Archive for February, 2011

Thumbs up or down on sales tax for personal services?

Services — excluded from Georgia’s 4 percent sales tax — may not be for much longer, AJC writer Chris Joyner reports.

A special council convened to rewrite the state’s tax code has called for the state to move away from income taxes and toward consumption taxes, Joyner writes.

As part of that move, the council recommended that about 50 personal services be taxed for the first time — including haircuts, country club and health club membership fees, shoe repair, veterinary services, lawn care and watch repair, Joyner reports.

The problem, as members of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness see it, is that services have become a larger part of the state economy over the years, Joyner writes. That shift means more of the tax burden is placed on businesses that sell goods — and the tax council concluded that is not fair.

But, the cost to consumers would rise. If the proposal is adopted, the addition of a 4 percent sales tax on services is expected to …

Continue reading Thumbs up or down on sales tax for personal services? »

Power Breakfast: Foreclosure fraud measure advances, Sunday alcohol, Falcons stadium, Home Depot, oil, auto sales

An effort to protect Georgia homeowners from foreclosure fraud is expected to advance Monday in the state House of Representatives, AJC reporter April Hunt writes.

House Bill 237, which is expected to move out of committee, is a key part of the legislative agenda of new Attorney General Sam Olens, Hunt reports. It calls for criminalizing falsifying documents and gives Olens and district attorneys more power to investigate claims of fraud.

“There is an unacceptable level of inappropriate conduct that has hurt confidence of homeowners across the state and the country,” Olens explained to committee members during a hearing, Hunt writes.

The problem is that foreclosure guidelines and what constituted fraud was not addressed in the state’s 1995 mortgage fraud law, Hunt reports.

That oversight has left Olens powerless to demand records and investigate when residents call with complaints, Hunt writes. The main issue appears to be some lenders backdating and otherwise …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Foreclosure fraud measure advances, Sunday alcohol, Falcons stadium, Home Depot, oil, auto sales »

Fighting the good fight to keep your home?

Did you try to avoid foreclosure for as long as you could?

New data from Atlanta-based Equifax suggest many distressed homeowners in the state are fighting longer to keep their houses, AJC writer Scott Trubey reports.

The data also suggest that “strategic defaults” — when borrowers simply walk away — are less common nationally and in Georgia than previously thought, Trubey writes.

The issue of strategic default “is not as bad as everybody is talking about,” Afshin Goodarzi, managing director of Equifax Capital Markets, told Trubey.

Did you try to avoid foreclosure until all other options were exhausted? Did your lender try to help or obstruct?

Are you trying to hang on now? What’s your lender doing?

Or have you decided to walk away because the value of your home is far less than what you owe? If so, are you concerned about getting credit in the future?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

Continue reading Fighting the good fight to keep your home? »

Power Breakfast: Homeowners fight longer to keep houses, HOPE, gas prices, immigration, Girl Scouts, Toyota, GM

Georgia remains one of the top states in the nation for foreclosures, but new data from Atlanta-based Equifax suggest distressed homeowners in the state are fighting longer to keep their houses, AJC writer Scott Trubey reports.

The data also suggest that so-called strategic defaults — when borrowers simply walk away — are likely less common nationally and in Georgia than previously thought, Trubey writes.

The study compared whether borrowers defaulted first on their home loans or things such as credit cards. It also measured the length of time between a default on a credit card and a first foreclosure notice.

The longer the time, known as default distance, the more likely the borrower was diverting resources to stay in their home, Trubey explains.

As of September 2010, borrowers in Georgia who entered foreclosure first defaulted on a credit card on average about 11.5 months earlier. That’s up from just less than 10.5 months in early 2008, though down from just over 12 …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Homeowners fight longer to keep houses, HOPE, gas prices, immigration, Girl Scouts, Toyota, GM »

Billboards vs. trees — which has your support?

An intense political war returns to the state legislature Thursday — the one between billboards and trees, writes AJC reporter Ariel Hart.

Under House Bill 179, billboard owners could clear-cut state-owned trees from in front of their signs, so that drivers can better see the advertisements, Hart reports.

It’s a colorful war, Hart says. Ladies in green jackets and scarves – the signature attire of the Garden Club of Georgia — have swarmed the legislative committee hearings, arguing the bill will leave swaths of highway bereft of oaks, sycamores and other trees that now are protected.

Heavy-hitter lobbyists swarmed back, responding that jobs and hard-earned profits are at stake, Hart reports.

Which side are you on? Why?

Should the trees stay up?

Should sign owners just raise the signs?

Will jobs be jeopardized?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

Continue reading Billboards vs. trees — which has your support? »

Are you teleworking to avoid Atlanta traffic?

Teleworking to avoid traffic congestion?

For the first time, state data shows teleworking has surpassed all alternatives to solo driving here as a main commute — including carpooling and mass transit, AJC writer Ariel Hart reports.

Last year, 7 percent of all metro Atlanta commuters teleworked for the majority of their commutes — up significantly from 4 percent in 2007, Hart writes.

But, Atlanta’s heart still belongs to the car, with 82 percent of commuters driving alone, Hart reports. But that’s down slightly from 2007, when the state’s last survey said 85 percent drove alone.

Where does your heart belong? Are you changing your affections? Why or why not?

Is your employer allowing more employees to telework or is he or she resisting?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

Continue reading Are you teleworking to avoid Atlanta traffic? »

Power Breakfast: Modest improvement in economy, top GA companies, gas prices, Synovus, airfares, foreclosures

AJC writer Katie Leslie reports on the latest view of the state and local economies:

Georgia’s economy will see modest improvement in 2011 as the state gains jobs and lowers its unemployment rate, Georgia State University economist Rajeev Dhawan said.

The economic wild card, Dhawan warned, is unrest in the Middle East, which could spur a spike in oil prices, now hovering just under $100 per barrel, up from about $65 a year ago.

“If oil prices go to $120 and stay there, it would wreck this economy into a mild recession,” Dhawan said, predicting that oil prices will likely settle in coming weeks back to current levels.

He said the state’s unemployment rate will decline from last year’s 10.1 percent to 9.6 percent in 2011. He believes the rate will dip to 9.2 percent in 2012 and 8.6 percent in 2013.

Even though the economy is growing, “if I just went by the employment metric, the recession [in Georgia] has not ended,” he said.

The state will gain 47,700 jobs …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Modest improvement in economy, top GA companies, gas prices, Synovus, airfares, foreclosures »

Naming rights for a panda — paws up or down?

Did you ever think we’d be talking about naming rights for a panda?

In the latest wrinkle on corporate naming opportunities, DreamWorks Animation agreed to spend an undisclosed amount to help defray Zoo Atlanta’s $500,000 annual fees to China to keep the pandas on display here, AJC reporters Mark Davis and Rich McKay write.

In exchange, the zoo’s youngest panda was named after a DreamWorks character, the reporters write.

Does this give you a queasy feeling? What’s next?

Or do you think this is a good idea to raise money? Should other organizations try it?

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

Continue reading Naming rights for a panda — paws up or down? »

Power Breakfast: Metro home prices keep falling, HOPE cuts, Home Depot, Falcons, DeKalb cuts, unions, NYSE

The stabilizing housing market many experts saw a year ago seems to have been built on sand, AJC reporter Michelle Shaw writes.

New data released Tuesday showed another monthly decline in home prices, with values in metro Atlanta and 10 other markets falling to new lows since the housing bubble burst in 2006 and 2007, Shaw reports.

Metro Atlanta values were down 8 percent in December from the same month in 2009, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Index, Shaw writes.

The metro region is now 26.7 percent below its July 2007 index peak, Shaw reports.

“Despite improvements in the overall economy, housing continues to drift lower and weaker,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s.

Also in the AJC:

In other …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Metro home prices keep falling, HOPE cuts, Home Depot, Falcons, DeKalb cuts, unions, NYSE »

Report: Bank of America charging fee for check images

Bank of America is adding a fee that may lead some customers to shut off paper statements, American Banker is reporting.

This month, the company began charging customers a $3 monthly fee if they elect to receive images of their canceled checks along with their statements, American Banker writes.

Bank of America is not the first to charge for check images, but its move furthers an approach it adopted last year when it required customers with a new type of account to stop receiving mailed statements as a condition of waiving their monthly fee, American Banker reports.

Customers can avoid the new fee by choosing to access their check images online only or by shutting off paper statements entirely, the publication writes.

Don Vecchiarello, a spokesman for B of A, said customers can still receive paper statements at no charge — so long as they reduce the bulk by opting out of printed check images, American Banker reports.

Vecchiarello said that the move to charge for …

Continue reading Report: Bank of America charging fee for check images »