Tag Archives: Student Loan Debt

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

Bankruptcy, the Easy Way Out. Really?

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

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

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

Is Bankruptcy Really the Easy Way Out?

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

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

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

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

But wait…

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

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

So why is Bankruptcy complicated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternatives to Bankruptcy.

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

Next Steps…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handle Student Loan Debt like a Boss

Gan Golan

“You snooze, you lose applies in every aspect of eliminating student loan debt.” ~Attorney Kelly

by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq.   Posted: March 9, 2017

We’ve all heard about, read about, or experienced it, crushing student debt.  Student loan debt can be quite paralyzing, overwhelming and downright horrifying.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, with good budgeting and planning, this beast like most others can be tamed. Dealing proactively with student loan debt is a far better plan than dealing with the nasty consequences of doing nothing and facing wage garnishment.  Wage garnishments are not pretty, believe me.

These are absolutely some of the best tips out there if you want to handle your student loan debt like a boss. Follow these, like a road map and find the light at the end of the dark student debt tunnel.

Get Over It, Get Your Paperwork Together and Pick Up the Phone 

The experts say, there is a time to cry, a time to grieve, and then there is a time to pull yourself up by the boot strings and get over it.  Getting over what grieves or worries you involves action. Ignoring this worrisome ‘ginormous’ problem won’t make it go away. Being proactive is what you do. It’s simple. Start by having your last tax return or your last W-2 ready, in hand, just in case. Then, call your student loan service provider or creditor.  Find out your best options. Write them down. If you need time to make a decision, take the time to think things through.   

Be upfront and honest. Transparency is the best policy. Tell your loan servicer or creditor your situation. This will help them explain to you, better, your different options for repayment. There are a lot of legit options to look into, like forbearance, deferment, and, in some special situations, even debt forgiveness.

Not asking about these things means living in fear. Fear, in this context, brings nothing but trouble. It’s easy to ask about the interest, the length of time to repay and things that may impact your budget. Oh yes – always draft a simple updated budget, an easy to create, yet amazing empowerment tool. This will help with your discussions, ideas and planning.

For most folks facing serious trouble, like unemployment, underemployment, long or short term disability, the best piece of advice I can offer is to look into an Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR). Oftentimes, an IBR results in a zero dollar or very small bottom line payment. An IBR is based on your current income and family size. Check this out. Save the deferments and forbearance plans, for real issues like an injury, death or serious problems. Use the IBR when you are facing underemployment or unemployment issues, long term.

Discovering Repayment Options Online is “easy-peasy”

With the number of tools out there to use, there is no better time than now to find out what your repayment amount will be. One helpful online tool that comes to mind is the Department of Education Federal Student Loan Repayment Plan Estimator.  Use it.

Calculate different repayment plans.  Find out what plans include debt forgiveness if you still owe a balance after paying on your loan for 10 to 25 years. It’s easy-peasy and actually, many of my clients, family and friends use this tool.  It’s amazing. You can do this.

Frugal is the New ‘Thing’ 

OK, hundreds of thousands of people understand, the job market is tough.  This is a fact.  Moving right along, there are work-a-rounds to get through this. Try a legit side hustle, part-time gig or freelance work, like Uber, Summer Pizza Delivery, Coaching, Home Sitting, Garden Center or Nursery work. Try selling extra stuff, collectibles or homemade things on eBay, Etsy or at a flea market. Then, (this is the best part) you can usually save money, even big bucks, by decreasing spending.

Decreasing spending gets easier and easier the more you try it and the more you know.  Create, rather than consume. Save, rather than spend. It’s fun and it’s better for our family, environment and our communities. Websites like the Frugal Girl or Minimalist Mom are good tools to help along the way.

My friend Andy Prescot writes a great blog called, The Art of Being Cheap.  We learned how to reduce our mobile phone bill over $100 per month.  We have saved well over $3600 the past three years, based on Andy’s good tips regarding an inexpensive, but excellent, mobile phone service plan and provider.  Andy also has more good tips on fugal things like how buy a refrigerator, start an Uber business part-time or whether or not to take a 401(k) loan.

Many of these websites are excellent. The top 25 frugal bloggers for 2016 can be found, here.

Challenge yourself to do at least 3 new things this month to save money.  My three favorites are find new mobile phone provider and plan, make home-made pizza (rather than go out to eat) and how to service and repair my car.  It’s absolutely a blast and empowering.  However, I’m warning you now, frugal is contagious. You’ll get hooked. Your friends will get hooked. Seriously, frugal is a thing.

Ask your Boss, Like a Boss

A growing trend in the last few years has been for employers to offer student loan repayment assistance to employees as a benefit. Unlike tuition reimbursement (which has been around for years), student loan repayment assistance is a relatively new idea, a concept that’s gaining a lot of traction these days.

Last year alone, according to a recent study, 3% of companies offered some type of assistance program to help employees pay down their student debt and one thing’s for sure, this number is growing and growing strong.

If you are looking for a new job or are a new hire, negotiate. Most workers don’t negotiate, yet employers report that they are willing to pay more. Use this to your advantage. Some employers are now offering student loan repayment as a benefit.

There are tons of articles designed to help with this. Daily Worth, US News and Thrive powered by ADP are all helpful websites. Find out what you need to know about this new perk.  Work it to your advantage.

If a raise or bonus is in your future, ask your current employer or HR department about ways they can help you reduce your current student loan debt. Perhaps they can apply a new raise or bonus to your existing debt repayment plan.     

Find Experienced Help or Seek a Vetted Lawyer, FREE!

There are a few different professionals can help. Financial advisers are available if they are certified and affiliated with a reputable bank.  Oftentimes a certified public accountant (CPA) is full of free and helpful information.  Towns and cities quite often offer free credit and financial counseling services.  Check with your local library.  Go online.  Look into your local town or government website.

The Charlton Town Website, is here. On the clubs and organization page is a list of places you can go to get help. Quite often, places like the Lions Club, Food Banks, Veteran’s groups and Business Associations are networks of helping hands, ready to offer assistance if you ask.

Librarians are a treasure. The Charlton Public Library link is here.  Ask your local librarian when or where there is a class on debt, financial management or student loan debt assistance. If they don’t know, they will find out for you. Quite often sofa.org has classes held at local libraries. Ask your librarian about this. Be persistent.

If your situation involves a little bit more than, “I hate my loan servicer and don’t know what to do about it,” an experienced student loan lawyer or debtor defense lawyer is probably your best bet. Here’s how…

  1. Lawyers can give you guidance regarding your legal rights and options.
  2. Lawyers can represent you in negotiating with your student loan creditor, services or debt collection agency.
  3. They can help you figure out the best way to work out delinquencies and defaults, or to apply for a discharge.
  4. They protect you from unfair debt collection practices or debt collector abuse.
  5. Lawyers manage credit disputes.
  6. Lawyers advocate and go to court for you, managing legal matters like student loan-related issues, collections lawsuits or cases involving schools or agencies for legal violations and causing harm.
  7. In Massachusetts, an experienced Massachusetts lawyer can sometimes get you money awards for violations of things like the FDCPA and Massachusetts law.

If you’re dealing with delinquency or default, considering filing for bankruptcy or applying for a disability discharge, a debtor defense/bankruptcy/student loan lawyer is the best way to fly.

 Why a Lawyer, Why Not DIY?

Since every person is different, and every situation is different, whether or not you should contact a student loan lawyer really depends on your specific circumstances.  In reality, you may or may not need a student loan lawyer.

There are really very few things that inherently require you to hire a lawyer.  Even filing for bankruptcy or defending against a collections lawsuit can be done ‘pro se,’ (pronounced, “pro-say”) meaning without legal representation or Do It Yourself (DIY).

While hiring a student loan or bankruptcy lawyer may not be required, a lawyer may be incredibly useful, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not sure of your legal options, you’ve been sued, or you’re dealing with a complex legal issue.

In other words, debtor defense and student loan lawyers can take a difficult, seemingly hopeless or complex situation and make it easy for you by offering steps and solutions to give you back your life and your ability to move forward.

Some lawyers, like myself, are successful at getting clients extra cha-ching, based on the mistakes and bad behavior of some debt collectors and creditors.

The Final Word

Before hiring a lawyer, talk to your student loan creditor or servicer and exhaust your options.  After using up all your options, get help immediately.  Like I said earlier, yes there is a ray of hope.  You can do this.  Check out lawyer websites in your area.  Pick up the phone.  Call a lawyer. I suggest that you find at least three local lawyers and comparison shop.  Ask each one of them if they offer a free consultation.  Then, schedule appointments on your own time.

For the unemployed or underemployed, quite often legal aid lawyers in your local area offer free or reduced fee services. In Worcester County the legal aid website is called Community Legal Aid.  Free is good. Free is frugal. Frugal is a new thing, remember?

Think of these tips as being your job.  It’s your job to save money and work toward the positive things in life.  In a sense, saving money and working toward the positive is powerful and self-soothing.  Do this. Do it now. Regain control of your new life. Feel liberated and pleased with your own good efforts. Empowerment feels good.  Empower yourself like a boss.

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2017, by Ginger B. Kelly, Esq., all rights reserved.

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