Cash & Carried Away

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Everyone’s looking to save money. That’s what you were doing when you looked to refinance your home. There were literally hundreds of dollars in savings per month with a new, lower mortgage rate. Trouble was, you weren’t sure your present financial status would look good to the lender, so you fudged a few items on your application. You stated your income was higher than it really was, and you didn’t disclose some of your debts. No biggie, right? Wrong. What you did was illegal.

It may surprise you to know that some seemingly innocent practices involving money can be illegal. Let’s take a look at a few so you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Loan Applications
As mentioned above, lying on a loan application is fraud, which makes it illegal. Falsifying information on a mortgage loan application is a federal offense. In rather plain English (for a legal document anyway) at the bottom of all settlement statements (called "HUD-1), you’ll find this little nugget of a warning: It is a crime to knowingly make false statements to the United States on this or any similar form. Penalties upon conviction can include a fine and imprisonment. Angry authorities. Large legal fees. Is it really worth it?

By Any Other Name
Let’s say you have a parent who’s incapacitated. Business as usual still needs to be done, right? Bills need to be paid. What if you were to write out some checks and sign for your parent, who was in no condition to sign anything? Financial obligations were being met? Well, yes, but still illegal. No matter your intentions, you’ve just committed forgery, unless you’re a joint account owner or have power of attorney. Even if you’re given the go-ahead for the act, signing someone else’s name on such documents is almost always considered forgery. So, best to become a joint owner on the account or get power of attorney if you’ll be the one charged with managing another’s account.

Identity Heft
Let’s say a parent with bad credit wants to apply for a loan of some sort. He already knows the answer to the inquiry because he knows his credit rating is rather poor. He has the idea of using his child’s good name to obtain the necessary rating and open a new credit account. Harmless? Nope. Illegal. And would you really want to destroy your child’s credit as well?

Plying a Kite
With overdraft protection on a checking account, you’re protected from incurring overdraft fees when you overdraw the account—funds transfer from one account to another to make sure your debit charges or checks clear so you can avoid costly returned check fees. It’s a nice option to have…as long as you don’t take advantage of it. Writing a check that you know has insufficient funds to cover it is, you guessed it, illegal. And if you make the “Bad Check Writers” list, good luck getting anyone to accept a check from you in the future, or open an account at any financial institution.

Printer Error
Technology is great, isn’t it? Why, the color printers of today can make copies that are almost as original as the original. Just be sure you don’t try the efficiency of your printer by copying U.S. (or foreign) currency. Illegal. Well, in all honesty, you can make copies of currency, but by regulation, it has to be at least 150 percent larger than the original bill (or 75 percent of the original size), and only printed on one side. And don’t even think about trying to buy a burrito at Quick Trip using your copy currency.

Deface Time

Washing that $5 you forgot to remove from your pants pocket is not illegal. However, deliberately mutilating, cutting, defacing, perforating or gluing U.S. currency? Illegal. It’s a Federal offense. So save the “I Love Mindy” scribbling for the Valentine’s Day card, eh?

Some of these acts may seem innocent enough, but practicing them will most certainly make you guilty of a crime. If you’re tempted to try something like fudging the numbers on a loan application because you’re financial situation isn’t what you’d like it to be, stop and give it some serious thought. Vantage can help you get back on the road to a better financial picture with access to Accel, a financial education and counseling program designed to provide members with free financial education and counseling.