State consumer affairs office: Steer clear of refund anticipation loans
state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and
Department of Revenue (DOR) issued a warning to Massachusetts consumers
Tuesday to be wary of refund anticipation loans (RALs).
“These short-term loans are backed by an individual’s tax refund and
come loaded with fees and high interest rates,” the state offices said
in a statement. “Advertised as a quick and easy cash infusion and
targeted toward the lowest wage earners, RALs essentially encourage the
people who can least afford it to borrow their own money.”
OCABR Undersecretary Daniel C. Crane called the RAL warning “a classic
example of buyer beware,” noting that customers “should not be lured
into paying a hefty price” — anywhere between $30 and $130 for the
typical taxpayer — “to gain access to their own money.”
“The Office of Consumer Affairs advises Massachusetts consumers to
steer clear of these loans in order to avoid burdening themselves with
such an unnecessary expense,” said Crane.
The effective annual interest rates for RALs can range from about 50
percent to nearly 500 percent, the offices said, and the loans must be
paid back even if a consumer’s tax refund is denied, less than expected
or frozen. If a taxpayer is unable to repay the RAL, the lender may
send the account to a debt collector.
The expedition of tax-paying by electronic filing methods and of the
refund process through direct deposit options that can lead to
taxpayers receiving refunds in 10 days or less should make RALs even
less appealing, said DOR Senior Deputy Commissioner Navjeet Bal.
“Given the speedy nature of processing electronically filed returns
with refunds, there is little cause to take out a refund anticipation
loan … Taxpayers should think twice before agreeing to accept them,”
Rather than resorting to RALs, the state agencies recommend tax-payers use the following filing strategies:
• If you don’t already have one, open a bank account and take advantage
of direct deposit for your tax refund;
• File your tax return electronically with the refund deposited
directly into your bank account, which you should receive in three to
four business days;
• When you receive your tax refund, avoid check cashers, as they charge
fees to cash RALs and tax refund checks;
• Reduce your income tax withholding so that you won’t have to wait for a refund next year;
• For free tax preparation, low- to moderate-income tax payers can take
part in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program coordinated
by the IRS. VITA sites can be found in libraries, community centers,
local governmental offices, nonprofit organizations and other locations
during tax season;
• If you earned $54,000 or less in 2007, you can use the IRS Free File
program to prepare your taxes online at www.irs.gov/efile;
• The AARP Tax-Aide program at www.aarp.org/money/taxaide provides free
tax preparation and assistance services to millions of low- and
middle-income taxpayers, with special attention to those ages 60 and
New Mass. campaign calls on adults to get involved with youth
A new community engagement campaign unveiled Tuesday aims to encourage
parents, neighbors, after-school providers, policy makers and everyone
else in the Bay State to look at how they can “be there” for youth and
inspire them to reach for success.
City and state officials, nonprofit youth workers and more than 600
community and corporate leaders joined the United Way of Massachusetts
Bay and Merrimack Valley to kick off “inspire 4 life,” a new multi-year
campaign intended to excite and engage Massachusetts youth and provide
them with opportunities not only to express themselves and develop
leadership skills, but also to build positive relationships with
The initiative was announced during a day-long youth summit held at the
World Trade Center on the Waterfront. First lady Diane Patrick, state
Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, Department of
Social Services Commissioner Angelo McLain, Department of Youth
Services Commissioner Jane E. Tewksbury and Larry Mayes, chief of human
services for the City of Boston, were among those in attendance for the
“The investment we make in our young citizens today will reap
innumerable benefits for them, and for the Commonwealth, tomorrow,”
A United Way statement cited research showing that youth who have
positive adult relationships are more motivated to succeed in school
and take responsibility for their actions, and are less likely to
engage in risky behavior.
“Youth and more likely to stay in school and graduate when they have a
solid relationship with a caring adult, attend school regularly and
don’t repeat grades, are protected from harm and participate in high
quality enrichment opportunities,” the statement said.
At the initiative’s Web site, adults can sign up to coach, mentor or
tutor youth, get information abut how to become active in school groups
or committees, and learn how to advocate for youth-focused policies
through public actions like attending town meetings or writing a letter
to the editor of a local newspaper.
For more information, visit www.inspire4life.com.
Essence, Berklee announce teen hip-hop songwriting contest
Essence magazine and Berklee College of Music are again looking for the
next generation of hip-hop stars, opening their third annual joint Take
Back the Music Hip-Hop Songwriting Contest to find young artists whose
work promotes balance in the messages of mainstream hip-hop.
Three contest winners will receive scholarships to attend a high school
music program at Berklee this summer, and will perform at the 2008
Peace Hip-Hop Festival at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Last year’s
festival featured performances by rap legends Slick Rick and De La Soul.
Two runners-up will study online at www.berkleemusic.com at no charge.
The contest is open to students ages 15-19 who are unsigned songwriters
and/or producers. Entrants have until March 10, 2008, to submit their
original songs, which will be judged by a panel of hip-hop celebrity
judges and Berklee music scholars based on the innovative and positive
quality of their lyrics, as well as melody and composition.
Additional information, contest details and entry forms are available at www.essence.com/take
backthemusic and www.berklee.edu.
Public comments welcome on MBTA police accreditation
A team of assessors from the Commission on Accreditation for Law
Enforcement Agencies Inc. (CALEA) will arrive in Boston on Sunday to
examine all aspects of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
(MBTA) Transit Police Department’s policy and procedures, management,
operations and support services.
As part of the on-site assessment, agency personnel and members of the
community are invited to offer comments to the assessment team by
telephone. Those interested in commenting can call 617-222-1103 on
Monday, Feb. 4, 2008, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Telephone comments are limited to 10 minutes and must address the
agency’s ability to comply with CALEA standards, which are available by
contacting Sgt. Det. Robert Fitzsimmons at 617-222-1161, or at MBTA
Transit Police Headquarters at 240 Southampton Street in Boston.
The assessment team is composed of public safety practitioners from
out-of-state agencies. The assessors will review written materials,
interview individuals and visit offices and locations where compliance
can be witnessed. Once the CALEA assessors complete their review, they
report back to the full commission, which then decides if the agency is
to be granted accredited status.
Library of Congress acquires civil rights activist’s papers
At a ceremony held Monday in Washington, D.C., the sons of civil rights
activist James Forman gave the Library of Congress their father’s
papers. Their mother, Constancia Romilly, also attended the event.
Forman was born in 1928 and died in 2005. From 1961 to 1966, he served
as executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
(SNCC), and was instrumental in organizing many of the major civil
rights campaigns of the era, including the 1963 March on Washington.
The Forman Papers — approximately 70,000 items — chronicle his life and
role in the civil rights movement, the bulk of the collection dating
from 1960. It includes correspondence, memoranda, diaries, speeches and
other writings, notebooks, interview transcripts, subject files,
scrapbooks, appointment books, photographs, and video and sound
The collection documents Forman’s activism, particularly his tenure
with SNCC, the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee, the Congress
on Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP and the Black Panther Party.
After serving in the Air Force at Okinawa during the Korean War and
graduating from Roosevelt (Ill.) University in 1957, Forman pursued
advanced studies in African affairs at Boston University. He later
returned to his native Chicago to work as an elementary school teacher
and a journalist.
An assignment to cover the desegregation of Little Rock Central High
School for the black Chicago Defender newspaper in 1958 ignited his
interest in the burgeoning civil rights movement, leading him to become
involved with CORE, the NAACP and later SNCC.
Later in life, Forman received a master’s degree in African and Afro
American studies from Cornell University in 1980 and a Ph.D. from the
Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities with the Institute for
Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. During the 1990s, he taught at
American University, the University of the District of Columbia and
Morgan State University in Baltimore.
“The James Forman Papers are a valuable addition to the library’s
unrivaled resources for the study of the 20th century civil rights
movement,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a
The Library also holds the personal papers of prominent activists such
as Thurgood Marshall, Roy Wilkins, Bayard Rustin, Arthur Spingarn and
former Massachusetts Sen. Edward W. Brooke.
MEMA, United Way team for new citizen helpline
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Council of
Massachusetts United Ways (COMUW) recently agreed to utilize Mass 2-1-1
as the Commonwealth’s primary telephone information call center during
times of emergency.
telephone number — 2-1-1 — will be utilized as a resource for human
service and public safety/disaster response and planning agencies.
It was designed, in part, to reduce the number of non-emergency calls made to 9-1-1.
MEMA officials said 2-1-1 will provide the latest emergency
information, and responses to rumors, access to post-disaster programs,
interpreter services and other programs.
The 2-1-1 call center currently operates Monday through Friday from 8
a.m. - 8 p.m., with the ability to provide 24-7 accessibility in times
of emergency. For more information on the helpline, visit www.mass211.org.
Division of Insurance launches AgentFinder site to simplify insurance shopping
State Insurance Commissioner Nonnie S. Burnes last week announced the
launch of “AgentFinder,” a Division of Insurance (DOI) Web site
designed to make insurance shopping easier for Massachusetts consumers
by connecting customers to insurance professionals based on criteria
provided by the customer.
The site is available at www.agentfinder.doi.
“Shopping for insurance can be a hassle,” said Burnes in a statement.
“Our goal at the Division is to cut through the confusion and give
consumers the tools they need to make informed choices.”
AgentFinder allows consumers to generate a list from a database of the
Commonwealth’s 70,000 licensed insurance agents based on user-selected
specifications, including geographic, product and company-related
Consumers can perform a general agent search by entering their ZIP code
and choosing between automobile, homeowners, life or health insurance,
or they can conduct a more detailed search by entering the agent’s
name, business location, company or product.
Burnes said AgentFinder is the first of two products DOI plans to
unveil to aid consumers looking for the best deal. The second, slated
for a February launch, will aim to help consumers shop for the best
auto insurance premiums under the state’s controversial “managed
“These two resources promise to give consumers the information they
need to make the right insurance decisions for themselves and their
families,” said Burnes.
New Web site launched as online resource for African American history, culture
In time for Black History Month, entrepreneurs William Moss and Dante Lee have launched www.blackhistory.com, a Web site they are calling “the first … of its kind.”
“BlackHistory.com is a 100 percent free online encyclopedia that
features information, pictures and video content about African American
accomplishments,” the founders said in a Jan. 3 statement announcing
the site’s launch.
“The site is also a social networking platform that allows African
American visitors to chronicle their own contributions to black history
and to connect in a way like never before,” the statement continues.
“Members can interact with each other and post profiles, pictures and
even history-related content.”
Prior to their team-up, both Moss and Lee explored their own
independent Web ventures. Moss is the founder of www.hbcu.com, while
Lee founded www.blacknews.com.
In its first month, www.blackhistory.com has welcomed more than 41,000
new users, numbers that Lee says puts the site on track for a
“We expect BlackHistory.com to be very huge, attracting millions of
visitors this year,” he said. “This is bigger than anything we’ve ever
Democrats to hold caucus for Ward 8
Registered Democrats in the Roxbury area of Ward 8 will be holding a
caucus on Feb. 9, 2008. Registration will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the
Orchard Park Community Center, located at 2 Dearborn Street in Roxbury.
Ms. Candace Sealey will call the caucus to order at 1:30 p.m.
Registration will remain open until 1:15 p.m. The purpose of the caucus
is to elect twenty (20) delegates, and three (3) alternates to the 2008
Massachusetts Democratic Convention. Delegates will be divided equally
between men and women.
The convention will be held on June 7, 2008, at the Tsongas Area, 300
Arcand Drive, Lowell. At that time, Democrats from across the state
will gather to endorse candidates for the office of U.S. Senator. The
names of those candidates who receive 15 percent of the state
convention vote will be placed on the Sept. 16 Democratic primary
The caucus is open to all registered Democrats in the Roxbury Ward 8.
Candidates for delegates and alternates must consent to nomination in
writing and must be present at the caucus. All ballots will be written
and secret. Those not elected as delegates and alternates who meet the
qualification may apply to be add-on delegates in the following
categories: youth, minority and disabled.
Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, color, creed, national
origin, religion, ethnic identity, sexual orientation or economic
status in the conduct of the caucus is strictly prohibited. Challenges
to the delegate selection process can be filed with the Massachusetts
Democratic Party, 56 Roland Street, Suite 203, Boston, MA 02129 no
later than 10 days after the caucus date.
Ward 12 Democratic Committee to hold caucus
The Ward 12 Democratic Committee will hold its caucus to elect
delegates and alternates to the state Democratic Convention on
Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Doors will close at 10 a.m. No one will be admitted after the doors are closed.
The caucus will be held at the Dudley Branch Public Library, 65 Warren
Street, Roxbury. All registered Democrats in Ward 12 are invited to
At the caucus, 14 delegates and two alternates will be elected. In
accordance with the state Democratic Party rules, delegates will be
equally divided between men and women. Anyone who is at least 18 years
of age and registered as a Massachusetts Democrat as of Dec. 31, 2007,
is welcome to attend the caucus and run for a delegate position.
Candidates must be present to be nominated for delegate or alternate,
and all nominees are allowed to make a one-minute speech.
For more information, e-mail the Ward 12 Committee at ward12committee@
Democrats to hold caucus for Ward 14
Registered Democrats in the Mattapan and North Dorchester areas of Ward
14 will be holding a caucus on Feb. 2, 2008. Registration will begin at
12:30 p.m. at the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center Building,
located at 895 Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. Chairperson Darryl Smith
will call the caucus to order at 1:30 p.m. Registration will remain
open until 1:15 p.m. The purpose of the caucus is to elect twenty (20)
delegates and three (3) alternates to the 2008 Massachusetts Democratic
Convention. Delegates will be divided equally between men and women.
The caucus is open to all registered Democrats in the Mattapan and
North Dorchester areas of Ward 14. Candidates for delegates and
alternates must consent to nomination in writing and must be present at
the caucus. All ballots will be written and secret. Those not elected
as delegates and alternates who meet the qualification may apply to be
add-on delegates in the following categories: youth, minority and
Democrats to hold caucus in Ward 18
Registered Democrats in Ward 18 will be holding a caucus at the Hyde
Park Police Station at 1249 Hyde Park Avenue, Cleary Square, Hyde Park
on Feb. 2, 2008, at 10 a.m. The purpose of the caucus is to elect 43
delegates and five alternates to the 2008 Massachusetts Democratic
Convention. Delegates will be divided equally between men and women.
Ample parking is available in the City of Boston Municipal Lot across
the street from the police station. The caucus will be held in the
Community Room in the basement level and should be accessed via the
door at the rear of the building.
The caucus is open to all registered Democrats in Ward 18.
For caucus information, please contact chair Jim Gillooly at 617-361-2594.