Defending Debt Collections in Court: 6 Amazing Ways to Score Big Time

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Defending Debt Collections in Court: 6 Amazing Ways to Score Big Time

By Attorney Ginger Kelly
October 5, 2017

The New York Times ran a story in 2012 about the outpouring of credit card debt lawsuits being filed. They compared this widespread outbreak to the “robo-signing” fiasco which plagued the mortgage industry in years past. Now it seems the debt collection industry has taken up “robo-lawsuits” and are filing thousands of lawsuits a day all across America, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Lawsuits are being filed with the expectation that 99% of all defendants will not answer. In 2017, this is still a big problem.

Lots of people people being taken to court by debt collectors and lenders, many of them don’t owe a dime.  This is the new trend, plaguing thousands upon thousands of consumers in America today.

The biggest problem with these debt collection lawsuits is that about 90% of them are flawed. Debt collectors cannot prove that they are the ones owed the money.  They cannot prove how much money is owed, if any.  This is where consumers must take charge. Knowledge is power. Knowing things the debt collectors wish you didn’t know will often place you in the driver’s seat when it comes to Debt Collection law suits.

1. Start at the Beginning, Answer the Lawsuit.

If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, you will receive a summons (typically in the mail). Many people ignore these types of summons, because they look like ordinary mail. Within the summons is a complaint. The complaint has a date to respond and instructions on how to file an answer.  Take note of the instructions and, if you like, look for a form to respond to the complaint.  In Massachusetts, Mass.gov has forms that can help you in small claims or in district court.  These forms can be easily filled out. You must remember to respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers. This will preserve your rights in court. It’s simple and doing maintains your right to challenge the debt in court.

Even if you owe this debt, a two-sentence response denying liability to the lawsuit filed in court will suffice. When you do this, chances are your law suit will likely lead to a negotiated settlement. This will save you money in the long run, because most of the time the debt amount is inaccurate. The number one mistake people make when they are sued is failing to respond to the notice in the complaint.

In your answer, you can simply Admit, Deny or express Lack of Knowledge to each statement made by the plaintiff debt collector. Of course you don’t admit to any statement unless you know it’s 100% true, so be honest. Don’t guess. If you don’t know whether or not, for example, the account number listed is your credit card number, or the debt amount is actually the amount of money owed, deny the claim. The same is true for all the allegations. If you do not understand what the plaintiff is saying, you should say, Lack of Knowledge. Lack of Knowledge simply means you don’t know whether that statement is true or not. Then, take your answer to the clerk of court and file it. Mail a copy to the other side. Ask the clerk the proper procedure for making copies and mailing.  Better yet, don’t bother taking chances or taking the day off from work to file papers with the clerk, talk to your lawyer and bring in the big guns to fight this for you. Pay your attorney to hassle with the paperwork.

Even if you don’t have an attorney, don’t be shy or embarrassed. Filing an answer doesn’t mean you want to avoid paying your debts. It only means you are a smart consumer. It means that you want the debt collector to do his job and prove their allegations against you. In any business transaction, it is always best to be sure that you actually owe the correct amount before paying it. The same applies to debt collection law suits. This is why you file a simple answer.

2. Find Out Who, Exactly, Owns the Right to Take You to Court

The collection agency must prove they have the right to collect this debt, if you ask them. This is their job. Make them work. All collection agencies have a duty to provide good evidence of a transfer of the signed credit card agreement, but only if you ask. If you don’t ask, they have no duty. So, if you ask and the other side does not produce paperwork, you you don’t understand it, ask the magistrate or the judge to dismiss the case.  When the plaintiff does not have the “chain of custody” paperwork giving them the right to collect this debt from you, they lose.

It’s rather enjoyable when a judge or magistrate takes a good look at the chain of custody paperwork many debt collectors provide. Some of them shake their head. Then, they dismiss the case. It’s that simple.

Mass Legal Help is a great website that gives examples of how to answer and challenge a debt collections law suit in a simple and complete manner.

3. Make the Debt Collector Prove the Amount Owed, Why Not?

This is a good one. In most debt collection law suits, there are so many charges upon charges, and fees no one understands, it’s not funny. Make the debt collection agency prove the amount owed by simply asking them to provide the original signed agreement and a balance on the account from zero to the present. If they can’t prove what you owe, the judge will not be able to make a ruling and will dismiss the case.  If they hand you a huge stack of paper, don’t feel threatened.  Either ask for them to show you what the papers mean, or ask for a continuance so you can examine the documents.

I talk a little bit more about this in my article, Debt Collection and 7 Deadly Sins. Take a quick look at point 3. Greed. This may help you.

4. Use the Statute of Limitations, Like a Boss

State law provides that debt collectors have a maximum amount of years they can legally sue you for debt they think you owe. This is different than collections.

A debt collector can bill you forever, but a debt collector cannot sue you in court to collect beyond the statute of limitations period. But again, a person needs to use this as a defense in court for it to be effective. When that statute of limitations period expires, the debt collector will lose if you defend using the statute of limitations. Use this as a defense and get your lawsuit dismissed. If it applies, it works!

Currently, the statute of limitations for almost any type of consumer debt in Massachusetts is six (6) years (MGL Chapter 260 Sec. 2)  In Rhode Island, it’s different.  Under Title 9, in Rhode Island, the statute of limitations for contracts and open accounts (credit cards), is ten (10) Years.  (RIGL 9-1-13(a))

In legal terms, a debt that has exceeded the statute of limitations is also called a “time barred” debt. When, exactly, the statute begins (or begins to toll), is different for different debt and for different state laws.  For credit card debt, typically the statute begins to toll from the date you made your last payment. You can find more info on Time barred debt defenses in Massachusetts in the online Mass law library.

There may be other legal arguments about the statute of limitations, like the conflict of laws and the significant relationships test. But essentially, the statute of limitations for most debt in Massachusetts is six years from the date of the debtor’s last transaction, or payment, on the account. Ask your attorney, if you have any questions and want to know if this statute applies in your case.

5. Sue the Debt Collector, Big Time

If a debt collector has violated any part of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you may be able to sue them and could get a money damage award.  Consumers can successfully sue for violations of the debt collections practices act and are entitled to statutory damages of $1,000, plus punitive and economic damages.

This is where debt collection law suits can be actually quite enjoyable, for me anyway.  For you, maybe not so much.  As a lawyer, this is what I’ve been trained to do.

There’s nothing wrong with finding violations. Holding debt collectors to the higher standard they are called to perform is the right thing to do. Holding their feet to the fire, so to speak, is what’s best for consumers. This is why it’s not a bad idea to hire a lawyer to file a well-drafted answer to the complaint and attend court with you.

6. Explore Bankruptcy, the Fresh Start Option

If the debt you have is more than you can manage or the debt you are being sued for is large, it may make good sense to talk to an attorney. A good bankruptcy attorney will help you discover whether or not filing for bankruptcy is an option for you.

Filing for bankruptcy will keep you protected by the automatic stay, which will halt any and all debt collection efforts being made against you. If you are thinking about filing bankruptcy, talk to an attorney quickly. Don’t wait until the day before you are supposed to be in court. Lawyers can’t typically file bankruptcy paperwork the next day. That’s not how bankruptcies work. Bankruptcies are very paper-work intensive and tedious. To find out more read Bankruptcy, the Easy Way Out, Really? 

While it is possible to successfully defend a debt collection lawsuit, it’s often very difficult and emotionally charged. If the debt collection agency is successful in court, they can get a judgment entered against you. This, in turn, would allow the collection agency to garnish your wages or even go after your bank accounts or place liens on your home, vehicles or other property.

I tell all my clients that debt collection law suits are like traffic tickets. It never pays to ignore them. Reply to the summons. Go to court. What do you have to lose? But better than just “winging-it,” speak to a good bankruptcy and debtor defense lawyer first. Some law offices like ours, offer a free first consultation. When you hire a good debtor defense lawyer to help, there are virtually a hundred or more different defenses that can be used to protect you against garnishments and attachments.

Currently, we are taking defendant clients for debt collection law suits. Our first consultation is free. I’m always happy to meet new clients and am willing to work around your schedule. Exploring your best options with an experienced attorney can’t get much easier. This is only one way we are transforming the way people do business with lawyers.

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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 or call us at (508) 784-1444.

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

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Tricky Short Sale Deficiency Judgments

Short Sale KeysTricky Short Sale Deficiency Judgments

By Attorney Ginger Kelly

Agreeing to a short sale may seem like the best way to avoid foreclosure in many situations, but what happens to the money owed, after the short sale?

Quite often homeowners think short sales are the perfect solution to a difficult situation, the silver bullet, so to speak. The bank agrees to accept a sale price for less than the mortgage amount and presto, foreclosure averted!  But the problem with this is, a year or so after a short sale is completed, the mortgage lender can (and often will) seek a deficiency judgment against the former homeowner.

What is a Short Sale?

A short sale is when you sell your home for less than the total debt balance remaining on the mortgage. The sale price is “short” of the full debt amount. The short sale process involves the mortgage lender agreeing to accept the sale proceeds and release the lien on the property and then, the proceeds of the sale pay off a portion of the mortgage balance. Short sales are one way for borrowers to avoid foreclosure.

What is a Deficiency Judgment?

A deficiency is when a foreclosure sale doesn’t produce enough funds to pay the mortgage debt in full. The amount of the deficiency is the difference between the amount of the mortgage debt and the foreclosure sale price. A deficiency judgment is a judgment that the lender may obtain from a Judge, giving the lender the right to collect the deficiency from the borrower.

In a short sale situation, for example, if a homeowner sells their home in a short sale for $200,000, and the amount owed on the mortgage was $250,000, then $50,000 would be the deficiency amount. The lender could get a judgment from a Court Judge for the amount left owing and then some. This includes not only the $50,000 deficiency, but interest, other costs and sometimes attorney’s fees.

Deficiency Judgments in Massachusetts and Why are They So “Tricky?” 

Massachusetts is one of those states where a lender is permitted to seek a personal judgment against a borrower after a short sale to recover the deficiency amount. The tricky part comes in when, in general, once the lender gets a deficiency judgment against a borrower, the lender may collect this amount by using things such as a wage garnishment, bank account levy or by placing liens on titled property, like automobiles and motorcycles.

In Massachusetts, after a short sale, the lender can choose to do one of the following two things about the deficiency:

  1. The lender may choose to forgive the deficiency amount and issue to the borrower a Form 1099-C (Cancellation of Debt), which reports the deficiency as taxable income to the IRS. If this happens, the borrower (former homeowner) will have to pay taxes on the additional income this brings in the year they receive the 1099-C.  For most people, who were struggling to pay their mortgage, this causes tremendous hardship.
  2. The lender may choose not to forgive that part of the debt that has not been covered by the sales price and keep the right to file a court action to obtain a deficiency judgment.

If you are a homeowner and are thinking about negotiating a short sale with your mortgage lender in Massachusetts, it is very important to negotiate with your lender before you agree to a sale, to have the deficiency forgiven.

How Can I Avoid a Deficiency Judgment Following a Short Sale?

There are at least four ways to avoid having to pay back the deficiency.

  1. Negotiate a Waiver of the Lender’s Right to Seek a Deficiency Judgment

When a homeowner finds it necessary to sell their home in a short sale, it is important to try to negotiate with the mortgage lender and ask them to approve not only the short sale, but to a waiver of the right to seek a deficiency judgment. If your lender agrees, this provision must be included in the short sale agreement.  That means, always get the waiver in writing.  The short sale agreement must expressly state that the transaction is in full satisfaction of the debt and/or that the lender waives its right to the deficiency.

  1. Make a Settlement Offer

The second option homeowners have is, if the mortgage lender does not agree to waive the deficiency, the homeowner can offer to settle the deficiency for a smaller amount. Many lenders agree to accept a smaller amount because collecting a deficiency is expensive and typically takes a long period of time.  It’s easier for lenders to accept a reduced lump sum, rather than going through the expensive and lengthy legal process to try to collect.  A homeowner can also negotiate to repay the reduced deficiency debt in installments, over time.

  1. Hope the Lender Won’t Sue for the Deficiency

If the homeowner was not successful in negotiating a waiver of deficiency or a reduced deficiency payment plan, the mortgage lender will likely call and send collection letters stating that the deficiency amount is owed. Collection letters typically come from a lawyer’s office or a collection agency.  However, without taking the homeowner (borrower) to court and getting an actual deficiency judgment, the lender cannot levy any bank accounts, garnish wages, or place judgment liens on other property the borrower may own.

To get a deficiency judgment, the lender must file an expensive lawsuit. Many borrowers, who are forced to complete a short sale of their homes to avoid a foreclosure, are judgment proof.  This means that they don’t have much money, wages or other property (assets) that a creditor can take to pay off the judgment. If a borrower can’t afford to pay the deficiency, there is a possibility that a mortgage lender won’t even bother filing a lawsuit against them.

  1. Declare Bankruptcy

The other possibility is to file for bankruptcy to eliminate the debt.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy would totally discharge the deficiency relieving the borrower of the entire debt. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will require a payment plan for 3 or 5 years to pay a portion of the total amount owed. Bankruptcy may also be the most pro-active way to alleviate the tax problem before the lender issues a 1099-C.  Income taxes are not typically discharged in Bankruptcy unless they are very old and a borrower can’t retroactively discharge a recent 1099-C tax debt.

On the other hand, if taxes or the deficiency are all the borrower owes, bankruptcy may not be the best option.  However, Bankruptcy may be something to consider when the borrower is facing a lot of debt they can’t pay, or when a borrower needs to eliminate the possibility facing a tax burden they simply can not afford to pay in the future.  To find out more about whether or not Bankruptcy is really the easy way out, click here.

September 14, 2017

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

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Auto Loans and Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Auto Loans after Bankruptcy

Auto Loans and Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

By Attorney Ginger Kelly

Going through a bankruptcy can be a stressful experience. And it can get even more stressful if you suddenly need to finance a car.

Clients often ask, “If I file for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, can I get a car loan?”

My response is this:  “Well yes, and no.”  Then, I typically say, “Let me explain; yes, you can typically get a car loan after your debts have been discharged under a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, but your chances of getting a car loan approved is far less before you receive the final discharge disposition.

More about this…

Auto Loans and Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Filing and Discharge

The first thing to know is that a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Filing is the first thing filed at the beginning of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  The Discharge is the final disposition of the bankruptcy judge.  In other words, the Discharge is typically the last thing.

If you need a car loan, it’s better to wait until your Chapter 7 bankruptcy has been discharged before you apply.  Don’t apply for a loan after a Chapter 7 has been filed.  Wait.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is typically discharged around 60 to 75 days after the meeting of the creditors, also known as the 341 meeting. The meeting of the creditors typically happens 30 days after your bankruptcy petition is filed. A good bankruptcy attorney will explain this before you decide to file.  Find out more about whether or not bankruptcy may be right for you by reading, “Bankruptcy, the Easy Way Out. Really?”

Technically, you can apply for a car loan after the meeting of the creditors, but it’s very difficult to get this type of loan before the final discharge.  Almost no lenders and very few subprime lenders loan money to anyone in the midst of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Lenders do not want to give loans to people with open Chapter 7 bankruptcies because of the risk factor involved.  If a new debt was discharged, in the Chapter 7 liquidation process, the lender would lose out big time. Therefore, rather than placing themselves at such great risk, most lenders simply choose not to lend money for any reason, if you’ve filed but not received a final discharge.

Because lenders, including most subprime lenders, will not loan money without a final bankruptcy discharge, it’s best to wait until after the discharge to apply for an auto loan.

Car Loan Approval Post Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Discharge

While credit scores take a big hit after a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge, the discharge still offers the best option for a fresh start and a brand new financial beginning.  Most people in financial trouble are unable to rebuild their credit without filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and typically take longer than the 10 years to rebuild.  After 10 years a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is removed from a credit report. This is why most chances are better for getting approved for a car loan after filing any Chapter 7 and receiving a discharge, rather than not filing for bankruptcy at all.

The essential step for getting credit, post-discharge or after the Chapter 7 bankruptcy final disposition, is working with a trustworthy car dealership who knows your situation and a variety of subprime lenders.  Only a few car dealers work with subprime lenders, others do not.  When dealers work only with traditional banks, most people with a Chapter 7 discharge will not get a car loan approved. When the dealer works with a variety of subprime lenders, chances for loan approval are greater. It’s really that simple.

This is why knowing your dealer is important as well as being careful not to get that hard inquiry on your credit report until you are relatively sure you will be approved. Having a hard inquiry “hit” on your credit report only complicates things. You can read more about this in my article, When Balance Transfers Make Good Sense. Unless there is a good chance you will be approved and you are willing to accept the terms of the loan, don’t bother applying for that car loan.  If all the cards are in line and you’ve received your discharge, go for it. Chances are better you will get approved.

August 14, 2017

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

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When Balance Transfers Make Good Sense

farmers market 2

Last week, while at a Farmer’s Market, I met an old friend.  Instead of chatting about the price of carrots and cookies, we began talking about finances. I listened to her talk about the worries of being a social worker and how she was struggling with her six figure debt while surviving on her very small salary.  I asked her if she had credit card debt. She said, “Yes.” “And how’s your credit score?” I continued. “I think it’s pretty good, last time I checked,” she said. I then asked her, “Have you ever considered a balance transfer?” She didn’t say anything for a moment. She was thinking. Then she asked, “What’s a balance transfer?”

Do the Math

 Let’s make it simple. A balance transfer is moving debt from Bank A to Bank B in order to take advantage of a reduced or zero interest rate. Let’s use a hypothetical to illustrate. Let’s say that a person named Jane has $10,000 of credit card debt. Jane’s interest rate is 20% with Blue Bank.  Jane also has a good credit score of 700, and she makes payments to her Blue Bank card of $300 per month.

Jane is paying $3,600 a year.  Over the next 12 months, she is paying $1,845 of that $3,600.00, in interest. If Jane decides to take advantage of a balance transfer offer, she can move her debt to another bank and reduce her interest rate.  Jane looks around for offers.

To entice Jane, Yellow Bank offers a great interest rate or a no interest rate for a set period of time, which could be 6 months to 18 months. Yellow Bank wants Jane’s debt and hopes that if she opens a new credit card account; Jane will keep spending, pay later or do both. But even more, Yellow Bank hopes that Jane still has a balance to pay off at the end of the low-interest balance transfer period. This will give Yellow Bank more return on their risk because Jane will be paying higher interest rates.

Hypothetically, let’s say Jane decides to transfer her Blue Bank balance to Yellow Bank. This sort of transfer happens between two banks, not two bank accounts at the same bank.  If Jane moves her Blue Bank card debt to a Yellow Bank card with zero percent interest, she will be able to apply all her payment each month toward her principal.

According to MagnifyMoney’s tool, one balance transfer could save Jane $3,675. With multiple balance transfers, (giving Jane more time to pay off the balance) Jane may be able to save as much as $4,118.

But that’s not all.  There are fees and don’t forget the tricky introductory periods. Jane may have had to pay up to 5% to transfer her balance over from Blue Bank to Yellow Bank, which is $183.75.  But if you subtract the balance transfer fee from the interest Jane would have paid, Jane will still save about $3,491. Not too shabby.

Tricky Balance Transfer Fees and Introductory Periods

On the surface, a balance transfer looks straightforward, but make sure the balance transfer is truly worth it.  Balance transfer fees typically are 3%, 4% or even 5%.

According to UK market at researchers Consumer Intelligence, research indicates that 20% of consumers who transfer card balances, to get a better rate, never pay down their debt.  40% make late making monthly payments, 21% missed payments entirely, 10% pay less than intended and 23% have no idea why they suddenly were being charged interest.  A whopping 34% never pay their balances down before they are charged interest, something to keep in mind.  It happens to the best of us.

It’s OK to be somewhat concerned about the introductory period.  But don’t fret too much about being victimized by a “bait and switch” type banking scheme. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 stops banks from luring customers into a balance transfer and then drastically increasing the interest rate months later. Once you agree to a balance transfer at a set interest rate and period, you’re guaranteed the rate as long as you follow the rules. Banks can only cancel your promotional rate if you’re 60 days late with payments. Don’t be late, a cardinal rule.

Some cards have zero balance transfer fees and zero interest introductory rate offers.  Look for these. However, these are typically available to people with really good credit scores. We’ll talk a little bit about credit scores, in a moment.

In Jane’s hypothetical situation, if she does nothing, she pays $4,718 in interest over 50 months until the debt is paid off.  If she transfer’s once, she pays $1,043 in interest (at 1.7%) and fees over 37 months until the debt is paid off.  If Jane transfers her debt multiple times, she will likely pay less in interest and fees over 36 months until her debt is paid off. More often than not, for users with good credit scores, lower “promotional” interest rates more than make up for the fees spent on transfers.

Messing Up Good Credit Scores

Credit scores often drop, depending upon how a balance transfer is accomplished.  First, any hard credit inquiry when opening an account is a bad mark on a credit score.  But how bad is that bad mark?  It depends.

According to Quizzle, a free credit score report website, it is quite probable that every hard inquiry into your credit report will cause a drop of three to five points in your credit score.

Maxine Sweet, Experian’s vice president of public education, told The Huffington Post that recent hard inquiries “account for very few negative points in scoring models and are even less negative within a few months.”

Beware, however, if you are trying to refinance or buy a new home or car, in the near future, it may be best not to ding a good credit score before you finance the big purchase. According to a website called Credible, there are ways to protect your credit scores from the dings received by hard inquiries.

In our hypothetical, if Jane decided that she didn’t want to lower her credit score she would be placing an economic value of about $943.60 on each point she chose not to lose. This doesn’t make sense, if Jane has no intention of refinancing or purchasing a new home within the next 1 to 2 years and she already has good credit. In Jane’s situation, it seems rather penny wise and pound foolish not to take advantage of a balance transfer offer and save the $4,718.00 in interest, over the course of about 50 months.

What to do with Old Credit Cards

It’s also good to know that opening a new account lowers the average age of the overall credit profile, but canceling an old card after transferring a balance really puts a negative ding on the credit scores. That’s not good because again, lowering credit scores might mean higher costs in other areas of life, like renting an apartment, starting a business, purchasing a home, refinancing student loans or trying to buy or re-finance a home.

If a zero interest balance transfer makes good economic sense to you, and you’ve done the math, it’s probably best in most circumstances to keep the old credit card account open, provided new balances are not run up on the card.

Balance Transfer Rules of the Road

  1. Don’t miss payments — ever.
  2. Typically, you have only 60 days to complete the transfer. Do this or lose the promotional interest rate.
  3. Don’t close your old card.
  4. Don’t use the new card to rack up more debt. In some cases, interest will immediately start accruing on the new purchases (unless there is a 0 percent purchase offer). As a general rule, it is best not to use the card since the goals is to pay off the debt.
  5. Never use the card at an ATM for a cash advance, especially don’t do it with a balance transfer card.

Finding a Balance Transfer

As a general rule, to qualify for a balance transfer, you’ll need a credit score of 680 or better.  According to Nick Clements, co-founder of financial products comparison website, MagnifyMoney, “Banks are looking for ‘high-balance, low-risk’ customers.” This means that your credit card debt is probably less than $20,000 and you always pay on time, and are likely paying the minimum due or just a bit more. If you have had credit for a while, MagnifyMoney offers a free balance transfer calculator for consumers carrying credit card debt.

When to Avoid a Balance Transfer

A balance transfer can be a simple way to slash interest rates and amount of time it takes to pay off debt. But it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. “If you can pay off your debt in six months or less, or can’t afford multiple transfers, than it probably is not worth doing a balance transfer.

If you have debt that you can’t possibly manage, and have little or no hope of paying it off, talk to a good Bankruptcy lawyer now.  There are more ways to skin a cat.  In other words, your helpful lawyer may have great ideas on how you can become virtually debt free and save most of the things you own, like your car, your savings and your home.

Lower Credit Scores, Now What?

If you have a lot of credit card debt and a credit score below 680, you may not qualify for a balance transfer, but no worries. You can still reduce your interest rates by using a personal loan. Ask your local bank or check out websites like Lending Club or Prosper

These websites allow you to pre-qualify for a personal loan, using soft inquiry rather than a hard inquiry on your credit report. The soft inquiry doesn’t cause a drop in credit score points, but as we mentioned before.  The hard inquiry will.

Some Things Just Make Good Sense, Some Don’t

Unless you are in the process of buying or refinancing a home or financing something big, and you’ve got the golden ticket of a 680 credit score or higher, it just doesn’t make good sense to pay high credit card interest rates. Do the math.  Figure it out. Even my friend from the Farmer’s Market now has a plan to help manager her debt, even with her meager social worker salary.

If a Balance Transfer Makes no sense and your debt getting way out of hand, you know what to do.  Good bankruptcy lawyers typically don’t charge for a first consultation. Find a good bankruptcy lawyer, set up your free consultation and see if a fresh start is right for you.

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

 

2 Comments

June 29, 2017 · 4:22 pm

Bankruptcy, the Easy Way Out. Really?

chapter-7-bankruptcy-lawyer-chicago-illinois-790x300

By Ginger B. Kelly, Esq. Posted: May 16, 2017

In 2013 there were over a million bankruptcy filings.  In 2014, there were slightly less than a million.  Based on these filing numbers, something like 1 out of every 200 adults in the US file for bankruptcy (uscourts.gov). That’s a lot of people turning to bankruptcy.  Based on these figures, it appears as if bankruptcy seems like an easy way out, or is it?  Let’s consider a few things before making this assumption, like the implications of a filing and how bankruptcy compares to other debt relief options.

Is Bankruptcy Really the Easy Way Out?

Basically, a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy (total liquidation) filing involves three basic steps.

#1.  Paperwork: To begin any bankruptcy case, a series of forms outlining your debts, assets, income, expenses, and related information need to be filed.  This is not like your ordinary tax return.  There are multiple papers that need to be filed. It’s a ton of paperwork.

#2. Trustee Meeting: After the petition, the schedules and all the paperwork has been filed, a court hearing date for a 341 Trustee Meeting will be scheduled.  The Trustee Meeting (also known as the Meeting of the Creditors), the bankruptcy trustee will ask you many questions.  In Massachusetts, you will be given notice that the meeting is recorded.  Most of the questions confirm the information in your paperwork.  The Trustee may ask you about how your debts and assets will be handled. For most Chapter 7 filers, the Trustee Meeting goes rather quickly, about 15 minutes or so.

#3.  Discharge – After the Trustee Meeting, assuming nothing goes wrong, there are no issues or complications, most of your debts will be discharged.  A few debts that will not be discharged are Student Loans, some IRS Tax Debt and a few other things.  Now the person filing Chapter 7 can begin their fresh start.

But wait…

Those three steps are an over-simplification of the process.  There is a lot more to it.  Many other important legal considerations must be dealt with, in a typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. This is why most people consult with a lawyer before beginning or considering any Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case.

Even when the case is closed, there’s a lot to consider.  Credit card debts, medical debts, payday loans and most other unsecured debts, are gone, but other debts like student loans may not ever go away.  Secured debts, like car loans and home mortgages can also go away.  But if a person whats to keep their home or car or both, they will need to reaffirm those debts and continue making those payments.  Sometimes, a reaffirmation hearing is required.

So why is Bankruptcy complicated?

Primarily, there are two big potential problems, maybe more.

#1.  Valuable property at Risk.  Because a bankruptcy trustee will evaluate both debts and assets, to determine if some debt could be repaid by liquidating (selling) your assets, a filer runs the risk of losing some important assets.

For most people, the two primary things they don’t want to lose are automobiles and real estate.  These two assets are the easiest to sell.  If the value of a filer’s home or car (or both) is much greater than the loan you used to buy it, that property could potentially be sold to repay creditors.

For more on how this works, and on the exemption laws that protect your property in bankruptcy, see this article, Should I Choose Massachusetts or Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions.

#2.  Effect on credit scores. The other issues most people worry about when it comes to filing for bankruptcy is how this affects credit scores.  Everyone knows any bankruptcy will have a serious impact on a FICO score for several years.  The degree of impact depends upon how good or bad a filer’s credit is the day they file their petition.  The better the credit the more significant the drop will be.  If a filer’s credit was shot to begin with, or on the low side, (which is true for most people who file for bankruptcy), the effect will be significant, but less than a filer with good credit.

To sum it all up, when a person files for bankruptcy, they can expect that obtaining loans right away won’t be so easy.  Often, credit cards and even car loans are available, but typically at very high rates of interest.  However, when a filer sticks to a reasonable budget, and pays their bills on time, they will be off to a fresh start and better credit over time.

Alternatives to Bankruptcy.

It’s been said that bankruptcy is sort of the “ultimate weapon” of debt relief.  But this means that bankruptcy should only be used when other options fail.  A discharge of debt via bankruptcy is only available once every seven or more years; bankruptcy is not something a person should try first.  Some people work with credit management companies to reduce debt, but I do not recommend this in most cases.  Others try asking family for help or they find another source of income, like a second job.  Adjusting one’s budget is always a good plan.  Do this before considering filing for bankruptcy.

Next Steps…

For those who have tried every option and have no realistic alternatives, then it’s time to schedule a consultation with a bankruptcy lawyer. Your first consultation should not cost a dime and it’s a good time to find out if bankruptcy will work in your situation.  When you meet with your lawyer, be sure to ask a few important questions.

  • Based on my income and job situation, do I qualify for bankruptcy?
  • Can I get rid of all my debts in bankruptcy?
  • Is property I own (bring a list of a few big items) unprotected or at risk?

A quick consultation with a good lawyer will help you understand a few things bankruptcy can do to help and what the risks would likely be or whether or not there are better options.

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

9 Comments

Filed under Bankruptcy, Debt, Debt Collection, Filing, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, practical stuff, Rhode Island, Student Loan Debt, Uncategorized

Should I choose Massachusetts or Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions?

choice

Should I choose Massachusetts or Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions?

By Attorney Ginger B. Kelly, April 1, 2017

Good news for Massachusetts residents. You have a choice weather or to protect your property using Massachusetts or Federal exemptions.

In many ways, Massachusetts is a great state to live in. Here, Bankruptcy filers have a choice whether to protect or to “exempt” property using Massachusetts bankruptcy exemptions or the federal bankruptcy exemptions.

In a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, any property not exempted can be sold by the bankruptcy trustee and the proceeds used to pay creditors.  Nonexempted property can be kept, in a Chapter 13 case, but payment must be made for the value of that property, under the terms of a three or five-year payment plan.

For Massachusetts filers who have significant equity in their homes, the Massachusetts exemptions are substantial.  Federal law offers a larger wildcard exemption.  Since it is difficult to examine which exemptions work best, it’s very important to look at each exemption closely.

Mixing Massachusetts Exemptions with Federal Exemptions is not permissible.

In Massachusetts, a filer must choose one set of exemptions only.  When figuring out which set of exemption laws is best for your circumstances, mixing and matching is not allowed.

Doubling Exemptions for Married Couples.

For married couples filing, you can double the exemptions, apart from the homestead exemption for under the Massachusetts and federal exemption rules. In Massachusetts, the rule is typically called Exemption Doubling.

Which to choose, Massachusetts or Federal Exemptions?

The answer to this question depends quite heavily on your specific situation and set of circumstances.  For some filers, more property will be kept using the Massachusetts exemptions. For example, Massachusetts has more favorable exemptions for your house, your car, your clothing, other household items (like appliances and furniture), and tools of the trade. *

How do I keep from losing my home?

For Massachusetts bankruptcy filers, Massachusetts exemptions are excellent for homeowners.  Homeowners who have filed and recorded with the registry of deeds, a properly executed homestead declaration are entitled to receive a $500,000 exemption. If no homestead declaration is recorded, the automatic exemption is still a hefty $125,000.

As mentioned before, just like the federal law exemption, the homestead exemption cannot be doubled for married couples filing jointly.

In the alternative, the federal law exemption for a home is only $23,675 and $47,350 for married couples filing jointly.

So, the key to keeping your home in Massachusetts is, if there is more than $23,675 worth of equity in your home, and you want to keep it, the Massachusetts exemptions are the best choice.

 How do I keep from losing my car?

Under the federal exemptions, $3,775.00 is allowed for automobile exemptions.  This means, that if the Kelly Blue book value of your car exceeds #3,775.00, you may want to choose the Massachusetts exemptions.  Under the Massachusetts bankruptcy exemption law, $7,500.00 is allowed for the motor vehicle exemption. If a filer is over 60 years old or disabled, the Massachusetts exemption allows a $15,000.00 motor vehicle exemption.

If a filer’s car is worth more than $3775.00, or there is more than $3,775.00 worth of equity in that car, and they want to keep it, a filer would be better off using the Massachusetts exemptions.

How do I keep all my clothing?

Under the Federal exemptions, a filer can keep $12,625.00 in personal property, which includes clothing.  But the maximum value for any one piece would be only $600.00.  In Massachusetts, a filer can keep all of their necessary clothing in bankruptcy. So, under the Massachusetts exemption rules, a filer will likely keep more because the $12,625 federal exemption includes all other personal property as well, like furniture, appliances, housewares and other consumer goods.

How do I keep my appliances and furniture?

As mentioned above, the Federal exemption rules allow for only $12,625.00 in personal property. If a filer uses the Massachusetts bankruptcy exemptions, they will be allowed to keep any necessary beds and bedding, one heating unit, one stove and one refrigerator and one hot water heater. An additional $15,000.00 in home furnishings can be exempted, if they are necessary for the filer and the filer’s family.

Using the more plentiful Massachusetts exemption makes sense for most filers.  However, if a filer has an extra refrigerator in their garage, it is unlikely the second refrigerator would be considered a necessity. If the second refrigerator is really that important, the federal exemptions may be a better choice, as long the value is that second refrigerator is less than $600.

How do I keep the tools I use for my job?

Filers in Massachusetts are in good shape when they have tools of the trade or tools used while doing business. The Massachusetts exemptions allow a $5,000 exemption for tools of the trade and an additional $5,000 for any materials used in their business. Federal law allows only a $2,375.00 exemption for tools of the trade. So, if a filer has more than $2,375 of tools and materials, used for their trade or business, then the Massachusetts exemptions would be the better choice.

Are Federal Exemptions Ever Better Than Massachusetts Exemptions?

In their entirety, the federal exemptions are less generous than many Massachusetts exemptions.  However, there are a few exceptions. One exception is that the federal exemption law will protect slightly more jewelry and a larger wildcard exemption.  This may benefit many filers, depending on their situation and what they want to keep.

How do I keep my valuable jewelry?

Since Massachusetts law offers only a $1,225.00 exemption and federal law a $1,600.00, a filer may choose Massachusetts exemptions over federal. $Granted, 375.00 worth of equity in jewelry isn’t a huge savings, but if it is important to the filer that certain jewelry is retained, the federal exemptions may be a better choice.

Which Wildcard Exemption do I chose?

Wildcard exemptions are used to protect assets not listed as exempt. In other words, a wildcard can be used to exempt nonexempt assets.

Per federal exemption rules, the federal wildcard exemption is currently valued at $1,250.00 plus any unused portion of the federal homestead exemption up to $11,850.00. * If a filer doesn’t need to claim their full homestead exemptions, they will be able to use up to $13,100.00 total.  If the filer has no homestead exemption, only $1,250.00 can be used to exempt nonexempt assets.

In Massachusetts, the wildcard exemption is different. Per the Massachusetts exemption rules, the wildcard exemption is $1,000.00, plus up to $5,000.00 of any unused portion of the total exemptions provided under the $15,000 household furniture exemption, the $5,000 tools of the trade exemption and the $7,500 motor vehicle exemption. This is good news for certain Massachusetts filers. Under the Massachusetts exemption rules, filers can keep up to $6,000 in nonexempt assets.

Now that I know more about the exemption rules, why do I need a Bankruptcy Attorney?

In Massachusetts, there is no one-size-fits all bankruptcy.  Even though Massachusetts law offers a more generous exemption package, federal law may be best for different filers for so many reasons. Thorough research of both sets of exemptions and all assets are critical, before making decisions. Attorneys can remove uncertainty, confusion and doubt and help you determine the best way to protect your home, your car and your personal property.

Hiring a competent, experienced bankruptcy lawyer to handle your case will save not only you a headache, but it may also end up saving you money. When everything is completed properly the first time, bankruptcy attorneys save you money. Mistakes are costly. Mistakes not only affect your time, but your finances and may end up costing your case.

Speak to an attorney who offers a free first consultation. Earlier I wrote about, “how to find an experienced and vetted attorney, FREE!”  This offers good advice on how to find an attorney on a budget or pro-bono (which means free).  Best of luck to you.

*NOTE: All the bankruptcy exemptions mentioned, above, may differ and are subject to change on or before April 2019.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Bankruptcy, Debt, Federal Law, Filing, Financial, Law, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

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

Documents Needed Prior to the 341 Trustee Meeting (aka Meeting of the Creditors)

documents-required

Just the other day I was driving to my own client’s 341 Trustee meeting in Worcester, Massachusetts and I thought, most people have no clue what documents are needed prior to most trustee meetings.  So, here is the short list.

The documents you will need are generally the same whether you are filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  However, specific documentation requirements are something different in most every local jurisdiction.  Be sure to check your local rules or contact your attorney in your specific situation.  Your attorney can notify the trustee and find out what is needed.

Tax Returns

Minimally, and most importantly, your last year’s tax return is required to be delivered to the trustee minimally seven days prior to your 341 meeting.  Local rules and trustees vary on what is required prior to the meeting.  If you do not provide this to the trustee, prior to your meeting, your case could be dismissed.

Other than this, you will typically need to provide copies of your tax returns or tax transcripts for the last two years during your meeting.  I have found, over the years, that it is best if you sign your returns.  If you have tax returns that haven’t been filed, you will need to explain why you were not required to file.  If you did not have a valid reason for not filing, most trustees, especially in Chapter 13 cases, will require you to file your taxes and provide copies before concluding or approving your case.  Again, some trustees may require more tax returns while others may ask only for your most recent one.

Income

If you are an employee, you will need copies of pay stubs (also known as payment advances) for the six-month period prior to the bankruptcy.  You will also need your past two years W-2 forms.  If you collect Social Security or Social Security Disability Income, you will need your award letter.  If you are self-employed, you will probably need to provide a profit and loss statement for the same six-month period as well as business bank statements to verify the amounts on the statement. If you have income from other sources such as rental properties or unemployment, proof of this income is also required.

Real Estate

If you own real estate, a valuation of the property is required.  Generally, I recommend my client’s get a broker’s price opinion, or a full appraisal, but this depends upon the situation.  In some cases, this is not needed.  Mortgage statements showing current loan balances, deeds of trust, and proof of home insurance may also be required.

Vehicles

If you have titled vehicles, such as an automobile, you will be required to provide a recent copy of your vehicle registration.  I also recommend you have proof of insurance, and valuation information, such as a KBB (Kelly Blue Book) valuation (you can get this online). If you have a car loan, a recent loan statement showing how much you owe and what your monthly payment is, will be important.  For other titled property, such as boats or trucks, recent valuation may also be required.

Retirement Accounts and Other Bank Accounts

Recent bank account statements (checking and savings) and retirement account statements are usually very important to provide to the trustee.  Your attorney should have these.

Miscellaneous

If you have any other special circumstances, like child support or alimony, you will need to provide proof of these expenses.  Typically a copy of the judgment, order or agreement will be sufficient

Proof of Identification and Social Security Number   

This is very important.  When you go to your hearing with the trustee, you will be asked to show proof of identification.  So you must have these two things ready for the trustee at the beginning of your meeting.  Identification must be valid and include a recent photo.  Examples are a current state-issued ID card, a current driver’s license or valid passport.  You will also need to show proof of your social security number.  These documents are typically your state-issued social security card or employee-issued W-2 form.

That’s it. Now you are ready for your Meeting with the Trustee. If you have any questions or need any help, please give me a call. My direct line is 508-784-1014 (yes, this is the number that goes directly to me, personally).  I’ll be happy to set up your first free consultation, absolutely free.

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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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Slip and Fall, an Icy Tail in Massachusetts

It’s official, Worcester County, Massachusetts just got snow dumped! Here’s the “scoop” on clearing the snow.

Source: Slip and Fall, an Icy Tail in Massachusetts

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The Domino Effect: Filing a First and Second Bankruptcy

domino-effect

By:  Ginger B. Kelly, Esq.

If anyone has played dominoes, they realize that one small mistake can cause an entire stack of dominoes to come crashing down.  The same is true for filing first and subsequent bankruptcies.  If a person has received a discharge or has filed for bankruptcy in the past, it’s important to know how soon they can file for bankruptcy again.  Time limitations for discharge under bankruptcy, after filing a prior bankruptcy in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, may be tricky and are different under different circumstances and chapters.  This overview is intended to help potential filers make wise choices before the stack of dominoes collapses.

Technically, Time Limits Do Not Apply to Filings

In theory, there is no minimum time to wait before you can file for bankruptcy the second time around.  However, the dilemma with filing a second time is if a person files too soon after they received a discharge of their debts in a prior case, they can’t get another discharge. Filing too soon makes the second bankruptcy filing a waste of time and money.  This is why time frames apply to receiving a second discharge, not the filing of the case.

Filing Again Under the Same Chapter

If a person is filing under the same bankruptcy chapter, the time frames are different depending on whether they file successive Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 cases.

Filing Again Under Chapter 7

If the first discharge was under Chapter 7, a second discharge is not permitted under Chapter 7 again, until eight years from the date the first case was filed.

Filing Again Under Chapter 13

If the first discharge was under Chapter 13, a second discharge is not permitted under Chapter 13 again, until two years from the date the first case was filed.

The only issue with consecutive Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases filed too closely together is if the court refuses to confirm your Chapter 13 plan in the second case. Ordinarily, if the second plan is not confirmed a person can convert the bankruptcy to a Chapter 7.  However, in this set of circumstances, the rules for receiving a discharge under Chapter 7, after a discharge under Chapter 13 will prevent a person from getting a discharge in the converted case.  This is why converting a case from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 too soon, isn’t a good idea in most situations.

Different Chapter Filings: Order Matters

If the second bankruptcy filing is under a different chapter then the first, order determines the time frame.

First, Chapter 13: Second, Chapter 7

If a person received their first discharge under Chapter 13, they cannot receive a discharge under any Chapter 7 case that is filed within six years from the date they filed the first Chapter 13.  Generally, the six-year waiting period exceptions are:

  •  if all the unsecured creditors were paid in full under the Chapter 13, or
  •  at least seventy percent of Chapter 13 claims were paid, the plan was proposed in good faith and the payments were the best effort possible.

First, Chapter 7:  Second, Chapter 13

If a person received a discharge under Chapter 7 first, they cannot receive a discharge under Chapter 13 filed within four years from the date the initial Chapter 7 was filed.

It’s a bit tricky if a person files the second case under Chapter 13, between four and eight years after they filed the first Chapter 7 when the court doesn’t approve the Chapter 13 plan.  If the Chapter 13 plan was not approved, “technically” a person could convert the case to a Chapter 7, but this isn’t a good idea because the rules for successive Chapter 7 discharges would kick in.  In this situation, if the time frame between subsequent filings is not eight years, a person will not receive a discharge in the converted case. If this happens, it is probably best to ask for a dismissal of the subsequent Chapter 13 case.

When a Second Filing May be Helpful, Even Without a Discharge

In certain situations, filing a Chapter 13 case immediately after getting a Chapter 7 discharge might be beneficial.  This is often referred to as a Chapter 20 bankruptcy.

In this situation, for example, a person wants the protection of the bankruptcy court while paying something like a tax debt or non-dischargeable priority debts, under a Chapter 13 plan. Whether or not they will benefit from this type of Chapter 20 bankruptcy depends on the circumstances and the case law in their jurisdiction.  But despite its benefits, a Chapter 20 has many drawbacks and can be subject to bad faith filing objections.  An experienced bankruptcy lawyer in your area would need to be consulted for advice on this topic.

First Case Not Discharged

If the first bankruptcy case did not result in a discharge, typically, a person can file for bankruptcy again with no limitations on the second discharge.

Discharge vs. Dismissal

First, it may be important to note that there is a big difference between a discharge and a dismissal.  A discharge is an order from the bankruptcy court releasing a person from their debts.  A dismissal from a bankruptcy court is an order removing the case from the docket, typically without a discharge.  

If a person successfully completes a case and obtains a discharge, they are no longer on the hook for debts discharged in the bankruptcy. However, if a case gets dismissed, the person who filed will lose the protection of the automatic stay and their creditors are free to come after them to collect their debts.

First Case Dismissal

If a bankruptcy case was dismissed, a person can file again unless the court orders otherwise.  If the case was dismissed for failure to obey a court order, failure to appear in the case, or voluntarily dismissed after a creditor filed a motion for relief from the bankruptcy stay, a 180-day waiting rule applies.  However, quite often there are different rules regarding the bankruptcy stay.  A stay is an automatic injunction that stops actions by creditors, with certain exceptions, to collect debts from a debtor who has declared bankruptcy.

First Case Discharge Denied

If the discharge was denied in the first case, a person typically may file again but will probably not be entitled to a discharge of the debts from the first case. This is another special circumstance where it is always smart to seek an experienced bankruptcy lawyer for advice.

The take-away from all of this is, as a general rule, if a person files for bankruptcy too soon after they received a previous bankruptcy discharge, they cannot receive another discharge.  Like a neat little stack of dominoes, the second case is very dependent upon the first.  The good news is, avoiding mistakes can be easy.  Consulting an experienced attorney is the first step.

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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, 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 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, Debt, Debt Collection, Filing, Financial, Hiring Counsel, Uncategorized