Archive for July 2015

The Share of Americans Behind on Home-Equity Loans Is the Lowest Since 2008

A healing housing market means fewer Americans are falling behind on their home loans, according to data the American Bankers Association released Thursday.

New data on two types of home-equity loans shows delinquency rates have fallen to their lowest levels since 2008. The report defines a delinquency as a late payment that is 30 days or more overdue.

“Home-equity loan and line delinquencies are tracking the slow and steady improvements in the housing market,” said American Bankers Association chief economist James Chessen. “As property values improve, fewer people have negative equity in their homes. Greater household wealth and income gives consumers more breathing room to meet their financial obligations.”

The delinquency rate for fixed-term home-equity loans fell to 3.12% in the first quarter, the lowest rate since December 2008. Still, the rate remains above the 15-year average of 2.75%. The delinquency rate on home-equity lines of credit declined to 1.42% from 1.48% in the fourth quarter. That’s also the lowest level in nearly seven years, but still above the long-term average of 1.12%.

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The Future of Personal Bankruptcy in a Post-Obamacare World

The US Supreme Court just put its stamp of approval on the Obama administration’s health-care reform, and a Boston law professor thinks he knows what will happen next.

In his 2014 study, Northeastern University law professor Daniel Austin dug into personal bankruptcy filings to figure out what happened after Massachusetts lawmakers made health insurance mandatory in 2005.

His findings? Massachusetts residents who file for bankruptcy protection these days have way less medical debt compared to the rest of the country. The typical Massachusetts person or couple who filed in 2013 had $3,041 in medical debt, while people everywhere else had an average of $8,594 in medical debt.

In fact, he found that Massachusetts is the only state where medical debt isn’t the leading cause of personal bankruptcy. (A loss of income is the No. 1 reason, he found.)

So what does Prof. Austin think will happen with mandatory health care in all 50 states? Could the system designed to give people access to affordable health insurance make families more financially stable and keep them out of bankruptcy?

“It absolutely should show a reduction in bankruptcies [filed] due to medical debt,” Prof. Austin said in an interview Tuesday.

Plenty of studies have pinpointed medical debt as the No. 1 reason why people turn to bankruptcy for a fresh start. In rallying for health-care reform in his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that 62.1% of consumer bankruptcies are medical bankruptcies, citing a study Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) co-wrote as a Harvard law professor.

Prof. Austin’s study found the percentage of medical bankruptcies to be far smaller. Overall, 18% to 25% of personal bankruptcies filed in the US were prompted by medical debt.

That is, except in Massachusetts. There, he found that 3% to 9% of bankruptcy cases were filed because of medical debt.

Based on his study, Prof. Austin said it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Massachusetts health-care reform is why the number of Massachusetts residents who file for bankruptcy is falling faster than the rest of the country. (The number of people who file for bankruptcy has been falling for a couple of years now, thanks to an improving US economy and other ivory tower theories.)

For his study, Prof. Austin evaluated 5,400 of bankruptcy cases filed between 2005 and 2013 to determine what kind of debt people have at the time of the filing. Bankruptcy law requires people to list all of the debt they oweincluding how much they owe and to whomwhen they file. He also relied on roughly 380 survey responses from lawyer and bankrupt individuals.

Write to Katy Stech at katy.stech@wsj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @KatyStech

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Are girls getting short-changed?

Many want to prepare themselves for financial challenges. A full 75% report that learning more about money management, including budgeting, saving and investing, is one of their top priorities. Thats good news because too many are NOT savvy. Too many dont know about how to establish credit (38%), check the accuracy of a bank statement (35%), how to manage a credit card (35%), how credit card interest and fees work (31%) and what a credit score is (31%.)

Despite all the pressure that todays young adults feel, they still register as optimists. At least 59% think they will fare better financially than their parents. Hopefully, with parents imparting knowledge and guidance, and kids kicking in with hard work and diligence, this optimism will win out.

What can parents do?

Root out any sexism in how you handle money.

Become aware of how you treat daughters vs. sons whenever the subject of money comes up. Do you bristle when your daughter wants extra money for clothes shopping? Do you say no to your sons ever-increasing need for video games? Do you let them spend their allowance on whatever they want? This is not to say that girls should get a dozen pair of sandals or that boys shouldnt get the newest game, it is to make you conscious of how spending habits may differ.

Money is power. Once you become aware of gender differences and perhaps discrepancies, you will be able to see if you are sexist in how you react to fiscal requests.

Answer questions about money honestly and age-appropriately.

Are we rich? Are we poor? How much do you make? When you are asked a financial question, dont dismiss it with a none of your business kneejerk reaction. Lieber discusses how many questions parents typically face and how uncomfortable most are with responding. He recommends taking the question seriously and giving an answer. Or counter with Why do you ask? Or promise to address the issue soon.

He suggests looking through your childrens eyes. Kids could be nervous if lay-offs have been in family conversations. Or kids at school could be flaunting expensive stuff, making yours wonder why they dont have such items. And as kids grow, particularly into preteens, they want to learn more and more about everything. Lieber says, Curiosity is just another word for trying really, really hard to figure out how the world works and how grown-ups make decisions. Getting angry or defensive about all of that wont make kids smarter.

Expose preteens to the family budget.

Ease them into understanding the fiscal responsibilities that you and your spouse cover in a month. Discuss the cable bill. How do you decide which option to choose? Basic cable or top of the line with all the extras? Should you cancel altogether and access Internet streaming with a service like Netflix or Amazon Prime? Make it a family project to review your plan, explore options and cooperatively make a decision. Weigh cost factors and how entertainment fits into your budget. The idea is to begin exposing young thinkers to the complexity of managing all the choices and options out there in line with the familys income.

Introduce specific topics as kids grow. Include credit card interest rates and fees, 401(k) strategies and more.

The bottom line is that all discussions and decisions about spending and saving are value-based. Your spending and saving reflects what is important to you. You want to pass along your values and your knowledge. And you want to do this equally to both genders, so they will be prepared to face their financial challenges.

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City of Joplin responds to Costa Bajjali motion

Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker filed a motion June 12 on behalf of Bajjali asking the court to reopen the case. That motion asks the court to set aside or nullify a summary judgment of $1.4 million awarded May 13 to the city and the Joplin Rededevelopment Corp. The city pursued the default judgment, stating that Wallace Bajjali Development Partners and its principals, David Wallace and Bajjali did not carry out their duties as master developer.

Wallace Bajjalis Joplin office was closed without notice in mid-January, and neither Wallace nor Bajjali was in contact with city officials until the city took steps in late January to declare the firm in default of its contract. Bajjali sent the city an email indicating that Wallace had tried an unsuccessful buyout or takeover, but city officials had no communication from either of the two partners until the city was poised to move ahead with an agreement that would have ended the contract that provides for development fees for projects on land owned by the JRC.

Bajjali said later he would defend himself against any allegations of wrongdoing by the firm. Wallace filed personal bankruptcy in federal court in Houston, and several entities of the Wallace Bajjali firm, including corporations set up under the names of their real estate and investment funds, have filed bankruptcy actions.

The citys attorney in the Joplin lawsuit referred to those entities in his response to Bajjalis effort to overturn the $1.4 million award.

In response to claims by Bajjali that one reason the judgment should not stand is because he was not properly served notice of the citys lawsuit, Blanchard said the partners set up a labyrinth of multiple entities to shield themselves from claims.

Clearly, what Mr. Bajjali was doing, as well as Mr. Wallace, was distancing themselves from the entities in what can only be interpreted as an attempt to avoid liability and frustrate and impede the legal process, Blanchard wrote in the motion.

He said that the city sent notice of the lawsuit to the firms legally required registered agent in Missouri. That letter was returned undeliverable to Wallace Bajjalis office address in Sugar Land, but still the partners knew what was happening here, Blanchard asserts in the filing.

First, for Mr. Bajjali and defendant Wallace Bajjali Development Partners to represent to this court that they had no actual knowledge of the fact the lawsuit was filed defies belief, he wrote. There were numerous articles and news reports from both The Joplin Globe and the television media citing attempts to get quotes or responses from Mr. Bajjali.

Bajjali has twice sent the Globe statements that he would defend himself but he has declined interviews citing advice from his attorney.

His motion to reopen the case came at a time when the City Council was to be asked to approve an agreement with a Wallace Bajjali lender, New Prime Inc. Prime, a Springfield trucking and insurance interest, had given Wallace Bajjali a $5.5 million line of credit to finance its work on Joplin projects in exchange for an agreement that the city would pay Wallace Bajjali development fees to Prime.

That agreement would have paid Prime $1.4 million, a fee which Joplin had declined to pay directly to Wallace for development of a plan to build a new Joplin Public Library. Prime, then would buy the 15 parcels of land east of 20th and Connecticut where a movie theater and shopping center was to be built next to the future library for nearly $1.49 million.

The City Council postponed action on the Prime agreement as a result of the court filing by Bajjali.

Bajjali, in an email statement to the Globe that day, said he would challenge the validity of the default judgment, citing insufficient evidence and arguing the city’s action violated the company’s due process rights and a “stay” imposed by a judge in a bankruptcy filing by the firm.

 

Partnerships

Costa Bajjali is a general partner in Wallace Bajjali Management Co., which is a general partner of the Wallace Bajjali Development Partners.

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One Summer – America 1927: Summer Reading Book Review

Although not mentioned in One Summer: America, 1927, 1927 was also a magnanimous year in investment history. In that year Benjamin Graham started teaching the now famous class called Security Analysis, at Columbia University.  His class introduced a new method of analyzing securities that emphasized the difference between a companys true or intrinsic value and its stock price and how one can profit from this difference.  It would take another seven years till Americas great depression, and his flirting with personal bankruptcy, that he and his colleague wrote Security Analysis. One Summer: America, 1927 is as close to a financial bible and particularly liked by value investors.  His other classic, Intelligent Investor, was not published until 1949.

While more general in nature, One Summer: America, 1927 has quite a few insights for investors.  Ive copied several passages that I think investors and others in the financial community may find interesting.

In re-reading many of the excerpts below, I kept thinking how similar America in the 1920s is to China today.  Stock markets are booming, funding costs are falling, more people were taking on credit, and corruption is not unknown.  Cohorts closer to other emerging markets can likely draw similar comparisons (Vietnam in the early 2000s, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in the early 1990s, to name but a few).

Corruption is a good way to get rich. …(than President) Coolidge kept a light hand on the tiller of state. His treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, spent much of his working life overseeing tax cuts that conveniently enhanced his own wealth.  According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., with a single piece of legislation Mellow gave himself a greater tax cut than that enjoyed by almost the entire population of Nebraska. Mellons personal net worth more than doubled to over $150m during his term of office, and the wealth of his family, which he oversaw, topped $2b.”

The total cost to the country of all the various acts of incompetence and malfeasance in the Harding administration has been put at $2b – a sum that goes way beyond the stupendous, particularly bearing in mind that Harding’s presidency lasted just twenty-nine months”.

Appointed to the role of head of the Veterans’ Bureau, (Charles) Forbes managed in two years to lose, steal, or misappropriate $200m.  …(he was) fined US$10,000 and given a two-year prison term”

Cheap finance and the carry trade did not work well in the end.  “Banks borrowed from

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Morningstar Gives BBB+ Credit Rating to Discover Financial Services (DFS)

Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) has earned a BBB+ credit rating from Morningstar. The firm’s BBB+ rating indicates that the company is a moderate default risk. They also gave their stock a three star rating.

Several other analysts have also recently commented on the stock. Analysts at Vetr upgraded shares of Discover Financial Services from a buy rating to a strong-buy rating and set a $68.84 price target on the stock in a research note on Monday. Analysts at Oppenheimer lowered their price target on shares of Discover Financial Services from $77.00 to $76.00 in a research note on Monday, June 29th. Analysts at initiated coverage on shares of Discover Financial Services in a research note on Monday, June 22nd. They set a buy rating and a $70.00 price target on the stock. Analysts at initiated coverage on shares of Discover Financial Services in a research note on Saturday, June 20th. They set a buy rating and a $70.00 price target on the stock. Finally, analysts at Stifel Nicolaus initiated coverage on shares of Discover Financial Services in a research note on Thursday, June 18th. They set a buy rating and a $70.00 price target on the stock. Eight analysts have rated the stock with a hold rating, sixteen have given a buy rating and one has given a strong buy rating to the company’s stock. Discover Financial Services has an average rating of Buy and a consensus target price of $70.23.

Shares of Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) traded up 1.11% during mid-day trading on Friday, hitting $57.38. 2,278,019 shares of the company’s stock traded hands. Discover Financial Services has a 1-year low of $54.02 and a 1-year high of $66.75. The stock has a 50-day moving average of $58.43 and a 200-day moving average of $59.19. The company has a market cap of $25.39 billion and a price-to-earnings ratio of 11.79.

Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS) last released its earnings data on Tuesday, April 21st. The financial services provider reported $1.28 earnings per share for the quarter, beating the analysts’ consensus estimate of $1.27 by $0.01. The company had revenue of $2.17 billion for the quarter. During the same quarter last year, the company posted $1.31 earnings per share. Analysts expect that Discover Financial Services will post $5.28 EPS for the current fiscal year.

In other Discover Financial Services news, CEO David W. Nelms sold 30,000 shares of Discover Financial Services stock in a transaction dated Wednesday, July 1st. The shares were sold at an average price of $58.17, for a total value of $1,745,100.00. The sale was disclosed in a legal filing with the SEC, which is available at this link. Also, COO Roger C. Hochschild sold 20,000 shares of the stock in a transaction dated Wednesday, July 1st. The stock was sold at an average price of $58.16, for a total value of $1,163,200.00. The disclosure for this sale can be found here.

Discover Financial Services is a direct banking and payment services company. The Company is a bank holding company as well as a financial holding company. The Company’s products include Direct Banking, Credit Cards, Student Loans, Personal Loans, Home Loans and Home Equity Loans and Deposits. The Company manages business activities in Direct Banking segment and Payment Services segment. Direct Banking segment includes consumer banking and lending products, specifically Discover-branded credit cards issued to individuals and small businesses on the Discover Network and other consumer banking products and services, including private student loans, personal loans, home loans, home equity loans, prepaid cards and other consumer lending and deposit products. The Payment Services segment includes PULSE, Diners Club and our network partners business, which includes credit, debit and prepaid cards issued on the Discover Network by third parties.

To view more credit ratings from Morningstar, visit www.jdoqocy.comclick-7674909-10651170.

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Executive Moves: Who went where this week

Bank of New Jersey welcomed Alice Irizarry as vice president, consumer lending, in its Fort Lee headquarters.

As a consumer lending officer for more than 20 years, Irizarry will offer her expertise to consumer clients in need of home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, personal loans and mortgages.

Oak Ridge-based Lakeland Bank named John F. Rath III and Bruce Bready as senior vice presidents.

Bready, who also will serve as a small business lending manager, was promoted after first joining Lakeland in 2004 as a vice president, commercial loan officer. He was later promoted and started the Small Business Lending department in Newton.

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Family sues nurse for overprescribing pain meds

The family of a man who died in 2013 at age 56 is suing Derby nurse practitioner Heather Alfonso and the pain clinic where she worked, alleging that her rampant overprescribing of narcotics contributed to his death.

Joseph Torchia’s wife and son claim in a lawsuit filed in Waterbury Superior Court that Alfonso, who was recently charged by federal prosecutors with accepting kickbacks from a drug company, prescribed “unlawfully high” doses of narcotics to Torchia, of Meriden, for more than a year, ignoring signs that he was suffering from liver cirrhosis, gallbladder disease, internal bleeding and narcotics’ dependency.

The suit alleges that Alfonso’s reckless prescribing weakened Torchia’s medical condition, so that his ability to recover from gallbladder surgery on Jan. 14, 2013, was compromised. He died three weeks after that surgery.

The lawsuit also names as defendants the Comprehensive Pain amp; Headache Treatment Centers, LLC, of Derby, where Alfonso worked; the doctor who performed the surgery and his medical practice; and two emergency room physicians who treated Torchia after the surgery.

Attorney James Biondo of Stamford, who is representing Alfonso, said that while it is early in the case, “we expect to file a responsive pleading denying all allegations of improper medical care.” Attorneys for the pain center could not be reached.

A guilty plea

Alfonso, 42, of Middlebury, pleaded guilty last month to receiving $83,000 in kickbacks from January 2013 until March 2015 from a drug company in exchange for prescribing a powerful narcotic used to treat cancer pain. The charge of receiving kickbacks in relation to a federal healthcare program carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. She will be sentenced later this year.

C-HIT stories earlier this year identified Alfonso as the state’s highest prescriber of Schedule II narcotics -potent drugs with a high potential for addiction and abuse — in the federal Medicare program. She has since surrendered her licenses to prescribe and has left the Derby pain center. Neither she nor Dr. Mark Thimineur, head of the pain center, has returned messages seeking comment.

Court records, separate from the lawsuit, show Alfonso filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, claiming assets of $424,600, including a house in Middlebury, and liabilities exceeding $525,000, including $69,000 in credit card debt. She began her job as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) at the pain center sometime after that.

The lawsuit makes mention of the kickback allegations, saying that Alfonso took “bribes” in exchange for prescribing “dangerous, potentially deadly” drugs to patients. The federal charges against her involve a potent painkiller called Subsys, which is supposed to be used only for cancer patients, but which Alfonso prescribed to non-cancer patients.

Piling on narcotics

Attorney Tracey Hardman of Middletown, who is representing the Torchia family, said Joseph Torchia suffered from diabetes-related orthopedic and back pain, but was given multiple high-dose prescriptions for narcotics better suited for “a cancer patient who needed palliative care.”

Alfonso “just piled on the narcotics, at increasing doses, and never did any kind of testing or referrals to specialists, as far as we can see from the records,” Hardman said. “For his level of pain, the prescribing was entirely disproportional . . . These (medication) levels are documented to increase internal bleeding and problems with the liver.”

Mathew Torchia, Joseph’s son, said he became suspicious of the pain center and the nurse his father called “Heather” after his father died and he found dozens of pill bottles in his father’s house. He said his father was an upbeat, outgoing man who had been disabled by diabetes after working as an EMT and a real estate agent. The elder Torchia collected coins and called Bingo games at the complex where he lived with his wife of 36 years, Shawn.

“He was such a good man – he didn’t deserve to be treated like this, like a toy,” said Mathew, 34. “He was the kind of guy who would just trust whatever his doctors said, that they knew best.”

When he discovered all the bottles of narcotics, Mathew said, “I knew something was wrong. I thought, ‘I can’t even believe a human being could survive this.'”

Court records include a statement from a nurse practitioner who reviewed Joseph Torchia’s prescription records. The nurse concluded that “the level of medications that Heather Alfonso prescribed to this patient, including but not limited to multiple controlled substances (as many as 3-4 at a time)…was excessive. It was particularly egregious to continue prescribing medications that are listed in this case once Mr. Torchia was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis” in 2012.

The lawsuit alleges that the pain center failed to ensure that its employees were following proper procedures in administering medications, and that Thimineur “negligently supervised, retained and hired Alfonso.”

The suit also charges Dr. Aurangzeb Ali, a surgeon at Surgical Associates of Meriden, with malpractice for failing to take proper care of Torchia before, during and after the gallbladder surgery. In addition, it alleges that emergency room physicians failed to provide proper care to Torchia when he sought help Jan. 18 and was sent home with an oral antibiotic. He returned to the hospital Jan. 25 with sepsis, a complication of an infection, and remained there until he died.

Attorney Donna R. Zito of Rocky Hill, representing Aurangzeb and Surgical Associates, said her clients “categorically deny all allegations of negligence or wrongdoing asserted by the plaintiffs” and would prove their case in court.

This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (www.c-hit.org).

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Banks capitalizing on home equity loans

With the recovery of home values, First Bank of Greenwich is seeing an accompanying boom in home equity loans as property owners take advantage of cheap financing for additions and improvements. A solar installer is pictured completing work at a Greenwich residence in 2013.
Photo: Lindsay Perry / Hearst Connecticut Media

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Prepaid Cards Offer Limited Advantages Even With Impending Regulation

Rockville, MD (PRWEB)
July 07, 2015

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is set to regulate the prepaid card industry in 2015, after a period of public comment that ended recently.(1) The changes will provide better protection for prepaid card users, in particular “unbanked” consumers whose transactions are limited to prepaid cards and cash–an estimated $100 billion in transactions in 2014 according to the CFPB.(2) Yet, still to be addressed is the fact that prepaid cards are a dead-end for building one’s financial future through building good credit.

Prepaid cards are preloaded with funds by an employer or other payer, or purchased directly by the consumer, who can then fund the card. But what advantage does a prepaid card offer the consumer? A prepaid card is a simple convenience – they are convenient to carry and useful for making online purchases. But the utility ends there.

Using a prepaid card is like paying with cash, offering the consumer no ability to establish a credit history. In fact, many prepaid cards lack security features. While the CFPB hopes to regulate better transparency about what prepaid card issuers do and don’t cover, currently these cards fall into a “buyer beware” category. It is up to consumers to understand what, if any, security features their prepaid cards provide against loss, theft and unauthorized use of funds.

A credit card, on the other hand, offers the consumer flexibility, fraud and loss protections, and the ability to build on their credit history. The amount a consumer is allowed to borrow is related to his/her creditworthiness; the more a consumer borrows and pays back responsibly, the more that person’s creditworthiness increases.

Building good credit is essential to qualify for loans to purchase a car or a house, as well as making large purchases more affordable–the better the credit, the lower the interest rates. A good credit history can also be the determining factor in getting an apartment or a job, since landlords and employers often check an applicant’s credit. Additionally, credit cards are available to fund unexpected costs, borrowing against future paydays when there may not be enough cash at hand to cover a financial emergency.

A secured credit card offers all the flexibility, convenience and protections of a regular credit card, as well as a great way to begin building a credit history. Many secured credit card issuers don’t require a credit check, because the cardholder makes a cash deposit equal to the card’s credit limit. The amount remains a security deposit and isn’t drawn down. Be sure to choose a secured credit card that reports monthly to all three consumer credit bureaus in order to build credit history. To build good credit, consumers should use the secured credit card regularly, staying within their credit limit, making on-time monthly payments and regularly paying down or paying off the balance owed.

“It’s an important step for the CFPB to regulate the prepaid card industry so consumers get a more uniform product and a better understanding of services,” says Nick Bryan, President, OpenSky, a financial products division of Capital Bank, NA “But better public education is needed so consumers appreciate the implications of a having a credit history, and how a lack of credit can impact their financial future.”

About OpenSky

OpenSky is a business line of Capital Bank, NA that focuses on delivering credit building tools and resources to help consumers establish or re-build their credit. OpenSky credit card products are designed to be easy to get, easy to use and offer variable credit lines, allowing consumers with any financial needs to build a solid credit history. The premiere product, the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card, has been recognized by Credit.Net as one of the best credit cards for 2014 that build credit fast. With more than 50,000 cardholders and counting, OpenSky is committed to helping consumers meet their financial goals through the power of strong credit and credit knowledge.

For more information visit http://www.opensky.com.

About Capital Bank

Capital Bank, NA, is a leading private bank in the Washington, DC metropolitan area that offers a range of services encompassing cash management, commercial lending, consumer credit and residential mortgage/Veterans Administration mortgage loans. Capital Bank’s core commercial banking and lending business includes two rankings by the US Small Business Administration (SBA), ranked number two among community lenders and in the top ten among all lenders in the Washington Metropolitan District for loan volume for Fiscal Year 2014. With double-digit asset growth over the past three years, Capital Bank has more than $600 million in assets and is well positioned to fulfill its culture of collaborative partnerships and solutions for area businesses and consumers nationwide. For more information, visit http://www.capitalbankmd.com. Member FDIC. An Equal Housing Lender.

CAPITAL BANK, PARTNERS IN YOUR VISION

Sources

1. CFPB Proposes Strong Federal Protections for Prepaid Products http://www.consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/cfpb-proposes-strong-federal-protections-for-prepaid-products/

2. Ibid., paragraph 3

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