Ask Liz: 10/24/08

Ask Liz Economy Questions

Upkeep on Foreclosed Homes

Q: Who is responsible for the upkeep of foreclosed homes ?

A: We checked with a couple of organizations for your answer. The American Bankers Association says the rule of thumb is whoever owns the house is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. It says a foreclosed property in disarray may be violating local nuisance or zoning laws.

Some cities across the country are trying to hold giant lenders accountable.  Many cities are considering passing new laws that would require investors or banks to be responsible. The best advice..check with your local city officials to see what it's doing about this problem.

Credit Card Payments

Q: Does making a credit card payment or car payment early helps your credit rating?

A: We turned to financial expert Evan Hendricks with your question. Hendricks says paying a credit card or car payment late will negatively affect your credit rating but paying them early will not improve your credit rating. However,  paying credit  card bills early helps you keep a zero balance.  Keeping a zero balance helps your credit rating. 

Utility Bills

Q: A viewer says she paid her electricity bill late and now her electric company wants a three hundred dollar deposit.   She wants to know if they can turn off her service if she refuses to pay?

A: We called the utility companies in our area for your answer. In Virginia, the State Corporation Commission says yes,  utility company can request a deposit from a customer who's not paying on time. The deposit can be equal to the bill for the highest month of usage within the past twelve months. If you don't pay the deposit, the Commission says your services can be terminated with 10 days notice. In D-C - The Public Service Commission says your service can be terminated.  But the utility must give you fifteen days notice before terminating your service.

And in Maryland the Public Service Commission says a customer can make a partial payment to avoid termination. And then arrange to get into a payment plan. And the amount of notice given before terminating service varies and depends on the circumstances.

Debt Collection

Q: A viewer was contacted by a debt collector for a 10-year-old bill she doesn't even remember. She asks if there's a statutory limit for debt collection?

A: We contacted Attorney Sonia Smith-Valentine about this. The Statute of limitation is 3 years in DC and Maryland. 5 years. in Virginia on a written contract or 3 years on an open account. However, you may have been contacted by a so-called Zombie Debt Collector. They attempt to profit on old debt by harassing consumers years later. If this is the case, you can write them and demand they cease contact with you.

Cease & Desist Letter

Q: Where can you find a "cease and desist" letter that will stop debt collectors from calling.

A: We took your question to the National Consumer Law Center. has a sample "cease and desist" letter in its Consumer Education Brochures area and it's called Dealing with Debt Collection Harassment. It also has information on stopping harassment. And information about your rights. It says once you've sent a "cease" letter, the debt collector is legally bound to stop collection efforts.

Free Credit Reports

Q: He knows he's entitled to a free credit report once a year from the 3 credit agencies, and he wants to know if his wife can also request a free credit report from those 3 agencies in her own name? 

A: We got your answer from Credit Expert Evan Hendricks. He says free credit reports are available per person, not per household. Which means your wife can request her own credit reports.

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