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Archive for Friday, February 23, 2007

How to stop ‘junk’ mortgage offers

February 23, 2007

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Millions of homeowners are tired of getting junk mail, but they can stop at least half of the unwanted solicitations by taking a few simple steps.

Q: I am sick and tired of getting junk mail from companies that want me to refinance my mortgage, remodel my house, buy a timeshare or get a new credit card. How can I stop these crummy offers from arriving at my home every day?

A: Several readers like you recently have asked the same question. The amount of unsolicited junk mail has jumped dramatically in the past few months, in part because banks have used the recent drop in interest rates to launch an advertising blitzkrieg to get homeowners to refinance their mortgage.

Such useless mail not only bothers homeowners like you, but it also hurts the environment. About 100 million trees must be cut down every year to make the paper needed to support the junk-mail industry, according to the nonprofit Center for the American Dream; that's nearly two trees for every American household, every single year.

Fortunately, you can reduce up to 75 percent of the junk mail you get (and help to save our nation's forests) by taking three simple steps that require mere minutes of your time.

The first step is to stop most of those unwanted, multipage catalogs from coming to your door. You can do that by sending an e-mail or letter to Abacus Catalog Alliance, a multinational company that maintains a massive database that it sells to many catalog companies and mail-order firms. Simply send an e-mail to optout@abacus-direct.com, or write to Abacus, P.O. Box 1478, Broomfield, CO 80038.

The second step is to contact the Direct Marketing Association, which represents about 4,000 companies that use junk mail to market their products or services. Remove yourself from the group's mailing list by going to www.the-dma.org on the Internet, or by writing to Mail Preference Service, DMA, P.O. Box 282, Carmel, NY 10512.

Remarkably, the DMA asks you to pay a $1 fee to have your name removed from its junk-mail database. That might seem like a greedy demand, considering that part of the 39 cents that homeowners must spend for every stamp is used to subsidize cheaper postage for junk mailers. But, it's a small price to pay to sharply reduce your unwanted mail and save a tree or two every year.

The final step is to notify credit bureaus that you want to "opt-out" of their system that generates mailing lists for companies that send nuisance credit-card and insurance offers to your home. Do so by calling (888) 567-8688, a toll-free service.

Q: I have excellent credit and make more than $70,000 per year. However, my application to rent an apartment was recently rejected because the manager said she doesn't rent to smokers, like me. Isn't this considered discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Law?

A: No. Landlords have the right to reject an applicant based solely on the fact that he or she smokes.

The federal Fair Housing Act bans discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. But a tenant's personal activities, such as smoking or drinking, aren't protected and therefore aren't covered by the law.

Some illegal-drug users, through the years, have tried to file suit under the law, saying that their addiction constitutes a "handicap" that should keep them from being evicted. However, a provision of the act specifically states that people who use illegal drugs are not handicapped or disabled.

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