Illinois Hardest Hit — mortgage assistance program

Clipper sent over info on this program today: Illinois Hardest Hit temporary mortgage assistance payment program. Application is free, and this is through the state, not one of the possibly shady mortgage  payment places. They offer:

1.  Reinstatement assistance to pay mortgage arrearages, fees, and penalties in full, and
2.  Monthly mortgage payment assistanceto pay 100% of the mortgage payment owed to the servicer for up to 18 months while the household makes monthly contribution payments to the Illinois Housing Development Authority during their enrollment in the program.  Maximum assistance is $25,000, depending on location.

Head over to their site to fill out your application — it opened up today. Here are the eligibility requirements:

You must meet all of the following eligibility requirements to participate in the program:

  • Property must be located in Illinois
  • Households must have a documented income reduction of 25% due to unemployment or underemployment through no fault of their own
  • Household income must be at or below 120% of the area median income
  • Principal loan balance must not be more than $500,000
  • Household liquid assets cannot exceed 3 months of mortgage payments
  • Property must be the primary and only residence of all borrowers/owners
  • Property can be a 1-4 unit building, providing the household resides in one unit
  • Homeowners must carry a fixed or adjustable rate loan.  Interest-only or negative amortization loans are not acceptable
  • Current servicer of the mortgage must agree to accept payments
  • Applicant(s) must not have been convicted of a mortgage-related felony in the last ten years

Bright Start — Family and Friends got heads up

Go figure! Steve Venn just commented with the following story from the Chicago Tribune about the Bright Start fiasco (see here for the original, and here for the info on people getting their investment back).

Some friends and family members of Illinois treasurer’s office employees received early notice of a contribution-matching promotion that added extra cash to college savings accounts, a deal that quickly ran out of funds, the Tribune has learned.

Treasurer’s office employees received an email May 31 about the Bright Start “Save and Match” program, and a few of them forwarded it to family members and friends, according to documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

….

Officials said they did not realize how popular the deal would be and hoped the email would get employees to spread the word about the matches, for which they were not eligible.

“We strongly encourage you to tell your family and friends about the promotion,” the email said. But, in doing so, employees gave those people an advantage.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he didn’t learn about the employee email until the Tribune began asking questions about it last week.

Of course they have no idea how many people sent it out from personal accounts, or Facebook messaged it to friends, or called their friends, or how many of the people they sent it to forwarded it on to their family and friends. Information.on.the.Internet.is.VIRAL!

I’m just so stuck on the part about them being strongly encouraged to share the info with family and friends before anyone received the mailed letter. How could anyone not see that this would be a problem on a promotion limited to the first 2500 contributions out of over 100,000 eligible people? Welcome to Illinois, guys…

Illinois — Bright Start people, hurry! — OVER

Don just commented: “7OCLOCK PM CENTRAL TIME, JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE WITH SOMEONE FROM BRIGHTSTART ADVISED ME THAT THIS PROMOTION HAS BEEN OVER FOR A FEW HRS ALREADY” Y’know… why didn’t they send this out via email so it would be more fair? Some of us don’t get our mail til later! lol With 2500 for the whole state, well…

Stacey just emailed the following — I had a letter today too but didn’t open it til I saw her email! Hope it’s not too late already:

In today’s mail I received a letter from our IL Treasurer. I’ll type/quote the important paragraphs directly:

“For the month of June, any current Bright Start Direct Sold account owner within the state of Illinois can make a one-time, special contribution to each of their beneficiaries’ Bright Start accounts and we will match that contribution, up to $250. If you have been meaning to put extra money away to help your child get to college, make your money worth more in the month of June.

Participation in the matching promotion for current Bright Start Direct Sold account owners within the state of Illinois is limited to the first 2,500 one-time contributions made during the month of June 2011. Please visit brightstartsavings.com to make a one-time contribution.”

Now I just did it for each of my 3 sons (yes, ouch!) but I didn’t get a special message. But I put it out there for you and others to make their own determination of the merits. But 100% return is worth it to me as I contribute regularly anyway. What’s another $750 at this point :)

Amazon affiliate tax — BAM

Update Let me clarify — no, don’t worry, this doesn’t mean I’m shutting down the site! I’m having too much fun with you guys. :)

Well, for those of you who were following this, Gov. Quinn signed the affiliate nexus tax bill today. Thusly, this afternoon I received the following email from Amazon.com:

Hello,

For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of Illinois residents. Unfortunately, a new state tax law signed by Governor Quinn compels us to terminate this program for Illinois-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by Illinois-based affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We had opposed this new tax law because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It was supported by national retailing chains, most of which are based outside Illinois, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that its enactment forces this action.

As a result of the new law, contracts with all Illinois affiliates of the Amazon Associates Program will be terminated and those Illinois residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to April 15, 2011 will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of April 15, 2011, any final payments will be paid by July 1, 2011.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois. If you are not currently a permanent resident of Illinois, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state after April 15, please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.

To be clear, this development will only impact our ability to continue the Associates Program in Illinois, and will not affect the ability of Illinois residents to purchase online at www.amazon.com from Amazon’s retail business

We have enjoyed working with you and other Illinois-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Illinois residents.

Regards,
The Amazon Associates Team

Guess they weren’t bluffing! So, there you go. I’m still processing the ramifications of this — Amazon affiliate earnings accounted for 25% of my income from Mashup Mom last year. (And unfortunately, that’s not 25% of a gazillion dollars :) ) I’m not sure yet what other programs will be terminating their relationships with Illinois affiliates, but thought I’d share the info.

Clarification on new affiliate tax bill

I’ve received a few questions in email and comments regarding yesterday’s post about the Illinois Senate Amendment 3 to HB 3659, which basically boil down to: “What’s the difference — aren’t they going to make Amazon (and Overstock, and other online retailers) collect sales tax in IL anyway?”

Answer: Nope.

Here’s where the confusion lies. Illinois is trying to make individual taxpayers cough up unpaid sales tax on purchases made at online merchants such as Amazon (back to 2004, thankyouverymuch!). There will be a line to this effect on our 2010 tax forms, and we’re supposed to estimate our back taxes and have up to October to pay without penalties. (No, I kid you not! back to 2004!)

However, Illinois does not have the power to make Amazon, or any other retailer without a physical presence in Illinois, collect Illinois sales tax. What the new amendment does is say that, if an Amazon sale is generated through an Illinois-based affiliate (blog or website), that this Illinois-based blog or website creates a “nexus” in Illinois. This virtual “nexus” is what theoretically allows the state to charge Illinois sales tax on purchases generated through these links — even though the Illinois-based blog or website is not actually selling you the item.

So, what happens then:

  • If this bill is signed into law, and you click on an affiliate link on Mashup Mom (or any other Illinois-based website or blog) that takes you to Amazon (or any other online retailer), then that retailer is now required to charge 6.25% IL state sales tax on products purchased through that link.
  • If this bill is signed into law, when you instead type Amazon.com into your web browser and make a purchase, Amazon is not required to charge you Illinois state sales tax, even if you live in Illinois. You are supposed to report that purchase and pay taxes on it on your own, what is called a “use tax.”

It currently costs you no more to purchase an item on Amazon.com (or any other Internet retailer) through a link on this site than it does to purchase it by going directly to Amazon.com. Should this bill pass, it will cost you 6.25% more to purchase an item through a link on this site to places that don’t currently charge Illinois state sales tax.

Retailers that have a physical presence in Illinois, such as JC Penney, Kohl’s, Sears, Best Buy, etc., already charge Illinois state sales tax, because that’s how the law works: Companies with a brick-and-mortar presence in a state are required to also charge sales tax on online purchases made on their websites.

The impact of this

Again, Amazon and other major affiliate sites have said that, rather than deal with this and/or in protest, they will simply drop all of their Illinois-based affiliates. This has already happened in Colorado after the passing of a similar law — they’re not bluffing here. So, not really a good potential revenue-maker for the state, since they don’t get sales tax on sales that are no longer happening. In addition, they will also no longer get income tax from the thousands of small and home-based internet businesses who were previously paying taxes on their affiliate income.

(And, even if they didn’t drop IL affiliates  — if you’re going to make an online purchase, what would you rather do: Go to someplace like Amazon directly, or click through me and pay 6.25% more? hmm.)

In related news

Didja see they’re also likely to hike the state income tax 75% next year?

And to clarify further, for the person who emailed thinking I’m “profiteering” off of you all…

My policy here has always been only to post links to things that are actually a deal, regardless of whether these are affiliate links or not. This site contains a mix of both. But, if I’m going to link to a deal, and an affiliate link is available, then I will use that affiliate link.

Affiliate links are part of what help pay for this site. Everything here is free to you, and no one ever has to buy anything from any of my links. (Trust me, most of you don’t! lol) However, running this site is not free to me — and since I spend several hours a day writing Mashup Mom, those are several hours a day I don’t have available to pursue other money-making activities. I’m not getting rich here, but it’s enough side income that Mashup Mom is my part-time job and home-based business. (And, one that I love! :) ) Thousands of other small IL blogs and websites are in the same boat.

Form letter you can send if you’re writing the governor

Joy posted a very nice form letter she found online and tweaked, if you’d like to borrow her verbiage when writing to the governor re: Amendment 3 of HB 3659.

As a resident of Illinois I am writing to you to express my vehement opposition to Amendment 3 of HB 3659 (page nine, 1.1, declaring that online affiliates will establish nexus for out-of-state retailers). This Amendment will end up costing Illinois jobs and revenue, and not gain any additional sales tax because it will devastate thousands of Affiliate Marketers.

Affiliate Marketers are simply website owners who earn income from ads placed on their sites. They are the unintended victims if this legislation passes. During these times of drastically high, long-term unemployment, thousands of hard working Illinois residents have turned to the internet as an income source. This Amendment will take away, what has become a financial lifeline for thousands of families.

Out-of-state merchants will terminate their affiliate relationships if HB 3659 is passed. And, most alarming, this law will directly contribute to Illinois’ budget crisis. When similar laws passed in New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island, over 200 merchants terminated affiliate programs in just such a manner. I implore you not to let the same thing happen to Illinois Affiliate Marketers. Please consider that the state of Illinois will not collect those sales taxes – and thousands of small businesses will be destroyed in the process.

I respectfully ask you to strongly consider opposing Amendment 3 of HB 3659.

Thanks, Joy!

Semi self-serving request: Write the governor

Exclamationphoto courtesy mag3737 at Flickr.com
used under cc license

I’ve mentioned a number of times that this blog is made possible partially because I receive income from the affiliate links on the site. (For example: If I link to an item on Amazon, and you buy that item through my link, I receive a percentage of your purchase as a commission.)

Well, the Illinois Senate today passed Senate Amendment 3 to HB 3659, which basically says that: If a sale at an Internet retailer originates through an affiliate link on an Illinois-based blog or website, that sale will be charged 6.25% Illinois sales tax — regardless of whether the retailer has a physical presence in Illinois. (For example — if and when this bill goes into effect in July: If I link to an item on Amazon, and you buy an item through that link, you pay 6.25% sales tax. If you go directly to Amazon and don’t click through my link? No sales tax.) The bill is now headed to the governor’s office for his signature.

You can read two brief articles on this here and here, and the Chicago Trib just picked it up here. In the couple of states that have passed similar laws, large online retailers have simply dropped all of their affiliate programs in that state. I’ve been receiving dire email warnings from all of my major affiliate programs warning of the same thing if this bill becomes law here. For instance, here’s the email I received from Amazon today:

Greetings from the Amazon Associates Program:

We regret to inform you that the Illinois state legislature has passed an unconstitutional tax collection scheme that, if signed by Governor Quinn, would leave Amazon.com little choice but to end its relationships with Illinois-based Associates. You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois…

Please note that this not an immediate termination notice and you are still a valued participant in the Amazon Associates Program. But if the governor signs this bill, we will need to terminate the participation of all Illinois residents in the Associates Program. After that point, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for sales referred to amazon.com, endless.com and smallparts.com nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Illinois residents.

The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Illinois residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the governor’s staff.

Over a dozen other states have considered essentially identical legislation but have rejected these proposals largely because of the adverse impact on their states’ residents.

Governor Quinn’s office may be reached here.

We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you continued success in the future.

Sincerely,

Amazon.com

I have received similar emails from other large affiliate programs I belong to.

This is incredibly short-sighted — not just because I’m personally affected, but: 1) If large affiliates drop their programs in Illinois, they’re not going to collect much sales tax, and 2) if affiliate income goes down, they’re also going to lose out on income tax revenue.

The future of Mashup Mom

Dum dum dum… here’s the deal. I love writing this blog and bringing you the deals. I am able to devote as much time to it as I do because I receive income from the site. If this bill passes, and the affiliate programs follow through on their promise to drop Illinois-based sites, the income I receive from Mashup Mom will drop precipitously. In that case, I will unfortunately need to devote more time to other money-making activities, and will have less time to spend over here. (No, I won’t drop the site — but the posts will be much fewer!)

Please

If you are an Illinois resident, please take a moment to contact Governor Pat Quinn’s office here and register your opposition to Senate Amendment 3 to HB 3659.

Thanks for your time — now back to our regularly-scheduled blog. :)

Free stuff to do around Chicagoland?

Jen G emailed a bit ago with a request: “I have a suggestion/request/comment on your website.  Would you ever consider posting places with free stuff to do?  For example, Lululemon has a free yoga class every Saturday at 9am (There is one in downtown Naperville and a few others around Chicagoland).  I have been trying to find a website/blog that list fun things you can do for free, like free yoga, but I’m not having much luck.”

Well, this is a great idea, so I thought I’d throw this one open to you guys and the power of the collective mind! What other free stuff to do around Chicagoland do you know of? Let me know in comments, and I’ll start a list here.

Chicago

  • From LauraL: “All Chicago museums have free days.  Here’s a link to the museum of science and industry but all of them have a calendar: http://www.msichicago.org/visit-the-museum/museum-info/admission/ (scroll to the bottom) The month of January has the most free days.”
  • From Tiffany: “The Art Institute has free general admission every Thursday from 5-8PM. Museum of Contemporary Art is free on Tuesdays 10AM-8PM.” And Jody points out that: “Free Winter weekends Jan 3 to Feb 4 The Chicago Art Institute is having free admission.” John Wilson clarifies: “The Art Institute free days are weekdays, not weekends. From the Sun-Times: “Beginning Jan. 3 (running through Feb. 4), general admission is free from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. Regular admission fees apply Saturdays and Sundays.”"

Cooking

  • Kendra suggests: “A free weekly weekend event that I love to do is Kenmore Live Studio. They have a FB page where if you can’t attend, you can participate and watch online via live streaming! http://www.facebook.com/index.php?lh=472a780c44b45687808fcc4dd4983655&#!/kenmore It is mostly live Cooking shows. They have events Thursday-Monday and have had some really awesome chefs and other events! I got to meet Jackie and Dan Evans from Biggest Loser Season 5 last April! Kids are welcome and matter of fact, most Monday nights are geared towards kids. The time is usually 7-9pm, but earlier on Mondays. In addition to cooking shows, they sometimes have crafting days or organizational days. No need to eat before attending a cooking show. Everything that is being made by the chefs has already been made in large quantities and is ready and waiting to be tasted by the audience! Great FREE event!!”

Home Depot

  • Meg says: “Home Depot has free Kid Workshops the first Saturday of every month.  Kids learn DIY skills and about tool safety.”

Libraries

  • An idea from Sharon: “Most people already know that their local library has programs that are usually free, but have you called or checked the website of other villages or towns near you too? You might be able to participate at another library. They might be happy to have their programs fill up more.” Note from Rachel — from my days working in libraries, this will very much depend on the library and how busy their programs are. Some require cards for registration; some do not.
  • And from Isa: “The Chicago Public Library’s programs are always free, and anyone can come!  The only exception that I am aware of is that a few of the lapsit storytimes in the most popular branches have a sign-up list since the demand is too high, but all of the other stuff is open for anyone from anywhere to come and participate!  http://www.chipublib.org/events/
  • Megan points out: “Chicago residents with city library cards can check out weekly passes to museums. Some are more exciting than others, but all the major museums are included. And many suburb libraries participate in something similar, but for suburb attractions. Mine includes free passes to childrens museums, Morton Arboretum, and Cantigny.”

Naperville

Lululemon — free yoga class Saturdays 9AM.

Oak Brook

  • From April: “There is a free cooking class in Oakbrook shopping mall in Bloomingdales store every Saturday (almost every Saturday, they have a schedule) at 1 pm. It’s usually lasts about an hour or so. Ruth Law (culinary Director) invites chefs from different Chicago restaurants. Every Saturday is someone new. There were chefs from “Harry Carrey’s” “Mon Amy Gaby” “Gibson” and many others. Last Christmas she invited chef Rick Bayless from Frontera Grill (Chicago celebrity) They cook their favorite meals and at the end of the presentation viewers have a chance to try the food. It’s a very small portions, but many chefs are a fun to watch. Some of them are a great entertainers. And if you have any question related to cooking, you can ask them and get a professional answer. On occasion, chefs have a gift card to their restaurant, or some discount card, or free appetizer offer, or a lottery for a free meal at their restaurant. So overall it a lot of fun!”

Other sites

  • From Alison: “I have used this one before…just click on the date on the calendar and up pops tons of activities for kids and families. http://www.chicagokids.com/
  • From Michelle: “My site has a lot of free things to do in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It’s http://bargainsrock.com/blog/ Thanks for your site! Happy New Year!”
  • From Danielle: “For those of you with kids, check out kidwinks.com- it’s not all free activities, but they publish just about everything around to do with kids in the Chicagoland area.”
  • Ginny suggests: “For anyone in the Fox Valley area, I’ve found gowestyoungmom.com to be very helpful. Lots of free stuff to do listed in the calendar.”
  • From Caroline: “Twitter has this already http://twitter.com/FreeChicago . They also have a FB page.”
  • From Kristine: “Okay, I’ll share too. I go to http://www.Kidwinks.com. They list a ton of free things to do in Chicagoland that are kid-friendly. It’s a great resource!!!”

9/24 Energy Star rebate — Illinois

Rita from Chi-Town Cheapskate just sent the heads up on this one: On Friday 9/24 the Illinois Department of Commerce is sponsoring another one of those Energy Star rebate events, starting at 8AM at participating retailers and going that day til the funds run out. (Which I think was in about 30 seconds last spring, so I’d shop early!) Here’s the deal:

Program Details

WHO – All Illinois residents looking to replace an old clothes washer, dishwasher, freezer, or refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR qualified model

WHAT – A 15% off instant discount at the point of sale, up to $250.  Customers may receive one rebate for each product category.

WHEN – Friday, September 24, 2010 beginning at 8:00 a.m. CST and ending at 9:00 p.m. or when funds expire

WHERE – Rebates will be available only at the cash register at participating retailers across Illinois.  Online sales are not eligible.

WHY – To help Illinois residents save energy and lower energy bills at home, protect the environment, and stimulate the State’s economy

For more information, please call 877-782-7005.

Download the Factsheet to take with you to the store

Find more info and look up participating retailers here.

Workshop Calendar

Here’s a calendar of my upcoming workshops in the Chicagoland area. You can see an ongoing calendar and the workshop descriptions on this permanent page.

Workshop Calendar

Want to come see me? Here are some upcoming workshops and dates. Please contact the organization for info on registration; I cannot register you here.

  • Sunday, Sept. 26, 2:00-4:00 PM. Point, Click, and Earn. Barrington Public Library, Barrington, IL.
  • Saturday, October 9, 10:00-11:30 AM. Point, Click, and Save: Online Ways to Save Money. Arlington Heights Public Library, Arlington Heights, IL.
  • Saturday, October 9, 1:00-2:30 PM. Point, Click, and Earn. Arlington Heights Public Library, Arlington Heights, IL.
  • Sunday, October 10, 10:00 AM. Point, Click, and Save. Etz Chaim, Lombard, IL.
  • Saturday, October 16, 10:00 AM-12:00 PM. Coupons 101. Homer Township Public Library, Homer Glen, IL.
  • Monday, November 8, 9:00-11:00 AM. Coupons 101. MOPS, Naperville, IL.
  • Wednesday, November 17, 9:00-11:00 AM. Coupons 101. MOPS, Minooka, IL.
  • Thursday, November 18, 6:30-8:30 PM. Point, Click, and Earn. Addison Public Library, Addison, IL.
  • Saturday, November 20, 12:30-2:30 PM. Coupons 101. Stickney-Forest View Public Library District, Stickney, IL.
  • Wednesday, January 5, 7:30-8:30 PM. Coupons 101. Darien Woman’s Club, Darien, IL.
  • Wednesday, January 26, 6:30-8:30 PM. Coupons 101. Westmont Public Library, Westmont, IL.
  • Wed., March 9, 10:00-11:00 AM. Coupons 101. MOPS, Park Ridge, IL.
  • Thursday, March 31, 7-8:30 PM. Point, Click, and Earn. Lisle Public Library, Lisle, IL.