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Many South Carolina lawyers offer their services for free (pro bono) to clients who cannot afford to pay for help with civil legal matters. These matters include family, housing, bankruptcy or probate matters. You must meet federally established poverty guidelines. To find out if you qualify, contact the Legal Aid Telephone Intake Service (LATIS) at (888) 346-5592. If you qualify, the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program will refer you to a lawyer.

Additional Legal Tips
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Contents
Earned Income Tax Credit: It's not just for families with children
Did You Know?
FTC cautions consumers about tax and rebate scams
Payday lenders and the law
Earned Income Tax Credit: It's not just for families with children
 
Workers with low wages who do not have a child might be able to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Childless workers with low income are believed to be the largest number of taxpayers who do not claim the credit.

If you are 25 years old but under age 65 at the end of the year and had low wages or other earned income, you may be able to claim the credit. If you are married, either you or your husband or wife must be 25 but under 65 at the end of the year. Also, you may be able to claim the credit for the last few years.

You can find out if you are eligible for the EITC by answering a few questions and providing basic income information using the IRS online EITC Assistant Web tool. It’s available in English and Spanish.

In short, to qualify for EITC, you must meet the following rules:

  • Must have a valid Social Security Number
  • Must have earned income from employment or self-employment
  • Your filing status cannot be married, filing separately
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year, or a nonresident alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien filing a joint return
  • You cannot be the qualifying child of another person
  • If you do not have a qualifying child, you must:
    • be age 25 but under 65 at the end of the year,
    • live in the United States for more than half the year, and
    • not qualify as a dependent of another person
  • Cannot file Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income)
  • For 2007, your investment income must be $2,900 or less.

If neither you nor your spouse meets the income test, you cannot claim the EITC. You should write “No” next to line 66a (Form 1040), line 40a (Form 1040A) or line 8a (Form 1040EZ) when you prepare your return.

Why not check now to see if you are eligible? Access the EITC Assistant here.

 Source: www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=168160,00.html

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Did You Know?

As provided by the Payment of Wages Act…
When an employee is hired, the employer must notify the employee in writing of:

  • the wages agreed upon,
  • the normal hours the employee will work,
  • the time and place wages will be paid, and 
  • the deductions an employer may make from wages, including insurance.

Changes to these terms must be in writing at least seven calendar days before they become effective.

Employers must pay employees all wages due each pay period.Employers must also give employees an itemized statement showing gross pay and all deductions made each pay period.

Employers who violate the Payment of Wages Act are subject to a civil penalty of $100 for each violation. Employees can recover up to three times the full amount of unpaid wages, costs and attorney’s fees in a civil action.

To report a suspected violation, for recordkeeping or other questions involving the Payment of Wages Act, or to order a copy of the Payment of Wages Act, please contact the Office of Wages and Child Labor at the address and number listed below.

Child labor
No employer in this state shall engage in any oppressive child labor practices. Oppressive child labor includes employment of any minor in any occupation declared by the director of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to be particularly hazardous or detrimental to the health or well being of minors. Oppressive child labor also includes employment of minors who are 14 or 15 years old under the following conditions:

  • during school hours,
  • before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. (9 p.m. during the period of summer break of the school district in which the minor resides),
  • more than 18 hours during school weeks,
  • more than 3 hours on school days,
  • more than 40 hours in non-school weeks, or 
  • more than 8 hours on non-school days.

For details involving child labor provisions, please contact the Office of Wages and Child Labor at the address and number listed below.

S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation
Office of Wages and Child Labor
P.O. Box 11329
Columbia, SC 29211-1329
803-896-4470
www.llr.state.sc.us

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FTC cautions consumers about tax and rebate scams

The Federal Trade Commission is cautioning consumers looking forward to rebate checks from the government that they may be targets of scammers out to steal their identity. The agency has issued an alert to help consumers avoid this situation.

The schemes work like this: consumers get a call or an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration or some other government agency and claiming to need some bit of personal information to process the rebate check. Consumers may be asked to provide their social security number, bank account number or another piece of personal information that a skillful crook can use to commit identity theft. E-mails often include a link for a consumer to click, which may take the consumer to an official looking—but phony—Web site that is simply phishing for the consumer’s information. Or, the link may take the consumer to a legitimate site but install spyware or some other form of malware on the way.

Neither the IRS nor the SSA collects information about government rebate qualifications by telephone or e-mail. The FTC urges consumers who are contacted by phone or e-mail not to provide any personal information and to report the contact to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov or the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.

For more information, click here.

The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, click here.

The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click here.

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Payday lenders and the law

As of January 2007, American consumer debt is more than a trillion dollars. More than half of all cardholders don’t pay off their cards each month and carry an average balance of approximately $2000.* 19 Jan. 2007. Faced with this kind of debt, many South Carolinians might begin a series of bad choices thinking this will help them financially. One decision you might want to rethink is getting a loan from a title or payday lender.

Payday lenders are companies that advance money to you for a fee—usually 15 percent—when you write them a personal check. In return, they will promise not to cash your check for up to 31 days. Even though South Carolina has passed legislation that regulates much of the activity of payday lenders, many consumers aren’t discovering the financial dangers of entering into payday loans until it is too late.

* Hoffman, Lee; Adriano, Joneil; Horning, Jessica.“Digging out of Debt

The following are some frequently asked questions and answers about payday lenders.

Who are payday lenders?
Payday lenders advance money to you for a fee when you write them a personal check, and then they promise not to deposit your check for up to 31 days. If you need $100 in cash, the check you write to them will be for more than $100.

Say I do need $100. Can they ask me to write a check for $150?
No. The law in South Carolina says that payday lenders can only charge you up to $15 per hundred dollars. So, if you need $100, you shouldn’t have to write a check for more than $115. If you need $200, then the biggest check they can ask from you is $230. This can mean the interest rate on a payday loan could be more than 600 percent APR (annual percentage rate) on a two-week advance.

How much money can a payday lender give me?
Up to $300. It’s illegal for them to give you more than that. And remember, to get $300 from them, the highest amount they can ask from you is $345. When the lender makes the loan, he must tell you in writing how much he is charging for the loan and the APR (annual percentage rate), or interest rate on the loan. If you are not given this written contract, the lender has broken the law.

Can the payday lender have me arrested if my check doesn’t clear?
No, and they can't even say that they’re going to do that. If your check doesn’t clear, then your bank will charge you for “bouncing” a check, and the payday lender can take you to civil court to collect the money you owe for the check. Of course, if a payday lender deposits the check, it could cause other checks you have written to bounce. You are then responsible for any of those bad checks.

Are there other rules about what payday lenders can and can’t do?
A payday lender must give you a written contract disclosing all of the terms and charges made. The law says that payday lenders can’t sell other things to you. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as money orders, postage stamps and vending machine items. Payday lenders can also provide fax services, provide money wire services or rent a postage box to you. They may also accept your utility bill payments—without charging a fee.

Can payday lenders do regular check-cashing services too?
Yes, and most of them do. With regular check-cashing, the business does not “hold” the check before cashing it, but cashes it immediately for a fee. They may cash your own personal check or a check made out to you by a third party.

How much can they charge me to just cash a check right then?
It depends on the type of check. If you want to cash a preprinted paycheck or government check that’s $150 or less, then they can charge you $3 or two percent of the check’s face value, whichever is greater. That means, for all checks less than $150, they can charge you $3, and if the check is for more than $150, then they’ll charge you two percent of its value. So, if you want to cash a paycheck for $500, the most they can charge you is $10. For all handwritten checks or money orders, they can charge you either $5 or seven percent of the check’s face value, whichever is bigger. That means, for all checks worth $71.43 or less, they can charge $5 to get it cashed. If the check is worth more than that, then they can charge you up to seven percent of the face value. So, if you had a handwritten paycheck for $500, they could charge you $35 to cash it. Some companies only provide check-cashing services and cannot act as payday lenders. It depends on the type of license they hold.

If I write a check to a payday lender, when will they cash it?
Payday lenders can cash your check any time up to one month after you write it, so be sure to ask! The date they cash the check must be on the contract they are required to give you. The law doesn’t say when exactly they have to cash your check, but it does say that they can’t keep it for more than 31 days. So, if you borrow money on July 1, they cannot contract to cash your check past August 1.

If I still don’t have the money to cover the check, can I stop the payday lender from depositing my check by paying them a fee?
No. Again, the law does not allow the borrower to pay the lender to keep your check for longer than 31 days. A payday lender may agree to hold the check for a longer period of time without charging you, and you should ask him if he is willing to do so, but he is under no obligation to help you. He may not ask for or take additional money to hold your check.

Can I just write them another check that they promise not to cash to pay for the first check?
No, this is called renewing or “flipping” the contract. It’s illegal for a payday lender to do that too. BUT, as soon as you pay off your first check, the lender can advance you more money on another check by writing a new contract. Since this is allowed, often people will go to another payday lender to pay off the first check, and then get ANOTHER check from the first lender. That is NOT a good idea. Many people get hopelessly in debt by jumping from one payday lender to another.

This brochure is for information only. If you have problems with a payday lender or check casher, you may want to contact your local legal services program by calling the Legal Aid Telephone Intake Service for a referral at 744-9430 in Columbia or toll free (888) 346-5592 from other places in the state.

If you are finding yourself in trouble with debt, you may also contact your local United Way for the name and number of the consumer credit counseling agency in your area. They may be able to assist you with working out a payment plan with your creditors.

This brochure was produced by the editorial staff of the 2001-2002 South Carolina Law Review and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center with funds provided by the South Carolina Bar Foundation’s Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA).

South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center is dedicated to advocacy for low income people in South Carolina to effect systemic change by acting in and through the courts, legislature, administrative agencies, community and the media, and helping others do the same through education, training and co-counseling.

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