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Personal Finance News 01/2010

Ashford real estate trust completes hotel refi (AP)
AP - Ashford Hospitality Trust Inc., a hotel real estate investment trust, said Monday it finished a $19.7 million refinancing of its Hilton El Conquistador Hotel and country Club in Tuscon, Ariz.

Ky. gov: State income tax refunds will be on time (AP)
AP - Kentuckians will get their state income tax refunds on time despite financial problems that have forced cuts in government services, Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday.

AIG sells Canadian mortgage insurance unit (AP)
AP - The Canadian mortgage insurance business of American International Group Inc. will be sold to a private investor group headed by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, the groups said Tuesday.

GMAC expects $5B 4Q loss, selling mortgage assets (AP)
AP - GMAC Financial Services, the consumer lender now majority owned by the government, said Tuesday it expects to report a loss of about $5 billion in the fourth quarter thanks to deep writedowns on underperforming mortgage loans it plans to sell.

Mortgage demand near six-month low as rates jump (Reuters)
Reuters - Demand for U.S. mortgages held last week near six-month lows as the highest long-term borrowing costs since August stifled refinancing, a Mortgage Bankers Association survey showed on Wednesday.

Fed minutes show lingering concern over housing (Reuters)
Reuters - Some Federal Reserve officials worried last month that waning government support could snuff out a fragile housing market recovery and a few believed it might be desirable to step up asset purchases.

Some Fed officials conflicted on mortgage program (AP)
AP - Some Federal Reserve policymakers last month were conflicted over whether to expand or cut back a program intended to drive down mortgage rates and bolster the housing market, according to a document released Wednesday.

Minnesota Dems try again with foreclosure bill (AP)
AP - Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and Democratic legislators said Wednesday that they will try again this year to enact a foreclosure mediation bill vetoed last year by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Business Highlights (AP)
AP - Some Fed officials conflicted on mortgage program

Mich. gov candidates want to change business tax (AP)
AP - GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder wants to exchange Michigan's main business tax with a flat corporate income tax that would cost businesses less but could leave the state with $1.5 billion less in revenue each year.

UK lender says house prices rose 1 pct in December (AP)
AP - U.K. house prices rose 1 percent in December, ending the year 1.1 percent higher than at the end of 2008, the country's biggest mortgage lender said Thursday.

Rates on 30-year home loans fall to 5.09 percent (AP)
AP - Rates for 30-year home loans inched downward this week, the first decline in a month, but remained above last month's record lows.

County says NY lottery winners owe $1 million (AP)
AP - Richard and Mary Morrison have plans for their $165 million lottery jackpot: paying off their mortgage, opening a restaurant, and helping the poor, as well as Richard Morrison's pet cause of celebrating the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

Fannie Mae relaxes Florida condo standards (AP)
AP - Fannie Mae is seeking to prop up Florida's ravaged real estate market by reviewing hundreds of condo projects in the state that currently don't qualify for its loans.

AIG's US Life loses Calif. workers' comp appeal (AP)
AP - An appeals court has upheld an arbitration award requiring American International Group's U.S. Life Insurance Co. unit to pay more than $517 million in reinsurance to certain California workers' compensation insurers in liquidation.

ALL BUSINESS: Big pay for Fannie, Freddie CEOs (AP)
AP - As the nation's thoughts turned to eggnog and gift-giving on Christmas Eve, the news hit: "Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac executive compensation significantly reduced."

Financial regulators issue new guidelines to tighten oversight (AFP)
AFP - International financial regulators on Friday issued new recommendations to toughen up regulation of the industry, including the mortgage sector, in a bid to prevent a repeat of the global credit crisis.

Consumer borrowing falls sharply in November (AP)
AP - Americans borrowed less for a 10th consecutive month in November with total credit and borrowing on credit cards falling by the largest amounts on records going back nearly seven decades.

Fed's Rosengren sees mortgage rate rise in spring (Reuters)
Reuters - U.S. home loan rates could rise by as much as three-quarters of a percentage point in the spring as the Federal Reserve ends its mortgage bonds purchase program, a top Fed policymaker said in an interview published on Saturday.

2 GOP senators question Treasury on Fannie/Freddie (AP)
AP - Two Senate Republicans say they want the Treasury Department to explain why it gave a "blank check" to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by removing the $400 billion cap on how much money it would give the mortgage giants to keep them from failing.

10 Cheap Ways to Boost Your Home's Sales Price by Spring (U.S. News & World Report)
U.S. News & World Report - As the temperature drops and the snow piles up, it's easy to forget that spring is quickly approaching. And after more than three years of a painful housing swoon, real estate experts predict that lower prices, attractive mortgage rates, and a tax perk from Uncle Sam will create the most vibrant spring home selling season in some time. "This is going to be probably the most pleasant experience for a home seller in the last four or five years," says Mike Larson of Weiss Research. "If you have been beating your head against a wall, this is going to feel a lot better. ...

Government officials probe 15 FHA lenders (AP)
AP - Federal housing officials on Tuesday served subpoenas on 15 mortgage companies with suspiciously high default rates for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The actions are part of a broad crackdown on dubious lenders as the agency tries to stem losses.

A Financial Lifeline for Foreign MBA Students (BusinessWeek)
BusinessWeek - Admissions Director Rosemarie Martinelli remembers the panic she felt when she learned a program that the University of Chicago Booth School of Business(Booth Full-Time MBA Profile) was using for international student loans collapsed at the height of the frenzied 2008 fall admissions season. The CitiAssist loan program was the second lender to disappear at the time, and few, if any, other banks were willing to help international students secure funding.

Mortgage applications rise in first week of 2010 (Reuters)
Reuters - U.S. mortgage applications rose in the first week of 2010, reflecting surging demand for home refinancing loans as interest rates dropped, industry data showed on Wednesday.

Obama, congressional Democrats meeting on health (AP)
AP - President Barack Obama and top Democrats tried shaping a final health overhaul bill on Wednesday in a White House meeting that underscored their desire to strike a quick deal on the administration's top domestic priority.

Beyond Gold: New Ways to Invest in Precious Metals (U.S. News & World Report)
U.S. News & World Report - Gold. Glenn Beck has sworn by it. So has radio personality Dennis Miller. Even Fred Thompson, in a way that only a U.S. senator turned Law & Order district attorney could, has stepped up to bat for it. And if you're an investor, chances are somebody you know has told you recently to buy it.

Cut Your Taxes in 7 Easy Steps (The Motley Fool)
The Motley Fool - Nobody wants to pay Uncle Sam any more than necessary. But you also don't want to end up on the receiving end of an IRS audit -- or worse. Luckily, there are plenty of perfectly legitimate ways to make sure you don't pay more than your fair share of income tax.

Lower Taxes Are Always in Season (The Motley Fool)
The Motley Fool - Many people think taxes are simply a chore, something to attend to once a year. Anyone with that attitude is probably leaving money on the table, whereas those who plan ahead to avoid paying unnecessary taxes are the real winners.

Let's Hope These 4 Things Don't Happen (U.S. News & World Report)
U.S. News & World Report - In the cast of corporate characters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are A-list villains, thanks to the central role they played in the 2008 financial meltdown. The two mortgage-finance firms failed as spectacularly as AIG, the poster child for finance-gone-wrong, with the combined Fannie-Freddie rescue totaling about $111 billion so far--the biggest bailout of all. Both firms are effectively nationalized, and the government would probably wind them down except for one thing: They underwrite about three quarters of all the mortgages issued in the United States.

Jackson Hewitt shares fall on tax-season troubles (AP)
AP - Shares of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. tumbled on Wednesday after the tax-return preparer said it expects to have only part of its tax-refund loan program in place by Friday's opening of tax season, and isn't certain it can secure financial backing to fully offer the program this tax year.

U.S. 2009 foreclosures shatter record despite aid (Reuters)
Reuters - U.S. foreclosure actions shattered all records in 2009 and will do so again this year, with unemployment and wage cuts overcoming programs to remedy failing home loans, RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

Rates on 30-year home loans fall to 5.06 pct (AP)
AP - Rates for 30-year home loans edged lower for the second straight week, a report said Thursday, but remained above last month's record lows.

Ill. GOP gubernatorial hopefuls debate in Chicago (AP)
AP - Republicans running for Illinois governor promised to fight efforts by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to raise the state income tax, vowing to try to repeal it if lawmakers approve one before the November election.

AG Holder pressed on FBI's mortgage fraud focus (AP)
AP - Attorney General Eric Holder told a commission investigating the financial crisis on Thursday he would find out whether anything was done in response to an FBI warning in 2004 of an "epidemic of mortgage fraud" that could plunge the country into financial collapse.

Don't Get Scammed on Your Tax Refund (The Motley Fool)
The Motley Fool - Itching to get your due from Uncle Sam? There are plenty of folks -- legit and otherwise -- who will happily promise to help you get a faster or bigger refund. My advice? Don't fall for any of the come-ons, no matter how tempting they sound.

6 Things Investors Should Know About Taxes (The Motley Fool)
The Motley Fool - Taxes have come a long way in 95 years. In 1913, paying income tax involved a simple a one-page form. Taxes ranged from 1% to 7%, and less than 1% of the population made enough money to have to pay the tax.

Investor Ross possibly interested in teaming on Northern Rock (Reuters)
Reuters - Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross on Thursday said he was "quite possibly" interested in teaming up with Richard Branson's Virgin Money to bid for state-owned British bank Northern Rock.

U.S. state regulators slam feds over financial crisis (Reuters)
Reuters - State regulators criticized their federal counterparts for letting the mortgage crisis spiral out of control and for hobbling their own attempts to avert the looming disaster.

New unit investigates unfair lending to minorities (AP)
AP - A new unit of the Justice Department is investigating the lending practices of banks and mortgage brokers suspected of discriminating against minority borrowers.

Fed's balance sheet liabilities hit record (Reuters)
Reuters - The U.S. Federal Reserve's balance sheet rose to a record level in the latest week, boosted by its ongoing efforts to support the mortgage market, Fed data released on Thursday showed.

Former exec. of failed Atlanta bank pleads guilty (AP)
AP - A former executive at a failed Atlanta bank pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he overvalued bank assets in a scheme that prosecutors said helped hide bloated accounting figures that could have alerted regulators to massive mortgage fraud.

NJ man sentenced in $100M investment fraud case (AP)
AP - A New Jersey man has been sentenced to 18 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution for masterminding what a judge described as one of the biggest real estate frauds in state history.

Houston woman gets prison for $1M computer fraud (AP)
AP - A Houston woman who worked for a New Orleans mortgage lender has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for stealing more than $1 million from the company.

Republican governor hopeful defends Ohio tax plan (AP)
AP - Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich said Thursday that he has picked a running mate in state Auditor Mary Taylor who shares his commitment to phase out Ohio's income tax to help the state's economy.

Ky. House speaker favors rollback of sales tax (AP)
AP - House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he'd like to see a rollback of Kentucky's sales tax to 5 percent and the elimination of the state's corporate income tax.

JPMorgan loan losses overshadow higher profit (Reuters)
Reuters - JPMorgan Chase & Co reported deep losses on mortgage and credit card loans in the fourth quarter, dashing hopes that consumer credit is on the mend and sending the bank's shares down 2.1 percent.

Gov't mortgage plan aids 7 percent of borrowers (AP)
AP - The Obama administration's mortgage relief plan provided help to only 7 percent of borrowers who signed up last year, another black mark for the struggling program.

IRS: Online tax filers can get refunds in 10 days (AP)
AP - Want a quick tax refund? File your federal return online and have the refund deposited directly into your bank account.

Wall Street falls as JPMorgan results pressure banks (Reuters)
Reuters - U.S. stocks slid on Friday after JPMorgan Chase & Co reported deep fourth-quarter loan losses that raised concerns about earnings for the banking industry.

Illinois Gov. Quinn still wants tax increase (AP)
AP - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he's committed to raising the state income tax to come up with more money, even though he never used the phrase "tax increase" during his recent State of the State speech.

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