Credit Reports and Affordable Bankruptcy Options FAQs

Credit Reports and Affordable Bankruptcy Options FAQs

By Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., April 3, 2019

I often get questions from my clients regarding how long a bankruptcy and debt will remain on their credit reports, after declaring or filing bankruptcy.  Here are a few of those frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding credit reporting and how to pay for a lawyer to help with filing bankruptcy:

My bankruptcy was discharged about 10 years ago. What do I have to do to have it removed from my credit report?

~James, from Dudley

Dear James,

Since your bankruptcy and other accounts included within your bankruptcy will be deleted automatically, you don’t have to do anything to have them removed.

Although the date your discharge was recorded is the date your bankruptcy plan was completed, this date has nothing to do with when the information will be deleted. It is very possible that the information about your bankruptcy has been already deleted from your credit report.

How Long Does Bankruptcy Stay on the Credit Report?

~Dave, from Charlton

Dear Dave,

The date your bankruptcy will be deleted from your credit report is not set in stone.  Credit Bureaus will delete this public information anywhere from 7 to 10 years from the date you filed your bankruptcy.  The reason why this is not set in stone is because this depends upon the type of bankruptcy, or Chapter, you filed under.

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is deleted 7 years from the date of filing because you are paying your creditors with a payment plan.  A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is deleted within 10 years from the date of filing because most, if not all, of your creditors will go without any payment.

When will accounts included in my bankruptcy be deleted from my credit report?

~Chrystal, from Southbridge

Dear Chrystal,

In both Chapters 7 and 13, individual accounts can remain on your credit report for seven years.  Typically, a person who files for bankruptcy is having serious difficulty payment all their debts.  Past due debts go into delinquency status. Delinquent debts, included in the bankruptcy will be deleted 7 years from the original delinquency date.  The original delinquency date is the date the account was late, which is typically 30 days past the due date.

Just because you declared bankruptcy, your original delinquency date is not altered.  This means that the time the account remains on your credit report is not extended, simply because you declared bankruptcy.

I need to file Chapter 7, but I don’t have any money to pay the legal fees, what can I do?

~Jen, from Webster

Dear Jen,

I totally understand your situation.  It seems crazy to have to pay a lawyer to file for bankruptcy when you can’t even pay your bills.  Isn’t that the reason why you need to file in the first place?

First and probably foremost, if you are really really poor and meet certain income guidelines, you may qualify for a reduced fee or legal aid.  I will point you in the right direction with this. I also offer reduced fees for certain individuals in dire situations.

Another suggestion is to apply your income tax refund to pay for your bankruptcy, rather than your back bills and old debt.  But be sure to contact your trusted bankruptcy attorney, first, before you decided to not pay debt or overdue bills.

Lastly, I can’t tell you how many people get help from family and friends the second they explain they are doing something helpful, like bankruptcy, to get a fresh start.

Other than these suggestions, we can discuss other options for payment at our first consultation.  If you can pay a little along into a payment plan until you have all of your fees paid, this may work for you.  Ask me how I can help you tailor a program that fits your needs and we can discuss any sensible option.  At our first consultation we will sit in my very quiet and completely confidential office and sip coffee if you like, and talk about all of your options and questions.

Thanks for your questions, James, Dave, Chrystal and Jen.  I’m always happy to help.

If you have 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.

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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 our website, 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 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 © 2019 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved

Utility Shut-off Solutions

Attorney Ginger B. Kelly

Good advice from Attorney Ginger Kelly, licensed since 2004

Utility Shut-Off Solutions

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., January 11, 2019

I’ts that time of year, again.  The time when utility costs sky-rocket into the netherworld of bills you wish you could pay, but can’t.  But wait, don’t be too hard on yourself.  There are a few solutions to help you navigate this rocky road of uncontrollable utility bills.

Mass.gov has multiple solutions for certain people.  For example, if you live in Massachusetts, and if all the people residing in your home are age 65 and over, your electricity or gas cannot be shut off without permission from the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).  If you are experiencing financial hardship and one of the following applies, your electric or gas cannot be shut off without permission from the DPU:

  • You, or someone in your home, is seriously ill;
  • You have an infant under 12 months in your home;
  • All adults in the home are age 65 or older and a minor child resides in the home;
  • It is between November 15 and March 15 and the utility service is needed to heat your home.

If you meet these requirements and your electric or gas has been shut off, you should call your utility company directly. They will ask for proof of your situation, such as a child’s birth certificate, doctor’s note for a serious illness, or income-based proof of your inability to pay. 

If, after speaking with your utility company, your electric or gas service is not restored, you should contact the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 737-2836 or 1-877-886-5066 (toll-free) or complete their online complaint form.

If your water is provided by the city or town where you live, you need to contact the city or town directly to have your service restored. The Department of Public Utilities has a list of all the water district areas in Massachusetts.

If your water is provided by a company, your water cannot be shut off if one of the following applies:

  • Everyone in your household is age 65 or over;
  • You, or someone in your home, is seriously ill;
  • You have an infant under 12 months in your home;
  • All adults in your home are age 65 or older and a minor child resides in your home;
  • You are a tenant whose landlord is responsible for the water bill.

If, after speaking with your utility company, your water is not restored, you should contact the Department of Public Utilities at (617) 737-2836 or 1-877-886-5066 (toll-free) or complete their online complaint form.

Oil, Propane and Wood (Un-Regulated Utilities)

There are no specific legal protections for utility customers who heat with oil, propane, or wood. However, providers of these utilities are often willing to work with consumers who find themselves in difficult situations. You should contact your service provider directly and if you cannot get your utility restored, you should file a complaint with CARD.

How can I get help making my payments?

You may seek help from your local fuel assistance office if you are having trouble paying your utility bills. You do not have to be unemployed to get help. In addition, utility companies are often willing to work out discount, budget, and payment plans. You can learn about your fuel assistance options here.

How can I find out about my other options?

If you are facing a utility shut-off, including your electricity, gas, water, or telephone due to unpaid bills, filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy may help keep your service connected. Under federal law, if you file for bankruptcy, the utility company cannot change, refuse, or disconnect your service.  Contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney to find out your options.

If you are poor and meet certain income guidelines, you may qualify for legal aid.  Another suggestion is not to use your income tax return refund check to pay for your back bills, but use it to pay for your bankruptcy and be free from most all of your crushing debt and back utility bills.

At our office, there are a number of ways to pay for your bankruptcy, including using your federal and/or state income tax return refunds.

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.

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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 our website, 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 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

Clearing Financial Clutter, Minimalist Style

Bridid Kayaking Maine 2015

Clearing Financial Clutter, Minimalist Style

By Attorney Ginger B. Kelly, June 6, 2018

Living the minimalist lifestyle has been an ongoing passion of mine for at least the past five years. Working on becoming less cluttered, less driven by my own urges and material wants, is something I strive to do every day.  In turn, this leaves more time to become more creative, mindful and wise. This is a process, not a destination.

Minimalism is also a movement. It’s a personal organization life-design and a simpler way of life.  Living the simple less cluttered life, financially, tends to make your wallet and your heart more full and happy.  A person only needs a few things to find comfort and safety.  Likewise, a person only needs a very few tools to keep their financial life under control and comfortable.  Many credit cards and savings accounts will not bring more mental calmness and financial security.  In fact, a cluttered financial life will limit your options and your productivity.

USE ONE SIMPLE PLAN TO PAY YOURSELF FIRST

First and foremost, pay yourself.  Use one long term savings account, if possible.  The strategy is to save at least 10% for your long term retirement goals.  The minimalist strategy is to have only one 401(k) or one IRA and invest in this.  If you want to get fancy, have two accounts. For example, have one annuity and one 401(k) or have two 401(k) accounts, one for each spouse. If you are older, it is not uncommon to have more than one long term savings plan.  However, a multiplicity of whole life policies, stocks, savings bonds, mutual funds and 401(k) accounts will not help to drive your financial goals forward.  In fact, many accounts drive most folks crazy.  Avoid multiple fees, multiple financial institutions, more than one financial adviser and tons of “stuff” to look after. Then, save it and forget about it. Have the money taken out of your pay check, each and every pay period, and you’ll never miss it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  This really works!

Tip:  If you can’t save 10%, start with a minimum like 4%.  Increase this figure every year until you reach the goal of 10%.  Ask your tax accountant and financial adviser to help you plan a strategy that is realistic and works best for you.

HAVE ONE CHECKING ACCOUNT AND ONE SAVINGS ACCOUNT

Two or more bank accounts do not help clear the mind nor do they add value to your life. Two checking and savings accounts require extra passwords, extra time, extra books, extra statements, extra checks and other not so valuable things, like bank fees and charges. Get rid of all checking and savings accounts but one, unless you own a business. If you own a business have two, one for your business and one for your personal finances.

Also consider having only one savings account and using it. A savings account is an important tool, useful for short term goals, like car repairs and/or down payments, kid’s activities like summer camp, gifts and summer vacations. A good rule of thumb is to save 5% to 10% of your gross income each month for short term goals. That means, if you earn $2,000 per month, you should be stashing away at least $100 to $200 per month into short term savings.

Joint Account Tip: Sometimes it’s a good idea to have designated “jobs” when working together with joint accounts.  Find a simple plan and strategy for you, as a couple, and follow that.  Be honest with each other and communicate about everything important. If you can’t work together, seek counseling, a trusted priest, pastor or neutral party to help you correct underlying breakdowns, fears and anxieties.

Savings Tip:  Saving the equivalent of at least one car payment each month just for transportation is a great rule to follow, whether or not you actually have a car payment. If you aren’t saving anywhere from $100 to $400 per month, simply for transportation, then a $50 bus or mass transit pass may be the better option. For most folks, driving to work is far more important than an expensive mobile phone plan or eating out over and over again.

LIMIT CREDIT CARDS TO ONLY THREE

Get rid of all credit cards and revolving credit accounts but three. Why three? Most people remember and retain information very well in increments of three. Any more than three points, topics or tasks and the waters get muddy.  As a bankruptcy attorney I’ve seen a lot of things.  Having tons of credit cards seems to be a thing these days.  The point here is to not get hung up on the numbers of cards you have, but to shed unnecessary high interest cards and revolving accounts that charge unwanted fees. Caring for balances and payment dates is easy, when there are only three. No is a very empowering word.  Set a goal and use the word no to your advantage. When it comes to credit cards, less is best.

Tip: Don’t close credit card accounts in the days, weeks or months before making big purchases, like a home or a vehicle.  Closing credit card accounts can actually lower your credit scores for a time. Keep this in mind. After you’ve made that big purchase, then you can begin to close small revolving accounts you don’t need and ones with annual fees and things that do not add value to your financial well-being and peace of mind.

Another tip: Coordinate your credit card payments with your pay period.  This makes paying your cards, on time, every time, easier. Then, every pay period, when checking on your bank balance and direct deposit, pay your credit card bills (all at the same time). Having multiple due dates on many credit cards is nothing less than stressful and confusing. Ask your lender how to do this.

As we can see, there are a few financial “things” almost everyone needs to get by in life and plan a successful future. Too many and life gets complicated. Jen, Ray and Mary are great examples of this.

Jen and Ray are a couple who decided to take the minimalist approach and de-clutter their finances.  They gave themselves clear goals to de-clutter their finances, with broken-down steps on how they wanted to attain them.  Most importantly, they wrote down why they wanted to live more minimally and posted their goals on a calendar.  Over the course of just one year, they reduced their credit cards from ten to four. They eliminated six checking accounts to two. They also started a joint savings account and began to save money into Ray’s 401(k). They have saved over $300 in typical,  albeit unintentional, yearly overdraft fees and bank charges. Even better, Jen and Ray communicate much better and have far less stress and anxiety.

Mary, in taking her first steps toward getting rid of clutter, wrote down the fact that she didn’t need hundreds or useless items and financial tools to be happy, unique and to feel secure.  Part of Mary’s plan was to get rid credit cards and spend less.  She eliminated her JC Penny, WallMart and TJMaxx cards and decided to keep her cash-back Discover card and a lower interest Citi Bank card with no annual fee.  Mary also decided to have only one checking and one savings. Then, she started to save 10% of her income for a newer car purchase over the next year.  In less than eight months, Mary has saved over $100 in extra bank fees and interest charges and tucked away over $1,000 in her savings account. Mary doesn’t go out to eat very often anymore, but that’s OK.  She likes to cook.  For Mary, creating nice things, like meals, helps her to be a better person, all around.

You’ve heard it before, “everything you do and have in life (material things, relationships etc.) either adds value to your life or drags you down.” (author unknown) There is no third option. Things that add value to your life are things that make you happy, lead you to become more creative, healthier, wiser, and more energetic, develop your talents and so on. The same holds true for your finances.

Please feel free to comment, below.  We are open to your tips and ideas for getting rid of financial clutter and eliminating stress.

The Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting appointments to see clients in the Sturbridge, Southbridge, Dudley, Webster, Oxford, Sutton, Charlton, Auburn, Worcester, Framingham, Shrewsbury, Spencer, Brookfield, West Brookfield, Warren, Putnam, all of the Worcester County, parts of Hampden County and Northern Rhode Island.  We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out in a comfortable, private place to talk.  We will have a fresh pot of coffee waiting for you.

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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, gardening, conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, http://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 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.

I stole this title from Andy Prescott: “Think Twice Before Taking out a 401(k) Loan”

401K_dead_ground_hog

Image by Mike Luckovich, editorial cartoonist and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Pulitzer Prize winner

Using a 401(k) loan to pay for things may be OK in some instances. However it’s not always a good idea, as stated in an article entitled, “Think Twice Before Taking Out a 401(k) Loan,” written by one of my favorite bloggers Andy Prescott. Andy is a CPA who writes about saving money at artofbeingcheap.com and is also a staff contributor for HowardClark.com. I enjoyed Andy’s article and, as usual, he brought up a few good points from a CPA perspective.

Then I thought about this.  Since I’m a bankruptcy attorney, why not explain how this works based on my experience and training?  Helping debtors make good choices when faced with financial problems is my business.

For quite some time now, as a general word of advice in most circumstances, I advise most clients that taking out a 401(k) retirement account loan to pay off pressing debt is probably not your best option.  Of course this depends.  Everyone’s situation is different.  Even so, especially when a person is considering bankruptcy, taking a 401(k) loan to pay off debt just complicates the whole idea of using this viable option for relief.  Not only does this complicate good decision making, it also complicates a bankruptcy discharge, trustee decisions and more.

Here’s why:

Say the bills are mounting. You are having trouble paying them. Maybe you lost your job, or had an unexpected death in the family, an unusual medical issue or recently became unemployed. Whatever the reason, bankruptcy may seem like an awesome option. Bankruptcy is a useful legal tool.  Bankruptcy is intended to help debtors in need get a fresh start. A fresh start sounds like a really good thing, right?  Well, it depends.

Often, a truly fresh start depends on the decisions a debtor makes pre-bankruptcy filing, like using a 401(k) or other retirement account loan to pay down debt.  Under current federal and local bankruptcy rules, in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, an ERISA qualified retirement account is a protected asset. This includes a 401(k) savings plan and most ERISA qualified retirement accounts, like IRAs, including Roth IRAs. These types of accounts are exempt from creditors claims. Great! This is the good news! A 401(k) is a protected exemption.

Now for the bad news. Suppose a debtor gets into financial trouble. The debtor is stressed and needs fast easy cash to payoff bills, maybe some medical bills or old IRS debt, maybe even the mortgage payments.  To a debtor under stress, borrowing against a 401(k) and using those funds to pay down debt seems to make sense.  It’s easy.  No credit checks required, no questions asked and there is very little paperwork. Ask and ye shall receive, the bills can be paid.  But wait!

Little did our friend the debtor realize, that if bankruptcy was ever a good option, they may have spoiled a new beginning. Borrowing against a 401(k) retirement account to pay down debt, prior to filing, will seriously jeopardize their fresh start. After all, when faced with serious financial struggles, bankruptcy should be a viable option. It’s the new alternative to the old debtor’s prison. Anyway, depending upon the circumstances bankruptcy is useful, but not if the option is compromised by poor planning and decision-making.

As a general rule, a 401(k) retirement account loan can’t be discharged under Bankruptcy. If you borrow against it, then file for bankruptcy, you have to pay the loan back according to your 401(k) retirement account plan rules. What’s done is done. There’s no going back.

On the other hand, say a debtor facing big financial trouble decides not to pay down bills by borrowing against a 401(k) or other ERISA qualified retirement account, then they find a good attorney and decide that bankruptcy is the best option, they have a great opportunity for a brand new fresh start.

If all goes well, a debtor may decide to file for bankruptcy under this set of circumstances.  The debtor will get to discharge most, if not all, insurmountable bills (most debts are forgiven under chapter 7) or pay for a short time with a reasonable payment plan and then get a full discharge (under a chapter 13).  Additionally, the debtor gets to keep all their 401(k) retirement savings!  Like magic, they get a fresh start.  Presto-chango!

Like I said before, bankruptcy is often a useful tool for those who need it.  Making wise decisions about 401(k) retirement savings accounts and other qualified ERISA retirement accounts is important.  These kinds of accounts are often overlooked valuable exempt (protected) assets under state and federal bankruptcy law.

This is one reason why it’s a good idea to think of your finances like a critically important lifetime project. “Measure twice and cut once.”  Think twice, in other words, before making big financial decisions or taking out 401(k) retirement account loans to pay debt.

Speak to your trusted attorney. Get all the facts. Plan your best course of action so your action doesn’t plan you.

Got it? Got it. Good!

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

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

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