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Clearing Financial Clutter, Minimalist Style

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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.

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Filed under Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency, Deficiency Debt, Empowerment, Estate Planning, Financial, Financial Planning, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Minimalism, Mortgages, News, practical stuff, Retirement Savings, Rhode Island, Spouse, Trending, Uncategorized

Lien Removal via bankruptcy

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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.

 

 

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Filed under Auto Loans, Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Empowerment, Execution, Filing, Judgements, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Legal Rights, Liens, Massachusetts, Massachusetts law, Mortgages, Rhode Island, Short Sale

With No Money, How Do I Pay My Attorney to File My Bankruptcy?

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How do I Pay My Attorney for My Bankruptcy?

By, Ginger Kelly, Esq.  April 10, 2018

The other day, a personal friend asked me (for a friend), whether or not they should she use their tax return tax refund to pay down their credit card bills or to replace the old and leaking roof on their home.  Their roof needed repairing badly.  Their credit card debt was very old and the payments were more than they could afford.  Even though I can’t make that final decision for this friend’s friend (or any of my clients), I can advise most folks of their legal options.  When people need to make a choice between a roof over their head or paying credit card bills, one good option available to most everyone is a fresh start.

In many or most situations, bankruptcy can give an individual or a couple, the fresh start they need. If you are in a position where you need to make important decisions like what to pay and what not to pay, like a roof on your home or to repair the vehicle you need to get to work, talk to a good bankruptcy attorney.  Most give free first consultations, like our office. Bankruptcy might be an option for you, or maybe not.  A person hasn’t lost but an hour of their time discussing their options with a good attorney.  Talking to a professional about options for taking care of debt, sometimes gives the clarity you need to make the right decisions for your future.

A client visited me the other day to discuss her situation. Apparently, she had debt exceeding any amount she could pay.  It wasn’t much debt, but it was a lot for her and that is important. Her earnings were barely more than the poverty level.  So while we had a nice hot cup of coffee, we talked about all of her options.  It was a nice pleasant, casual conversation.  I discovered that my client earned too much money to qualify for a free bankruptcy, through legal aid. She was sad and asked me what can be done.

Because her bankruptcy was not complex, I agreed to lower my fee. I gave her my best  fee option. Still, she was worried. Where would she find the money to pay the attorney fee? I asked her if she was getting a tax refund. She said yes, but it wasn’t enough. She was sickened with the idea of paying creditors all of her disposable income for years to come.

All of a sudden, she had an idea. She said, rather than trying to negotiate and pay down her credit card debt, using all of her disposable income, she said she could ask her uncle for the money. She said that she was thinking of asking him for a gift to help her pay down her loans anyway. Why not ask him for the same gift to pay her attorney’s fees?  Good idea! Sometimes asking relatives to help is a better option than worrying about how to pay overwhelming debt. I’ve had several clients in this kind of situation.

Once, a couple was in the same situation. The wife lost her job due to illness and then one thing led to another. They became deeply indebted, mostly to unsecured creditors (credit card companies). The best option for them was to file for bankruptcy. We talked a little bit and I gave them my best rate.  They were thankful, but without the extra cash, they didn’t know how to pay the legal fees. This was a problem for them.  However, determination overcomes lots of obstacles.

This couple scraped and saved and paid a little along. One spouse sold a baseball card collection and some tools.  The other sold some furniture they no longer needed. They used Craigslist and Facebook Yard Sale to sell a few more things.  They sent checks, one by one, to our office. Sometimes the check was small, sometimes large. We placed all of these funds into our client’s trust account, on hold for them until they finished paying. It didn’t take long. Within about four months, this couple paid all their fees, including the filing fee. This couple couldn’t have been happier.  I was so happy to help them in this way.

Once a person is determined to make a bad situation better, magic happens. There are more options for paying lawyer’s fees than these. Options are only limited by a person’s motivation, determination and imagination. Typically, I ask clients whether or not they have a tax refund coming to them.  This is a very good option for covering fees and things.  Then, I suggest asking friends or relatives for a gift.  At our office we have many ways of making your bankruptcy affordable, sometimes even free or at a reduced rate. Ask us how and perhaps we can help to make your fresh start,more affordable.  It may be easier than you think.

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 free 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 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.

 

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What to do when your car isn’t worth the loan payments

Auto loan and credit card debt

By Attorney Ginger Kelly, December 15, 2017

I’m seeing it over and over again with folks in our Central Massachusetts area.  Car loans are so expensive and cars lose their value so quickly, it is causing harm to consumers.  As soon as the loan papers are signed, folks are strapped to payments they can’t afford.  It’s a shame and it makes me mad, the same kind of mad I get when I see what payday lenders can do to hard working families.

One person I know (I won’t mention her name), who earns less than $1200 per month in Social Security Disability Income went to a dealer to get a car loan on a new car.  She pays over seven hundred dollars a month for rent, yet the dealer down the street gave her a car loan.  Her car loan payments were over $400 per month.  What’s going on here?  This is robbery, in my opinion.

Another client I had a long time ago, purchased a new car for well over twenty two thousand dollars.  Less than a year later, she lost her job.  She could no longer afford her monthly car payments.  She had to do something so she tried to negotiate a modification of her loan.  Without her good paying job, the lender said no.  To keep her home, she lost her car and surrendered it moments before it was repossessed.  Then, the dealer auctioned the car to pay the loan.  The car brought in only a few thousand dollars at auction.  The outstanding balance she owed to her lender was well over twelve thousand dollars.  How does a brand new car loose over ten thousand dollars in value in less than a year?  The car had very little miles and was in almost perfect condition.  I don’t understand it.  This client was compelled to file a Chapter 7 to keep a lien from being placed on her home.  This is how it goes.  It’s sad but true.

Another couple purchased a vehicle in 2011.  The vehicle cost was over twenty thousand dollars.  They successfully made payments for over four years. Then, the wife got sick and couldn’t work.  This caused the couple to lose over half of their income.  They decided to downsize and only drive one car to save money.  They surrendered the car to the lender.  The lender, in turn, sold the car and then charged this couple with a fifteen thousand dollar deficiency on the loan.  This amazing couple, going through some very difficult medical issues, could not pay the deficiency.  They were barely making their mortgage payments. Eventually, the lender took them to court. The lender got a judgment lien against the only asset they had, their home. The couple was devastated. This is why they came to me for help.

My husband was talking to a colleague at work, just today, who asked him why he drives a used car. My husband replied, “Why would I want a new car that’s 50% discounted as soon as I drive it home and if something happens to me and I can’t pay for it, the car gets repossessed and I won’t be able to pay the amount the lender will charge me after the car is surrendered.” He added, “My wife deals with this all the time. She sees people suffering in this type of situation. Why would I put my own finances in jeopardy just to drive a fancy new car?”  My husband said it bluntly and truthfully.

Frankly, I’m baffled at the inflated prices of vehicles these days. I’m astonished at the shady things that seem to be happening to consumers who need to drive to work and school.  What is going on in the lending and auto industry?  Who doesn’t need a car these days?  Maybe this is part of the problem. Consumers need reliable cars, so they do whatever they think is best to get one.  But there is hope.

Several of my clients have had to think about debt consolidation or even try this until they consulted with me and discussed the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy and how this works.

Basically, a Chapter 7 is a total liquidation of all of your debts and a way to get a fresh start for most debt, but a person has to qualify first.  A Chapter 13 is a way to manage your debts by way of a three or five year payment plan.  In a Chapter 13, a debtor pays into this plan and then, after the end of the three or five years, comes out with a fresh start.  Bankruptcy is not for everyone, but it may be the only way to get rid of these not only annoying, but quite often unconscionable auto loan deficiencies.  For some people it’s the only way to stop creditors from placing liens on things like other cars and homes after they had to surrender their car or have it repossessed for one reason or another.

Bankruptcy, for some, is an option worth exploring.  Most Bankruptcy cases will cost anywhere from zero dollars (for qualifying pro bono cases) up to four or five thousand dollars, for some Chapter 13 cases and anywhere in between.  Attorneys cannot tell a client how much a bankruptcy case will cost until they have the opportunity to evaluate the work involved, the type of Bankruptcy needed, the complication of assets and debt and other factors.  But the good thing is, most bankruptcy attorneys offer a free first consultation for most clients.  If they don’t, I suggest that you think about visiting a bankruptcy attorney who does.

The next question my clients ask, I’ll touch briefly upon.  How does someone pay for a Bankruptcy if they don’t have any money?  Well, it’s not easy but it’s do-able.  Some clients sell collections or other things to find the money.  Most clients use tax return refunds to pay for their new start in life.  This is a very good option, indeed.  Still others borrow the money from friends or relatives (I do not suggest that you do this, however, sometimes it’s done anyway).  They ask relatives or friends to help out with a gift.  Christmas temp jobs are wonderful for helping out in a pinch.  Most of the time, where there is a will there is a way.  People find ways to pay for their bankruptcy and are happy to do so.

Tax season is right around the corner.  If you are thinking about whether or not to fix the roof of your home or pay your credit card debt, you might want to consult with a bankruptcy attorney.  If your car payments are too much of a burden for you and you are thinking of surrendering your car, you might want to consult with a bankruptcy attorney.  These are the real issues to consider in this coming tax filing season. Your next tax refund may be the way you too can enjoy a new lease on life and not to be bothered by the heavy burden of bills you cannot pay.

The Law Office of Ginger B. Kelly is a boutique type law firm.  We are not Big Law.  We only handle a small number of clients at one time.  Each client gets personal attention and care.  Each client gets hours and hours of time devoted to their particular case. Our office is in an easy to find location in Charlton. This means you don’t have to drive to the big city of Worcester or Boston and pay for parking. We not only offer free parking, but free coffee in a calm and peaceful place. Your discussion with our senior attorney is very confidential. Your first consultations will last about an hour in a stress-free, homey type atmosphere.

If you want to try a lawyer who is different, a new type of lawyer, Attorney Kelly is the one. Attorney Kelly is a lawyer who is interested in cultivating a more peaceful, kind and gentler approach to law. Her practice is unique. Her zealous advocacy is tempered by her high ethical standards. Her love for people provides the foundation for her attentive personal service. As one client put it, “This is like an old fashioned law office, very comfortable.”

Book your appointment now and explore your best options for the New Year.  We’ll have a nice pot of coffee waiting for you when you visit.

Good luck and have the Happiest of Holidays!

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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 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 Auto Loans, Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, Choosing a lawyer, Collection, credit card debt, Debt, Debt Collection, Deficiency, Hiring Counsel, Judgements, Law, Lawsuits, Legal, Liens, Massachusetts, practical stuff, Repossession, Rhode Island, tax refund, tax return, Uncategorized

Student Loan Debt and What to Do about it

Oh the places youd go if you weren't riddled with student loan debt

By, Attorney Ginger Kelly, November 9, 2017

According to US News, about half of all Massachusetts workers have some sort of bachelor’s degree.  That means high rates of student debt plague our state. But even worse, according to the Boston Globe, over 50% of college students in Boston drop out of college. That leaves even more people strapped by student loan debt without a degree.

When the national average for student loan debt almost reaches the $38,000 mark, it’s no wonder why student debt is becoming truly a national crisis. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. For some college grads, the best strategy is to be aggressive with paying back student loans.

For one college grad, Meghan from Boston, who paid  back her student debt within five years, it was all about prioritizing. “It’s possible if you want it badly enough,” she said. Meghan itemized her debt wish list and named her reasons for wanting to be debt free. Writing down your reasons helps to keep you on your journey. Being able to refer back to those reasons helps to overcome challenges and to remember why you’re making sacrifices.

Another college grad, Jason, felt overwhelmed while trying to pay the minimum on his $45,000 student loans.  So he took a different path and got serious about paying down his student debt. He reviewed every portion of his bank account, tightened spending, worked two jobs, and established a “done with debt” deadline. This helped Jason pay off his student loan debt in less than a year. Jason said that he kept spending very low and worked hard at his corporate job and also side job to pay off debt.

Aggressive payment plans are fine for some, but for those with small children and other priorities, aggressively paying off student loan debt is not always practical or attainable. Never the less, a few tips for grads may be helpful, while keeping in mind that every situation is quite different.

Start saving during the grace period: Use the grace period to review repayment options and figure out what is most affordable for your situation.

Choose a short repayment plan: Try to choose the shortest repayment plan you can afford, if you can do this without eating cat food and borrowing your sister’s car constantly. Although extended payment plans have lower monthly payments, the total interest will more than double for doubling the time.

Pay off expensive loans first, with one caveat: Some financial gurus believe that prioritizing paying off loans with the highest interest rate first is a good idea. But because not all situations are the same, this may not be the best strategy for getting out of debt quickly. Each situation is different. More on this to follow.

Trade your service for your debt: Certain programs, such as AmeriCorps, erase part or even all of a federal student loan. A year of service at AmeriCorps can pay for around $5,645 of your loan. Honestly, I know of no one who paid off their student loans by volunteering in AmeriCorps, but it’s an idea that’s out there.

Keep close contact with your lender: Be sure to tell your lender if you plan on moving or changing your phone number or email address. If they need to contact you but you are unavailable, this could add to your costs. Running the risk of missing payments or other important information is not an option.

Enroll in an ACH direct payment withdrawal option: Enrolling in ACH direct payment withdrawals will not only keep you from missing your payments, it allows for a .25% interest reduction rate for all federal loans and most private loans.

Those are the tips most financial gurus tell us.  However, most folks aren’t going to pay off their student debt by volunteering in AmeriCorps. But it’s an option. Most folks don’t work for in a low paying public service job, nor do they want to. Public service is only an option, not the only path.

Most people, graduates especially, have different types of debt and families with children. People in this category may choose to reduce or pay off their overall debt and just pay the minimum on lower-interest student loan debt until it makes sense to pay this off with a more aggressive student loan payment plan in the future.

*More about paying off expensive loans first: Although this makes perfectly good sense in some situations, the reality of life is that this is not always the best plan. Alternatively, it’s may be a better idea to lower your debt using a different strategy, like zero interest transfer options.

To start on the path to a zero interest transfer option, begin by paying down higher balance debt first and watch your credit scores climb. Then, find one or two zero interest transfer options to get rid of expensive debt and provide more time to pay off overall debt. For a little more in-depth discussion about balance transfer options read,  “When balance transfers make good sense” by Attorney Ginger Kelly.

But it’s not always all about paying down student loans; becoming debt free and more comfortable in your own financial shoes is really about analyzing the total debt you have and working a strategy that makes good sense from a credit bureau point of view.

Total debt to income is what really hurts a person’s ability to feel more confident, secure and to enjoy life a little better. If you want to make a change for the better, maybe get out of your parent’s basement quicker, work on your student loans after trying these strategies. Notice, I did not say simple strategies. They aren’t simple and take time. So be patient. Patience is a virtue, so they say.

1. Lower your total debt to credit ratio: Prioritize personal and consumer loans (like credit cards) to lower your total percent of used to unused credit and really make your credit scores soar. Doing this will lower your total debt to available credit ratio. Having higher percentages of unused credit for all your debt will lower your debt threshold and increase your credit scores. Higher credit scores are what you need to get lower high interest rates or no interest credit card introductory rates with low fee balance transfer options. This plan is not instantaneous (like most good things), but over a year or less many college grads, and people in general, can increase their credit scores 50 to 100 points or more. But wait. Besting your best credit scores isn’t all there is to it.

2. Don’t close old credit card accounts. Then, never ever close old credit card accounts. Keep them, at least for a long while until your 100% confident it makes no sense to have better credit scores. Closing old accounts will damage your credit scores. Damaging credit scores while paying off debt can take you back to square one. Keep old credit cards and move on to the next step.

3. Find zero or low interest balance transfer cards, and use them. With a credit score of 700 or better, don’t run out and finance a new car but rather, find the best lower interest or no interest balance transfer cards by looking, very hard, online. Do the research and find the best deals and then transfer balances from higher interest credit cards to lower or zero balance cards.

Many times, frugal websites like Andy Prescot’s “The Art of Being Cheep”
help with the initial research. Nerdwallet.com and MagnifyMoney.com are also helpful websites. Magnify Money has a great chart on the best balance transfer credit cards and an idea of what kind of credit scores you need to get them.

4. Use the zero balance time to aggressively pay down all revolving debt. With a zero or low interest credit card introductory rate, take this time to aggressively pay down all your credit cards. This will help your credit to grow.

5. Now it’s time to say good bye to student loans. At this point, with better than average credit scores, you have placed yourself in the best position possible to become more pro-active regarding paying down student loan debt. Student debt tends to be the lowest interest debt most people have. So why not make the most of the bargain and aggressively pay down this type of debt last and not first. Manage your debt before you debt manages you.

If there is no way to pay down your debt or debt is managing you, or even killing you, talk to a good consumer debt lawyer or bankruptcy lawyer immediately. Sometimes, they can advise you on which debt to pay first or not and whether or not bankruptcy is an option to explore. Most offer free first consultations.

My advice to people is to find at least three lawyers who offer free first consultations. Visit all three and compare. Pick the lawyer that makes the best sense to you, one that you can talk to, and then stick with that lawyer. Not all lawyers are perfect, remember this. But finding a good adviser who can help you manage your finances and deal with overwhelming consumer and student loan debt is like finding gold when you least expect it.
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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 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 balance transfers, Bankruptcy, credit card debt, Debt, Empowerment, Financial, Financial Planning, Massachusetts, practical stuff, Student Loan Debt, Trending, Uncategorized

When Balance Transfers Make Good Sense

farmers market 2

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

Do the Math

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricky Balance Transfer Fees and Introductory Periods

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

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

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

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

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

Messing Up Good Credit Scores

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

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

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

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

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

What to do with Old Credit Cards

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

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

Balance Transfer Rules of the Road

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

Finding a Balance Transfer

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

When to Avoid a Balance Transfer

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

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

Lower Credit Scores, Now What?

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

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

Some Things Just Make Good Sense, Some Don’t

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

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

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The Law Office of Ginger B. Kelly is now accepting new clients.  Call and schedule your first appointment.  We are a small law office offering your first confidential consultation, absolutely free of charge.

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ABOUT ME:  Attorney Kelly is an attorney in good standing, licensed to practice in both the Federal District and State Courts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her law practice is focused on consumer debt, finance, bankruptcy and District Court matters. Attorney Kelly is experienced in both criminal and civil trial work. On a personal note, Attorney Kelly enjoys writing and other things, like conservation and agriculture.

To find out more, visit, www.attorneykelly.com, visit us at Ginger B. Kelly on Facebook or feel free to call us at (508) 784-1444.

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

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

 

2 Comments

June 29, 2017 · 4:22 pm