- - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The elderly and other vulnerable homeowners are losing their homes because they owe as little as a few hundred dollars in back taxes, according to a report from a consumer group.

Outdated state laws allow big banks and other investors to reap windfall profits by buying the houses for a pittance and reselling them, the National Consumer Law Center said in a report being released Tuesday.

Local governments can seize and sell a home if the owner falls behind on property taxes and fees. The process helps governments make ends meet at a time when low property values and the weak economy are squeezing tax revenue.

But tax debts as small as $400 can cause people to lose their homes because of arcane laws and misinformation among consumers, said John Rao, the report’s author and an attorney with NCLC.

The consequences are “devastating for individuals, families and communities,” Mr. Rao said. He said states should update laws so speculators can’t profit from misinformed homeowners and people who have difficulty managing their finances.

CONSUMERS

People used credit cards more in May

Americans put more on their credit cards in May than in any single month since November 2007. But overall credit card use is still well below where it was just before the Great Recession began.

The Federal Reserve said Monday that consumer borrowing rose by $17.1 billion in May from April.

The increase drove total borrowing to a seasonally adjusted $2.57 trillion. That’s just below the all-time high of $2.58 trillion reached in July 2008, seven months after the recession began.

Borrowing has increased steadily over the past two years. But most of the gain has been driven by auto and student loans. The category that measures activity in those loans increased by $9.1 billion in May to a record $1.7 trillion

A measure of credit card debt jumped by $8 billion in May. But the overall level rose to just $870 billion, only 2.2 percent above the low point hit in April 2011. The category that includes credit card debt had totaled more than $1 trillion before and shortly after the recession began.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Legal fight dropped over man’s $1M bill

IPSWICH, Mass. — AT&T Inc. has dropped its legal fight against a Massachusetts businessman whose company was on the hook for a fraudulent million-dollar phone bill.

The telecommunications company says in a statement Monday that it is no longer pursuing its claims against Michael Smith of Ipswich, “though we are entitled by law to collect the amounts owed.”

Mr. Smith says someone hacked into his small manufacturing company’s phone system in 2009 and made nearly $900,000 in calls to Somalia. AT&T sued Mr. Smith for $1.15 million to recover the cost of the calls plus interest.

Mr. Smith told the Salem News he repeatedly asked AT&T to write off the bill. He said if forced to pay it, his company would close and his 14 employees would lose their jobs.

TECHNOLOGY

Staples stores to sell Google’s Nexus 7 tablet

SAN FRANCISCO — Staples office supply stores will sell the Nexus 7, a computer tablet that Google designed to compete against the Kindle Fire and iPad.

Monday’s announcement makes Staples Inc. the second major retailer to embrace the Nexus 7 since Google unveiled the device last month. Video game retailer GameStop Corp. also plans to stock the Nexus 7 in its U.S. stores.

Other merchants are expected to agree to add the Nexus 7 to their store shelves when the tablet ships later this month.

Adding more stores as sellers exposes the Nexus 7 to more shoppers as Google Inc. tries to make a bigger dent in the increasingly important tablet computer market. Google is also peddling the Nexus 7 through its own online store, Google Play.

The Nexus 7 will sell for $199 in an 8-gigabyte model and $249 in a 16-gigabyte model.

Windows 8 computers to go on sale in October

SAN FRANCISCO — Computers running on the next version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system will go on sale in October.

Microsoft Corp. announced the time frame for Windows 8’s mass-market release Monday in Toronto. A specific sales date in October wasn’t provided.

Most industry analysts expected Windows 8 would go on sale in the fall to ensure that the machines running on the operating system would be available for the holiday shopping season. Consumers and businesses who don’t want to buy new computers will be able to buy Windows 8 and upgrade their systems.

New versions of Windows typically come out every three years, but this update is the most widely anticipated overhaul of the software since 1995.

Applications will appear in a mosaic of tiles on Windows 8. Microsoft also designed the operating system so it can run on personal computers or touch-based tablet computers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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