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

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.

Lien Removal via bankruptcy

dudley-district-court-sign-2-07242015

Lien Removal via Bankruptcy

By Ginger B. Kelly, Esq. May 23, 2018

Judgment liens on residential real estate or automobile titles can become a big problem for owners who want to sell or refinance. A lien is a type of instrument that secures a debt, similar to the way a mortgage secures a loan or note or a lien on a title can secure an automobile loan. Liens can be created for a number of reasons, like  to pay a judgment on a credit card debt, unpaid taxes, mechanic’s liens for unpaid services or water or sewer charges or any judgment in a lawsuit to pay a debt of any kind, even unpaid car loans or leases.

In Massachusetts, a lien from a judgment in a lawsuit is called an execution. The execution secures the amount that was awarded to the plaintiff and enforces the judgment awarded.  For example, credit card companies like Discover, Synchrony, Citi Bank or Bank of America, debt buyers like Midland Funding, and auto loan companies, like Wells Fargo and Ford Motor Credit, commonly record executions after receiving a judgment. Some companies even record liens before a judgment, if there is reason to believe the property will be sold or encumbered in any way.

There are only a few ways that a defendant may remove an execution, in Massachusetts. One way is if the debtor pays the creditor/plaintiff the amount owed on the execution. Then the creditor may ask the court to release the execution or lien. The other way is to pay the creditor a lesser amount owed, also known as a “settlement.” If the creditor agrees to a lesser amount, the creditor or the debtor can ask the court to remove the execution after the debt is satisfied by payment. Another option is if the judgment secured by the lien is vacated (i.e. thrown out). Without the underlying judgment, the execution can be released.  The only problem with this is that even if the execution is released, the debt won’t necessarily go away. The creditor might be able to re-file the lawsuit. A third option is to have the lien avoided in a bankruptcy.

When a homeowner files for bankruptcy in Massachusetts, he or she can claim a homestead exemption that protects between $125,000 and $500,000 in equity in their personal residence. The Bankruptcy Code allows filers to remove liens, also known as “avoiding” liens, like executions that impair this exemption. Once avoided, the lien can be cleared from the title by recording or registering orders from the bankruptcy court at the registry of deeds.

At the Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly, we often obtain orders to clear liens from many of our client’s real estate, automobile titles and other personal property.  By obtaining and recording or registering orders from the bankruptcy court, we help many of our clients refinance or sell their homes and other property without problems stemming from a lien. If you have a lien that poses a problem for your property, talk to us (free of charge) and we will evaluate your options.

The Law Offices of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting clients in the Sturbridge, Southbridge, Dudley, Webster, Oxford, Charlton, Auburn, Spencer, Brookfield, Warren and all of the Worcester County Area. We can explore whether or not bankruptcy is the easy way out or not.  We have a comfortable place to talk and a fresh cup 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 and other things, like 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.

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.

Debt Collection and 7 Deadly Sins

seven-deadly-sins by Drew Fairweather

Every year thousands of consumers get sued by debt collectors.  Beating a debt collection lawsuit is easier than most people realize.  Most of the time, the biggest issues people face are their own shortcomings.  Legal strategies are great, but they serve no good when people are paralyzed by fear, anger, sloth, envy or a number of deadly sins regarding dealing with debt collectors.

 1. Sloth    

The number one mistake defendants make when they are sued for a debt is giving up.  Doing nothing is a form of sloth.

Failing to respond to a summons and complaint, is most certainly the number one reason why most people lose and have default legal Judgments entered against them.  On the other hand, responding to a lawsuit opens the door to many promising things, like stopping collections, wage garnishments or a levy (taking money from your bank account).

Even if you owe the collector money, a two-sentence response simply denying liability to the lawsuit filed in court will tilt the scales in your favor.  Always do your best to consult a lawyer, first.  Even so, filing a response to the lawsuit is called an “Answer,” with the Clerk of Court, is generally the easiest first step to take.   Check your timelines on this.  Some jurisdictions only allow 10 to 20 days to respond after service of process, which also means after the defendant receives a notice and summons.  Keep an Answer simple and to the point.  Never ever make an admission.

Ask your Clerk of Court questions about the forms used to file an Answer or how to file an Answer.   Typically, Clerks are super helpful but keep in mind that they are never allowed to give legal advice.

Give up sloth.  Put one foot in front of the other, seek legal help and file an Answer with the Court and your chances of winning increase exponentially!

2. Pride

Debtors who give up on Collections lawsuits almost always have regrets.   Life after answering the notice and complaint involves a little bit more than simply showing up.  But it’s not that difficult.  One of the things that must be done is to challenge the collector’s ability to sue.  However, a defendant can never challenge anything effectively when pride gets in the way.

Pride steps in and wreaks havoc with our positive energy.  Pride opens door to excuses as to why we can’t or don’t want to move forward.  Pride paves the way for doing nothing.

The term, “Standing” means the legal right to sue.  Some collectors, also known as debt buyers, or junk debt buyers, often buy debt for pennies on the dollar.  They try to file lawsuits (or sue) against debtors to collect money on the debt that they buy.  When asked, collectors must prove that they have the legal right to collect.  Without the legal right to sue, debt collectors lack standing.  Standing is typically shown by a transfer or assignment of the original, signed credit card agreement from the initial creditor to the debt collector or debt buyer.  Many don’t have a signed transfer agreement.  Many don’t have a signed, initial credit card agreement.  When when the collector doesn’t produce a proper assignment or agreement, or the document they produce is inaccurate or not an original, a defendant can ask for the case to be dismissed, because of “lack of standing.”

Asking the Court (Judge or Magistrate) to dismiss a case, based on lack of standing or lack of chain of custody of paperwork is usually pretty straightforward.  Your lawyer will help you.  Chain of custody means that the collector must prove that they are, in fact, the ones who were transferred the initial signed agreement.

On a few occasions, I’ve noticed judges look at the paperwork collectors provide and comment, “you must be joking.”  On the other hand, some judges look at the paperwork and think, “It’s all good.”  It’s not always easy to tell the results, at least in Massachusetts.  Every jurisdiction is a little different.  If challenges aren’t raised, like a challenge to standing, the lawsuit is lost, plain and simple.

In essence, even when the effort is made to attend a debt collection lawsuit, pride can strangle all positive energy and be a reason for making excuses for not demanding the debt collector show you why they have any legal authority to ask you to pay them money.

3. Greed.

I’ll never understand why defendants never challenge the amount owed on a debt. Seriously, greed is more common than most people realize.  Often human beings become so greedy with time and energy, they can’t even ask simple questions.  Challenge the accuracy of the calculations on the debt and combat being paralyzed by greed.

When your lawyer, or you, choose to challenge the accuracy of the debt, the Judge or Magistrate will require the debt collector to show the original signed documents and all the paperwork. This means that the paperwork must prove the balance of the debt, from the first day to the present.  Every defendant has a right to know how an amount allegedly owed is calculated and why.  Be vigilant and ask for accurate figures on the debt.

More often than not, debt collectors miss documents or miscalculate and are not accurate.  Because debts typically change hands multiple times, it is very likely there will be some errors in the figures and documents.  If there are errors in the case, a defendant may ask for the case to be dismissed.

In a 2015 news article, a former employee of a major creditor mentioned that as many as a quarter of the files showed incorrect amounts owed.  If the credit card issuers can’t provide accurate documentation, there’s an excellent chance you will win.

4. Wrath.

 Yes, debt collectors make us mad.  However, many people get so angry that they do nothing.  Anger (like most negative emotions) paralyzes us from doing the right thing.  It’s easy to change this negative emotion by talking to your lawyer and by making solid plans to challenge the lawsuit against you in a timely manner.  Don’t let wrath, or any other negative emotions kill positive energy.

In Massachusetts, in most cases with a few exceptions, creditors have a maximum of six years to collect on most credit card (revolving) debt.  Other states and jurisdictions are different.  Ask your lawyer about the Statute of Limitations in your jurisdiction.

The Statute of Limitations is an awesome defense to have in your legal defense tool box, so to speak.  Sometimes, collectors don’t stop collecting and taking people to court, even after the Statute of Limitations has run out.  The reason is because debt collectors are hoping and assuming people don’t want to be bothered and they won’t show up in Court.  This is true.  But defendants who raise the Statute of Limitations defense will typically win.  With a solid Statute of Limitations defense, the Court will recognize that the debt can no longer be collected upon and, like magic, a Court will dismiss a collections lawsuit.

It is important to know how to legally apply this handy dandy tool.  Also, paying or agreeing to pay on an old debt may start the Statute of Limitations clock ticking all over again.  Never pay on an old debt without first consulting a good lawyer.  If the Statute of Limitations has expired, and it is used properly and timely as a viable defense, a collector stands a good chance of losing.

Tame the wrath by fighting fairly and civilly.  Wrath turned around and channeled into controlled, positive, motivated beneficial action is a very good thing, indeed.

5. Gluttony.

 Plain and simple, most everyone has the right to take action against collectors, but they don’t.  This could simply be a matter of gluttony?  Perhaps.  Retaining paralyzing feelings of grief, powerlessness, becoming overly indulgent in thoughts that are self-critical, are negative negative feelings.  Self indulgence is a form of gluttony.  Gluttony is crippling. The negative energy of gluttony gets in the way of taking positive action.

There are rules and laws, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that may turn the tide in your favor and help you to turn gluttony into positive energy.  If you have consulted a good lawyer, chances are that you may be able to discuss the odds of getting a good money award from a debt collector if they violated any part of the FDCPA.  People who successfully sue for violations of the FDCPA may be entitled to receive from the collector, statutory damages of $1000, plus punitive and economic damages, and even attorney’s fees and costs.  Extra money is always a welcome bonus!  This is also a good reason to hire a good consumer defense and bankruptcy attorney who can help.

Pity and self-gluttony have no place if you want to win a lawsuit.  Snooze and you lose. This is the very thing debt collectors are counting on.

6. Lust.

Lust is a big one.  Have you ever been around someone who loves themselves so much, they think they can do things all by themselves, when they really need help?  It is very important to become a smart consumer and know when to find help.  Smart people tend to kick lust to the curb.  Call a professional to get the best results possible.  In other words, bring out the big guns.

Once a collector is notified that you are represented by an attorney, it’s usually all over.  Most collectors are more than anxious to settle a debt, out of court, rather than fight over it with a lawyer.  Hesitating hiring a lawyer will only serve to reduce your chances of winning, significantly.

Attorneys who regularly take these types of cases will typically offer a free consultation.  On some occasions, they may represent you for free if they think the collector has broken the law.  This is because the attorney will expect to collect their fees from the collector.  Most people don’t know this.

Lust has no place for winners.  Fighting a legal battle with expert help makes sense.

7. Envy  

Most people think Bankruptcy is for “those” people.  If you really believe that Bankruptcy is for those pitiful people who have no common sense or self control, or for people who want to take advantage of the system, guess again.  Bankruptcy laws are designed so that fraudulent claims are virtually non-existent.  Furthermore, some of the most successful people in our country legitimately and legally have filed successful Bankruptcy Petitions, for very good reasons.

Everyone makes mistakes and goes through struggles in life.  How people overcome and manage those struggles makes all the difference.  In the US today, we are lucky enough to have Bankruptcy law.  Think of Bankruptcy as a beneficial tool, a way to move forward, unlike envy that will hold most of us back.

Bankruptcy often is the best solution because it will not only give a person a fresh start, Bankruptcy will also stop all collections.  The day a Bankruptcy Petition is filed with the Court, a person will be protected from all collection efforts by something called an “automatic stay.”

See if Bankruptcy is an option suitable for you.  A good lawyer will be happy to guide you to make the very best decisions for you.

Tip:  Monitor your credit scores and credit reports from time to time to see where you stand.  You are entitled to one free annual credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies, each year.  Search on the Internet or ask your lawyer or certified public accountant (CPA) how to obtain a free credit report and do this, annually.

Being paralyzed by any of these deadly sins happens to the best of us.   Indulging in any one of these things will greatly reduce the odds in your favor.  Vigilance, by taking action now, is your best path to success.

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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.squarespace.com or www.attorneykelly.wordpress.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 © 2016 by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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

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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.

4 Extraordinary and Simple Things to Boost your Financial Health

Financial health… spiral_notebook_red

We all want it.  But how do you get it?

Financial health is relatively simple, but the benefits are many.  It requires us to pay attention to what we are doing and to do the right thing.  Like exercise or anything else, it requires us to work on it, to grow and mature.  Doing this also helps manage stresses in our life, a big part of physical and mental health.

1.  FINANCIALS

Make a simple personal financial record or statement. This is a very simple journal of income and expenses.  Some people call this budget planning or a spreadsheet of income and expenses.  This sort of record is like a food journal or a diary.  Create it on computer spreadsheet or keep a simple notebook. The important thing is to update your journal and keep it going.  Don’t give up.  Your personal financial journal, statement or record is a very important tool.  It will not only help you keep track of where your money’s going, but will aid you in making good sound financial decisions for the rest of your life.

Tip: If you hesitate, estimate!  Estimating your finances is a start. It will help you get going until eventually, you will find value in keeping more detailed, more accurate financial records.  Just get started, the accuracy will come later – easy peasy!

2.  DEBT

Pay down debts. Do this the best way you can now.  Then, do it the smart way eventually, over time.  Prioritize debts by deciding which debt you want to pay down first.  Maybe this is your smallest debt, to give you a quicker reward.  Maybe it’s the one debt accruing the most interest and fees, to give you a larger value for your efforts now.  There is no one right, wrong or perfect way to do this.  Just get started.  Even if you take a different approach, keep at it.  Eventually, you will become better at paying down debt.  Resolution number 1, keeping a Financial record or journal, will help.

TIP:  If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  After all, inch by inch, everything’s a cinch.  Don’t be overwhelmed, keep it simple.  Ask for help when you need it.  Your trusted financial or legal advisor may be able to help.  Asking for help, especially if you are overwhelmed, is a no-brainer for smart people!

3.  SAVE

Start now, saving for tomorrow.  Start a retirement savings plan.  No, I’m not talking about a tiny little 0% savings account, but if you need to do this to get started, by all means do it.  Retirement savings is a long term savings plan.  There are many ways to do this.  Find the one that works best for you and start.  Start this year, no matter how big or small.  It is never too late to start any kind of long term savings.

Tip:  Many people don’t save because they do not believe it makes much difference, that they can’t save anything or that they will never have enough money.  This kind of thinking is not good.  It’s like telling yourself not to start an exercise plan because it won’t help you now or doesn’t really matter because you can’t see future results.  Look at savings in a similar way.  What will it hurt if you do?  What will it hurt if you don’t?  Think about it.

FYI:  The financial equivalent of Bag of Chips, One Late, One Six Pack of Beer or One Movie Date or One Take Out Pizza, per week, invested, over time (maybe 30 years or so), may bring you a return of $100,000 to $200,000.00?  What will you have saved in 30 years, based on your current plan?

First steps:  Call your financial planner, tax advisor or even your attorney.  Financial planners are usually an enormous resource of help and information.  Just get started, that’s all you have to do.

4.  PLAN

Start an estate plan.  No matter how big or small, plan your estate well, and plan it now.  If you don’t even have a simple will, ask your attorney to draft one, for starters.  Keep your estate planning simple, and you’ll be off to a great start.  It will be worth it in the end.

Do you have small children, a larger estate, elderly parents or even a life insurance policy?  Do you need a guardianship plan, a trust, end-of-life healthcare directive or power of attorney?  There are many legal options and tools.  A good estate planning attorney can help you with this.   Put this on your “things to do” list, now.  It’s one small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Financial health need not be difficult.  Just remember these 4 steps, Financials, Debt, Save and Plan, (“FDSP”) Four Ducks Swim Perfectly!

I wish you the best of luck and great financial health and success in 2015 and beyond!

PERSONAL STORY

Once upon a time, I was living hand to mouth.  This is not uncommon, even for an attorney.  For many folks, financial health is a learning curve.  It’s the same for many professionals.

When I was raising a young family, I faced a lot of mental anguish over how to make more money, how to pay the bills and how to get through college, football cleats, sleepover parties and Christmas.  No matter how much money I made, it went in one hand and out the other.  Paying off debt seemed an impossible task.  Saving was off my radar screen.  Not a good place to be.

More often than not, stressful times require strong action.  Since I couldn’t stand the stress, I learned how to get rid of it.   First, I learned how to budget and plan.

Keeping a financial journal was not always easy.  Sometimes I’d make things complicated.  Sometimes I’d forget to update it.  A few times I lost my journal.  Eventually, I learned how to keep things simple and just do it (this was not instant or magical, it took time for me).  I learned to keep my financial journal in a little red notebook, in my kitchen.  When I found it, I updated it.  One simple task of keeping my color-coded financial journal, in one visible place, resulted in big financial gains for me.

Because I updated my journal, at least every month, eventually, a more accurate reflection of what I was doing and where I was going came into focus.  Simple things seemed easier.  My financial journal helped me to understand that making pizza, rather than buying pizza for the kid’s sleepover, would save over $50 dollars in just one week.  I discovered that eating more leftovers would reduce my grocery bill at least $100 each month.  These simple gains motivated me to do better.

I wanted to learn more about how to cut costs on all sorts of things, how to earn extra cash and more.  I learned how to sell things on eBay.  I learned how to have the best yard sales, which helped to pay for my college.  I worked odd jobs and traded babysitting with other moms, partly to keep my sanity, but mostly to save money.  Cutting costs on electricity and fuel, with 4 kids, was not always easy, but we did it.  I also borrowed tools and even learned how to work on my own car, a very big deal for me (I’m not a motor-head).  I car pooled and took the bus, rather than drive to work.  I even found some pretty swanky clothes at yes, a thrift shop.  One of my favorite suit jackets is a “Saks Fifth Avenue” special, found at Salvation Army for $8.  I still wear it.

Eventually, with the extra money I saved and earned, I learned how to start paying down my debt.  In a few short years, I turned financial gloom into boom.  I started saving for retirement, Christmas and vacations.  The only bad thing I can say about all of this is, good things don’t always come easy.  Fear of things like moth-ball smells and grease on one’s hands must be overcome and it’s not always fun becoming the leftover-ogre or the light-switch witch.  No, not easy and not always perfect.  I also made my share of mistakes.  But that’s OK.  Mistakes are lessons to be learned and tools to get you were you want to be.

Good things are usually worth the effort.  So my point is, don’t give up.  Don’t think it’s over and you’re done.  To this day I still work on my financial journal and budget.  I still work on my own personal “kinks” and things.  To me, apathy is a nightmare.  I try to avoid apathy like I avoid bears.  Bears will kill you.  Oh yes, don’t forget or become too proud to ask for help.  This is important.  If you don’t get the help you need, right away, keep asking.

Anyhow, I’ve come a long way since the early days of eBay and yard sales.  It’s not rocket science.  No, I’m not superhuman.  I don’t have a magic wand.  Neither do you.  No matter what you’re your situation, age or income, you can do these things too and there are plenty of people willing to help.

Whatever you do, learn how to gain financial health.  Learn what motivates you.  Learn the things that keep you pointed in a positive financial direction.  Learning more about financial growth and how to become more stable is the right thing to do.  Do it for yourself and your family, this year and beyond.  It’s worth it!

TIP:  Most initial attorney consultations are free.  If your attorney does not offer a free consultation service, just ask.  The worst that can happen is he/she will say no.  Usually, an attorney will help.  If not, and you need an attorney, don’t hesitate to call me.  Maybe I can help.  You never know unless you ask.

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

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

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

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