Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dow Jones Economic Sentiment Indicator Up Only Slightly to 38.7; Suggests Recovery Could Be Losing Momentum

/PRNewswire/ -- The media's coverage of mixed economic news led to a marginal rise in the Dow Jones Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) in December. The ESI rose to 38.7, up only minimally from 38.3 in November. This slight rise is the ESI's third weakest performance in a year and much less convincing than increases in October and November.

While the ESI ends the year significantly higher than the 22.4 level it registered in January at the start of the year, December's weaker performance means the indicator failed to break back above the level it held before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

The Dow Jones Economic Sentiment Indicator aims to predict the health of the U.S. economy by analyzing the broad coverage of 15 major daily newspapers in the U.S. During December, media coverage that included references to better-than-feared holiday retail sales was outweighed by articles referencing mixed or negative economic news including continuing double-digit unemployment and slower economic growth.

"The ESI's significantly slower rate of improvement in December suggests the U.S.'s economic rebound could be starting to level off and that non-farm payrolls neither advanced nor declined by much during the month," Dow Jones Newswires 'Money Talks' columnist Alen Mattich said.

The ESI represents one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching examinations of media coverage as an economic indicator. The ESI's back-testing to 1990 shows that the ESI clearly highlighted the risk that the U.S. economy was sliding into recession in 2001 and 2008 and suggests the indicator can help predict economic turning points as much as seven months in advance of other indicators.

Unlike some other indicators where 50 is a clear break-point between recession and recovery, the ESI needs to be read with reference to longer trends. Based on the ESI's performance since 1990, previous recoveries have been marked by substantial month-to-month gains, with a jump of three points seeming to be a sign of significant improvement. A drop below 50 marks the point at which there is a clear risk of a slowdown.

The Dow Jones Economic Sentiment Indicator is calculated using a proprietary algorithm through Dow Jones Insight, a media tracking and analysis tool. More information about the Economic Sentiment Indicator and its development is available at .

Dow Jones Insight uses innovative text mining and analytic technologies to help organizations keep informed about relevant issues, news, conversations and trends emerging in mainstream, Web and social media. Dow Jones Insight's global content collection includes more than 25,000 news and information sources as well as blogs, message boards, and posts from YouTube and Twitter.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Five Gifts to Give Yourself in the New Year

/PRNewswire/ -- The holidays are a wonderful time full of having fun with friends and family and giving gifts to the people we care about. For many consumers, however, the joy of the season will soon be replaced by the stress of paying holiday debt.

"It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of giving during the holidays," said Mechel Glass, Director of Education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta (CCCS). "But many overdo a good thing and then struggle to make even minimum payments on their credit cards."

CCCS of Greater Atlanta advises consumers to top their list of New Year's resolutions with a commitment to improve their financial outlook. To help consumers tackle what can be a stressful time, CCCS suggests following the following tips:

1. Know how much you owe. A common mistake is not keeping track of debt.
The thinking is that as long as you can keep up with the payments,
everything is fine. However, if circumstances change due to a layoff
or other unexpected event, you could find yourself unable to make
payments and in immediate financial stress. The only way to understand
what you are facing is to have a realistic picture of what you owe.
Gather all your credit card statements and other bills and add up the
2. Create a spending plan. The easiest way to take control of your money
is to set out a plan for how you will spend it. This is not glamorous
and can be something of a task, but it gives you the power to decide
where your money goes. The plan should be flexible and include monthly
expenses such as mortgage or rent, utilities, food, transportation,
entertainment, clothing, etc. Make sure your expenses are not more than
your income. If they are, go back to the plan and make adjustments.
3. Pay off credit card debt. The average household has more than to $8,300
in credit card debt (Nilson Report, April 2009) and the interest paid
on those balances can be as high as $1,500 a year. Just think of what
you could do with an extra $125 a month in your budget! Stop charging
additional purchases today and make a commitment to yourself that once
you have paid off your debt, you will not charge any purchases unless
you have a plan in place to pay off the balance in 90 days or less.
Sacrifices now will mean less stress and a better financial future.
4. Build a savings cushion. Once you have paid off your credit card
balances, you should begin to build a savings cushion for emergency or
unexpected expenses or if you lose your job. Your goal is three to six
months of living expenses put aside in a savings account. With this
cushion in place, when the refrigerator stops working, your car's
transmission gives out or your mother-in-law moves in, you will not
have to put those unexpected expenses on a credit card.
5. Develop a strategy for your financial future. Set aside time at least
twice a month to manage your finances including paying bills, balancing
your checking account and analyzing your expenses. Begin thinking
about, and planning for retirement--consider when you would prefer to
retire, how much money you will need to live the lifestyle of your
choice and what you need to do now to get there. Establish a retirement
fund and contribute to it on a regular basis.

Not sure where to start? If you are feeling overwhelmed, there is help. CCCS of Greater Atlanta provides confidential budget counseling, money management education, debt management programs and other services to help consumers. Contact CCCS at 800-251-CCCS or online at

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Equifax Data Show U.S. Consumer Payment Trends Continue to Deteriorate

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumer delinquency rates for bankcards, first mortgages and home equity lines of credit again rose month-to-month in November, according to Equifax Inc.'s (NYSE:EFX) monthly Credit Trend Report.

Home mortgages at least 30 days late reached another record of 7.91 percent in November (in total dollars), up from 7.76 percent in October and 7.65 percent the previous month. This record rate is a significant increase over the 5.83 percent rate of November 2008 and the 3.93 percent rate of November 2007.

In addition, home equity lines of credit (HELOC) available to consumers are now an estimated $68 billion lower and the number of accounts is an estimated 855,000 lower than the September 2008 peak of approximately 14.5 million accounts. This represents an improvement from October when outstandings were $77 billion lower and accounts were lower by approximately 934,000. Delinquency rates have crept up from 3.39 percent in October to 3.43 percent in November. These rates far exceed the 2.95 percent rate of November 2008 and the 1.92 percent rate of November 2007.

"The story of 2009 continues to be one of consumer retrenchment and credit tightness as people strive to pay down debt or are forced to abandon it, and lenders more aggressively manage risk in their portfolios," said Dann Adams, president of Equifax's U.S. Consumer Information Solutions.

U.S. consumers reduced their debt by more than five percent or $575 billion from a year ago. First mortgage debt dropped 5.4 percent; credit cards by 7.3 percent and auto loans by 9.5 percent. The declines put overall consumer debt at September 2007, pre-recession levels of about $11 trillion.

Bankcard issuers continued a year-long trend of closing accounts and reducing credit lines. Card risk management programs have accelerated since July of 2008, reducing card credit lines by $803 billion and the number of accounts by 93 million. Delinquency rates for bankcards picked up notably since the end of 2008 in tandem with rising unemployment. The November 2009 60-days-past-due rate of 4.62 percent is almost a full percent higher than the November 2008 rate of 3.76 percent. However, the rate still remains below the peak of 4.79 percent in May 2009.

In addition, the number of bankcard accounts opened in September -- 2.4 million -- was 45 percent lower than September 2008. Year-to-date, the number of new accounts is down 46 percent from the same period in 2008. Also, lenders are being more selective about who they give credit to as the percent of cards issued to those with credit scores greater than 740 grew from about 30 percent in 2007 to almost 51 percent so far this year.

With U.S. home prices declining, originations for home equity lines of credit are also declining. In September of this year (the most recent month that data is available) originations were 75,600, 36% below the September 2008 total of 117,800. Year-to-date 2009 new home equity lines opened -- 761,000 -- were 47 percent below 2008 year-to-date totals of 1.5 million. This continues a trend from 2008 when total originations were 1.7 million lines, 41% below the total for 2007 (2.9 million lines).

Furthermore, home equity lines have primarily been issued to lower-risk consumers. Eighty-one percent of the consumers who received HELOCs in September 2009 were considered low-risk (Equifax Risk Scores of 740 and above) an increase from 66% in September of 2007. In conjunction with declining home prices and home equity, average home equity lines are 25% lower over the past two years, declining from approximately $105,000 to $79,000 today.

"The contraction in home equity lines is a reflection of the credit crunch both consumers and small businesses are facing," said Adams. "Restrictions in this traditional source of financing make finding credit harder than ever."

Regionally, home equity line originations have diminished in states where home price values have been the most volatile, notably California and Florida. California comprised almost 20% of line originations two years ago with nearly 38,000 originations in September 2007 but dropped to second with about 7% or 5182 originations in September 2009. Florida, once the second top state by originations has dropped to ninth.

The dramatic impact of these shifts is illustrated by new credit lines available in California declining from $6 billion in September 2007 to well under $1 billion today.

Data for the Credit Trends Monitor Report is sourced from Equifax's nearly 200 million files of US consumers using credit.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Consumer Groups Call On Fed to Adopt Stricter Gift Card Rules

/PRNewswire/ -- In comments filed with the Federal Reserve Board today, consumer groups urged regulators to rein in gift card fees and related terms and conditions that can quickly diminish their value. The Fed is considering a set of proposed gift card regulations that are required under the Credit CARD Act of 2009 and will go into effect on February 22, 2010.

"Banks earn billions every year from gift card fees just because consumers don't always get around to using their cards right away," said Michelle Jun, staff attorney with Consumers Union. "Congress passed limits on gift card fees earlier this year and now it's up to the Fed to make sure consumers are fully protected. The Fed should impose reasonable limits on fees so consumers stand a better chance of enjoying the full value of the gifts they receive."

Many consumers end up losing money on their gift cards because they don't redeem them right away. A recent Consumer Reports poll found that one quarter of those given gift cards last holiday season still have at least one card they haven't used and 11 percent of recipients have four or more. The TowerGroup estimated that about $8 billion remained unredeemed on gift cards in 2006.

In a letter to the Fed today, Consumers Union, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer Law Center urged regulators to:

-- Cap the amount that gift card issuers can charge for inactivity fees.
The Credit Card Act of 2009 prohibits card issuers from charging
inactivity fees on cards if they have been used within the past 12
months. After twelve months of inactivity, card issuers will be
allowed to charge a monthly inactivity fee. Consumers Union urged the
Fed to protect consumers more fully by limiting the amount that that
can be charged for inactivity to no more than the actual cost incurred
by card issuers for maintaining the card.

-- Limit fees on low value cards. Consumers Union urged the Fed to
follow the lead of states like California, Oklahoma and Washington
which have limited fees that can be charged for inactivity when the
balance on the card is $5 or less. These states limit card issuers to
charging a $1 per month fee.

-- Limit when inactivity fees can be charged. Many consumers report that
they face difficulties using their gift cards because merchants often
will not accept their cards when they don't cover the full cost of the
purchase or when they cannot determine the remaining amount on the
card. Consumers Union urged the Fed to count such transactions as
"activity" on the card so that consumers don't start incurring
inactivity fees when they've attempted to use them.

-- Make sure consumers are protected from early expiration of gift cards.
Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, gift cards cannot expire less than
five years from the date the card was purchased or money was last
added to the card, whichever is later. However, many gift cards are
stamped with a "valid thru" date," which is the estimated lifespan of
the card's magnetic stripe and could be less than five years from the
time the card was purchased. Consumers Union urged the Fed to require
card issuers to select expiration periods long enough that the card
will have at least five years of remaining life when it is purchased.
Card issuers should be required to disclose on the card that the card
may be valid beyond the date imprinted on it and to provide an 800
phone number on the card that consumers can use to easily find out
when their cards actually expire.

-- Protect consumers from losing funds on lost or stolen prepaid cards.
Prepaid cards are reloadable cards that can be used to make payments
similar to debit cards and are becoming increasingly popular. But
consumers using prepaid cards don't enjoy the same safeguards as debit
cards if their cards are lost or stolen and could end up losing all of
their funds. Consumers Union urged the Fed to ensure that prepaid
cards come with the same protections as debit cards so the consumer's
liability is limited to $50 and he or she can recover missing money.

The new gift card regulations will cover both retailer gift cards and prepaid general use gift cards (the ones that often are branded as Visa, American Express, MasterCard, or Discover). The law does not cover rewards, loyalty, telephone or promotional cards and does not cover paper gift cards or paper gift certificates.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Financial Reform Approved Today by U.S. House Contains More Good Than Bad for Consumers, but More Work Needed, Says Consumer Watchdog

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumer Watchdog applauded approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of its financial regulatory overhaul bill, H.R. 4173, including the creation of a strong consumer regulator, but cautioned that more must be done to protect American homes and savings and prevent the big banks and Wall Street from dragging the nation into the next economic crisis.

An amendment to the bill that would have eliminated the consumer regulator from the bill entirely was defeated by just 15 votes, demonstrating the continuing efforts of the financial industry, which gave $28 million to members of the House this year, to defeat real reform.

Critical protections for American consumers, homeowners and investors are missing from the House bill. Problems that still must be addressed include:

-- Limits on the authority of states to act on citizens' behalf to
address financial abuses (inserted into the bill late Wednesday after
New Democrats held the bill hostage; read the Consumer Watchdog
analysis of financial industry contributions to New Dems and amendment
sponsors here:
-- Loopholes in derivatives regulation proposal that could leave 30% or
more of the multi-trillion dollar market unregulated
-- Exemptions for some public firms from outside audits of their books
(rolling back provisions of post-Enron accounting reforms)
-- Little authority to break up banks that endanger the financial system
with their size or behavior
-- No relief for struggling homeowners to allow bankruptcy judges to
adjust the terms of home mortgages

"It's vital that the consumer protection agency withstood the assault from the banks, but restrictions on states' ability to protect consumers and exemptions for some financial institutions must still be addressed. The House bill takes critical steps towards reform, but was weakened by the financial firms who want to avoid strong oversight," said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog. "We look to the Senate to strengthen financial reform as it moves forward so consumers are truly protected against abuses and outrageous treatment by lenders and financial institutions."

Download a detailed analysis of the good and bad in the bill, compiled by Americans for Financial Reform, here:

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Council Applauds House Passage of Financial Reform Bill

/PRNewswire/ -- The Council of Institutional Investors applauds the House of Representatives' efforts to strengthen the regulation of the U.S. financial system through the reforms contained in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 4173).

The Council is grateful to Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services and prime sponsor of the bill, for his leadership on this important and comprehensive legislation.

"The House of Representatives has taken a significant step toward restoring trust in U.S. financial markets," said Ann Yerger, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors. The Council believes that the global financial crisis revealed critical gaps in the regulation of U.S. markets and the urgent need for improvements in corporate governance. "The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gives regulators and investors new tools to oversee financial firms more diligently and promote market stability," Yerger added.

Many provisions of the act are in tune with Council priorities and the recommendations of the Investors' Working Group, which the Council has endorsed. In particular, the Council welcomes the act's affirmation of the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to give shareowners the right to place their nominees for directors on company proxy cards. Making it easier for investors to nominate their own candidates for director would invigorate board elections and make directors more responsive, thoughtful and vigilant.

The Council also lauds measures in the legislation that enhance the oversight and accountability of credit rating agencies and bolster the resources of the SEC. However, the act's provisions to regulate over-the-counter derivatives trading, while an improvement, need to be strengthened.

Passage of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 marks progress toward an urgently needed, broad overhaul of financial markets and corporate governance regulation. The Council looks forward to Senate approval of comprehensive regulatory reform legislation next and is eager to work with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, on the proposed Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2009.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

State Bank and Trust Company Acquires Assets and Deposits of The Buckhead Community Bank and First Security National Bank from FDIC

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia Department of Banking and Finance and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced December 4 that State Bank and Trust Company has agreed to acquire assets and deposits of The Buckhead Community Bank and First Security National Bank, in a transaction facilitated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

State Bank is one of Georgia's healthiest and best capitalized community banks with branches throughout Middle Georgia and Metro Atlanta. As of December 5, 2009, all bank branches previously owned and operated by Buckhead Community Bank and First Security National Bank will become branches of State Bank.

The Buckhead Community Bank was founded in 1997 in Atlanta with branches in Buckhead and Midtown, as well as Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Cumming and Gainesville. As of Sept. 30, 2009, the bank had $856.2 million in assets and $813.7 million in deposits.

First Security National Bank was founded in 1985 in Norcross, Georgia with branches in Atlanta, Cumming, and Canton. As of Sept. 30, 2009, First Security had more than $128 million in assets and $123 million in deposits.

The acquisitions became effective at the close of business on Friday, after regulators closed the banks and named the FDIC as receiver. The FDIC then approved the whole bank acquisitions with loss share by State Bank, which includes all deposits, loans and other assets.

State Bank was determined the winning bidder after submitting to the FDIC a bid for the assets and deposits of the banks. With FBR Capital Markets serving as placement agent, State Bank previously raised close to $300 million, including investments from the executive management team, to provide the capital to facilitate these acquisitions.

This is the second FDIC transaction that State Bank has completed. In July 2009, State Bank acquired certain assets and deposits of the bank charters owned by Security Bank Corp. That acquisition made State Bank the market leader in Middle Georgia with a presence in Metro Atlanta. Evans and the State Bank management team previously led Flag Financial Corp., which was acquired by RBC Centura in 2006.

"With the addition of these two established community banks, State Bank solidifies its position as one of the best capitalized and largest community banks in metro Atlanta," said Joe Evans, chairman and CEO of State Bank. "We are especially pleased to have secured a presence in Buckhead, where my team and I were so successful at Flag Bank."

"We have made great progress with our integration of the former Security Banks. Our strong capital position and depth of experience allows us to continue to pursue other opportunities that fit our strategic goals," Evans said. "As we stated previously, developing a significant presence in Metro Atlanta is a central part of our strategy."

"Our first order of business is to assure the customers of these banks that their deposits are safe, sound and readily accessible," Evans added. "State Bank is one of the healthiest financial institutions in Georgia, with a sound balance sheet and very strong capital ratios."

Customers of The Buckhead Community Bank and First Security National Bank should continue to use their existing branches, checks, ATM or debit cards. If clients have any questions regarding their accounts involved in this transaction, they should continue to use the same channels as they have in the past, including contacting their local branch. All offices and branches will be open during their normal days and hours as in the past.

For more information, bank customers can contact State Bank at 1-800-414-4177 or visit their branch location. They can also go to

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Market Gains in November Boost Funding Status of U.S. Pensions, According to BNY Mellon Asset Management

/PRNewswire/ -- U.S. stocks rose 5.7 percent in November, contributing to a 2.6 percentage-point improvement in the funded status of the typical U.S. corporate pension plan, according to monthly figures published by BNY Mellon Asset Management. The funded status of the typical plan improved to 82.5 percent at the end of November, which was the highest level since May, and up from 79.9 percent at the end of October, according to the BNY Mellon statistics.

Assets for the typical U.S. corporate plan rose 3.6 percent, outpacing the 0.2 percent gain in liabilities during the month, which reflected interest accruals as the discount rate for November was unchanged from October. For the year, through November 30, the funding ratio for the typical plan is up 8.6 percentage points, as represented by the BNY Mellon Pension Liability Index.

"U.S. corporate pension plans continued their road to recovery as domestic and international equity markets registered strong results," said Peter Austin, executive director of BNY Mellon Pension Services, the pension services arm of BNY Mellon Asset Management. "Equities have rallied in eight of the last nine months and have been the driving force for the funding improvement. Liability discount rates are only 14 basis points lower for the year, which has limited the impact on pension plan liabilities. Plan sponsors that maintained their equity allocations, which hasn't been easy given market volatility, have been rewarded for their commitment to their strategic asset allocation."

Plan liabilities are calculated using the yields of long-term investment grade corporate bonds. Lower yields on these bonds result in higher liabilities.

"With funding levels near 2009 highs and 2010 financial planning underway in many organizations, there is increased interest in discussing pension risk reduction programs," said Austin. "These programs would include new or increased allocations to liability driven investing (LDI) strategies. Plan sponsors remain fearful of plan surplus/deficit volatility, which remains a relevant topic given the fragility of the global markets."

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Consumer Credit Bureaus are Unraveling American Self-Reliance and Compromising Our Greatest National Assets: The Individual and Small Business

/Standard Newswire/ -- The Consumer Credit Reporting Bureaus, which purport to help lenders
evaluate risk, control the flow of credit and encourage fiscal responsibility, have instead played a significant role in destabilizing the economy and are impeding America's recovery.

It is a predatory system that seizes on financial hardships and turns short-term setbacks into long-term liabilities. For the small business owner, he risks losing not only his business but also his personal livelihood and often a lifetime of investment.

And the nation loses its critical buffer: the once-resilient small business, when 'big business' falters.

"The Consumer Credit Bureaus have been ruthlessly chipping away at small business and are now derailing America's economic recovery. We created the website (, Video-short and Petition as vital tools for change; including examining recent comments by President Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke," says small business owner, Deborah Fineout-Launey, of marketing firm LHH&F.

"Second mortgages, personal credit cards, large personal guarantees and the Consumer Credit Score should not be the tools for corporate lending. A national summit on small business is meaningless without lending reform," says Ms. Fineout-Launey.

When economic setbacks or downturns occur, many in the economy are affected - not because of
credit 'abuse.'

Yet, in this system, the small business owner, working in good faith to stabilize his business and
ride out the economy, finds that:

· A personal debtor's prison quickly arises;
· Leading to usurious fees;
· Loss of essential banking relationships;
· Credit defaults increase;
· Assets, personal and corporate, are stripped;
· Putting all parties' investments in escalating risk

The result is the unmerited loss of viable small businesses, loss of essential tax revenues, rampant unemployment, loss of real estate leases, healthcare, personal livelihoods, home foreclosures, and a dangerously weakened middle class.

"It is time to abolish the Consumer Credit Report and Score from small business lending and, frankly, in general. It reduces the small business owner's significant investment, and the investment of his lenders, to a gamble of epic proportions. It is a matter of moral conscience and economic necessity," she adds.

Robert Launey and Deborah Fineout-Launey are small business owners in New York, committed to drawing attention to the economic fallout created by the Consumer Credit Report and Score in small corporate lending.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Upcoming Tax Season Provides Unique Tax Savings Opportunities through Roth IRA Conversions

/PRNewswire/ -- A change in the federal tax law, effective January 1, 2010, will permit Roth IRA conversions for taxpayers at all income levels. In the past, this option was only available to those with an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less.

"Taxpayers may now convert part, or all of their assets from a traditional IRA into a tax free Roth IRA," says Kevin McCormack, President of Pension Parameters Financial Services.

"While many individuals and businesses are carefully scrutinizing their budgets, creating a Roth and taking advantage of a unique opportunity this year and next, and in some cases, even borrowing money to cover an investment like a conversion today, can pay off."

Details related to the change include:
-- Any portion of a traditional IRA may be converted
-- Conversion to a Roth IRA in 2010 allows for a 50-50 income tax split
for the 2011 and 2012 tax years - and the split is only applicable if
you convert in 2010
-- Though account balances have decreased in the past 18 months, the
upside is that reduced balances will lower conversion tax and yield
the potential to recover in a tax-free account
-- With tax rates at an historical low, converting to a Roth IRA in 2010
may help protect retirement assets should tax rates rise

Pension Parameters has been helping self-employed individuals and small business owners with retirement plan development and investment management since the 1970s. The company is known for its customized retirement plans and extensive follow-up with clients. McCormack states, "Unlike many pension plan managers, we do not simply collect monies and set up the plan and invest. When we see market changes, our market manager personally calls each client to recommend the right move to make."

According to McCormack, those establishing their first company retirement plans are often confused about their options such as a 401(k) plan, which allow owners and employees to make contributions through pre-tax payroll deductions, or a defined benefit plan, which may allow a business owner to make the highest possible annual contribution to his or her retirement account. Pension Parameters lately has been recommending new comparability plans, a profit-sharing option that allows certain businesses to make discretionary contributions to a qualified plan.

A Roth IRA ultimately saves tax dollars as well. Since you have already paid the tax upfront when establishing the account, the need to pay tax later is eliminated. The money you make in a Roth IRA will all be yours (or your heirs) in the end, not the government's.

Pension Parameters Financial Services is a New York and New Jersey based full service 401(k) plan provider including investment advisory and management services for the small business market. For more information regarding Pension Parameters or Roth IRA savings opportunities call: 212-675-9360 or visit them on the web at

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Barrick shuts hedge book as world gold supply runs out

Aaron Regent, president of the Canadian gold giant, said that global output has been falling by roughly 1m ounces a year since the start of the decade. Total mine supply has dropped by 10pc as ore quality erodes, implying that the roaring bull market of the last eight years may have further to run.

"There is a strong case to be made that we are already at 'peak gold'," he told The Daily Telegraph at the RBC's annual gold conference in London.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Statement: Alan Essig, Executive Director, on October Revenue Decline and Worsening State Budget Deficit

The dismal October revenue numbers released today underscore the depth of Georgia's fiscal crisis. For these first four months of the new fiscal year, revenues are down by 15.1 percent.

The governor's preliminary analysis of the FY 2010 revenue projection estimates a 6.2 percent revenue decline, a decrease from the nearly 4.0 percent revenue decline the governor announced in July.

Although there has been no public announcement, this analysis is contained within the Official Statement for the State of Georgia General Obligation Bond Sale dated October 26, 2009.

The revised projection means Georgia likely is facing a $1.26 billion budget shortfall. This is an additional $320 million budget shortfall on top of the $940 million budget shortfall previously announced.

In response to the projections, the governor's budget office has a contingency plan that requires state agencies to cut their budgets again, this time by $320 million dollars (an additional three percent). This comes on top of the five percent budget cuts announced in July ($800 million dollars of cuts), and the double-digit percentage cuts ($500 million) already implemented when the FY 2010 budget was passed last April.

Also problematic are more than $2 billion in non-recurring revenues in the base of the FY 2010 budget. Unless lawmakers take a more balanced approach to solving this fiscal crisis, an approach that includes revenue options, Georgia will be facing further cuts to vital public services in FY 2011 and 2012, including those to healthcare, public safety, and education.

It is time for Governor Perdue and the General Assembly to bring a balanced approach and transparency to this fiscal crisis. The General Assembly should hold public hearings and learn about the state's revenue outlook from leading economists in the state.

The General Assembly also should hear from state agency staff and citizens about the impact of the budget cuts already in place and the potential impact of planned cuts.

In order for Georgia to prosper, lawmakers must not rely soley on cuts to public services. Georgia can not cut its way to prosperity. The governor and General Assembly must look to raise revenues, as a majority of states have done, including a majority of our conservative southern neighbors. They must take a balanced, informed, and thoughtful approach to solve the state fiscal crisis, and this must include strategic revenue options.

Alan Essig
The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute

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Arts Across Georgia

Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta Boosts Housing Market with Disbursement of More Than $9.4 Million in First-time Homebuyer Funding

/PRNewswire/ -- Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta (FHLBank Atlanta) announced today that it has disbursed in excess of $9.4 million to more than 1,000 recipients through its 2009 First-time Homebuyer Program (FHP), providing critical and timely economic support to the housing market. For each of the past 12 years, FHLBank Atlanta has offered the matching funds through its member financial institutions for down payment and closing costs of eligible first-time homebuyers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Over 60 FHLBank Atlanta financial institutions accessed and closed down payment funds ranging from $1,882 to $10,000 to more than 1,000 homebuyers. Thanks to the funding, member financial institutions are able to expand their customer base, originate new mortgages, and attract new homebuyers into the market. The private funds -- derived from profits earned by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta -- serve as an attractive tool to bring more homebuyers into the market and also serve as a valuable form of equity that they can benefit from in the future.

Since the program's inception in 1997, FHLBank Atlanta has allocated more than $50 million to first-time homebuyers, which has allowed more than 9,000 families and individuals to purchase a home. FHLBank Atlanta estimates that for every $1 of FHP funding awarded, $17 is generated in new mortgage business for its member banks.

"FHP is stimulating home sales and mortgage lending in communities at a time when the housing market and the overall economy need this type of economic support," said Arthur Fleming, first vice president and director of Community Investment Services, FHLBank Atlanta. "Relationships created between first-time homebuyers and FHLBank Atlanta lenders are significant and can provide a strong base for recovery of the residential housing sector."

The 2009 FHP offering cycle opened April 1, 2009, and continued until the funds were fully disbursed to member institutions. Funds were provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Individual participants receiving FHP funds were required to complete a credit counseling program that includes educational training on the home-buying process including courses on household budgeting, mortgage financing, lending laws, and debt management.

The 2010 FHP offering will be announced in April 2010.

Some of the statements made in this announcement are "forward-looking statements," which include statements with respect to the Bank's beliefs, plans, objectives, goals, expectations, anticipations, assumptions, estimates, intentions, and future performance, and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, many of which may be beyond the Bank's control, and which may cause the Bank's actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from the future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.

The forward-looking statements may not be realized due to a variety of factors, including, without limitation: legislative and regulatory actions, changes or approvals; future economic and market conditions (including the housing market and the market for mortgage-backed securities); changes in demand for advances or consolidated obligations of the Bank and/or the FHLBank System; changes in interest rates and prepayment speeds, default rates, delinquencies and losses on mortgage-backed securities; political, national and world events; and adverse developments or events affecting or involving other Federal Home Loan Banks or the FHLBank System in general. Additional factors that might cause the Bank's results to differ from these forward-looking statements are provided in detail in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which are available at

New factors may emerge from time to time, and it is not possible for us to predict the nature, or assess the potential impact, of each new factor on our business and financial condition. Given these uncertainties, we caution you not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. These statements speak only as of the date that they are made, and the Bank has no obligation and does not undertake to publicly update, revise or correct any of the forward-looking statements after the date of this announcement, or after the respective dates on which such statements otherwise are made, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required by law.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

INPUT Issues New Report Card on Economic Stimulus Package

(BUSINESS WIRE)--INPUT, the leading authority on government business, today announced an updated Report Card grading the Obama Administration on its execution of stimulus package objectives for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The new grades were issued based on the release of the much anticipated recipient reports required by the ARRA. They cover four key recovery areas: Speed of Spending, Job Creation, Transparency & Reporting, and Contracting Effectiveness.

Since its first Report Card in June, which graded the Obama Administration on its execution of stimulus objectives during the first 100 days of the ARRA, INPUT has made noteworthy updates to its evaluation. Contracting Effectiveness received the most improved grade, moving from a C- to a B based on federal agencies’ significant improvement in the use of fixed price contracts and in the percentage of contract awards to small businesses. Transparency and Reporting also rose from a D to a C-, still leaving significant room for improvement to address late reporting and a lack of transparency surrounding grants applications for many programs. Speed of Spending continued to receive INPUT’s highest grade, earning a B+ based on the federal government’s adeptness in dispensing a tremendous amount of money very quickly. Meanwhile, Job Creation again received an Incomplete.

“The federal government has continued to dispense stimulus money at a record pace,” said Timothy Dowd, CEO of INPUT. “However, questions still remain about how that spending is translating into new jobs. While INPUT’s latest report card points to some noteworthy areas of improvement in the Administration’s execution on the stimulus, there is still much work to be done to address shortcomings across all key recovery areas.”

Speed of Spending: B+

In Vice President Biden’s first Quarterly Report to the President on Implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he stated that the President had set a goal of spending $350 billion by Sept. 30, 2010. In order to achieve that goal, the federal government needs to spend $4.16 billion per week. The Administration’s speed of spending has remained nearly the same as INPUT’s last scorecard, averaging $3.6 billion per week. At its current pace, the administration will spend $305.2 billion by September 30 of next year, achieving 87% of its previously stated goal.

Job Creation: Incomplete

President Obama promised 3.5 million to 4.0 million jobs would be created or saved with the passage of the Recovery Act. While recently released recipient reports put that number at 640,329 eight months after the ARRA’s enactment, the unemployment rate has risen from 8.9 percent to 9.8 percent during the same period. Additionally, 2.6 million people have lost their jobs since March and 512,000 new unemployment claims were filed during the week ending October 31, 2009.

Despite the recent release of initial recipient reporting, INPUT continues to believe that accurate reporting of job creation is ultimately unknowable because of the number of recipients reporting, the complexity of the reports, the definition of a saved job, and recipients were allowed to use a calculation when they were unable to provide actual data. As a result, INPUT once again gave the Administration an Incomplete for Job Creation.

Meanwhile, recipient reporting has shown that the cost of each job created varies wildly from state to state. For example, the cost per job created or saved in Pennsylvania was $488,930, compared to $41,475 in Montana.

Perhaps the most troubling issue is the concentration of created or preserved jobs in the public sector. Based on its analysis of recipient reports, INPUT discovered that more than half of the total number of jobs created are in the areas of education, criminal justice, corrections and public administration. There are serious concerns about what happens to these jobs when stimulus money runs out and states are still faced with nearly $200 billion in budget gaps.

Transparency and Reporting: C-

INPUT has raised the Administration’s grade for reporting and transparency from a D to a C-. Each new report has been late, based on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) initial guidance, and the data quality of each new report has been poor upon release. However, over time the quality and completeness of previous reports has improved and INPUT expects this trend will continue. A major area of disappointment continues to be the lack of transparency surrounding applications for many of the grant programs funded by the Recovery Act.

“INPUT encourages the Administration to reconsider its approach with respect to publication of grant applications,” said Dowd. “By allowing citizens access to grant applications before the awards are made and the opportunity to comment on those applications, federal agencies could truly be taking a proactive approach to combating fraud, waste and abuse.”

Effectiveness of Contracting: B

According to INPUT’s latest analysis, federal contracting officials have substantially improved their performance in the use of fixed price contracts, small business involvement, and the establishment of new contracts. As a result, INPUT has raised the Administration’s grade for Effectiveness of Contracting from a C- to a B.

To date, the federal government has awarded 48 percent of the reported contract obligations using fixed price contracts, a 30 percent increase over INPUT’s initial report card. In addition, 86 percent of the reported contract obligations are being channeled through competitive contracts. Almost 70 percent of the reported obligations have been issued against contracts that were already in place prior to passage of ARRA. This is a significant improvement from the 94 percent use of existing contracts in June.

In addition, nearly 27 percent of the contracting dollars awarded have been to small businesses, 4 percent above the government-wide goal of 23 percent and a substantial increase from the 11 percent reported in June. With the small businesses creating 60 percent of the net new jobs since the mid 1990s, the Administration’s pattern of spending in this sector bodes well for job growth.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

World Unlikely to Scrap Current Reserve System Despite Weak Dollar, Says CornerCap Investment Counsel

/PRNewswire/ -- Despite the recent credit crisis and headlines about the possible demise of the dollar as the world's dominant currency, it is unlikely that the world will scrap the current reserve system anytime soon, CornerCap Investment Counsel concluded in a recent report (go to for the complete report).

While the dollar will inevitably surrender some of its dominance, too many major players like China and OPEC have a vested interest in a financially strong U.S. to undermine the dollar's position too strongly, according to Cannon Carr, chief investment officer.

Instead, Carr anticipates an orderly transition to a post-dollar world, one that will take a decade or more, and probably with U.S. leadership.

"The dollar's position as the world's dominant currency has been key to our standard of living since World War II, and its standing plays a vital role in the U.S. recovery," Carr said. "Moving radically away from the U.S. dollar as the dominant currency would limit our return to economic growth, at a time when other countries need a healthy US to boost their own economies," he added.

However, high U.S. debt levels and deficits, when combined with a weak growth outlook, do increase the risk to a currency system tied to the dollar. With a sustained weak dollar, non-U.S. countries can find their exports expensive and their own economies influenced by poor policy choices by the US. So while other nations can tolerate a weak dollar, an irresponsibly sustained weak dollar jeopardizes their financial stability and could force them to seek more radical change to the reserve system.

What's more, without convincing economic growth (say 4% annually); the U.S. will have to balance national debt levels, deficits and government spending to manage the dollar's position. Special attention must be given to government spending (for growth, social programs, entitlements, or war), which is typically financed through taxation, borrowing, or inflation. Pushing too far in those areas would have serious ramifications for the dollar.

Carr believes the dollar's recent descent may reflect investors' increased risk tolerance rather than collapsing faith in the U.S. system. When fear reached its peak in October 2008, investors sought safety in U.S. Treasury instruments and the U.S. dollar. If fear returns, those two investment vehicles could be once again viewed as safe havens.

What does the dollar's outlook mean for investors? Pursuing radical strategies today are likely to yield sub-par investment results over time.

"We continue to believe deflationary forces may prevail for the immediate future but inflation has a higher probability in perhaps four to five years," Carr said. Predicting when that inevitable transition will occur is impossible, and CornerCap recommends diversified investment portfolios that balance the risk/reward across many uncertainties, including deflation, inflation, or a normal recovery.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Small Businesses Get Whacked With Tax Increases in Pelosi Health Bill

/PRNewswire/ -- The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) is reporting what the small business community has been saying all along -- proposed tax increases on the "wealthy" amount to big tax increases on small business owners. In a November 3, 2009 memo, the JCT estimates that one-third of the $460.5 billion estimated to be raised from H.R. 3962, the "Affordable Health Care for America Act," through a proposed 5.4 percent surtax is business income. According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), America's economic recovery is highly dependent on small-business job creation and investment. Seizing more of their hard-earned capital flies in the face of White House efforts, for example, to provide small businesses with access to credit and capital, according to the advocacy group.

"No wonder small business owners are gripped by uncertainty. With mixed messages coming from Washington, they don't know whether to add to their payrolls, hoard cash, cut jobs or stay-the-course," said SBE Council President & CEO Karen Kerrigan.

Kerrigan added: "More than $150 billion of the proposed surtax alone falls on the backs of small business owners, according to the JCT. When will those who support these tax hikes wake up to the fact that they are sucking oxygen out of the very businesses that need this capital for survival and growth. Businesses can't save or create jobs without money. All of the tax increases proposed in the House health bill will deprive the private sector of the capital it needs to hold onto their workers, create more job opportunities, invest, innovate and grow."

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Small-Business Bankruptcy Filings Up 44% Year-over-year, Equifax Data Shows

/PRNewswire/ -- Commercial bankruptcies among the nation's more than 25 million small businesses increased by 44% from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009, according to Equifax Inc. (NYSE:EFX) , which analyzes its comprehensive small business database for the on-going study.

Comparing the month of September 2008 to September 2009 shows an increase of 27 percent. There were 9361 bankruptcy filings in September 2009 throughout the U.S., up from 7386 a year ago, according to the data.

California remains the most negatively affected state with eight MSA's (metropolitan statistical areas) among the 15 areas with the most commercial bankruptcy filings during September 2009.

Los Angeles, Riverside/San Bernardino and Sacramento metropolitan areas continued to lead the nation in small-business bankruptcy filings as they did at the end of the second quarter. The other MSA's with the most bankruptcy filings during the month include:

-- Denver-Aurora, CO
-- Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA
-- San Diego-Carlsbad CA
-- Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX
-- Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA
-- California (excluding MSA's within the state)
-- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA
-- Oregon (excluding MSA's within the state)
-- Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL
-- Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
-- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA
-- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA

"Economic pain is continuing for small businesses across the country. We're still seeing hefty increases in the number of bankruptcies in a lot of major metro areas." said Dr. Reza Barazesh head of North American research for Equifax's Commercial Information Solutions division.

"However, the 69 percent drop and 49 percent decline in bankruptcies in Charlotte and New York-White Plains respectively, and a 44 percent drop in Atlanta between the second and third quarters indicates that the East Coast may be experiencing an earlier recovery from the recession than the West Coast."

Charlotte - number four in June - dropped out of the top 15 entirely to 39th; Atlanta dropped from fifth to 15th; and New York - White Plains dropped from eighth to 24th.

Equally consistent with this east/west difference over the same period, the 11th, 12th and 13th MSAs with the greatest number of bankruptcies at the end of the second quarter of 2009 -- Santa Ana-Anaheim, Denver and San Diego -- increased in rank to 5th, 4th, and 6th by the end of the third quarter. Santa Ana-Anaheim increased three percent, Denver was up 13 percent and San Diego increased four percent.

For its research, Equifax reviewed and analyzed small business data for the month of September, the most recent month for which complete data is available, and compared it with results from September 2008. Equifax defines a small business as a commercial entity of less than 100 employees.

The company's report also listed the 15 metro areas with the fewest small-business bankruptcy filings. They are:

-- Charleston, WV
-- Trenton-Ewing NJ
-- Tallahassee FL
-- South Bend-Mishawaka IN-MI
-- New Jersey (excluding MSA's within the state)
-- Holland-Grand Haven MI
-- Gainesville FL
-- Baton Rouge LA
-- Wilmington NC
-- Toledo OH
-- Roanoke VA
-- Lubbock TX
-- Lancaster PA
-- Springfield MA
-- Savannah GA

For the analysis, Equifax analyzed Chapter 7, 11 and 13 filings. Chapter 7 is a liquidation proceeding in which a debtor receives a discharge of all debts; while Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 are reorganization bankruptcies enabling individuals and companies to pay off debt over a set period of years.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

3 New Fees From Credit Card Companies Punishing Their Best Customers

/PRNewswire/ -- Financial blog, released an article discussing three of the new credit card fees that some credit card companies are implementing. Due to the new regulations coming into effect in early 2010, the credit card companies are looking for new ways to replace some revenue that will likely be lost. If you pay all your bills on time or never use your card, they might be coming after you!

A few of the fees that have been talked about so far are...

1. Annual fees for customers who never have had a late payment. Apparently, some are charging a $29-$99 annual fee for customers WITHOUT any late payments in a 12-month period.

2. Fees for customers who have never carried a balance on their card.

3. Fees for not using the card enough each year. Some card companies are requiring $2400 to be spent annually. If the minimum isn't met, they will charge a fee.

The discussion becomes interesting when you consider that many people keep their credit cards open, solely to maintain a high credit score. It is common knowledge that keeping long-running accounts open is beneficial for credit scoring. Now it looks like some customers may have to pay annual fees just to maintain the highest possible credit score.

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Fed Fixes for Overdraft Fall Short, Strong Reform Crucial, CRL Tells Congress

/PRNewswire/ -- Congressional proposals to rein in abusive overdraft practices are long overdue, Center for Responsible Lending executive Eric Halperin told the House Financial Services Committee today.

Halperin, who is director of CRL's Washington office, gave full support to legislation aimed at reforming bank overdraft programs, which cost consumers $23.7 billion last year and are among the most predatory lending products on the market.

"Charging people a $35 fee for a small, debit card transaction is unacceptable," said Halperin, director of CRL's Washington office. "It doesn't save them bounced check fees, it simply skims money from their account and puts them in a bind."

Overdraft fees shot up 35 percent from 2006 to 2008. Banks and credit unions drive up the fees through unfair and costly practices such as automatically approving a debit card transaction even if it overdraws an account and then charging a fee that is often higher than the shortfall itself. Also, instead of recording transactions in the order they are made, financial institutions typically reorder them to increase the number of overdraft fees a customer incurs.

Federal bank regulators, including the OCC and the Federal Reserve Board, have recognized the abusive nature of these practices for years but failed to use their oversight authority to rein them in. The FRB finally is weighing a rule that would take a small step forward, but the Overdraft Protection Act of 2009, (H.R. 3904), under consideration in the House, and similar legislation in the Senate would offer real, substantive reform.

Both bills would give consumers an informed choice on whether they want to pay for high-cost overdraft coverage. They would also limit the number of fees a bank could charge each month and year, and they would require that fees be reasonable and bear some relationship to a bank or credit union's cost of covering a shortfall. And both bills would ban the widespread practice of triggering avoidable overdraft fees by re-ordering customer transactions to maximize overdrafts.

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Groups Warn of Risk Retention Provision in House Financial Services Bill

/PRNewswire/ -- Following is a Joint Statement on Risk Retention from the Community Mortgage Banking Project and the Community Mortgage Lenders of America:

Late Tuesday evening, the House Financial Services Committee released draft legislation to address systemic risks and "too big to fail" concerns. We appreciate the efforts of the Committee to enact reforms that will ensure that the events that led to the current financial market crisis are not repeated. However, we are deeply concerned that one Subtitle of the just-released draft Financial Stability Improvement Act would have a devastatingly, adverse impact on the secondary mortgage market, forcing community-based lenders to reduce lending or go out of business, which will significantly raise the cost of credit for consumers seeking affordable mortgages.

We are concerned that the broad risk retention provisions in the draft Financial Stability Improvement Act could jeopardize affordable mortgages for consumers by crippling the ability of community-based lenders to tap the secondary mortgage market for funding. This would further accelerate the consolidation of the mortgage market into just a handful of the largest institutions. The result would be reduced competition and choice for consumers - an ironic and counterproductive result for a bill intended to mitigate "too-big-to-fail" concerns.

The draft bill requires all lenders to retain up to ten percent of the credit risk on any loan sold into the secondary market. In addition, entities that acquire mortgages and issue mortgage-backed securities will also be required to retain up to ten percent of the credit risk. The committee's intent is to create incentives for sound underwriting standards and enhanced risk management practices by creditors and issuers of mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities.

However, by setting risk retention requirements at each step of the process from sale to securitization, and layering it over multiple years of originations, the cumulative impact of these requirements on lenders and issuers will reduce liquidity significantly and undermine the ability of the secondary mortgage market to deliver hundreds of billions of dollars of low cost mortgage credit needed each year.

The impact would be particularly severe for local lenders, including independent community mortgage bankers and local banks. Today, these lenders provide consumers with safe and affordable mortgage products, local market knowledge and top quality service. But these companies rely heavily on their ability to sell these loans into the secondary market. Today, these local lenders account for more than 40% of all home mortgage originations, and more than 50% of FHA loans. These companies are critical to our nation's mortgage supply chain, but simply are not structured to retain cumulative layers of credit risk over multiple origination cycles.

Independent mortgage bankers would be forced out of business, while community banks would face liquidity and balance sheet constraints that would sharply limit their lending activities. Even the largest institutions would be constrained in their ability to effectively utilize the attributes of the secondary mortgage market in delivering mortgage funds efficiently.

By contrast, H.R. 1728, which already passed the House earlier this year, addressed the risk retention standards in the mortgage market by establishing standards for "qualified mortgage" products that would be exempt from the risk retention requirements, and would therefore enjoy ample availability in the primary market. Qualified Mortgage products are traditional fixed and adjustable rate mortgages. These plain vanilla products, appropriately underwritten, were not the products that drove the current mortgage market debacle. Other provisions of H.R. 1728 (such as requiring creditors to document income and assets and assess ability-to-pay) help ensure that mortgage lenders utilize strong risk management practices and conduct sound underwriting, but with fewer adverse implications for secondary market liquidity.

There is no need for Congress to chance such a drastic outcome, when a more sensible compromise on this issue was forged in H.R. 1728 and passed earlier this year. The undersigned organizations look forward to working with Congress to achieve its objectives, without potentially disrupting the well-functioning secondary market for safe and affordable traditional mortgages.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

US Lawmakers Now Agree with Cayman Approach to Tax Transparency

/PRNewswire/ -- Cayman Finance, representing the financial industry based in the Cayman Islands, today congratulated Chairman Max Baucus of the Senate Finance Committee and Chairman Rangel of the House Ways and Means Committee on their plan to tackle offshore tax abuse through increased transparency and enhanced reporting requirements. The new comprehensive proposal does away with the damaging features of Senator Levin's Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, which would rely on "lists" and other provisions that would discourage corporations and other financial entities from conducting lawful business in Cayman and providing funding into the United States. "Cayman Finance commends Chairman Baucus, Chairman Rangel and their colleagues for their leadership on this important issue," said Cayman Finance Chairman Anthony Travers. "This proposal is entirely consistent with the approach suggested by Cayman Finance in our many meetings with these and other U.S. policymakers."

The new Senate-House proposal sets in place practices that will clamp down on jurisdictions which still practice tax evasion and improve taxpayer compliance by giving the IRS new administrative tools. The "Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act" aims to force foreign financial institutions, foreign trusts and foreign corporations to provide information about their U.S. accountholders, grantors and owners. The government and financial firms in the Cayman Islands have supplied full financial information and tax information for many years under the 1990 and 2001 treaties with the United States, and take pride in the regulatory and fiscal transparency that is a requirement for IOSCO (International Organization of Securities Commissions) membership. Cayman has also signed tax transparency treaties with the European Union and more than 12 other jurisdictions.

"Cayman Finance is confident that enactment of the U.S. legislation proposed by the two Chairmen will contribute significantly to the certainty and stability that the capital markets require, as well as the ability of the Cayman Islands to continue to successfully fund United States institutions from those markets," Travers said.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

McIntosh State Bank Announces Agreement with Regulators

/PRNewswire/ -- Pete Malone, Chief Executive Officer of McIntosh State Bank, headquartered in Jackson, Georgia, has announced that after working with the Georgia Department of Banking & Finance and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a formal agreement has been reached that is designed to make sure the bank is correcting identified problems in a good faith effort on the part of both the Board of Directors and the bank's management team. The regulatory order, known officially as a "cease and desist order", which the board signed on October 15, is designed to improve the condition of the Bank. The basis for the order is largely due to the bank's concentration in residential real estate acquisition, development and construction loans, coupled with the effects of the current real estate and economic downturn. It is based primarily on the bank's numbers as opposed to any specific actions or non-actions by bank officers and employees.

Mr. Malone was quoted as saying, "We have been expecting this order and have already met many of its requirements. We will continue to operate under a business as usual environment and look forward to making additional positive progress to satisfy regulators' directives." According to Mr. Malone, the bank has plans to raise additional capital to meet the terms of the agreement. This is in addition to the $3 million in capital injected by the bank's directors and executive officers in December 2008. The bank's directors and executive officers have also relinquished over $1 million in retirement plan compensation as a further boost to capital. Mr. Malone further noted, "One of our biggest accomplishments in 2009 has been our ability to sell over $8.4 million of foreclosed real estate. We also have an additional $1.5 million in real estate under contract. A bank's health is indicative of the community it serves, and we believe in the ultimate health of our local economy and plan to be in position to thrive as conditions improve. The factors that made our local areas attractive for growth over the last several years continue to exist."

Regulatory orders have become more common as a result of the current economic downturn. Many Georgia banks with significant concentrations of non-performing assets are believed to be subject to some form of enforcement action. McIntosh State Bank has two banking offices in Henry County, one of the hardest hit areas in Georgia. Mr. Malone said, "Because much of our bank's market is located in the South Atlanta region, we participated in the area's real estate growth and its subsequent slowdown. We are very focused on addressing our problems and working through them."

McIntosh State Bank, a subsidiary of McIntosh Bancshares, Inc. (Other OTC: MITB.PK), was established in 1964 and operates four full service bank locations in Jackson, Monticello, McDonough and Locust Grove. As of September 30, 2009 the bank had assets of $419.4 million and deposits of $373.3 million.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Ameris Bancorp Announces Acquisition of American United Bank

/PRNewswire/ -- AMERIS BANCORP (NASDAQ: ABCB) , announced today (October 23) that its wholly-owned banking subsidiary, Ameris Bank, has entered into a definitive agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the "FDIC") to assume all of the deposits and acquire certain assets of American United Bank, a full service, single office bank located in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The Georgia Department of Banking and Finance today (October 23) declared American United Bank closed and appointed the FDIC as receiver.

As a branch of Ameris Bank, the Lawrenceville location will be open and serving customers on Monday, October 26, 2009, during the bank's normal business hours. American United Bank depositors will automatically become depositors of Ameris Bank, and deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC. With this acquisition, Ameris Bank will now operate 51 locations in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.

Edwin W. Hortman, Jr., President & CEO of Ameris Bank commented, "We are excited to welcome the American United Bank customers and employees to Ameris Bank. Customers can be confident that their deposits are safe and readily accessible. Ameris Bank has supported the financial needs of local communities since 1971 and is excited about continuing this tradition through loss-sharing arrangements with the FDIC."

As a result of this acquisition, Ameris Bank will be acquiring the assets and deposits of American United Bank at a discount of $19,645,000 and a premium on deposits totaling approximately $286,000. Ameris Bank will assume approximately $101 million in total deposits and acquire $83 million in total loans and $3.6 million in other real estate (ORE). The loans being purchased are covered by a loss share agreement which affords Ameris Bank significant loss protection for the next five years.

Ameris Bancorp is headquartered in Moultrie, Georgia, and has 51 locations in Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida and South Carolina. For additional information about Ameris Bank, please visit our web site at

Ameris Bancorp Common Stock is quoted on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol "ABCB". The preceding release contains statements that constitute "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. The words "believe", "estimate", "expect", "intend", "anticipate" and similar expressions and variations thereof identify certain of such forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the dates which they were made. The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise. Readers are cautioned that any such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve risks and uncertainties, and that actual results may differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements as a result of various factors. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lawmakers Pass Amendment to Exclude Auto Dealers From New Federal Agency

/PRNewswire/ -- The House Financial Services Committee approved a key amendment, 47-21, to keep automobile dealers under the already effective federal and state laws which govern vehicle financing.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., will not subject auto retailers to the regulations of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), but will continue the full range of consumer protection rules of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission and state laws.

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) led a grassroots campaign in support of the Campbell Amendment.

"NADA and dealers across the country applaud the overwhelming bipartisan support for the Campbell Amendment," said David Westcott, chairman of NADA's Government Affairs Committee and a multi-franchise dealer from North Carolina. "It makes sense to exclude dealers. Dealers had absolutely nothing to do with the credit crisis."

H.R. 3126, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act, later passed the full committee with the Campbell Amendment included. However, the bill still has a number of other hurdles before reaching the White House for final approval. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which also has partial jurisdiction over the new agency, will have an opportunity to consider the bill before a House vote. The Senate will have to go through a similar process.

NADA's legislative office, as well as dealers across the country, will continue to be involved throughout the process. "We will continue to work on behalf of consumers and dealers to maintain dealer-assisted financing as an efficient and competitive credit-delivery system," Westcott said.

"We applaud Rep. Campbell for his leadership in building strong bipartisan support in the financial services committee," Westcott said. "The overwhelming majority of committee members clearly understand that CFPA jurisdiction over dealers is unnecessary and that increased uncertainty in the auto marketplace would limit consumer finance options and increase car buyers' costs."

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Banks’ Actions on Credit Cards Undermine Consumer Protections

Low- and middle-income households with credit card debt owe, on average, $9,827 on their cards. If you make the minimum monthly payment -- under many agreements 2 percent of the balance or $10 -- at 10 percent interest, it will take you more than 26 years to pay off the balance, including $6,812 in interest payments.

But what if the rate was raised even higher, or if your rate was tacked to the prime rate (currently 3.25 percent). It could take more than a lifetime to pay off that kind of debt.

In May, Congress adopted the Credit CARD Act to protect consumers from capricious rate hikes. Under the act, banks must give consumers at least 45 days notice before raising their rates. And beginning in February 2010, banks cannot raise rates on existing balances unless a consumer is in default.

Just last week, however, House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank accused banks of abusing the “grace period” they were given before all the law’s provisions take effect. Unfortunately for consumers, he’s right.

For example, Wells Fargo announced last week it was raising rates on existing accounts by up to 3 percentage points. Other card issuers, including such large banks as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, also have been accused of raising rates on balances prior to the law’s effective date.

Additionally, in June, Bank of America and Chase switched many cardholders from fixed- to variable-rate cards. Variable-rate cardholders are not protected from unexpected rate changes under the new law, because rate changes are permitted as the prime rate moves up and down.

Those most likely to be harmed by higher borrowing costs are consumers who are relying on their credit cards to carry them through the economic downturn. According to Démos, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization, most low- and middle-income households with high debt-stress levels -- the ratio of a family’s credit card debt to their annual income -- use their credit cards to pay for unavoidable expenses, such as medical expenses or to cover household essentials after a job loss, not for discretionary items.

Higher rates lead to longer payoff periods and thousands of extra dollars in interest payments. Let’s take the case of the average low- and middle-income households with $9,827 in credit card debt. If they continue to make the minimum monthly payment on that amount but at 13 percent interest plus prime, rather than our previous example of 10 percent interest, it must pay $19,897 in interest payments over the more than 45 years it will take to clear the balance. And because the prime rate is at historically low levels, this example likely presents a best-case scenario.

Many cardholders have responded to the downturn and the higher borrowing costs by reducing their debt. In July, revolving credit, which is largely credit-card borrowing, declined. For many, however, reducing debt during these tough times is not an option.

Moreover, changes in the availability of credit are also making it more difficult for cardholders to protect themselves from the banks’ actions. In the past, cardholders could demand better terms by threatening to take their business elsewhere. Today, this option is limited, because many banks have tightened credit-card approval standards.

Banks may be putting themselves at risk by their actions as well. If consumers are subjected to usurious rates as the prime rate rises, more will inevitably default on their debt. Banks will find it difficult to make up for these losses by further raising rates on consumers who are already stretched to their limits.

Bank of America vowed last week to stop raising interest rates before the February limits take effect, making the announcement as Rep. Franks’ committee met to consider moving up the effectiveness date of the new legislation. But such a promise offers too little, too late for many consumers who have already been harmed.

It is time for banks to rethink their recent moves and for Congress to do more to protect consumers.

By Jamie Lau

Jamie Lau is a research fellow with the Community Enterprise Clinic at Duke Law School.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Georgia Credit Unions Celebrate National 100th Anniversary With 'A Century of Good Advice'

/PRNewswire/ -- Credit unions throughout Georgia today mark the 100th anniversary of cooperative financial institutions in the U.S., and the 75th anniversary of the Georgia Credit Union League, by sharing "A Century of Good Advice." Coinciding with the celebration of International Credit Union Day on Oct. 15, this initiative includes the release of a poll on the savings and spending habits of Georgia consumers, as well as the debut of an online video featuring Georgians of both young and senior ages offering their advice, hopes and dreams for a happy, sound life. In addition, Governor Sonny Perdue yesterday signed a special proclamation honoring International Credit Union Day. The poll results and video are available at

More than 1,000 credit union members from across the state were polled on questions ranging from the most influential person in their lives financially, to the best financial advice they ever received, to their current spending and savings habits based on the recent recession. Among the poll findings:

-- 46% spend less than they did one year ago; 41% spend the same as they
did a year ago
-- 65% of those polled say that their personal spending habits will be
changed forever because of the current recession
-- 53% say that either their mother or father was the biggest influence
in their lives about money; The breakdown of those who chose father
vs. mother was almost even: 27% said father, 26% said mother

Online Video Featuring Georgians

The short online video, "A Century of Good Advice," features Georgia seniors offering their experience and advice to younger generations for financial and emotional success, balanced with young Georgians who display their dreams for the future and the financial awareness they have gained even at a young age.

"At a time when Georgians are concerned about their spending habits and financial security, it's refreshing to see the financial struggles and triumphs of previous generations and the optimism and enthusiasm of future generations," said Michael Mercer, president and CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates (GCUA). "By compiling testimonials of Georgians young and old about spending and savings habits over the years, Georgia credit unions hope to provide consumers with insight and inspiration for their own financial futures."

Video participants include: Jesus Beltran, Peachtree City; Sarah Diamond, Chamblee; Jesse Dixon, Atlanta; Bob Fowler, Albany; Grady Gafford, Macon; Brian Mulherin, Augusta; Betty Phillips, Macon; and Connie Potts, Conyers.

In addition to viewing the video at, consumers also can visit to view the video and share their own advice.

It's important for consumers to know that it has never been easier to join a credit union. Many credit unions now open their membership to the broader local communities where they operate. To find a local credit union or for more information, go to

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Solid Index Findings: Americans Define Themselves Based on Finances, But Don't Invest in Their Fiscal Futures

/PRNewswire/ -- The economic contraction has highlighted the internal duel between Americans' beliefs and actions according to the latest Solid Index, a survey by SunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI) that studies Americans' emotions and perceptions toward their finances. The Solid Index revealed that while more than half (58 percent) of the respondents feel that their financial situation contributes to their perceptions of self-worth, 40 percent of American adults will not be enrolling in a retirement plan this year.

The most recent survey is the fourth in a series of six throughout 2009 and it investigated Americans' thoughts around benefits enrollment, the contributors of their self-worth and their reactions to the recession. In addition to their financial situation, the findings revealed that 55 percent of Americans feel that their job contributes to their sense of self-worth, with 43 percent citing their salary and more than a third (37 percent) noting their possessions.

"It is surprising and unsettling that many Americans are neglecting to properly invest in their future even while using their financial situation as a litmus test for their self worth," said Rilla Delorier, chief marketing officer for SunTrust Banks. "In this current economic situation it may seem difficult to invest in one's retirement, but proper planning and budgeting can lead to solid behaviors and help individuals feel good about themselves now and in the future."

Other key findings of Americans' reactions to the recession include:

-- Almost two thirds (64 percent) feel that they are obligated to feel
grateful for having a job in today's economy.
-- Penny pinching is getting old, with 54 percent stating they are tired
of cutting back on the little things.
-- To combat the restrictions of penny pinching, 93 percent said that
they have purchased an item in the last three months to give
themselves a "pick me up".
-- Women are significantly more likely than men to indulge themselves by
spending on clothes (59% vs. 43% men), while men tend to be more
interested in splurging on electronics (30% vs. 18% women).

Not all reactions to the economic turbulence have been negative. One in two respondents stated that the economy has caused them to spend more quality time with their family, bringing them closer, despite the fact that 55 percent believe a night out with the family has become unaffordable. Additionally, many reported becoming more generous due to the economy by helping their friends, family and neighbors save money by giving away hand-me-down clothes (66 percent), preparing meals for others (55 percent), babysitting (38 percent) and doing renovations (37 percent).

"While Americans are challenged by this economy, they are finding new ways to enjoy their families and friends, whether it's spending more time together or swapping a solid - that is, supporting and helping each other with favors instead of paying others to do it for them," added Delorier. "These types of solid behaviors underscore the generosity and resiliency of Americans."

The Solid Index was conducted by StrategyOne as a five-question, single wave telephone omnibus survey among a census representative sample of 1,000 American adults aged 18 and older. The next wave of SunTrust's Solid Index will be released this December.

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IRS Amnesty Program Extended

24-7- The IRS Amnesty Program has been extended from September 23, 2009 to October 15, 2009. This program allows United States citizens and residents with offshore accounts to come forward and avoid criminal prosecution. In addition, the program results in significantly reduced penalties. The extension to October 15, 2009 allows more time for people to take advantage of this opportunity to avoid potential criminal prosecution for unreported offshore accounts.

The criminal penalties which can flow from unreported offshore accounts include:
1. Conviction of a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for not filing the yearly form disclosing offshore accounts over $10,000.00. This form is known as an FBAR.
2. Conviction of tax evasion, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison for willfully not reporting the income on foreign accounts.
3. Conviction of willfully filing a false tax return, a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison for false statements on the tax return relating to the offshore accounts and income earned on the accounts.

The civil penalties imposed if the IRS learns of an unreported offshore account with a balance over $10,000.00 are severe and are in addition to criminal penalties. The civil penalty for not filing the yearly FBAR disclosing the offshore account is 50% of the highest value of the account, every year that the FBAR is not filed. Civil penalties for failure to disclose the income earned on offshore accounts can range from 20% to 75%.

The IRS Amnesty Program allows a person to avoid the potential criminal prosecution and significantly reduce the civil penalties.

An example of the civil penalties under the Amnesty Program compared to what would happen if the IRS discovers the offshore account reveals the benefit of the Amnesty Program. As an example, if the offshore account contains $1,000,000.00 and earned 5% per year from 2003 through 2008, the civil penalties and taxes on the earnings would be $386,000.00 plus interest under the Amnesty Program. Without the Amnesty Program the taxes and penalties would be $2,306,000.00 plus interest. This figure could be even more if the IRS imposed a fraud penalty
on the unpaid taxes.

In order to successfully enter and complete the IRS Amnesty Program, people should contact an attorney with experience in defending IRS criminal cases and investigations. Mark Horwitz is representing people who reside in the United States and in other countries in helping them successfully through the IRS Amnesty Program.

Article provided by Law Offices of Mark L. Horwitz, P.A.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Consumer Savings Higher as Debt Declines; Mortgage Delinquencies, Bankruptcies Continue to Grow in September

/PRNewswire/ -- Consumers continue to fight the recession by saving more and paying off debt; banks are responding with more careful lending; and stressed homeowners increasingly are falling behind on mortgages on their primary residence, according to the latest Equifax Inc. (NYSE:EFX) Credit Trends Report, a summary of key economic trends the company distributes to its customers every month.

Some of the key findings in the September report include:

Total consumer debt has been reduced by more than $440 billion, down 3.8 percent from its peak in the third quarter of 2008.

The estimated consumer savings rate continued to be relatively high at 3.71 percent in the third quarter - down from 4.74 percent in the second quarter - but much higher than savings rates that were as low as 1.30 percent as recently as the third quarter of 2008 and .20 percent in the first quarter of 2008.

Bankcard issuers continue to close accounts and reduce credit lines. Since September 2008, there are 88 million fewer accounts and credit lines have been reduced by $751 billion. Delinquency rates also are the highest in five years with 4.36 percent of bankcard accounts more than 60 days late in September 2009 compared with 3.39 percent in September 2008 and 2.80 percent in September 2007.

New accounts opened, based on end of July data, were 54 percent lower than July 2008. The percent of cards issued to those with Equifax Risk Scores greater than 740 grew from about 28 percent in July 2007 to more than 50 percent at the end of July this year. Conversely, the percent of cards issued to those with Equifax Risk Scores 660 and below dropped from 42 percent in July 2007 to slightly over 22 percent in July 2009.

Home mortgages at least 30 days late reached a record 7.65 percent (in dollars) in September, up from 7.58 percent in August and 7.32 percent the previous month. This record rate is a significant increase over the 5.17 percent rate of September 2008 and the 3.55 percent rate of September 2007.

Home equity lines of credit are an estimated $65 billion lower in September 2009 than they were in September 2008 and the number of accounts is an estimated 754,000 lower. Delinquency rates are at an all-time high of 3.39 percent versus 2.66 percent in September 2008 and 1.59 percent in September 2007.

Personal bankruptcies also continued to rise. For the first nine months of 2009, filings are 40 percent higher than last year. Filings have already exceeded one million compared with the 2008 year-long total of 1.1 million.

"American consumers are making the most fundamental change in the way they handle their finances we have seen in a decade," said Dann Adams, president of Equifax's U.S. Consumer Information System. "They are conserving cash and reducing debt across the board. We haven't seen savings rates this high since shortly after the third quarter of 2001 - just after 9-11 - when they were at 3.25 percent.

"At the same time, high unemployment is being reflected in more homeowners falling behind in their primary mortgages," Adams added. "As a result, banks and other financial institutions are being much more careful in managing their risks.

"The data reflect an economy in transition with consumers doing better with their financial management, but with many still struggling in the face of high unemployment and restricted credit."

Data for the Credit Trends Monitor Report is sourced from Equifax's more than 200 million files of US consumers using credit. The personal savings rate information comes from, which uses U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Georgia Department of Banking and Finance Takes Possession of Georgian Bank, Atlanta, Georgia

The Georgia Department of Banking and Finance (“Department”) took possession of Georgian Bank, Atlanta, Georgia on September 25, 2009. The Superior Court of Cobb County issued an Order appointing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”) as Receiver of the Bank effective upon the Department taking possession of Georgian Bank.

The Department took possession of Georgian Bank pursuant to the Official Code of Georgia, Section 7-1-150(a) which authorizes the Department in its discretion to take possession of the business and property of any state chartered financial institution whenever such financial institution is either insolvent or operating in an unsafe or unsound condition to transact its business, is operating in violation of any court order, statute, rule or regulation, or requests the Department to take possession of its business and property.

Through an agreement with the FDIC, Georgian Bank will be acquired by First Citizens Bank and Trust Company, Inc. (“First Citizens”), Columbia, South Carolina.

All deposit accounts of Georgian Bank have been transferred to First Citizens and will be available immediately. On Monday, September 28, 2009, depositors will be able to access their accounts at the former main office and branch locations of Georgian Bank. Customers of both banks should continue to use their existing branches until First Citizens can fully integrate the deposit records of Georgian Bank. Additionally, the former depositors of Georgian Bank can continue to access their accounts through automated teller machine transactions, checks and debit transactions.

All deposits will be transferred to First Citizens and, therefore, it is not anticipated that there will be any loss exposure to former Georgian Bank depositors that have deposits exceeding the FDIC Deposit Insurance amounts.

The Department’s Commissioner, Robert M. Braswell, reminds depositors that deposits of all Georgia banks are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000. Special rules are in place for accounts held in trust status and joint accounts that may further expand deposit insurance coverage. You can find additional information on FDIC Deposit Insurance at

The FDIC has established a website and a toll-free phone number to answer questions from depositors, creditors and other interested parties regarding the receivership of Georgian Bank. Please refer to the FDIC’s website for further information regarding the details of the purchase and assumption transaction. The website is and the toll-free phone number is 1-800-405-1498. The phone number is operational this evening until 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. and thereafter from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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