Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Detroiters Who Need Help With Their Water Bills Can Get Hooked Up With Donors

Two women who never met in the flesh, and share a belief that water is a human right rather than a commodity like notebooks and handbags, figured out a way to match up Detroiters who need help with their water bills with those who want to help them.  It's the Detroit Water Project, and it has a place to volunteer to donate, and a place to apply for help in paying your Detroit water bill.  If you sign up, your past due bill will be verified, and the payment will go straight to the water department from the donor.  If you need help, give it a try.

What About the HARP 2.0 Program for Refinancing? Are There Other Programs, Too?

HARP (the home affordable refinance program) is getting a lot of attention nowadays, since it's more liberal than it used to be.  Who does it help?  It helps people who have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-owned loan (you can find out if that's you by looking here), and meet other qualifications.   

Since you have to have a good repayment record (no missed payments in the last 6 months, and no more than one in the last 12 months), it's not for people between the devil and the deep blue sea, just people who are underwater and would like to get a better deal.  While you are considering it, keep in mind that besides the government qualifications, the lenders may have qualifications of their own, and they may vary from one to another.   So if you get turned down by one, check out other eligible HARP lenders.  

What if you need help, and don't qualify for HARP?  There is a list of other federal mortgage aid programs by the federal government.   You can call housing counselors around the clock at 888-995-4673.  For a face-to-face talk with a reputable person in your area, see the list of HUD-approved counselors.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Water Payment Assistance in Detroit, and How to Find it in Other Cases

Right now, I guess we are having a dispute about how civilized and humane a society we are.  For instance, in a society where Wall Streeters can afford all the hookers and blow they can do in one night, are we really going to cut off the water on human beings, because they can't pay for it, and as we tell ourselves collectively WE'RE SO BROOOOKE?  Tens of thousands of Detroiters may in face having their water cut off for lack of payments and lack of ability to pay.

Julie's List has a listing of a program for Detroiters who can't pay their water bills via the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program.  You can call 877-646-2831 for more information.  You must be a Detroit resident and have a shut-off notice to be eligible. What if you are in the 'burbs, and need financial help?  Julie's List's website is all over it with various agencies that help out with utilities in southeastern Michigan.  

If you live in other places, the first place to go if you have problems with your utility payments is the utility themselves. They often have programs associated with them, made up of voluntary contributions of other utility users. Another place to go is the local 211 number where you live and their website, if they make it available to the public.  Under heading "water service payment assistance," you will find what they have.  If you have a particular disorder or problem, for instance, if you have AIDS or are an ex-offender, or something about your status or illness makes it difficult to pay bills, you might want to use 211 to identify agencies that help people with your  particular illness or social status. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Scammers Gonna Scam--Beware of Student Debt Relief Scams

Because the housing crisis had to slack up (but is by no means entirely finished), scammers had to move on to the next pool of people in financial trouble.  That would be former students who have racked up a bunch of student loan debt.  It's hard to get out of, and  hard to have discharged in bankruptcy, and those things tend to make people desperate.  So out come the scammers, and Illinois is the first state to legally come after one.

The thing to remember is that you shouldn't pay anybody money up front for this.  And all the information you need is available for free on the internet.  If you need to find your student loan holder, for instance, the National Student Loan Data System can help.  If you're not in default, you can call 800-433-3243 as well.  For loans in default, call the Department of Education’s FSA Collections Office at 800-621-3115 for the information.

A great, one-stop shop to explore your options is the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website set up by the National Consumer Law Center. It has a link to think out your solutions, depending on where you are with your debt (default or not?), or possible solutions.  It has a link with federal, state, and private loan cancellation plans. It has steps to see if you can possibly get it discharged in bankruptcy.  The site is a gem, but also check out the federal government's site on student loans.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Finding Free School Supplies in Toledo and Other Places

While the start of school is more than a month away, the time for low-income parents to think about school supplies is now.  The Salvation Army of Northwest Ohio will begin taking applications for free school supplies on July 23rd and 24th at the office on 620 N. Erie.  Parents will need to bring information about each child and proof of custody.  For more information, call 419-241-1138.  Supplies will be handed out on August 13th.

If you live elsewhere, where do you find out about school supplies?  One place is the 211 directory.If you check that link and see whether your town has an online 211 directory, the subject heading to use for the search is "free school supplies"--or you could simply call 211 in your town.  If you have a cell phone, you may have to use the alternative number listed.  Toledo's 211 directory lists two organizations--Mustard Seed Outreach Ministries, which only provides them for kids in the 43611 zip code, and Pilgrim Church at 1375 W. Sylvania.  However, many other churches may offer this service, so calling 211 may be a good option. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Incubators Aren't Just for Business... Farm Incubator Programs

We've done features on business incubators, and food business incubators, but did you know that there are farm incubators, too?  Various programs have popped up to start new farmers in the business with  (small) grants of funds, land (leased), and consultation and training to help urban farmers get a good start. 

For instance, the city of Cleveland, Ohio has a Gardening for Greenbacks program that gives grants of up to $3000 for those who go through the market garden training program, or have contracts for produce, or a member of a farmer's coop or a community supported agricultural program.  For more information, contact Jennifer Scofield at 216.664.4310.

The nearby Kinsman Farm leases out quarter acre lots to newbie farmers and mentors them and helps them develop business plans.  In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Tilian Center provides quarter acre lots with access to equipment and consultation to help them get their feet wet in farming.

For the closest thing to a national directory of farm incubators, try this searchable website provided by the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative.   

They warn that it's not being updated, but it is as close to a directory as we can find.  You might also try googling the phrase "farm incubators" and the name of your state.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Low-Cost Loans to Finance an Employee Buyout, or Grow an Employee-Owned Firm

Last year we featured some information on funding available for worker's cooperatives.  We have found another resource for workers attempting an employee buyout in Ohio or areas near the state of Ohio.  It's the Common Wealth Revolving Fund, which makes available loans of up to $250,000 either for employee buyouts or to finance growth in employee-owned companies.  The fund is centered in the Kent State University Employee Ownership Center, which also offers consultation, training and development for current companies as well as those contemplating a buyout. 

The EOC not only offers consultation to those companies, but business owners that are thinking of exiting, or thinking of selling out to their employees.  They also host seminars and educational programs for business owners who are looking to leave or sell their businesses, to employees or otherwise.  If you are involved in any of these situations, their website would be a valuable resource.