but not from other types of retirement accounts) can be used each year for charitable purposes and escape federal and West Virginia taxation. These charitable gifts satisfy the required minimum distribution rules, when applicable, as well.

For assistance dealing with tax and other legal issues, contact West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 800-229–5068. Those age 60 and over living in the state are eligible for this free help.

Friday, May 08, 2020

TOO MANY DEBTS?

Too many debts to deal with these days?

Unfortunately, many Americans are finding that to be true as we endure the novel coronavirus pandemic and its far-reaching economic impact.

While there are programs to freeze or defer some debts and expenses temporarily, such as credit card payments and rent, that relief is just for the short term.

As many struggle to keep up with their bills in these uncertain times, the suggestion of contacting your creditors to work out terms to handle these debts probably should not be the first step taken.

Instead, looking at the big picture and listing which debts are past due, currently due, and will be owed in the near future may be the most beneficial starting point.

Of course, being able to pay for the necessities of food, shelter, utilities and transportation is at the top of the list for your budget. If one or more of those bills is past due, they are crucial to focus on immediately.

The staff attorneys at West Virginia Senior Legal Aid can help state residents, age 60 and over, review their current financial situation and work out a listing of which bills need to be given top priority, secondary priority, and so on.

The WVSLA attorneys have experience working with the laws, programs and regulations dealing with mortgages, rent, utilities, car loans, credit cards, etc. and can assist with recommending how to put your financial house in order. There is no charge for their guidance.

Remember also that some debt collectors will use predatory practices. They will attempt to persuade you to pay the debt they are trying to collect and will have no concern about any others that won’t be paid.

Finding the right combination of satisfying current living expenses and handling debt can take some thought and effort. Calling West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 800-229-5068 can help seniors avoid painful mistakes and get going in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

WV DMV gives automatic extensions on driver's licenses, permits, registration, and inspection

Don't panic if your WV driver's license, driver's permit, car registration expired in March 2020 or April 2020 you have a three month extension to get those renewed. Vehicle inspections that expire from April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2020 will have a 3 month grace period, and the vehicle inspection program will be suspended during this time.

WV DMV is currently closed to the public in accordance with Governor's stay-at-home order to prevent COVID-19 exposure to customers and employees.

You can still use the DMV's online services and mail-in services if you wish to do things like driver's license renewal with no changes, registration renewals, obtaining duplicate driver's licenses, registration cards, decals, and plates, obtaining driving records, request a personalized plate, etc.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Covid-19 Relief Package: Stimulus Payments to Seniors

To help alleviate some of the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, the US government has issued new federal stimulus legislation, called the CARES Act. As part of this stimulus package, the government is preparing to send out direct payments to help individuals amid the pandemic. Many seniors may be wondering if they are eligible to receive a stimulus payment; if so, for how much; and what, if anything, they need to do in order to get the funds.

Who is eligible?

The legislation will give single adults with adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less on their 2019 tax returns a one-time check for $1,200. Married couples who filed jointly with incomes under $150,000 will receive $2,400. Families will get an additional $500 for each child.

For individuals with income above this amount, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000 threshold. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible for the stimulus payment.

Individuals who are collecting Social Security benefits for retirement, disability, or Supplemental Security Income are eligible for the stimulus payments.

I am not typically required to file a tax return because my income is low, so I didn't for 2018 or 2019. Can I still receive my payment?

Yes. For the many low-income seniors who are not required to file a federal tax return the CARES Act provides that the IRS to get information from the Social Security Administration about where to send your check. Folks who receive Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security Disability benefits, and/or SSI benefits will not have to take any action to receive their stimulus payment.

How Will I Receive My Payment?

The IRS will send the payments either electronically through direct deposit into people's bank accounts if that is how they receive their tax refunds or their Social Security or SSI benefits. If you receive refunds or benefits by paper check, you will receive your stimulus money by paper check. If you receive benefits on a Direct Express card it is not yet clear whether you will receive your stimulus money on the card or through a paper check.

For those who do not already have their bank account information on record with the IRS or SSA, the IRS says it is planning to develop “in the coming weeks” a web-based portal where individuals could provide their banking information to the IRS online, so that individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.

When will I receive the stimulus money?

Direct deposits should begin within the next few weeks, and checks will be mailed later.

I have a tax filing obligation but have not filed my tax return for 2018 or 2019. Can I still receive an economic impact payment?

Yes. The IRS urges anyone with a tax filing obligation who has not yet filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 to file as soon as they can to receive an economic impact payment. Taxpayers should include direct deposit banking information on the return in order to receive the payment more quickly.

Will this stimulus money knock me off my other federal benefits like SNAP or Medicaid or HUD?

No. The CARES Act provides that this money is not countable income for 12 months after you receive it for any federal, state, or local programs that are funded in whole or in part with federal funds.

For the more info regarding stimulus payments visit:

http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know
https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus
https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus
https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2020/coronavirus-stimulus-checks.html

Thursday, March 26, 2020

WV Judicial Emergency for COVID-19, most proceedings and deadlines delayed

Our state courts, including magistrate, family, and circuit courts, are administered by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (WVSLA). Municipal courts operate independently.
In response to the COVID_19 pandemic the WVSCA has issued 2 orders and a plan document. You can access all these and future COVID-19 related court administration documents at http://www.courtswv.gov/covid19/COVID19.html.
Pursuant to those orders all civil and criminal proceedings in our state courts, except emergency proceedings and certain criminal proceedings, are currently stayed through 4/10/2020. All deadlines that fall between 3/23/2020 and 4/10/2020 are extended to 4/11/2020. All statutes of limitation that fall within those dates are extended to 4/11/2020. Statutes of limitation that do not expire between those dates ARE NOT extended.
Emergency proceedings include:
  • domestic violence
  • child abuse and neglect where there is imminent threat
  • infant guardianship
  • custody cases involving threat to cbild
  • juvenile detention/placement in state custody
Criminal proceedings necessary to ensure the right to a speedy trial are not subject to the stays.
Proceedings should continue utilize technology to limit physical contact when possible.
Note that eviction is not on the emergency civil proceedings list, so there should be no ordinary eviction proceedings at least through 4/10/2020.
If you are at least 60 and a West Virginia resident with a civil legal question or problem, or concerns about the status of our state courts you can call WV Senior Legal Aid at 1-800-229-5068 for help.






Wednesday, March 25, 2020

WV Senior Citizens Tax Credit process

NOTE: As of March 25, 2020, West Virginia’s personal income tax filing deadline is July 15, 2020.

When it’s tax time, everybody appreciates a little help, especially when tax credits are available. Each dollar of a credit eliminates a dollar of tax.

West Virginia’s Senior Citizens Tax Credit helps certain older residents pay lower income taxes, as does the Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit.

To claim either or both credits, a person does not have to itemize expenses on their return.

Both income tax credits are tied to owning residential property. The Homestead Exemption program reduces property taxes on owner-occupied property for those age 65 and older or disabled who sign up at their county assessor’s office for the exemption.

Under the state program, the first $20,000 of the home‘s assessed value is exempt, or non-taxable, for property tax purposes.

For annual income tax purposes, those who are eligible for the Senior Citizens Tax Credit receive Form SCTC-1 in the mail from the West Virginia State Tax Department each January.

The form lists the amount of the tax credit that can be claimed when preparing the West Virginia tax return. Be sure to save it for tax return preparation purposes.

There is also a low income requirement for Senior Citizens Tax Credit eligibility that is determined when calculating the numbers for the tax return.

Further, for those receiving the Homestead Exemption on their residential property taxes, there is the Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit to reduce income taxes.

When a person’s residential property taxes exceed 4% of their income, he or she may receive a state income tax credit for the excess amount. The maximum credit is $1000.

If a person is eligible for both of these state income tax credits, the amount of the Senior Citizens Tax Credit will reduce the amount of the Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit that can be claimed.

Neither of these state tax credits affect or reduce the federal taxes owed.

More information is available on the https://tax.wv.gov/Individuals/SeniorCitizens/Pages/SeniorCitizensTaxCredit.aspx page.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Checks from the government, here come the scammers!

We hear the government is planning to send out money to everyone. The details are still being worked out, there's not much known about how.

But one thing we know for certain: scammers want your money. They will creatively try many ways to get that money from you, perhaps before you even get it.

Here are a few important things to remember as we await the details of our government cash:

1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.

2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer

3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The 2020 census will tell us many things about the United States and its population.

Participating in the census is very important for West Virginians because of how multiple federal benefits are allocated and controlled.

Many federal programs focus on funding for those with low income or living in rural areas. Under-counting would also mean under-funding.

A George Washington University study revealed that West Virginia relies the most of any U. S. state on federal money that is guided through census results.

On both state and local government levels, federal funding is crucial, making accurate census results just as crucial.

Currently, information is being collected online, through phone calls from legitimate census takers and by mail. To expedite the process, the online process is the easiest.

The Federal Trade Commission wants everyone to be aware that fraudulent schemes to get an individual’s personal information are occurring, using the false pretense that the person is calling on behalf of the federal census.

If fraud is suspected in any contact that is census-related, call 800-923-8282 to speak with a representative at the nearest Census Bureau or go online to FTC.gov/Complaint to file a complaint.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Black History Month's Honoree - Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

As a young child growing up in Piedmont, West Virginia, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. did not know that someday he would help America celebrate its roots.

In observance of Black History Month, we salute Dr. Gates and applaud his PBS program “Finding Your Roots.”

Now a Harvard University African-American Studies professor, Dr. Gates has increased focus on America’s immigrant journeys through the family trees of celebrities, journalists, political leaders, scientists and other accomplished individuals of varied ethnic backgrounds.

With numerous African-American guests, he has illustrated the impact of “disappeared” relatives—those slaves who were never listed by name in any records. Others have discovered that they were descendants of free people of color.

In contrast, other guests have learned that their ancestors five or six generations back were slave owners.

In recognition of his ground-breaking work, Dr. Gates has received honorary degrees or awards from 53 universities, including West Virginia University. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellow “genius grant” and other prestigious accolades for his efforts as author, documentary filmmaker, essayist, literary critic and professor.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Black History and the Court System, free lecture 3p 2/8/20 at Culture Center in Charleston WV

The Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs sponsors a monthlong series of events. The lecture “Black History and the Court System” will be presented Saturday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m. in the Culture Center, Archives Library. The speaker will be Charleston-born attorney Olubunmi “Bunmi” Kusimo-Frazier.

The event is free and open to the public.

The discourse will explore how the American court system has factored into the lives of African Americans. The lecture is part of a series of events sponsored by Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs (HHOMA) to recognize Black History Month.

“We are excited to bring back our popular Black History Month Lecture Series for a second year,” said Jill Upson, executive director of HHOMA. “We encourage everyone to RSVP at 304-356-2023 because seating for this event may fill up quickly.”

Kusimo-Frazier serves as the director of Magistrate Services at West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. She oversees more than 400 employees and the operations of the 55 magistrate courts in the state of West Virginia.

She studied at the historically black Florida A&M University and graduated magna cum laude. She holds a juris doctor from Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia.

After graduating from law school, Kusimo-Frazier returned to Charleston to work as an assistant prosecuting attorney and as a criminal defense lawyer for a private firm. As a criminal defense attorney, she represented numerous clients in federal, state, and municipal courts, and was named one of the "Top 40 under 40" by the National Trial Lawyers Association. She also worked as a deputy counsel for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

The Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, which operates within the Office of Governor Jim Justice, is committed to assisting all underserved citizens across West Virginia and developing innovative ways to address issues affecting minority populations through conversation, education, leadership, and collaboration. For more information, visit their Facebook page at @WVHHOMA, website at minorityaffairs.wv.gov, or call their office at 304-356-2023.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Do you need a REAL ID?

It’s gold star time -- beginning October 1, 2020, West Virginians will need to have a gold star on their driver’s license to go through airport security for a commercial airline flight.
The gold star converts your driver’s license into what is called a REAL ID for certain federal purposes. The alternatives of a passport, federal government PIV card, or military ID will work for the same purpose.
A REAL ID will also be needed to go through security in certain federal facilities/buildings, military bases, or nuclear power plants as of October 1.
There are exceptions where the REAL ID is not needed, such as Social Security, Veterans Administration and post offices, and National Parks. Some other federal facilities do not require identification to enter.
When a driver’s license needs to be renewed, West Virginians have the choice of a REAL ID or the standard type of driver’s license which will not be usable for identification after October 1 for flights, entering federal or military facilities, etc.
The REAL ID costs an additional $10 and also requires two documents, such as current utility bills, to show proof of West Virginia residency (the non-federal version requires only one). Further, either type of license also requires proof of identity (through a birth certificate or passport) and proof of your Social Security number.
Although these are state requirements, the overall program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security and is intended to make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire and use fraudulent identification.
Online information on the REAL ID requirements is available at https://transportation.wv.gov/DMV/Drivers/Pages/Drivers-Licenses.aspx.






Tuesday, January 07, 2020

WV Legislative Session begins 1/8/2020

Our state legislature meets for its 2 month regular session starting Wednesday January 8, 2020. That night Governor Jim Justice will deliver his 4th State of the State address You can watch and listen live on West Virginia Public Broadcasting tv and radio stations, the legislature's internet live stream, the Governor's YouTube channel , and the Governor's Facebook page.

Monday, January 06, 2020

12 Days of Scams Day 12: Never Surrender!

Are Americans becoming scam-weary?

If so, that can actually make it much easier for the scammers.

So staying vigilant and remembering that if something comes your way that sounds too good to be true, it could be a scam.

The top tips from the Federal Trade Commission on how to avoid being the next victim are available at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud.

To stay current on scams, the FTC provides a service that sends alerts to you via ftc.gov/scams. Also, AARP has a series of podcasts on scams that hit seniors at https://www.aarp.org/podcasts/the-perfect-scam/.

12 Days of Scams Day 11: I Am the H.A.L. 9000, You May Call Me Hal.

What are robocalls?

They are computerized calls that can be the least costly way to scam the unwary.

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission at https://donotcall.gov/.

Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That actually often tells the scammer’s computer to call you again.

There are ways to block various kinds of unwanted calls, depending on whether you are using a landline, mobile phone, VOIP. Learn more about how fro the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-block-unwanted-calls

Friday, January 03, 2020

12 Days of Scams Day 10: Mass Market Consumer Scams

Are we getting better at avoiding scams?

The Federal Trade Commission’s 2017 mass market consumer fraud survey report, at https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/mass-market-consumer-fraud-united-states-2017-update/p105502massmarketconsumerfraud2017report.pdf, found that 40 million U. S.adults were victims of various kinds of such fraud that year. That’s almost 16% of the adult population.

These surveys are done periodically, and the scams with attendant losses are increasing. Some even became double victims of scams since almost 62 million scam efforts were reported as successful.

Of the victims in the 2017 survey, 62% purchased fraudulent products via the internet. Always checking for the security lock on the line with the website address is a way to lower the effectiveness of the scam.

Fraudulent weight loss products and computer repairs were the top areas for scams. The fake weight loss products also had the most repeat victims.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

12 Days of Scams Day 9: Heartbreaking Romance Scams

Romance in the air -- and on the internet. But so are the scams.

Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about romance scams have risen significantly in recent years, as have the financial losses associated with them.

Learn more about the $143 million in reported losses during 2018 from such scams at https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2019/02/new-ftc-data-spotlight-details-big-jump-losses-complaints-about?utm_source=govdelivery

Those victims age 70 and over reported losing the most -- a median loss of $10,000. Ouch!

The scammers were able to make the victim feel important and were often viewed as the most compassionate and helpful person in their life. But the scammer also needed help with rent, car repairs, medical emergencies, transportation or family situations and didn’t hesitate to ask the victim for help.

As the victims learn, the scammers were not who they said they were. They use other people’s photos and fake identities. And they can pocket around $10,000 per older victim. That’s not romantic!

Monday, December 30, 2019

12 Days of Scams Day 8: Reporting scams can make a difference

The British Museum contains the world’s oldest documented consumer complaint: a 3,800-year-old Babylonian tablet from the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur in Mesopotamia — now known as Tell el-Muqayyar in Iraq. The clay tablet recorded the complaint of an unsatisfied copper ore customer written to his supplier.

Sad to say, 6,000 years of crooks robbing others hasn’t helped us all avoid being taken to the cleaners.

Many feel after suffering financial loss from a scam that they can’t do anything.

But reporting the scam to the Federal Trade Commission could lead to a prosecution of the scammer and refunds to the victims. Debt management, credit counseling, health care frauds, revenge porn, work-at-home plans, diet products, business opportunities, vocational training, and third party debt collection are just some of the recent scams that were halted and refunds to victims made, as discussed in Appendix A at https://www.ftc.gov/reports/2018-annual-report-refunds-consumers?utm_source=govdelivery.

But watch out for the scammers who can swoop in and scam victims a second time during the refund prosecution process -- https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/10/ftc-refunds-real-deal-or-not?utm_source=govdelivery

For those who want to make such a complaint, https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 is the place to start. There are seven categories to choose from to help stop the crooks!

Friday, December 27, 2019

12 Days of Scams Day 7: Scammers International

We may think that fraudulent scams mostly originate in American “boiler rooms,” as they are called. Instead, they are growing on the international scene. Many of the operations are thought to be funded by drug cartels.

The federal government has bigger and bigger problems to deal with these criminals operating in other countries.

Recently, two defendants operating from call centers in Costa Rica were convicted in federal court of posing as representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and Securities & Exchange Commission to defraud older Americans out of millions of dollars. The defendants told victims they had won substantial sweepstakes prizes but had to make up-front payments to collect them. The scam defrauded victims out of $10 million in total. The two defendants were sentenced to 25 and 20 years in prison respectively.

The Department of Justice has extradited four Peruvian residents to the United States, where they face charges of operating a large-scale extortion scheme from 2012 to 2015. The defendants are alleged to have run Peruvian call centers that contacted Spanish-speaking individuals living in the U.S. to threaten them into paying fraudulent settlements or nonexistent debts.

These prosecutions, discussed at https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFTC/bulletins/246ccf0, illustrate just how much money there is in fraudulent schemes, whether they originate in China or India or elsewhere.

Unfortunately most international telephone fraudsters like these never get caught or prosecuted. Most victims of these kinds of scams never get their money back. Since prevention is our best hope, sharing warnings about such scams with your friends and family might be a truly valuable holiday gift.