Category Archives: business law

Handle Student Loan Debt like a Boss

Gan Golan

“You snooze, you lose applies in every aspect of eliminating student loan debt.” ~Attorney Kelly

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq.   Posted: March 9, 2017

We’ve all heard about, read about, or experienced it, crushing student debt.  Student loan debt can be quite paralyzing, overwhelming and downright horrifying.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, with good budgeting and planning, this beast like most others can be tamed. Dealing proactively with student loan debt is a far better plan than dealing with the nasty consequences of doing nothing and facing wage garnishment.  Wage garnishments are not pretty, believe me.

These are absolutely some of the best tips out there if you want to handle your student loan debt like a boss. Follow these, like a road map and find the light at the end of the dark student debt tunnel.

Get Over It, Get Your Paperwork Together and Pick Up the Phone 

The experts say, there is a time to cry, a time to grieve, and then there is a time to pull yourself up by the boot strings and get over it.  Getting over what grieves or worries you involves action. Ignoring this worrisome ‘ginormous’ problem won’t make it go away. Being proactive is what you do. It’s simple. Start by having your last tax return or your last W-2 ready, in hand, just in case. Then, call your student loan service provider or creditor.  Find out your best options. Write them down. If you need time to make a decision, take the time to think things through.   

Be upfront and honest. Transparency is the best policy. Tell your loan servicer or creditor your situation. This will help them explain to you, better, your different options for repayment. There are a lot of legit options to look into, like forbearance, deferment, and, in some special situations, even debt forgiveness.

Not asking about these things means living in fear. Fear, in this context, brings nothing but trouble. It’s easy to ask about the interest, the length of time to repay and things that may impact your budget. Oh yes – always draft a simple updated budget, an easy to create, yet amazing empowerment tool. This will help with your discussions, ideas and planning.

For most folks facing serious trouble, like unemployment, underemployment, long or short term disability, the best piece of advice I can offer is to look into an Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR). Oftentimes, an IBR results in a zero dollar or very small bottom line payment. An IBR is based on your current income and family size. Check this out. Save the deferments and forbearance plans, for real issues like an injury, death or serious problems. Use the IBR when you are facing underemployment or unemployment issues, long term.

Discovering Repayment Options Online is “easy-peasy”

With the number of tools out there to use, there is no better time than now to find out what your repayment amount will be. One helpful online tool that comes to mind is the Department of Education Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Estimator.  Use it.

Calculate different repayment plans.  Find out what plans include debt forgiveness if you still owe a balance after paying on your loan for 10 to 25 years. It’s easy-peasy and actually, many of my clients, family and friends use this tool.  It’s amazing. You can do this.

Frugal is the New ‘Thing’ 

OK, hundreds of thousands of people understand, the job market is tough.  This is a fact.  Moving right along, there are work-a-rounds to get through this. Try a legit side hustle, part-time gig or freelance work, like Uber, Summer Pizza Delivery, Coaching, Home Sitting, Garden Center or Nursery work. Try selling extra stuff, collectibles or homemade things on eBay, Etsy or at a flea market. Then, (this is the best part) you can usually save money, even big bucks, by decreasing spending.

Decreasing spending gets easier and easier the more you try it and the more you know.  Create, rather than consume. Save, rather than spend. It’s fun and it’s better for our family, environment and our communities. Websites like the Frugal Girl or Minimalist Mom are good tools to help along the way.

My friend Andy Prescot writes a great blog called, The Art of Being Cheap.  We learned how to reduce our mobile phone bill over $100 per month.  We have saved well over $3600 the past three years, based on Andy’s good tips regarding an inexpensive, but excellent, mobile phone service plan and provider.  Andy also has more good tips on fugal things like how buy a refrigerator, start an Uber business part-time or whether or not to take a 401(k) loan.

Many of these websites are excellent. The top 25 frugal bloggers for 2016 can be found, here.

Challenge yourself to do at least 3 new things this month to save money.  My three favorites are find new mobile phone provider and plan, make home-made pizza (rather than go out to eat) and how to service and repair my car.  It’s absolutely a blast and empowering.  However, I’m warning you now, frugal is contagious. You’ll get hooked. Your friends will get hooked. Seriously, frugal is a thing.

Ask your Boss, Like a Boss

A growing trend in the last few years has been for employers to offer student loan repayment assistance to employees as a benefit. Unlike tuition reimbursement (which has been around for years), student loan repayment assistance is a relatively new idea, a concept that’s gaining a lot of traction these days.

Last year alone, according to a recent study, 3% of companies offered some type of assistance program to help employees pay down their student debt and one thing’s for sure, this number is growing and growing strong.

If you are looking for a new job or are a new hire, negotiate. Most workers don’t negotiate, yet employers report that they are willing to pay more. Use this to your advantage. Some employers are now offering student loan repayment as a benefit.

There are tons of articles designed to help with this. Daily Worth, US News and Thrive powered by ADP are all helpful websites. Find out what you need to know about this new perk.  Work it to your advantage.

If a raise or bonus is in your future, ask your current employer or HR department about ways they can help you reduce your current student loan debt. Perhaps they can apply a new raise or bonus to your existing debt repayment plan.     

Find Experienced Help or Seek a Vetted Lawyer, FREE!

There are a few different professionals can help. Financial advisers are available if they are certified and affiliated with a reputable bank.  Oftentimes a certified public accountant (CPA) is full of free and helpful information.  Towns and cities quite often offer free credit and financial counseling services.  Check with your local library.  Go online.  Look into your local town or government website.

The Charlton Town Website, is here. On the clubs and organization page is a list of places you can go to get help. Quite often, places like the Lions Club, Food Banks, Veteran’s groups and Business Associations are networks of helping hands, ready to offer assistance if you ask.

Librarians are a treasure. The Charlton Public Library link is here.  Ask your local librarian when or where there is a class on debt, financial management or student loan debt assistance. If they don’t know, they will find out for you. Quite often sofa.org has classes held at local libraries. Ask your librarian about this. Be persistent.

If your situation involves a little bit more than, “I hate my loan servicer and don’t know what to do about it,” an experienced student loan lawyer or debtor defense lawyer is probably your best bet. Here’s how…

  1. Lawyers can give you guidance regarding your legal rights and options.
  2. Lawyers can represent you in negotiating with your student loan creditor, services or debt collection agency.
  3. They can help you figure out the best way to work out delinquencies and defaults, or to apply for a discharge.
  4. They protect you from unfair debt collection practices or debt collector abuse.
  5. Lawyers manage credit disputes.
  6. Lawyers advocate and go to court for you, managing legal matters like student loan-related issues, collections lawsuits or cases involving schools or agencies for legal violations and causing harm.
  7. In Massachusetts, an experienced Massachusetts lawyer can sometimes get you money awards for violations of things like the FDCPA and Massachusetts law.

If you’re dealing with delinquency or default, considering filing for bankruptcy or applying for a disability discharge, a debtor defense/bankruptcy/student loan lawyer is the best way to fly.

 Why a Lawyer, Why Not DIY?

Since every person is different, and every situation is different, whether or not you should contact a student loan lawyer really depends on your specific circumstances.  In reality, you may or may not need a student loan lawyer.

There are really very few things that inherently require you to hire a lawyer.  Even filing for bankruptcy or defending against a collections lawsuit can be done ‘pro se,’ (pronounced, “pro-say”) meaning without legal representation or Do It Yourself (DIY).

While hiring a student loan or bankruptcy lawyer may not be required, a lawyer may be incredibly useful, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not sure of your legal options, you’ve been sued, or you’re dealing with a complex legal issue.

In other words, debtor defense and student loan lawyers can take a difficult, seemingly hopeless or complex situation and make it easy for you by offering steps and solutions to give you back your life and your ability to move forward.

Some lawyers, like myself, are successful at getting clients extra cha-ching, based on the mistakes and bad behavior of some debt collectors and creditors.

The Final Word

Before hiring a lawyer, talk to your student loan creditor or servicer and exhaust your options.  After using up all your options, get help immediately.  Like I said earlier, yes there is a ray of hope.  You can do this.  Check out lawyer websites in your area.  Pick up the phone.  Call a lawyer. I suggest that you find at least three local lawyers and comparison shop.  Ask each one of them if they offer a free consultation.  Then, schedule appointments on your own time.

For the unemployed or underemployed, quite often legal aid lawyers in your local area offer free or reduced fee services. In Worcester County the legal aid website is called Community Legal Aid.  Free is good. Free is frugal. Frugal is a new thing, remember?

Think of these tips as being your job.  It’s your job to save money and work toward the positive things in life.  In a sense, saving money and working toward the positive is powerful and self-soothing.  Do this. Do it now. Regain control of your new life. Feel liberated and pleased with your own good efforts. Empowerment feels good.  Empower yourself like a boss.

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The Law Office of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting new clients.  Call and schedule your first appointment.  We are a small law office offering your first confidential consultation, absolutely free of charge.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.com, visit us at Ginger B. Kelly on Facebook or feel free to call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We cannot stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2017, by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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Filed under Bankruptcy, business law, Civil, civil law, Debt, Debt Collection, Financial, Hiring Counsel, Law, Legal, Massachusetts, News, practical stuff, Retirement Savings, Rhode Island, Student Loan Debt, Uncategorized

Gone to the Dogs in Massachusetts

Herbie, Acrilic Portrait by Artist Annie Salness http://www.anniesalness.com/herbie.html

Herbie, Acrilic Portrait by Artist Annie Salness http://www.anniesalness.com/herbie.html

Gone to the Dogs: Service Animal Law and Leash Law in Massachusetts

Sometime last year, in the small town of Oxford Massachusetts, a Veteran with a service dog entered a restaurant. The restaurant was very small and very local. The restaurant owner was also a local business man. The restaurant owner didn’t know the Veteran and visa versa. Neither did the restaurant owner know why the dog came into the restaurant with the Veteran, a very average looking man. The Veteran wasn’t blind.  He didn’t appear physically disabled.  The Veteran had no physical impairments, visible to most people.  Unfortunately, this is where the trouble started.

Apparently, the service dog was not appreciated inside the restaurant owners place of business.  People were eating there.  Food was prepared there.  The restaurant owner was so concerned, that he asked the Veteran to remove his dog.  The Veteran protested.  The Veteran tried to explain his situation and the circumstances.  The restaurant owner didn’t believe him.  Others chimed in. It all turned into one big mess. According to local news stories, the restaurant owner did not understand why the service dog was required by the Veteran or what the Veteran’s motivation for having the dog inside was.

Even so, this one simple transaction turned into a situation. It wasn’t pretty. The restaurant owner and the Veteran exchanged words. People were angry. The Veteran was asked to leave. Then, the police were called in. The Restaurant owner was upset, very upset. Patrons left the restaurant.

The next day, all the nasty details were reported in the local news paper. The news sparked even more interest. Dog owners, people with disabilities and Veterans from far and wide formed groups to protest the tiny restaurant in Oxford. Dogs dogs and more dogs, come with dog owners to voice their opinion. A few people sided with the restaurant owner. Even so, bad publicity is never a good thing. The restaurant owner lost customers. The bad publicity was not good for business and embarrassing to say the least.

In this instance, the service dog was used as not only a companion for the Vet but a tool to help him manage his disability, post traumatic stress disorder. The Veteran’s PSTD was a medical condition, directly related to his service. The restaurant owner never heard of this before. The restaurant owner made an incorrect assumption that the Veteran was not disabled.

Eventually, after a few very emotionally charged discussions, the restaurant owner apologized.  His apology was made public.  The public apology was a newsworthy story of success and communications, based on the efforts of the Veteran and the restaurant owner.  The Veteran accepted the apology.  They both shook hands. The Veteran and his service dog were welcomed back into the restaurant. The two became friends.

Eventually, life went back to normal in this sleepy little Massachusetts town in Southern Worcester County. People stopped protesting. Newspapers stopped reporting. Oxford returned to its regular state of normalcy.

This story sheds a little light into various legal reasons why someone would need to have a dog in a public place. It also sheds light as to a few things a dog owners must consider, before they bring their dogs into public places. Every town or jurisdiction in Massachusetts has important local rules or regulations pertaining to health, housing, service dogs and pets.

Other important laws regarding dogs or “service animals” can be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”) and the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”). It’s important to have a good understanding about these laws, especially if you are a dog owner and a business owner.

The Federal Code of Regulations (“CFR”) provides an understand of terms like, public accommodations and service animals. According to Title 28 CFR Section 36.302, business owners must make public accommodations to serve people with disabilities and those with limited capacity to access services. Subsection (c) talks about Service Animals. Service “animals” includes service dogs. The Veteran’s dog, who entered the Oxford restaurant with the Veteran, was a licensed service dog. Generally, people with disabilities have documentation that shows a dog is a service dog. If need be, service dog handlers should be able to present service dog identification to public business owners.

Generally, a public accommodation is the modification of policies, practices or procedures that allows people with disabilities to use their service animal on the premises. Under the CFR, a store or business owner should do whatever is reasonable to permit service animals onto their business premises so that the service animal can help the disabled person shop and conduct business as best they can. This is the right thing to do.

There are only a few exceptions as to why a business owner may exclude a service animal, under CFR law.  First, a service animal can be excluded if the service animal is out of control. If the animal’s handler does not take effective action to control the animal, the business owner may ask the service animal and the handler or owner, to remove the animal. In this situation, the business owner is not required to make a public accommodation for the service animal.

Next, if a service animal is not housebroken, for example a dog urinates or defecates in unacceptable areas, the store owner is not required to accommodate that service animal. This makes sense. Another exception is that a business or store owner is not required to accommodate the disabled person in caring for or supervising the service animal. In other words, the owner/handler is responsible for supervision of their own service animal if they want to take the service animal in public places.

Another key aspect of service animal law is that a service animal under must be on leash, harness, or other tether. If the handler is unable to put the animal on a leash or harness or tether, because it is not safe for the service animal, then the service animal must be under the handlers control by some other means. Again, in another sense, this means that if the owner/handler can not control the service animal, the animal may be excluded from the business premises. Examples of this sort of legal control are voice, hand signals or some other effective means of control. There is lots of guidance and case law on means of control.

For dog owners in general, it is important to note that federal law does not always trump local leash laws or ordinances. Many Massachusetts town ordinances and state laws regarding leash laws differ and are dependent upon each situation. This means that each fact pattern, or individual situation, can be different and may involve alternative duties, responsibilities and liabilities. If you are unsure about the leash laws and dog ordinances in your particular jurisdiction and situation, ask an attorney. Your attorney should be more than happy to research the laws for you and help you to understand how to obey your local laws in your area.  Taking to your attorney is a good way to become a more informed and responsible dog owner.

When I was growing up, I had the opportunity to watch service dogs being trained in the streets and on the sidewalks in Morristown, NJ. A school for service dogs for the blind was nearby.  Watching service dogs being trained was a beautiful sight. The dogs were harnessed and steady. They peered into the eyes of their handlers. The dogs were lively, yet always sat when asked and at the appropriate times.  The dogs walked quietly. They always stayed close to their handler. Unlike most dogs I’ve ever seen, these dogs didn’t randomly sniff at people and bark at things. The service dogs did not jump. There was no dog feces or urine in any public places. Never did these dogs intimidate or scare people or children. They didn’t even bark at other dogs.

Service dogs at work ignore all sources of stimulation, like other dogs, children and food. Service dogs are attentive, only to their handlers and the work they do in each moment.  Watching service dogs and their handlers is a treat.

I remember once walking up to a service dog, wanting to pet the dog.  I was about 10 years old at the time.  My mother told me, no.  I was a bit crushed, because I really love dogs, so I asked my mother why?  My mother explained to me that often handlers of service dogs ask visitors not to touch or pet the service dog. I understood and listened to my mother. I also wanted to encourage the dogs to be good. From that point on, I never touch a service dog unless I first get permission from the dog’s handler or owner.  I do this for all dogs now, hoping to help all dogs mind their manners.

Because I am an adult now, and an attorney, I understand most laws and policies of service dog handlers.  When service dogs are “at work,” they must be allowed to remain quiet and attentive to their handler. Petting the dog is a big distraction. This is important to know, for both dog owners and non dog owners.

The CFR discusses what to do when a store owner or business owner, for good reason, is unable to make a reasonable accommodation for the disabled person’s service animal. According to the Code, if a public accommodation properly excludes a service animal under 28 CFR Section 36.302(c)(2), the business shall give the individual with a disability the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations without having the service animal on the premises. This means that the store owner has a legal duty to assist and accommodate the disabled person, reasonably, even if store owner or handler must keep the service animal off the premises for whatever reason.

Appropriate, respectful and lawful exclusion or inclusion of dogs in and out of business is the right thing to do. This does not mean all dogs must be legally accommodated in all places. Each situation is different, under the law. It is not always appropriate, lawful or prudent to take your dog shopping in most public places. Massachusetts state and local health and housing regulations may prohibit pets, animals and dogs from many public places. Likewise, not all dogs can be excluded from public places and businesses, with only a few exceptions.

In Massachusetts, civil laws may impose strict liability onto dog owners for any and all harm to others or property, caused by the dog they own. This means that if a dog causes harm or damage to people or property in Massachusetts, the owner of the dog will be held liable for any damages. Dog owners also have a legal duty to prevent their dogs from harassing or frightening others. This includes not permitting your dog to frighten children with sensitivities and people with disabilities. It is also important for dog owners to know, property owners are not legally obligated to accommodate dogs, unless they are service animals.  Then, there are local leash laws.

The town of Charlton Massachusetts is the town my law office is located.  In Charlton, dogs are not permitted to be outside without a leash or a harness.  Dogs must be on a leash, even when the handler or owner is not the property owner. Property owners have a duty to keep all dogs visiting their property on leash, even when property owners don’t own any dogs. Property owners failing to keep all dogs on-leash, visiting or otherwise, may face legal consequences. Although it may seem different or strange, obeying leash laws in Charlton is the responsibility of property owners in Charlton. The same type of leash law ordinance applies to West Brookfield, Oxford and Dudley, Massachusetts and other cities and towns.

Leash laws are one reason why it’s a good idea for dog owners to talk to the host or property owner when visiting, before bringing dogs on the premises. Before allowing your dog off-leash in any area, communicate with host or check the policy of the property owner. Good dog owners not only genuinely care for their dogs, they care about people. Responsible dog owners learn what to do in each situation, before bringing their dog.

Personally, one of my favorite past-times is walking near the Buffamville Dam in Oxford. This is a good spot for me to get my doggie fix.  Almost always, someone is walking their dog.  I ask if I can pet most all dogs on leash.  This is fun, to me.  It’s also fun for families and children to play at the park and at skateboard parks in Charlton and Oxford. Wherever permitted, dogs are found on-leash.  Attending local football games or taking a child to the YMCA playground in Southbridge is an awesome experience.  Keep in mind, however, it’s not always wise or permissible to bring a dog.

If it isn’t permissible, reasonable, healthy or legal to take your dog to a public place, think twice. Summer is upon us. I’ts time to enjoy the outdoors.  Bring your dog to outdoor places only when it makes sense.  Show respect for others.  Showing respect is not only good for you, it’s best for your dog.

If you are a business owner or a pet owner, and you do not fully understand your legal rights, the health regulations, the story of the Oxford restaurant owner and the Veteran is a very good lesson. Local leash laws and dog ordinances, and laws about service dog accommodations are important to know. Please, talk to your attorney if you need help in any of these areas of the law. Being concerned about others is good for business. Knowing the law and our responsibilities under the law is our duty and a good way to gain trust and respect from others. Trusted and respected business owners in Massachusetts are such a great benefit.

If you are a pet owner or dog owner or have been harmed in some way because of an out-of-control animal or a dog, please call your attorney right away. Consider the statute of limitations law in your jurisdiction. Plan to contact your attorney before the time to take legal action runs out.

If you need an attorney, and need experienced and approachable help, feel free to call our office. We are here for you. All consultations are confidential. First consultations are free.

Enjoy your spring.  Enjoy your summer.  Enjoy your dog and the great outdoors!

About Artist Annie Saliness 

The artist who painted the featured illustration “Herbie” is Annie Saliness.  Annie is an Artist full of hope, grit and true artistic talent. During her career, Annie had a stroke which took away her ability to use her right hand and more.  Annies’ struggles, triumphs and victories over her disability and other things, is a wonderful story. Annies story is as beautiful as her art. To read more about Annie, her triumph over adversity and more, follow this link > http://www.oregonlive.com/north-of-26/index.ssf/2012/10/cedar_mill_artist_annie_salnes.html

More of Annie’s artwork can be found on Annie’s website at http://www.anniesalness.com.  Take a look at Annie’s art and things. You’ll be glad you did.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Her law practice is focused on consumer finance and bankruptcy.  However, Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work.  On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.  To find out more visit, www.attorneykelly.squarespace.com or http://www.attorneykelly.wordpress.com, or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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NOTICE:  Attorney Kelly does NOT provide legal advice to anyone via social media or anywhere over the Internet.  Any and all electronic posts and writings, by Attorney Kelly, does NOT establish any type of attorney-client relationship, whatsoever, neither perceived, actual, material, implied or other.  We can not stress enough, if you need personal legal advice, always see your attorney.  Do not rely upon Attorney Kelly’s posts, writings or any Internet information on websites or social media for your own personal legal advice.  Seek legal advice and representation from your own personal attorney.

Copyright © 2015 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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