Tag Archives: Financial

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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Filed under Bankruptcy, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Financial, Foreclosure, Hiring Counsel, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, practical stuff, Rhode Island, Student Loan Debt, Trending, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency Debt, Financial, Financial Planning, Foreclosure, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Mortgages, practical stuff, Short Sale, 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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Filed under Bankruptcy, Debt, Debt Collection, Filing, Financial, Law, Legal, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Uncategorized

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.

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Filed under Bankruptcy, Civil, civil law, Debt, Debt Collection, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Massachusetts, practical stuff, Trial

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 401(k), Bankruptcy, Financial, Legal, Retirement Savings

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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