Category Archives: Wage Garnishment

Top 4 Reasons NOT to Consider Bankruptcy

 

Top 4 Reasons NOT to Consider Bankruptcy

By Attorney Ginger Kelly, December 24, 2018

It’s not unusual to borrow money and have every intention of paying it back. But for some unknown reason, you can’t pay it back. Maybe you lost your job or your hours got cut. Did your small business just crash or were sick or hospitalized. Sometimes you need to stay home with a sick child or elderly parent. Whatever the reason, it’s very human to find yourself unable to pay back loans and credit cards. When life happens, and you are stuck with debt you can’t pay, it’s OK to talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

Although many people avoid the “B” word, bankruptcy, bankruptcy could be the tool you need to get back on your feet. If you can’t decide what to do, here are the top 4 reasons why you should not consider bankruptcy.

Number #1. The Hole you’ve Dug for Yourself isn’t too Deep to Get Out

Paying and paying on credit card debt without making a dent in the balances is a perfect storm for credit disaster. Another problem is paying a minimum payment on a judgment for years and years and years and the balance just doesn’t go down, it appears to go up. These are problems that may lead you to think bankruptcy is the best option. But what if you are simply annoyed at paying bills? The best plan of action to take is to do the math. Weigh your disposable income and your unsecured debt. Are you making more than your minimum payments? Are you making any progress paying down principal? Even if you can only see a slight dent in the principal, over time, but it’s taking a long time for you, evaluate whether bankruptcy is really the best idea for you right now. If you have no employment or medical issues, no change in family status, keep plugging along. Bankruptcy is probably not for you.
Dennis, a Veteran living by himself on Social Security and a small pension had problems with a judgment on a small debt. Because Dennis did not defend himself in court, so the creditor obtained a judgment against him. This was way back in the 90’s. Dennis had no choice. He started making very small minimum payments of about $30 per month out of his disposable income, which wasn’t much. In 2017, he came to me for help. Dennis paid almost $9,000 to his creditor over the years and he couldn’t see any end in sight. Since Dennis had little monthly disposable income and other medical debt, bankruptcy was a good fit for Dennis.

Tip #1: If you can’t afford to pay all your unsecured creditors in full, over the next 3 years, your current strategy isn’t working.

Number #2: You Have NOT Looted Your Retirement Account to Pay Bills

It can be very tempting to take a loan or an early withdrawal from your retirement funds, simply to keep your head above water. But if you have the means not to do this and to seek help first, even when debtors are filing law suits against you, awesome! Borrowing money against your retirement account is a very big risk, especially if you are close to retirement age. By looting your retirement, you are not getting out of debt easily. You are actually taking from old-age self and using it, hoping you will recover. Most people don’t recover. And don’t forget the consequences of early withdrawals. It’s not worth it. Alternatively, consider making plans to contact a bankruptcy attorney who can help you move forward, not backward, before you decide to loot your retirement accounts.
Steve is currently being sued by a lender for a repossessed vehicle because he suffered road bumps in his career. After several layoffs, he decided he could no longer afford his $400 a month car payment. He surrendered his car. After the lender sold his car at auction, Steve still owes about $10,000. If Steve borrows from his retirement account he can pay off this debt and not have to worry about the law suit. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?

Steve decides to hire a lawyer and the lawyer negotiates with the lender for a payment plan. He sticks to his monthly payments and pays off this debt within 3 years. Steve still has enough money to save for retirement, repair his current vehicle, eat out every once in a while and pay his mortgage. Steve probably doesn’t need to file for bankruptcy.

Tip: Seniors who need the relief bankruptcy are often tempted to use precious retirement funds to pay off credit card debt. If you find yourself in this situation, consider this a big red flag.

Number #3: Your Family Isn’t Going to Suffer

It’s a known fact that having a child is not easy. Some say that having a child is the single greatest predictor that a single person will end up in financial collapse. When struggling with debt and weighing your options, consider who is dependent upon you. What are their ages? Do you have an “emergency fund” to care for them if something unexpected happens? The larger the number of dependents you have, the more likely you are to need an emergency fund and health insurance.

Karen got slammed with a judgment from one of her credit card creditors. It was from a debt she acquired back in 2006. She was very upset. Karen is a single working mom, supporting two school-aged kids. Their father pays hardly any child support. If Karen’s creditor garnished her wages, or she lost her job, how would she pay her rent, feed her children and buy gas to get to work? With this in mind, Karen worked out a payment plan with her creditor and is now making minimum payments. Karen is also saving for emergencies and has enough disposable income to pay for things like school pictures and activities, clothes, food and gas. If this wasn’t the case, Karen would probably benefit greatly by talking to an experienced bankruptcy attorney. But since her family is doing fine, and she’s paying her unsecured debt and her bills, bankruptcy may not be a good option just yet.

Tip: If you have dependents, be sure to stash some cash into an emergency fund.

Number # 4 You’ve Got Equity on Your Home AND you can Catch up on your Past Due Mortgage Arrears

It’s been estimated the over 7 million Americans are underwater on their mortgages. But there are many ways of finding relief, like negotiating a loan modification and talking to your lender. If you file for bankruptcy these are the 5 things you may be able to do, as a last resort of course.
1. Catch up on past due mortgage payments or negotiate a loan modification so you can stay in your home;
2. Eliminate a second mortgage or home equity loan through bankruptcy;
3. Erase debt that could be due if the lender foreclosed and sold your home for less than you owed;
4. Free up money that you were paying on other debts so you can afford your home loan; and/or
5. Avoid a big tax bill from “cancellation of debt income” that could happen if your home goes into foreclosure or if you negotiate a short sale.

Where to Get Help

A consumer bankruptcy attorney can help you understand how filing may help you. Many offer low-cost or free consultations. Every bankruptcy attorney should tell you of your options and alternatives to bankruptcy before you make those very important decisions.
If you have other legal questions, especially if you are contemplating bankruptcy or dealing with collections or debt collection law suits, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, North Oxford, Charlton, Charlton Depot, Auburn, Leicester, Rochdale, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, North Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland. We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out for you. Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk, and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

The Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly

167 Carpenter Hill Road

Charlton, MA 01507

(508) 784-1444

AttorneyGingerKelly@gmail.com

Advertisements

Comments Off on Top 4 Reasons NOT to Consider Bankruptcy

Filed under 401(k), Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Choosing a lawyer, Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency, Deficiency Debt, Empowerment, Filing, Financial, Financial Planning, Legal, Liens, Mortgages, payment, practical stuff, Repossession, Rhode Island, Short Sale, tax refund, tax return, Wage Garnishment

Master Medical Debt Lawsuits in 10 Easy Steps

bk-wage-garnishment

Master Medical Debt Lawsuits in 10 Easy Steps

By Attorney Ginger Kelly, July 19, 2018

Being sued by a debt collector or service provider over medical debt is no picnic. If you can’t afford to pay the initial debt, it is likely that you still can’t pay it. Going to court is also very stressful, time consuming and costs you time off from work and other more important things. These are things we all worry about.

Although you may be tempted to ignore a medical debt law suit you know you can’t pay, it is always best to show up. If you ignore the law suit, the other side wins, automatically by default.  A default Judgment will haunt you and your credit report for twenty years in Massachusetts.

What happens when you show up for court?  Below are 10 steps that you can take if you are facing a medical debt lawsuit.

  1. Find out where the debt comes from

You cannot properly talk about your lawsuit until you fully understand why you are being sued. Past bills should tell you something about the debt.  Find a date of service and, perhaps, an itemized list of what services were given to you that you are being charged for.

  1. Answer the lawsuit

In most medical debt and other consumer debt cases, people don’t have an attorney. Hiring an attorney is a wise move, so seek a free first consultation with a lawyer before you hire them. Sometimes, a lawyer can help you to represent yourself.

Many times, when people meet certain income guidelines, they can apply for free legal aid. Worcester Community Legal Aid services is an example of one of many nonprofit public service centers, helping clients with free and reduced fee legal services for debt collection law suits. Many times, a limited service lawyer will be at the courthouse to help clients. Call and find out when this free service is available.

  1. Prepare for court

The next step to take is to prepare to answer your lawsuit. In Massachusetts a defendant has twenty days from the date of notice to answer a small claims or civil suit. Answering a law suit involves filling out paperwork at the court, which will involve answering every paragraph and including all your legal defenses along with a certificate of service saying that you mailed a copy to the other side. Then, you have to mail the paperwork to the other side who is suing you.  Next, show up at the initial court date. After you answer the suit, the court will set a date for the discovery part of the trial. It is very helpful to find a lawyer who can advise you regarding this process.

It’s important to make this initial court date.  Traditionally, in Massachusetts, this is called a discovery or pre-trial conference where you have time to talk to the other side and see if you can make a deal.  It’s helpful to ask for a payment plan and a reduction of the debt.  At this stage of the game, it is unlikely that the judge will grant you a continuance that would move the court date further out. It’s probably best not to ask unless you live out of the jurisdiction and you would like to get counsel to move the suit to a better place where you can defend.

At the discovery part of your lawsuit, you will have to file more paperwork about your finances and will need to sit and wait to talk to someone. This is not the time to present evidence that you are not liable for the debt. If you are not liable, you can present this evidence at hearing. This means, you will need to show up another time for hearing.

  1. Know about wage garnishment

If at hearing, you are found liable for the debt, or if you failed to answer the lawsuit and the judge rules against you, the court may issue a judgment order and an execution, giving the lender or collection agency the ability to garnish your wages. Social security benefits, disability insurance payments, unemployment, VA benefits and other things, like public assistance and child support are excluded from garnishment.  If you have any of these forms of income, it’s wise to set up a different bank account where those funds are deposited and keep all garnishable wages in another separate account. Do not mix these funds with other things like regular wages.

By federal law, the lender or collection agency can’t take more than 75% of your income. Based on Massachusetts law, which is more protective, creditors can take only 15% before taxes or other deductions, or they can take your disposable income less 50 times the greater of the federal or Massachusetts minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2017, the Massachusetts minimum wage is $11 per hour.  This means that any amount exceeding $550 per week can be garnished from your wages, in Massachusetts.

Also, under Massachusetts law, some medical institutions can take your tax return refund to pay past due bills.  It’s better to take care of them before your tax refund is levied.

  1. Were you served properly?

Sometimes wages are garnished before the plaintiff is even aware that there’s a lawsuit against them. This happens most commonly when you’re improperly served. Examples of using “improperly served” as a legal defense include papers being only mailed to you and not delivered in person, papers being left at an incorrect residence, or papers being mailed to an old address. Being “improperly served” does not mean that the papers were left with a family member or friend at your residence and they forgot to tell you about it. If that happened, you’re still on the hook.

If you have been improperly served, or if you find out that the court mistakenly started garnishing wages because you have the same name as an actual plaintiff, you should contact a lawyer immediately.  Find out what possible resources there may be for you in your situation.

  1. Get low-cost or free help from financial assistance programs

Under the Affordable Care Act, these hospitals must provide some type of financial assistance program to low-income patients. Even if you aren’t from a low-income household, you should apply, as some hospitals extend their programs far beyond the poverty line. Many hospitals also extend this program to insured patients.

  1. Discriminatory pricing

If you are being sued in court and are uninsured, discriminatory pricing can serve as a defense. If you qualify for the hospital’s financial assistance program, the hospital must legally reduce your bill to the amount generally billed to insured patients.

  1. Look out for balance billing

Balance billing happens when your hospital or medical provider bills you instead of or in addition to Medicaid or Medicare. It’s a forbidden practice, and you are not responsible for any amounts due when this happens.

You may be able to identity balance billing if you receive an “Explanation of Benefits” from your insurer that states the amount they covered and the amount you still owe. If this does not match the bill your medical provider sent you, there is a cause for concern. Additionally, if the bill you receive does not show any payment from your insurance when you are, in fact, on Medicaid or Medicare, it may be a sign that you are a victim of balance billing.

  1. Stop lawsuits before they start

If something about your bill doesn’t look quite right, there are ways to reduce it to its fair amount. Debt collectors, hospitals, and other medical providers don’t want to take you to court. It costs them money, and the odds of them actually getting a full payment at that point are very low. They are almost always willing to work with you before issuing a lawsuit. Negotiate. Apply for financial assistance. Set up a no interest payment plan directly with your health care provider.  Keeping the lines of communication open is the best way to avoid costly litigation and compounded interest and fees.

If you didn’t have insurance at the time of service, a good idea is to contact the doctor or debt collection agency and try to negotiate the bill down to Medicaid/Medicare prices.  This should save you at least one to two thirds the initial cost.  If a provider doesn’t want to negotiated, your attorney can use, “discriminatory pricing: as a legal defense in court.

  1. Weigh bankruptcy

There may come a point in the process to consider bankruptcy as an option.  Filing for bankruptcy may alleviate the medical debt and all your other bills. However, as a cautionary measure, bankruptcy is not a decision to take lightly.  A chapter 7 will remain on your credit reports for up to 8 years and make it difficult to qualify for new credit with a low interest rate.

There are two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.  Chapter 7 is a form of liquidation.  If you qualify, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires you to sell off all of your non-exempt assets to settle what you can of your debt obligations. If you don’t have any non-exempt assets, this part probably doesn’t matter much. What does matter is that most of your debt, if not all, will disappear after you receive your discharge.

A chapter 13 Bankruptcy is a type of reorganization of your debts.  In a Chapter 13, you do not have to sell off any assets, but the debt won’t disappear either.  Instead, you will pay your debt from your disposable income via a 3-5 year payment plan. After the 3 or 5 year plan is over, the rest of any qualifying debt you could not pay out of your payment plan is discharged.

Filing for bankruptcy makes sense if the court has already issued an order to garnish your wages.  However, at any other point in your situation, it makes good sense to try to negotiate and set up a payment plan with the medical service provider or debt collection agency directly.

A debt collection agencies last resort is wage garnishment, but it doesn’t have to come down to this. By knowing your rights and negotiating, effectively, rather than damaging your credit scores, you may have a good chance to work through a win-win situation.

If you are contemplating bankruptcy, and have some questions about wage garnishment or medical debt, Attorney Ginger Kelly is now accepting clients in the Dudley, Webster, Sturbridge, Fiskdale, Southbridge, Saundersdale, Oxford, Charlton, Auburn, Leicester, Spencer, Brookfield, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, Warren, Brimfield, Wales, Palmer and Holland.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out or not.  Our office is a quiet and comfortable place to talk and a free pot of coffee will be waiting for you when you arrive.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

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, http://www.attorneykelly.com or call us at (508) 784-1444.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOTICE: This is an Advertisement. This post is not legal advice. Consult your attorney. 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 © 2018 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Choosing a lawyer, Civil, civil law, Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency, Deficiency Debt, Empowerment, Filing, Financial, Hiring Counsel, Judgements, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Medical Debt, payment, practical stuff, Rhode Island, Uncategorized, Wage Garnishment