August is National Child Support Awareness Month

The month of August means many things to people – summer vacation, back-to-school shopping, or a last chance to enjoy the warm weather. There is another reason that August is a special month – it is recognized as National Child Support Awareness Month.

President Bill Clinton started this monthly observation back in 1995 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Child Support Enforcement Program. At the time of his Proclamation, he stated “This month we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Child Support Enforcement Program at HHS. This program—at the Federal, State, and local levels—has been instrumental in giving hope and support to America's children while fostering strong families and responsible parenting.”1   In the years since then, agencies all over the country have worked tirelessly for the rights and welfare of children.

In New Jersey, the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Support Services oversees child support and enforcement. Many years ago, their focus was mainly to track down and enforce support payments.  Things have changed and today’s efforts don’t just focus on obtaining support funds; the Office also provides support to parents in an effort to help them understand their parental responsibilities and to fulfill them. The Office of Child Support Services’ web site conveys a supportive tone to parents:  “We are here to help you do the right things. Committed to assisting parents to obtain the financial support necessary for their children to prosper in a stable setting, the Office of Child Support Services is equally dedicated to helping parents understand how critical their participation is in the lives of their children. Both parents have a responsibility to support their children financially and emotionally … child support is more than just money.” 2

In 2000, the state of New Jersey took further action with P.L. 2000, c. 81, which requires attorneys and involved parties in civil actions, probate procedures and workers compensation cases to ascertain whether the prevailing parties or beneficiaries are child support judgment debtors before releasing a monetary award or settlement. Signature supports this effort with its certified Child Support Judgment Search, which can confirm whether a child support judgment exists against the name(s) requested.

Financial support is a right that belongs to every child, and our searches are just one tool in the arsenal to fulfill that right. In what other ways can we all help to support our community’s children?

1 http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=51715

2 http://www.njchildsupport.org/Resources-Forms.aspx

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

 

Anne Starr

Manager, Judgment Search Division

Anne Starr blog photo

July 25, 2016

Certification is good – but what history stands behind it?

There are some companies that offer a “Lifetime Guarantee” or a “Forever Warranty” on their products. Some tried-and-true brands, such as Craftsman, Lands’ End and L. L. Bean have been around for a long time and offer similar guarantees.  The consumers who use these brands trust them to be reliable and dependable. The brand’s reputation and product quality alone offer peace of mind, with the guarantee being icing on the cake.

Signature Information Solutions offers a “certification” for many of its products, and it works something like a guarantee. To our customers, it is an extra layer of security knowing that we stand behind our work. This certification can offer our clients peace of mind at the closing table.

Signature traces its roots back to 1911 when legacy company Charles Jones was created. The term “Charles Jones” has continued on and become more than just a brand.  It has evolved over the years to become a term used interchangeably for a “name search” or an “upper court judgment search” in New Jersey. 

Similar to the well-known companies noted previously, at Signature we focus on quality and reliability in our dealings with our clients. That is why Signature’s staff has worked to become subject matter experts. This helps us to assist our clients as we are able to answer complex questions they may receive from their clients. In addition, Signature staff is skilled in Customer Service. Our staff know our products, know our customers and know how to find the information our clients may need.

Anyone can offer a certification; the difference is what stands behind the certification. What do you value in your vendors?

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Patrick T. Roe

General Manager

Patrick Roe headshot with poster BLOG 5-2016

March 14, 2016

Title Plants: The Adage “Improves With Age” Applies

We’re not getting older, we’re just getting better- right? Well, for our title plants that is certainly true. This year, ten of Signature’s thirteen title plant counties “celebrate” 30 or more years of depth. The oldest among our plants is Ocean County at 33 years of data, followed by Hunterdon, Monmouth and Somerset Counties at 32 years. Our title plants develop and get “smarter” everyday as we strive to keep board dates current to each county.

Like people, products and services that are offered by a company can grow and improve with time. I have focused my career on county searching, and title plants have become a mainstay of our industry. They have revolutionized the way we do business. Who would have imagined 30 years ago that today we would be able to order county searches from wherever we are, whenever convenient?

The American Land Title Association’s Land Title Institute defines a title plant as “a geographically filed assemblage of title information which is to help in expediting title examinations, such as copies of previous attorneys' opinions, abstracts, tax searches, and copies or take-offs of the public records.”1 Title plants allow for more efficient title examination since the instruments recorded in a county are grouped according to the land description. Search the land description, and the examiner should be able to locate the instruments for that particular lot/block.

When you understand title plants and their use, it is logical that the age or “depth” of the plant makes a significant difference. A plant that contains 30 years of data offers an advantage to the examiner over a plant that only offers 10 years of data. Searching a plant with depth is more than just a convenience; for business, it can mean working smarter, faster and it can save money. Once only a present owner tool, the deeper plants are now capable of executing full 30-year searches and a higher percentage of two-owner searches than ever before.

So, is older better? When it comes to title plants, it certainly is! For a list of our title plant counties and depths, click HERE.

1 http://www.alta.org/consumer/ltiglossary1.pdf

 The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Malinda Clickner

Manager, County Search Division

  Malinda Clickner photo blog

December 21, 2015

A Look Back At 2015: A Focus on You - And A Thanks to Our Staff

As 2015 draws to a close, many people will take some time to reflect on the year gone by.

Looking back to January when we were pondering the state of our industry, we – like you - didn’t know what the next several months would bring. Would the real estate market hold its own?  Would housing hit more snags? What would the new CFPB regulations bring? How would the industry handle the changes?

Putting all of these issues aside, our focus here at Signature consistently pointed at you, our customer, and how best to serve you.  That is and has always been our number one goal. Our organization is made up of many unified facets with a common goal:  to provide the products and services that you need, at the highest possible service levels with knowledgeable and timely support 

This year, we undertook surveys to find out more about the market, you and your opinions. We kept abreast of dynamic industry changes, and were named an Elite Provider by the American Land Title Association. We continued to provide training to our staff to keep their customer service, professional education and other skills sharp. Our sales team frequently visited clients while accompanied by other Signature staff members – sometimes with a specific business purpose, sometimes just to check in and say hello, or to put a name to a face.

And while we value you and all of our customers as our number one priority, we also value our employees who are an essential part of the picture. We sponsor various events throughout the year to bring our diverse team together, but our Holiday Party was a truly special occasion in 2015. It’s wonderful to spend time with colleagues in a relaxed environment.  We work hard, but we also like to smile and enjoy our time at the office. We hope that shines through to you. We have grown over the years, but we still certainly enjoy a sense of family here at Signature.

And our family hopes that you and your family have an opportunity to share some wonderful times and enjoy a safe holiday season. All of us at Signature truly appreciate your business and look forward to doing our best to serve you in 2016. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you – Happy New Year!

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Patrick T. Roe

General Manager

Pat Roe headshot 11-24-09

 

December 07, 2015

Charitable Giving: Signature CARES

Charitable giving is a part of the holiday season for many people.  Volunteer work for a local charity or monetary contributions to a worthy cause may increase during this time of year, as the holiday season brings out the desire in many people to help others. 

Signature’s charitable activities fall under the planning of our Events and CARES Committee. CARES is the acronym used to denote our charitable efforts. The Committee is made up of employees from across Signature who volunteer to coordinate these activities on behalf of their colleagues.  

Our latest CARES activity was a food drive to benefit HomeFront, an organization that works to break the cycle of poverty and end homelessness in Central New Jersey.  Our Thanksgiving food drive resulted in the donation of ten boxes of food as well as gift cards to HomeFront.  Currently underway is our Toys for Tots drive to benefit the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.  The drive collects new, unwrapped toys  and distributes those toys as gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.

While the holiday season is a popular time to think of those less fortunate, Signature plans opportunities throughout the year for staff to give back to the local community, as well as to other worthy causes.  Do you know of a worthy charity?  Please let us know – we are always looking for new ways to give back to those in need.

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Colleen McClister

Chairperson, CARES and Events Committee at Signature

Colleen McClister 12-2015 smaller

 



November 09, 2015

Vendors Should Look for Ways to Offer Secure Online Transactions

Businesses have a heightened awareness of the need for security when handling their customer’s information.  While Signature Information Solutions deals with public records, we are still aware that due to this heightened awareness, some clients would be more comfortable knowing their search entry and retrieval are secure.

At Signature, we utilize several methods to ensure security for our clients. When you visit our web site, you will see “Https” in the address bar of our web site URL. The “s” is important – it indicates to visitors that our web site is using an encryption protocol called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).  SSL uses encryption on the user’s end to secure the transmission so that the recipient server can decrypt the transmission.

In relation to the order fulfillment process, our online order entry system Sign On already provides secure fulfillment of search results via web delivery.  In addition, we recently introduced a new method that clients can use to obtain fulfilled orders and search results via email called Sign On Secure CloudIt is an alternate delivery method that is more secure than regular email. It was developed by Signature to augment our transmission of search results.

Our customers who use Sign On Secure Cloud receive notifications via email when documents are ready for download. A link is embedded in the email (rather than the inclusion of an attachment).  Customers click on the embedded link to advance to an encrypted login portal and enter the same credentials as when using Sign On to gain access to search results.

When using Sign On Secure Cloud as a delivery method, customers do not need to worry that the file is too large. Rather than a large attachment that cannot be delivered via email, clients receive an email with an embedded link that will allow access to search results.

With today’s regulatory climate and heightened awareness, it is imperative that online security and secure online transmission be kept as a top priority.  Signature maintains a proactive approach to online security, and Sign On Secure Cloud is one way we are developing convenient yet secure methods of doing business with our clients. What other methods have you come across in the course of doing business?

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 The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Rob Lauer

Vice President, Technology

Rob Lauer

October 13, 2015

Snow storm looming? Will your vendors be there for you?

Do you remember the days when poor weather shut down a business? When a business used the telephone for ALL its communications? When postal mail was the lifeblood of a business? When the terms “email” and “instant message” were not in our vocabulary?  Am I showing my age?

Age aside, the business world has evolved with technology to streamline processes and procedures. Technological advances continue to provide more ways for us to conduct business from anywhere, at any time, and this includes having employees who can telecommute.

Like many businesses, Signature realized the need to for employees to telecommute, especially after Super Storm Sandy.  This has obvious advantages for the business in terms of decreased overhead costs and a smaller carbon footprint due to less commuting by employees.  It also has obvious benefits for employees such as lower commuting costs and enhanced job satisfaction.

Customers may not readily see why telecommuting benefits them.  Why would a customer service rep working remotely benefit the client who owns a small business? Over the last few years, Signature focused efforts on maintaining the ability to conduct business even when the office is closed due to inclement weather or other issues.  While our online order entry system Sign On is available virtually 24/7, now we are able to maintain near normal operations and provide staff coverage for all of our products when our physical office is closed during normal business hours. We have made necessary changes so that while our office is physically closed, our employees can still securely process work and handle customer inquiries remotely. In addition, Signature serves customers from across the country and not all of our clients experience the same weather that we do in New Jersey.  As a result, it is important for us to be “here.”

Hurricanes Irene and Sandy proved to be a turning point for our area in many ways. Businesses were forced to examine contingency and disaster planning.  Signature was no different.  We have invested much time and effort since then, and we are proud of our ability to be able to provide the best possible service to you. Telecommuting and other methods allow us to be here for our customers, even when we are really NOT “here.”  Has your business benefited from telecommuting?  How has it changed the way that your office works today?  

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

 

Fred Burnett

Vice President, Operations

  Fred Burnett

May 27, 2015

Tideland Searches: Be Sure To Study Carefully

Tideland searches are an essential piece of the real estate settlement process. If you think that once you receive tideland search results you’re done – think again.  Tidelands can be a very complex issue, especially if a tideland grant or other conveyance is present on the property in question.  An article about the topic written by Joseph Grabas appeared recently in the Advocate, the publication of the New Jersey Land Title Association. 1

First, let’s talk about the basics. Tidelands are lands now or formerly flowed by tidal waters. Even property that is currently well inland can be subject to a tideland claim. The State of New Jersey has over 1600 maps which delineate areas to which the State claims ownership because the lands are presently or were formerly flowed by the tides or tidal streams. These lands are owned by the State and held in trust for the public. However, in some cases the State will allow an owner to buy, rent or lease the subject claimed property.  The State will consider issuing a tideland grant, license or lease to an owner after an application is submitted to the Tidelands Resource Council.  A grant is conveyed if the State agrees to sell the property.  A license is a short-term rental arrangement that is usually two to five years long and involves temporary structures such as docks.  A lease is a long-term rental arrangement that is usually 20 years and most times issued to homes over water or marinas. All of these conveyances require fees to be paid to the State. We refer to grants, licenses and leases as tideland “instruments.”

When we complete a tideland search, we will note any claimed areas for the property in question. We provide information about tideland instruments also. It is very important that information about tideland instruments be reviewed and understood. “Grants in particular can contain conditions, covenants and exceptions,” said Jim Johnson, Signature's Tidelands Specialist and formerly with the New Jersey Bureau of Tidelands Management. “No two properties are alike – every property is different, every grant is different.”  

There have been cases where property was sold and while it was known that a tideland claim from the State was present, grant information was not thoroughly studied and understood. Why is that a problem? Because major surprises and problems can occur. Developers have been issued grants from the State for claimed property, and convey that grant to homebuyers who are unaware of the actual specifics of the grants. Perhaps a grant stipulates that the claimed property cannot be further developed or places restrictions on the type of improvements or development. If your client buys a property with dreams of installing a dock or wants to install a protective bulkhead, he or she may be out of luck. One case involved a developer who received a grant from the State for claimed areas, subdivided the property and sold the individual lots/homes.  But the developer retained ownership of the grant area, which meant that the property buyers did not truly own all of their property – the developer still owned the grant area. While this scenario is similar to the State still owning the claimed area, would you want to have to pay rent to the former property owner, to use what you thought was your dock?

“When it comes to grants, it’s important to know who it applies to, how it applies and what conditions apply,” said Chris Blouch, Signature’s Supervisor of Tidelands.  It is imperative that upon receipt of tidelands search results, any grant information is reviewed and carefully evaluated.  At Signature, we often field questions from customers about search results and explain grant information.  Tidelands can be a tricky area, so make sure you are using a trusted source that knows the nuances of the topic and is experienced.  Have you had any issues dealing with tideland grants? Do you routinely study grant information on a property in question?

 1 http://www.njlta.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/AdvocateNewsletter-Spring%202015.pdf

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 The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Carl Weinberger

Manager, Geographic Services

 Carl W blog

March 25, 2015

What's In Your Patriot Search? Why We've Added Names

 

In 2001 after the USA Patriot Act was first passed, title agents and others became well acquainted with the Specially Designated Nationals (“SDN”) List maintained and published by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), United States Department of Treasury. The title industry learned through multiple channels that they needed to comply with the Patriot Act by performing a search of the list prior to a settlement. Signature Information Solutions started providing our Patriot Name Search in order to help our clients comply with the law.

Over the years, although new names were added and some names were modified or removed, the title industry remained strictly concerned about the SDN list.  Last year, we added names from the Foreign Sanctions Evaders List (“FSE”) to our Patriot Name Search in order to help our clients comply with Executive Order 13608, which prohibits “Transactions by U.S. persons or within the United States involving FSEs …”1 This addition ensured our Patriot Name Search clients that they were complying with relevant Executive Orders and the law.

More recently we added the names on lists from what OFAC refers to as the Consolidated List. The Consolidated List includes:2

Why have we included all of the lists contained in the Consolidated List and not just the SDN and FSE? While there may not be a direct requirement for settlement service providers to search all of these lists, there are prohibitions and restrictions in conducting business with those on these lists. The individuals and entities contained on these lists are bad actors identified by the US government and are essentially members of our “Most Wanted List”. Therefore, we chose to include them all in our Patriot Name Search. We think our customers should know if they are inadvertently dealing with any person or entity who has been identified as an enemy of the state by our government. In our opinion, it is the right thing to do.

What are your thoughts? Are you searching SDN, the FSE and the Consolidated List?

  1 http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/SDN-List/Pages/fse_list.aspx

 2 As of this writing (March 2015) those are the lists contained on the Consolidated List.

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Patrick T. Roe

General Manager

Pat Roe headshot 11-24-09


 

February 19, 2015

“Where is My 2012 NJ Homestead Rebate?” – A Question You May Be Asked in 2015

Do you ever feel like you've been someplace before?  Back in 2011, I blogged about New Jersey’s Homestead Rebate Program because the form of rebate payment was changing from a paper check or direct deposit to a credit on the homeowner’s tax bill.  The criterion for receiving a Homestead credit is based on income qualifications of the individual owner(s), but the rebate at that time began to be distributed to the property, not the owner(s).  In essence, the rebate stayed with the property, not with the homeowner who paid the taxes. I discussed a “blind spot” for home sales and closings occurring between November and April of the following year.  Rebate applicants who sold their homes during the ”blind spot” and who received a tax credit based on income most likely lost out on their rebate back then, unless their settlement agent escrowed funds to cover the tax credit.

Here we are in 2015, and I am again blogging about a similar situation.  New Jersey 2012 Homestead Rebates will be awarded and applied to property tax bills in May of 2015. This event is unusual in that no Homestead Rebates were awarded in 2014, and there’s been a three year lag in 2012 rebates being issued. 

What does this mean? Homestead rebate applicants who sold their homes since 2013 may not receive a tax credit or rebate based on 2012 taxes that they paid. In most cases, it is likely that the current owner will receive the rebate applied as a property tax credit in May 2015.

Home sellers may receive the rebate if they were able to indicate via their rebate application that they no longer own the property. According to the Department of the Treasury’s web site, indicating such means that a check or direct deposit can be issued to the former owner.1 However, it’s possible that former owners did not even receive the application since applications are usually mailed to the property address, not to the new address of the former owner.

In addition, former owners may receive the rebate if their settlement agent escrowed funds for the pending tax credit.  Otherwise, the tax credit will be applied to the tax bill of the current owner of the property in May 2015. 

This is sure to cause confusion, phone calls and questions.  Affected home sellers may elect to call their real estate agent, attorney or title company asking about the rebate and escrowed funds. “Where’s my rebate?” may be a question you will hear. Unless the funds were escrowed or the current homeowner is willing to reimburse the former homeowner, it appears that the former owner could be out of luck. If you hear from a client/homeowner asking about the tax credit, what will you tell them? What do you think about the situation?

 1 http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/taxation/homestead/benefit.shtml

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Fred Burnett

Vice President, Operations

  Fred Burnett

December 04, 2014

Corporation or LLC? What Are the Differences When Setting Up A Small Business?

If you’ve ever set up a small business, you know that there are many decisions that need to be made. One decision is choosing the entity type for your business. This choice will impact your business in many ways. While there are other entity types such as a Not for Profit, Limited Partnership and Limited Liability Partnership, the most common are Corporations and Limited Liability Companies. 

Corporation

Corporations are owned by shareholders, ruled by a board of directors who elect officers to do day-to-day management. They can be created as either “C”, which is a typical corporation or an “S” which implies tax status. The income from a C corporation is taxed twice. The corporation pays tax on its net income. Then, shareholders also pay tax on distributions. Income from an S corporation is taxed just once at the shareholder level.1  Whichever you choose, corporate filings typically require more information than an LLC.

Not every corporation will quality to be an S corporation. To qualify, businesses must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a domestic corporation;
  • Have only allowable shareholders including individuals, certain trusts and estates and may not include partnerships, corporations or non-resident alien shareholders;
  • Have no more than 100 shareholders;
  • Have only one class of stock;
  • Not be an ineligible corporation (i.e. certain financial institutions, insurance companies and domestic international sales corporations). 2

LLC

A Limited Liability Company is a hybrid type of legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a partnership. The "owners" of an LLC are referred to as "members." Depending on the state, the members can consist of a single individual (one owner), two or more individuals, corporations or other LLCs. Unlike shareholders in a corporation, LLCs are not taxed as a separate business entity. Instead, all profits and losses are "passed through" the business to each member of the LLC. LLC members report profits and losses on their personal federal tax returns, just like the owners of a partnership would. 3

Each state may use different regulations, and you should check with your state if you are interested in starting a Limited Liability Company.  A few types of businesses generally cannot be LLCs. These include banks and insurance companies. 4

There is much information about business formation on the IRS web site at http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Business-Structures as well the Small Business Administration’s site at https://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business/starting-business/choose-your-business-stru.  If you have questions about filing to start a business, please contact me or our Corporate and Document Services Department.

 

“C or S Corporation Choice is Critical for Small Business,” by Robert Wood, http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2012/05/03/c-or-s-corporation-choice-is-critical-for-small-business/

 Internal Revenue Service, http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/S-Corporations

3  Small Business Administration, https://www.sba.gov/content/limited-liability-company-llc

4  Internal Revenue Service, http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Limited-Liability-Company-LLC

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The information provided is for informative purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a legal opinion.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

April Brady

Manager, Corporate Services Department

 

April Corp Srvs 9-06 small

 

Charles Jones and Signature Information Solutions are registered trademarks of Signature Information Solutions LLC. Data Trace is a trademark of Data Trace Information Services LLC. ©2009 Signature Information Solutions LLC. All rights reserved.

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