South Florida Credit Scores Drop in September

Credit rating agency Experian released Wednesday its second-annual “State of Credit” list of cities with the highest and lowest credit scores.

The study found that the cities with the worst average credit score were concentrated in the South, while those with the highest average score were centered in the upper Midwest.

According to, the credit scores of consumers in the Miami metropolitan statistical area dropped in September as they continued racking up significant personal debt.

The average credit score in the Miami area was 649 in September, down from a previous low of 652 in August. The trend was the same statewide, although other Floridians seemed to maintain better credit scores. The average Florida credit score was 654 in September, down from 657 in August.

The Sunshine State ranked 35th for credit score averages nationwide. California residents had the best average credit score, at 682, while those in Mississippi ranked at the bottom, at 626.

CreditKarma found that consumers in South Florida piled on debt in three significant categories.  In September, they had an average mortgage debt of $199,701, student loan obligations of $32,254, and credit card balances of $5,548.  This is an increase of 4 percent, 2.8 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively, from the previous month.

The study also found that consumers in the Miami area ranked higher in mortgage and student loan debt, but had less credit card debt than others across the country.

Obtaining credit reports and correcting credit reporting errors is something for every consumer to seriously consider.  This is especially so in tough economic times.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as modified by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report under a narrow set of circumstances. 

If you are denied credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance, and/or employment, the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are statutorily mandated to provide a copy free of charge.  Absent these exceptions, consumers are entitled to one free “annual credit report” per year. 

Equifax can be contacted at (800) 685-1111 or; Experian can be contacted at (888) 397-3742 or; and Trans Union can be contacted at (800) 916-8800 or

For your free annual credit report, contact the central source at 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-8228) or  Follow the voice prompts and obtain your credit report for review.

Foreclosure defense: Process servers allegedly filing false affidavits

Recent reports indicate that approximately 462,339 foreclosure cases were pending in Florida as of June 30.

Following foreclosure moratoriums by Ally Financial, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and PNC Bank, the settlement of deceptive marketing charges by Wells Fargo, and the Attorney General’s investigation into faulty foreclosure practices at the Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A.; the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A.; and Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, investigators have turned up a new problem.

Process servers are now alleged to have filed false affidavits in support of personal service in foreclosure matters.

Foreclosure defense attorneys claim to have documented a number of cases where process servers filed false affidavits. While investigating the law firms that employed “robo-signers,” state investigators are also closely examining service of process in a number of cases.

Recent foreclosure defense cases allege homeowners never received a court summons even though they still occupied their home, while others allege that process servers did not take the required steps to locate them or filed false affidavits about whom or when they delivered papers.

According to the lawsuits, some process servers violated rules related to the personal delivery of legal papers. Like robo-signing foreclosure documents without reviewing them for accuracy, a number of homeowners are now alleging they were never served with foreclosure papers.

Once rare, “bad service” of process has become more common as lenders and their attorneys speed thousands of foreclosure cases through “rocket dockets” that are designed to clear an ever growing backlog.

“With the foreclosure debacle, it’s become more complicated,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “For the sake of expediency, process servers are being rushed. As they are paid by the piece, they have an interest in earning a higher income.”

Homeowners involved in foreclosures are required to receive a summons and complaint personally delivered by a process server. Repeated attempts at personal service are required before court permission can be obtained to publish a legal notice in the alternative.

Some process servers have allegedly cut corners. One recently claimed she could not find a homeowner facing foreclosure on a second home, despite conducting extensive record checks. This held true even though the foreclosure complaint clearly provided a primary home address in Connecticut.

Lenders and attorneys typically contract their summons delivery work to large process serving firms, who sub-contract to private independent servers. In her deposition to state investigators, former Stern paralegal Tammie Lou Kapusta, testified that summons serving procedures were a “complete mess,” with homeowners routinely complaining they never received papers.

She and another former employee, Kelly Scott, said their managers told them move forward with the foreclosures anyway.

Investigators also questioned staff at Stern’s firm regarding billing practices that involved serving multiple parties at an address and billing for each one.

“Good service of process is crucial”, Reyes said. He has heard of homeowners losing their home because they never received a summons and missed filing dates or court hearings.

While a court summons must be accepted by an adult, state law does not require it to be served upon the property owner. No one has to sign, verifying receipt, “which makes it easier to say the person was served, when they weren’t,” Reyes said.

Laws governing the service of process vary from state to state. In Florida, there is no statewide licensing or regulating body for process servers, and rules vary greatly among the 20 judicial circuits.

Among the largest with operations in ten states is Tampa-based ProVest. Although ownership interest by the law firms has been denied, they maintain support staff at the Law Offices of David J. Stern and Shapiro & Fishman in Boca Raton. Marshall C. Watson also uses ProVest.

While ProVest declined to comment on specific cases, company president James Ward stated they “utilize properly licensed or authorized independent contractors” and require them to “fully comply with state and local guidelines.”

To learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit their website at or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune (Media General Group) – To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Strategic Foreclosure 101 – Walking Away From Your Home

Many Americans are wondering how to deal with an underwater mortgage in these tough economic times.  Florida has been hit harder by the housing crisis than any other state in the nation. While some can afford to continue making payments on their home, many across the state have been pushed into foreclosure as home values have decreased anywhere from 15 to 55 percent or more.

Aside from a loan modification, we have all heard the terms foreclosure, short-sale, and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. Each of these terms spells trouble for the homeowner – loss of home, reduced credit score, and negative social stigma. Although lenders in February filed fewer foreclosure actions in Florida compared to a year earlier, a new strategy is on the horizon, an idea coined “strategic foreclosure.”

If you purchased your home at the peak of the real estate market from 2004 to 2006, your value has substantially dropped. Although irrelevant to some borrowers as they can afford the payment and plan on residing in their home for a decade or more, others have simply stopped paying in the hope of forcing a short-sale or reduction in principal.

Should you walk away from your mortgage even if you can afford to pay? Millions of Americans are asking themselves that same question. Some borrowers feel they have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to make payments notwithstanding a substantial drop in value. With almost half of the residential mortgages in Florida underwater, a growing number of individuals are contemplating walking away from the place they call home.

If you can resolve yourself to possible litigation and a lower credit score for several years, walking away may be a smart business decision. Right now, only a small percentage of borrowers are contemplating this technique. A recent study, though, found that approximately 32 percent of homeowners nationwide would consider walking away from their mortgage if the value of their home continues to decrease.

While “strategic foreclosure” makes perfect economic sense, many homeowners do not choose this course of action out of shame, guilt and fear. Underwater homeowners continue to stress over their mortgage payments to avoid the consequence of foreclosure and a perceived negative social stigma within the community. This is especially so when a borrower has the financial ability to pay.

Although almost 17.4 million homes nationwide are underwater, one must consider the adverse implications of “strategic foreclosure” before walking away. First, and foremost, is the loss of your home. Have you purchased the home across the street at half the amount of your current mortgage? Do you plan on renting? Are you aware that a “strategic foreclosure” will have the same impact on your credit score as a loan modification, judicial foreclosure, short-sale, or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure? Are you aware that you can be sued for any deficiency balance on your home?

“Borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages would be better off financially if they walked away from their homes,” says Scott Kleiman, a foreclosure defense attorney with Kalis & Kleiman. “They don’t because of their moral and ethical obligation to pay their mortgages.”

Borrowers who had a good credit history before they walk away through “strategic foreclosure” can usually rebuild their good name and reputation within a couple of years. In a recent study commissioned by the global information services company Experian, approximately 588,000 borrowers nationwide simply walked away from their homes in 2008. This is up 128 percent over 2007. From all indications, 2010 will be a banner year as the social stigma of foreclosure and simply walking away from your home will have dissolved amid the mortgage meltdown.

Just like former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Brian Austin Green – who has advanced a “strategic foreclosure” strategy in an effort to short-sale his $2 million Hollywood Hills home – you too can ride the wave of the future.

As a homeowner, you can afford to make your mortgage payments but are underwater to the point of no return. As a borrower, the American dream of owning a home is lost as it will maintain negative equity for a decade or more. “Strategic foreclosure” may be the first step toward a short-sale and walking away from yourhome.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.