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What You Can Do to Prevent Future Bankruptcies

No one ever wants to be in a position where they have to consider filing for bankruptcy, and most do so only as a measure of last resort. However, according to the U.S. Courts, those who file for bankruptcy have a 1 in 3 chance of filing again.

Though bankruptcy may be your best option for debt relief it’s safe to say that no one wants to wind up in the same position having to consider bankruptcy because they are facing seemingly insurmountable debts and creditor harassment. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce the likelihood of filing for bankruptcy for a second time. Here are a few ideas for how you can prevent future bankruptcies:

Set a Realistic Budget

It is important to have a realistic sense of your finances in order to avoid taking on debts that may lead to your needing to file bankruptcy. Make a list of all your expenses — not just the ones you hope to limit yourself to, such as rent and utilities. If you know you won’t be able to stop eating out or going to the movies, make sure you budget a line item for these things and then limit the number of outings you have to save.

When calculating your budget, also be sure you have realistic expectations about your income. Set your budget based on your current income — not what you hope to be making after an expected promotion or bonus (which may never come).

Create an Emergency Savings Fund

The unexpected can happen, and it’s usually what leads to situations that cause you to consider bankruptcy. Many people have lost their jobs in this economy — jobs they have held for years. Others have been sidelined by unexpected medical bills after an illness or injury. Some face having to start over after a divorce.

While you can’t prepare for every possibility, you can create an emergency savings fund that will provide a cushion when the unexpected happens. Aim to save enough to cover at least six months of your salary.

Be Cautious with Credit

Many people who file for bankruptcy have high credit card debts. Sometimes the credit card debt is the cause of the financial struggle that led to filing bankruptcy. Sometimes, other overwhelming financial circumstances have led to the need to use credit in order to cover basic living expenses.

Once you start to accumulate a lot of credit card debt, it can be difficult to pay it off as high interest rates compound the debt. Reserve credit card use for emergencies only or limit their use to purchases for which you have the cash ready to pay off at the end of the month.

Get Good Insurance

A major illness or injury is one of the common reasons that people find themselves in over their heads in debt and considering bankruptcy. While you can never protect yourself against all possibilities, you can reduce your risks by getting a good insurance policy that will pay your medical expenses if you are injured or become ill.

Insurance won’t protect you against all losses. Depending on circumstances and your policy, you may not be covered for lost wages, long-term disability, or even all of your medical care. However, having a good insurance policy will minimize your losses and protect you from dire financial circumstances.

The unexpected happens, and bad things happen to good people. You can’t insure that you won’t ever have to face overwhelming debts. However, you can take steps to minimize your risks so that if you’ve already had to file for bankruptcy, you can reduce your chances that you will have to file again.

Of course, if you are unsure about your options, you can always call a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin to review your case and get tailored legal advice. Call 1-866-900-7078 right now for a free evaluation of your case!

5 Reasons You Should Consider Filing for Bankruptcy

The decision to file bankruptcy is a deeply personal one that can have a big impact on your life. If it’s the right decision for you, it could give you the relief you need to get a fresh financial start and to start taking back your life from the stress and anxiety that overwhelming debt has caused you.

There are many reasons why you might consider filing for bankruptcy, depending on your personal circumstances, including your total debts and your income.

Here are 5 of the top reasons why you might consider filing for bankruptcy:

You Have Excessive Credit Card Debt

 woman holds head pondering whether to file for bankruptcyCredit card debt compounds over time, with high interest rates making it difficult for you to pay down the principal and get out from under the debt. If you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can discharge all your credit card debt. If you have high credit card debts, bankruptcy can offer you a great deal of relief.

You Have Excessive Medical Bills

If you are injured or become seriously ill, your medical bills can add up fast. Similar to credit card debt, medical bills are almost always unsecured debts. If you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you can eliminate these debts and get relief.

You are Behind on Your Mortgage

If you lose your job or become mired in debt, you may fall behind on your mortgage. Bankruptcy may be able to save your house and help you to catch up on missed payments. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing can reorganize your debts and offer you a payment plan, allowing you to include past due mortgage payments. Of course, you will have to pay on the past due amount while also paying your current mortgage payment.

You are Being Harassed by Creditors

When you start to get in over your head in debt, it can feel like you are being hounded by creditors. You may start to dread answering the phone or opening your mail. When you file for bankruptcy, your creditors are prohibited from contacting you about your debts. All the letters and phone calls must stop. If they continue to contact you after you file, you may be able to file legal action against them.

You Have Exhausted Your Options

Bankruptcy is often a measure of last resort for many people. Many try to work out a repayment plan with their credit card companies and mortgage companies but either have no success or don’t find enough relief to catch up on their debts. If you have already tried to work out payment arrangements yourself and are still struggling to pay your debts each month — or maybe are accumulating even more debt in the process — then bankruptcy may be right for you.

North Carolina Bankruptcy Lawyer

A North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Consumer and Business Bankruptcy Law at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin is ready to help. Call 1-866-900-7078 for a free evaluation of your case.

Find out how you may be able to get the debt relief you need and get back on the road to financial recovery!

*Certain debts may be considered non-dischargeable if the creditor takes action in your case. Those debts include debts obtained by fraud, embezzlement, and willful and malicious conduct. These situations are very rare and are dependant upon your specific facts and circumstances. Your bankruptcy attorney will discuss whether this may apply in your case with you at your free consultation.

Paper Reports that Home Loans are Available to Many In as Little as a Year after Bankruptcy Filing

Many people who file bankruptcy fear that it will be years before they can buy a home (perhaps for the first time) because the bankruptcy will be on their credit report for 7 to 10 years. However, the New York Times reported last week that this fear is unfounded for many, with some mortgages becoming available to some consumers in as little as a year after bankruptcy has been discharged.

According to the paper, those who file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection qualify for a mortgage guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) one year after discharge, and those that file for Chapter 7 qualify in two years.

Of course, consumers will have to work on managing their credit following their bankruptcy discharge to improve their score. This can be done by paying bills on time and using credit responsibly.

handshake is done after home loan is securedFinancial advisors say that using one or two credit cards with a small balance and paying them off regularly is a great way to rebuild your score after a bankruptcy. If you can’t qualify for an unsecured card, then you may be able to get a secured card (one that is backed by a cash deposit) from your bank.

Though a bankruptcy does remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, it is not a financial death sentence. As this report shows, consumers can get approved for new credit relatively quickly following a bankruptcy discharge, and responsible financial management can quickly bring your score back up.

In most cases, filing for bankruptcy is a powerful tool in helping consumers who have become overwhelmed by debt to take charge of their finances and get back on the road to recovery. For many consumers, if they do not file for bankruptcy, they will struggle with overwhelming debts for years, leaving them unable to move forward with purchases like a car or new home. For those consumers, bankruptcy makes financial progress possible.

North Carolina Bankruptcy Lawyers

If you are in over your head in debt, a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin may be able to help you. Call our offices at 1-866-900-7078 for a free consultation and to find out how bankruptcy may be able to help you!

10 Things NOT to Do if You are Going to File for Bankruptcy

There are many times we look back and think, “I wish I had not done that!” Lawyers may also think “I wish they [my client] had not done that,” too.

You can’t change the past, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what you should try and avoid ahead of time when possible? With that in mind, I have come up with this list of 10  things NOT to do if you are going to file for bankruptcy.

In an effort to keep this list simple and clear, I have kept out all of the qualifiers we lawyers like to include. I could have taken up pages and pages with this list if I wanted to include every possible exception or defense. I always suggest talking about your specific situation with a bankruptcy lawyer so that you can best determine what to expect in filing a bankruptcy case. But this is a good general list of guidelines for things to avoid doing if you are thinking about filing a bankruptcy:

  1. Don’t Pay Back Family Members
    Relatives are “insiders” under the Bankruptcy Code. If you pay back money to an “insider” during the 12-month period before you file a bankruptcy petition, it can be considered a “preference” and it can be undone by the trustee. In other words: The court may go after your relative to get the money back.

    The trustee can ask for the money back, but if this does not work, the trustee can sue your family member in federal court for return of the funds.

    Avoid this situation and just list your mom, dad, or other relative as a creditor (because they are a creditor), and you can tell them, if you want, that you’ll do your best to pay them back after your case is filed. You may actually be doing them a favor!!

  2. Don’t Take Out a Large Cash Advance
    If you take out a cash advance of more than $875* within 70 days of filing a bankruptcy case, a creditor may file a lawsuit in bankruptcy court to declare these funds as non-dischargeable. This means you would still owe this debt after your bankruptcy case is over. Cash advances include both credit card cash advances and pay day loans.

    If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy, don’t borrow any money you don’t have to – or any money that you can’t afford to pay back.

  3. Don’t Buy Luxury Goods on Credit
    If you make a “luxury” purchase of $600 or more* within 90 days of filing a bankruptcy case, this is also considered to be non-dischargeable and you may find yourself still owing the creditor for these debts after your case is done.

    Luxury goods can include items such as clothes, electronics, or other personal goods that are not “reasonably necessary” for day-to-day support and maintenance.

  4. Don’t Incur New Debt
    Don’t run up a lot of debts or go out taking out new debt that you have no intention of paying. If you do, you may find yourself the subject of a legal action.

    At a minimum, the court could determine that this debt must be repaid, so you would still owe the money when your case was discharged. At most, you could face fees and other penalties.

  5. Don’t Pay off Some of Your Credit Cards and Expect to Keep Them
    While it’s true that you do not need to identify a credit card company as a creditor if your balance due on the date your bankruptcy petition is filed is $0, this does not mean that you will get to keep that credit card.

    You have to identify any payments over $600** to a single creditor during the 90-day period before you file your bankruptcy case. These payments are “preference” payments, and just like with a family member, the trustee can sue the creditor to return the funds to be redistributed amongst your other creditors.

    Also, in my experience, credit card companies will often cancel your card as soon as it discovers you are in a bankruptcy. (They will know because the bankruptcy is reflected on your credit report.) Therefore, you may pay off the credit card before you file in an effort to keep it, but the company may cancel your card anyway. You’re out the cash and the card.

  6. Don’t Sell or Give Away Valuable Property
    Hand on a computer mouseSelling or giving away property is considered to be a transfer of that property. You are required to identify all transfers that took place within a 2-year period of filing your bankruptcy case. Transfers can include selling a couch on Craig’s list or eBay, holding a yard sale, gifting money to a family member, or selling your car.

    Many transfers are allowable, such as selling your car for market value or holding a yard sale. However, if you gave a relative money or you sold your car to your nephew for $500 when it is actually worth $2,000, this would be considered a “fraudulent conveyance” under the Bankruptcy Code.

    If you sold or gave away property for less than its value before filing a bankruptcy case, the trustee can go after these just like “preference” payments to family members.

  7. Don’t Hide Things from Your Attorney
    Your attorney can only give you advice based on information you provide.

    Failing to identify property you own, intentionally undervaluing your property, omitting a “preference” payment or “transfer” that you think may create a problem, or otherwise providing false information can have serious consequences. Not only can your discharge be denied (meaning that you will still owe all of your debts),
    but your case can also be turned over to the U.S. Attorneys’ Office for prosecution of bankruptcy fraud. If found guilty, you could face time in federal prison and/or a hefty fine.

    Give your attorney all the information so you can discuss ways to solve potential problems before they become even bigger problems.

  8. Don’t Wipe Out Your Retirement Account
    Most retirement accounts are protected from your creditors and the bankruptcy trustee. If you do not have enough in your retirement to fully resolve all of your debt issues – and handle the tax consequences of the withdrawn funds – it is generally not advisable to do so.

    Pulling money out of your protected retirement accounts so that you can maintain the minimum payments on your credit card bills or medical bills is often just delaying an inevitable financial crisis. You may find yourself still owing a lot of debt – and in need of filing a bankruptcy anyway – and then you also have no retirement left.

    This one particularly breaks my heart when it is an elderly client that does not have as much time to rebuild retirement funds.

  9. Don’t Wipe Out Your Savings Account
    Savings accounts, unlike retirement accounts, are often not protected or not fully protected from your creditors and the bankruptcy trustee. It depends on what other assets you have and what exemptions are available to you.

    However, you don’t want to use your limited savings funds to pay down credit card debts and medical bills when you also have car payments or mortgage payments. Unsecured debts may be able to be discharged in a bankruptcy, while house and car payments may not.

    You also may want to have some of these funds to pay for filing your bankruptcy case. Do you want to spend $5,000 or more barely putting a dent in your overall debt or spend less then $2,000 to wipe out all or most of your debt in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case?

  10. Don’t Commingle Protected Funds
    Some forms of income are fully protected, such as personal injury funds, workers’ compensation benefits, and Social Security funds (disability or income). A portion of your income is generally protected, as well.

    You don’t want to mix these funds together because it can become hard to identify what portion of the money in your bank account is from a personal injury award 3 months ago and what portion is from your earnings from the past 60 days. Be sure to maintain separate accounts so all sources of income can be clearly identified.

If you ever have questions about how bankruptcy laws may apply to your case, simply contact a bankruptcy lawyer. Call me at 1-866-900-7078 for a free consultation of your case to find out how bankruptcy may be able to help you!

* These amounts are adjusted every 3 years pursuant to Section 104 of the Bankruptcy Code.

** The amount listed is for individuals filing a bankruptcy with primarily consumer debts. The “preference” amount for a bankruptcy filer whose debts are primarily non-consumer debts is currently $5,850 (but this too is adjusted every 3 years pursuant to Section 104 of the Bankruptcy Code).

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late to Call a Bankruptcy Lawyer!

Woman calling a bankruptcy lawyerA common scenario I run into as a bankruptcy lawyer is that people will contact me because their home is in foreclosure and they want to find a way to save it, possibly by filing for bankruptcy. However, many of these people have let their mortgage fall so far behind that not even bankruptcy can help them. They waited too long to call a lawyer!

Unfortunately, the answer to my question “How many months are you behind on your mortgage?” is far too often “Years.” Many people who call me have tried to work with their mortgage companies for months or years to get their loan modified, and the bank refuses to accept payment while negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the sale date on foreclosure proceedings is delayed and they continue to rack up more late payments.

When the bank finally puts a stop to negotiations and refuses to accept any modifications to the loan, all of the mortgage payments that were delayed suddenly become due and the foreclosure proceedings that the homeowner may have thought would be delayed again move forward. Some of these people have become 2 years or more behind on their mortgage payments and have only a few weeks to come up with the past-due amount.

If these homeowners are now 2 years behind with a mortgage payment of $850 a month, that’s $20,400 due immediately to save the house from being sold at foreclosure.

Not many of us have $20,400 sitting around – especially if we were already struggling to pay our mortgage.

Some of the people I talk to may have saved some money while they were negotiating with the mortgage company and weren’t required to pay their mortgage payment. However, the amount they may have saved is usually far less than what they owe. This could be because:

  • A job loss or reduction in hours may have cut their income (causing them to fall behind on their mortgage in the first place).
  • The money that would have been spent on the mortgage was used on other living expenses for which there weren’t funds.
  • Unexpected expenses or emergencies came up that required use of those savings.
  • The savings were used to pay down credit card bills or other debts, with the expectation that the mortgage would be modified.

 

What Bankruptcy Can Do For You

It is often when people find themselves on the eve of a foreclosure sale they thought would be postponed again but was not, and modification is off the table with as much as 2 years in past-due payments owed, that they call a bankruptcy attorney to try and save their home.

There are several types of bankruptcy, but when it comes to filing a bankruptcy with the purpose of trying to save your home from a foreclosure, Chapter 13 is generally the type of case filed. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a reorganization of debts that allows you to do things like catch up on your mortgage payments over the course of your bankruptcy payment plan.

Here’s the catch: A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can only go up to 60 months (5 years). During this time, you must pay your current mortgage payment IN ADDITION TO the past-due amount that you owe. Mortgage, plus.

It comes down to the math. The further you are behind on your mortgage when you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, the bigger your monthly payment must be to bring it current within the 5-year plan. You will also have some or all of your bankruptcy attorneys’ fees and a trustee commission to pay in your plan, in addition to any late fees or back taxes.

It’s not all bad news! A Chapter 13 bankruptcy offers many benefits if you are looking to reorganize your debts. You can reduce the interest you pay on a car loan and stretch out the payments. In some cases, you can reduce the balance you owe on your car loan, and credit card debts and medical bills can often be completely wiped out with little to no payments required. There are even some cases where you can “strip” off a second or third mortgage and treat that as a general unsecured claim (like a credit card).

Call a Bankruptcy Attorney before It’s Too Late!

Don’t wait until the mortgage company tells you that it won’t modify your mortgage and that you now owe more than you could afford to pay!

Don’t get me wrong. Modification, if it works, can be a great savior for home owners, particularly when income has declined and it is not going to go back up. However, there are no guarantees that the bank will accept your proposal, and if you wait too long before looking at other options, you may be out of options.

If bankruptcy is the right step for you, the sooner you file, the sooner you can take control of your debt and begin to pay it back (if you file Chapter 13) or the sooner you can free up some income by discharging your unsecured debts (most Chapter 13 cases and Chapter 7 cases).

The sooner you file, the less money you will pay in the long run in fees and penalties, as well, saving you a lot of money.

Don’t think of bankruptcy as a measure of last resort! If you are behind on your mortgage or have become over you head in debt, bankruptcy may be a powerful tool to help you better manage your budget and take control of your finances.

Call me today at 1-866-900-7078 for a free consultation and to talk about your options. Don’t wait until it’s too late!