Resolve to Put Finances In Order Throughout New Yr.

City Agency Offers Money-Saving Tips

Want to start the New Year off right? Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner (DCA) Jonathan Mintz provided tips that can help New Yorkers save money and become an educated consumer in 2012.

“To make 2012 the best year yet, we hope New Yorkers will take advantage of the helpful financial empowerment tips and programs that we’ve created to help you secure a stronger financial future and start saving money for a rainy day,” said Mintz. “I urge all consumers to watch our how-to videos at nyc.gov/consumers, ask us questions through Twitter and Facebook and consider visiting one of the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers to get free one-on-one financial counseling to help keep this year’s resolutions.”

The DCA’s top 10 financial empowerment resolutions New Yorkers should follow in 2012 are as follows:

Do your taxes early and file for free or at a very low cost to get your refund. Persons who make $57,000 or less qualify to file your taxes for free or low cost. They can prepare their own taxes for free online or have them prepared at a free tax prep site (a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance [VITA] site) or at participating H&R Block sites for $29 by using the city’s coupon.

For more information about these tax filing options, including sites and requirements, call 311 and ask for tax preparation assistance or visit nyc.gov/taxprep.

Save for the unexpected hellip; even just a little. Unexpected emergencies like health problems or job loss can jeopardize a tight budget. Resolve to start saving on a regular basis in 2012, even just a small amount. Try an automatic savings plan that helps effortlessly save every payday using direct deposit or automated transfers.

The city’s SaveUSA program, which is available at select Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, can help a consumer get started saving by depositing their tax refund in a bank account in a participating bank.

SEE MONEY ON PG. 57- Those who sign up could be selected to receive 50 cents for every dollar of their refund up to $500 if they save it for a full year.

Visit www.nyc.gov/SaveUSA or call 311 for more information.

Find easy ways to cut down on your expenses. The start of the new year is a great time to cut out those unnoticed expenses that really add up. Buying a $10 lunch, five days a week, means that in a year, a person is spending $2,600.

In 2012, you can brew your own coffee; make lunch and take it with you; open a safe banking account (nyc.gov/safestart) and withdraw money only from ATMs at your bank-and watch your savings grow.

Make a plan to pay down your debt. One of the best ways to take control of your finances and start to pay down your debt in 2012 is to get professional financial counseling. The city’s more than 20 Financial Empowerment Centers offer free, one-on-one, professional financial counseling in multiple languages.

Counselors can help you negotiate with creditors and debt collectors, consolidate payments, or create a payment plan and a 2012 budget. Visit nyc.gov/ProtectYourMoney or call 311 and ask for a Financial Empowerment Center near you.

Check your credit report and protect your identity. Make it a New Year’s resolution to safeguard your personal information. Start the new year by checking your credit report and clearing up any inaccuracies. Throughout the year, be sure to shred all documents with personal information like account numbers and Social Security information to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, place an alert on your credit report, file a police report, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Open a safe bank account. If you don’t have a bank account, start the new year by opening one that’s safe and right for your needs. Safe and affordable banking does exist. All New Yorkers can open an NYC SafeStart Account-the city’s free bank account with an ATM card, no overdraft fees, and no monthly fees if you have a minimum balance of only $25 or in some cases even less. Call 311 and ask about the NYC SafeStart Account.

Don’t let debt collectors push you around. Protect yourself in 2012: Debt collectors must be licensed by the DCA and provide you with proof of debts, and cannot harass you even if you do owe money. If you are contacted by a debt collector, check immediately if the business is licensed and demand proof of the debt in writing. To check a business’s license status or to file a complaint, visit nyc.gov/consumers or call 311.

Claim every public benefit for which you qualify. Make 2012 the year you find out what programs and services are available that can earn or save you money. Visit nyc.gov/accessnyc to identify whether you qualify for benefits, including Food Stamps and child care assistance, health insurance, housing or employment, and much more. Ask your employer about pre-tax transit and medical cost programs, and college and retirement savings programs.

At Tax Time, use the city’s network of free tax preparation services and get refund-boosting tax credits.

Shop smart. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. If you’re considering debt consolidation, debt settlement, or mortgage loan modification or using an employment agency, do not pay fees before you receive services.

Get contracts that are clearly written, make sure you understand them before signing, and keep all receipts from your transactions. Looking to fix up your home? Get quotes, shop around, and get references before making your choice, and check with the DCA to find out if the home improvement contractor you’re considering is licensed.

Looking to buy a second hand car? DCA licenses and inspects second hand auto dealers. Check to see if a dealer is licensed by visiting nyc.gov/consumers and check a dealers’ complaint histories by calling 311.

Let DCA help. The DCA licenses more than 78,000 businesses in 55 industries and helps New York consumers when businesses don’t do right by them. You can file a complaint with DCA by calling 311 or by visiting nyc.gov/consumers.

More from Around New York