Self-Discipline: The Key to Controlling Your Overspending

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Whether your most pressing financial goal is to pay off money you owe or to increase your savings and investments – the most important skill you’ll need is self-discipline.

Self-discipline can feel inaccessible for some people, and a lack of self-control can leave you feeling disappointed and defeated.

It’s important to note that self-control is one of the most challenging behaviors to master. Mastery of self-control and self-discipline is so tough to achieve because it involves changing behaviors that occur in high-emotion or even addictive situations like:

  • eating
  • losing weight
  • arguing with someone
  • smoking
  • playing video games
  • drinking alcohol
  • spending money

Some people are born with more than their fair share of self-discipline, while others struggle with self-control from a young age. If you fall into the latter group, don’t be alarmed! Self-discipline is a skill that can be learned. It’s not an easy skill to develop, but with the proper dedication, you can train yourself to be more self-controlled.

Spending money is fun and can feel rewarding and emotionally satisfying, which is why many people go shopping to relieve stress, boredom, anxiety or depression. Thus, it is easy to begin associating spending money with a feeling of happiness. As this behavior and response become habitual, it will lead to more and more spending in order to continue feeling happy.

Replacing a Bad Habit With a Good Habit

To gain discipline when it comes to over-spending, you’ll need to start practicing the responses you want to have regarding money. Over time, you’ll notice a shift in how you feel about spending as your new responses begin to replace the bad habits you have currently. Some tips to help you:

  • Set up a budget. You’ve heard this before, but we’re going to say it again. A good budget is a necessary building block on the way toward financial freedom. You need to start practicing spending only the amount of money that’s in your budget each month in order to make it into a habit.
  • Stop using credit cards. Cut them up or put them in a shoe box at the back of your closet. Do whatever it takes to get them out of sight and, most importantly, out of your wallet.
  • Question every purchase. Shop mindfully, asking yourself if you really need each item that’s made its way into your shopping cart.
  • Treat yourself. Once you’ve stuck to your budget for an entire month (or longer), reinforce this behavior by rewarding yourself with something you’ve been wanting (within reason).
  • Punish negative behavior. If you go out-of-bounds budget-wise, deny yourself something you enjoy until you get back on track with your spending.
  • Open a separate bank account. If you don’t already have one, a savings account is great idea. Every time you have an urge to make an unnecessary purchase, instead: put the equivalent amount of money into this account. Also, set aside a set dollar amount to go directly to this account from every paycheck.
  • Be accountable to someone. If your finances are really dire, you may need to be accountable to a debt relief professional at first. They can help you find additional ways to reduce your debt if you need more help. You can also have a close friend, spouse or sibling keep you accountable as you work to turn your new money choices into habits.

Studies have shown that developing self-discipline is possible at any age. It’s also been shown that you can get better and better at honing your self-control the more you practice your new habits. By changing your behavior from overspending to living within a budget, you’ll be able to pay down any debts you’ve accrued and build up your savings account!

 

Image credit: Luke Hayfield

 

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Can I Pay Off Debt and Build Savings at the Same Time?

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As we often talk about here on the Veitengruber Law blog, paying down your debt should be a primary concern for anyone interested in financial freedom. It’s impossible to have any kind of financial stability if your debts outnumber your savings. Many people, however, have become so focused on getting rid of debt fast that they completely ignore their depleted savings account.

The number one reason why you should keep adding to your savings account even as you pay down your debt is this: the money you put toward savings and investments will make more money.

Naturally, the logical argument is that long overdue debts will end up costing you more money due to accruing interest and late fees, so it may seem like it’s all a wash. That’s why it’s important to strike the right balance.

Telling you to find the right balance is easier said than done, and we realize this. That’s why we have a few pointers to help you get started.

  • Make saving a priority. Rather than pushing savings all the way down to the bottom of your priority list, set up auto-payments so that part of each paycheck goes directly into savings.

 

  • Get more bang for your buck. It’s true that most local brick and mortar banks offer pitifully low interest rates on savings accounts. Luckily, the great big world wide web is home to some much better options, like MySavingsDirect, Synchrony Bank and Ally Bank.

 

  • Cut corners where you can. Right now, it’s time to really think about where your money goes. In order to pay off debt and build savings simultaneously, your lifestyle may need a little tweaking. No more than half of your pay should go toward living expenses, and this includes your rent or mortgage payment. If the numbers simply don’t work out, seriously consider one or more of the following:

 

Find somewhere less expensive to live.

Stay with friends or family on a temporary basis.

Refrain from acquiring any new debt until your current debt is paid off.

File for bankruptcy.

 

  • See the forest for the trees.” In other words, don’t forget to keep your eye on the bigger picture. For you, that means after your debt is paid off, you won’t be starting at the bottom all over again in an attempt to build up your savings. By working in moderation to both pay your debts and increase your savings, you’ll be setting yourself up for a much better outcome than if you simply plowed through all of your debts with nothing to show for it.

 

  • Think positively. It can most definitely feel impossible to get out of the red and into the black, especially when one contemplates doing both at the same time. However, your mental attitude can be the tipping point to success or failure in any situation. Whether your trip toward financial stability involves filing for bankruptcy or simply avoiding any new credit card debt, keep your eye on the prize. It will be so, so worth all of the effort.

 

Image credit: SPB

 

Displaced Homemakers: Getting Back on Track

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Are you a displaced homemaker?

Were you married, unemployed outside the home, and providing care and services for a number of your family members? If so, you were likely dependent on your spouse’s income to meet the financial needs of your family. Women (and men) who meet the above description and then find themselves divorced are referred to as displaced homemakers. The most important thing to know first is that YOU HAVE RIGHTS.

Working and living as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) is a stressful, all-consuming job. That’s right; SAHM is an actual job title! The only difference between working as an at home parent and working outside the home is the lack of a paycheck.

When divorce happens to couples who designated one parent to stay home to care for the children and the home, it is natural for the at home parent to panic. After all, if you haven’t been earning an income for a number of years, how are you possibly going to be able to financially support yourself?

You and your spouse made the decision for you to stay at home and raise your children and/or care for your home. When that decision was made, you became entitled to part of the income that was earned by your spouse. If you are currently entering into the divorce process, find a New Jersey divorce lawyer who has successfully worked with displaced homemakers so that you can get the Property Settlement Agreement that you deserve.

When your split is finalized, you’ll have to come up with a plan for supporting yourself after your divorce. Where are you going to live? Will you have to get a job outside of the home? Who will care for your young children? How will you be able to afford to pay for daycare? Do you have any rights to the marital home?

All of these questions can literally plague the mind of a displaced (or soon-to-be displaced) homemaker, causing unimaginable levels of stress and worry. Veitengruber Law knows and understands the plight of the homemaker who has been through a divorce. In fact, we’ve worked with enough displaced homemakers that we decided to partner up with Brookdale Community College’s Displaced Housewives Program.

On February 24, 2016, we will be presenting a workshop specifically for stay-at-home-parents who have been (or will soon be) divorced or separated from the person who was the wage in the relationship.

Topics we will discuss at this interactive workshop will center around real estate, and include: buying, selling, foreclosure, loan modifications and short sales. We will also explain the rights displaced homemakers have to their homes and how the Down Payment Assistance Program works.

Please note that this workshop is not open to the public and you must be pre-screened in order to attend. If you think that you are a displaced housewife, find out if you qualify by calling Laurie Salka at The Displaced Housewives Program at Brookdale Community College. Laurie can be reached at 732-739-6020. You may also email her at lsalka@brookdalecc.edu.

If you are interested in a private consultation with Veitengruber Law regarding your situation, you will be able to schedule a free consultation at the workshop on February 24th. You can also call our office directly (732-852-7295) for a free consultation at any time. We look forward to helping you achieve financial independence!

Image credit: Simon Harrod

Breaking a Rental Lease: Renter’s Rights

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Signing a rental lease means that you and your landlord have committed to following the terms laid out in the agreement for a specified amount of time. The typical length of a rental lease is one year, but leases can be formulated for many different lengths of time. They can range from a month-to-month lease to a five year rental lease agreement in special circumstances.

Rental leases provide both landlords and their tenants with some security during the rental time period. The property owner (landlord) has peace of mind that he’ll have a steady income for the duration of the lease. As the renter, your lease agreement spells out what is expected of you as a tenant. You’ll have some rules to follow, and your landlord will be expected to provide you with certain services throughout the lease period.

As helpful as lease agreements can be, they can be a hindrance if the renter needs to break the lease early. Sometimes, life events create a need to move suddenly. Some of these events include:

  • Job loss
  • Job relocation
  • Divorce
  • Getting married
  • Expanding family
  • Inheritance

Unfortunately, in most cases, if you break your lease for one of the above-mentioned reasons, you may be required to pay for the remainder of your rental term. It is always possible that you have stumbled upon a generous landlord though, so it never hurts to ask if s/he would consider letting you out of your lease. Be sure to explain your situation in full detail so your landlord truly understands that you need to break the lease, rather than simply wanting to break it.

What are my rights as a renter in New Jersey if I need to break my lease?

Just as your landlord cannot kick you out of your rental without significant reason(s), the lease is in place so that you can’t simply leave your landlord high and dry if the mood simply strikes you.

With that being said, however, you do have rights as a tenant in New Jersey that allow you to break a lease. If you have experienced any of the following, you may be able to exit your lease agreement early, without owing rent for the entire term of the lease:

  • Active military duty
  • Disabling illness
  • Domestic violence (experienced by you or your child)
  • Unsafe living conditions at the fault of your landlord
  • Harassment by your landlord

No matter what your reason(s) for breaking a lease early, it’s never a good idea to skip town with your fingers crossed tightly that your landlord will just find a new tenant and you’ll be off the hook.

Talk to your landlord directly about your need and reason for moving earlier than expected. Make sure you give your landlord sufficient notice so that s/he hopefully can find a replacement tenant. This will be a win/win for everyone involved. Be sure to put it in writing as well, and make your letter as nice and sincere as possible.

For more information about breaking a lease in NJ, or if you’re experiencing trouble getting out of a lease, call Veitengruber Law and we will consult with you for free. If you are legally within your rights to break your lease early, we can help ensure that you’ll be able to do just that.

Image credit: Brett Neilson

How to Recognize a Credit Repair Scam

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As you attempt to start consolidating and potentially negotiating some of your outstanding debt, you will probably find yourself wondering if you should go it alone or ask for professional help.

The ease of accessibility to credit cards has made getting in over your head in debt all too easy. The problem arises when you finally realize just how high your balance(s) and minimum payments have gotten. Once your minimum monthly payments become too much for you to afford, you’ve got a problem that needs attention ASAP.

There are several really effective methods you can use in order to strategically pay your debt down until it’s paid off entirely. However, if your debt has reached alarming heights, you will probably find more success if you work with a professional in the debt relief arena.

Credit repair companies are everywhere these days. Since you’re currently dealing with high levels of outstanding debt, you probably receive ads from many of these companies on the regular. Many such companies claim they’ll help you pay off your debt in record time, raise your credit score by leaps and bounds and erase bad marks from your credit report. Some companies even go so far as to promise you a completely new credit history.

Outlandish promises are red flags that should warn you to avoid sharing your personal information. If it sounds too good to be true, rest assured that it is too good to be true. Some other signs of fraudulent credit repair activity include:

  • An offer of a new Social Security Number – A fraudulent credit repair company may attempt to assign you a number to use instead of your Social Security Number, to prevent lenders from seeing your bad credit history. Also called a Credit Privacy Number, these are illegal and are often stolen Social Security Numbers.
  • Advising you to fudge the truth on loan applications – Anyone who tells you to lie to obtain money is a scammer!
  • Requiring you to pay them a hefty sum up front – A reasonable retainer fee requested by a certified debt relief attorney is legitimate and legal. Requests for large amounts of money without seeing results is a reason to walk away.
  • Disputing claims on your credit report that you know to be true
  • Failing to advise you of your legal rights

Instead of following the advice of a fraudulent credit repair company, reach out to a debt relief attorney who has experienced significant success in negotiating with lenders. Ask your attorney for testimonials of previous clients so you’ll know if he’s been able to help people in your same situation before.

Our credit repair methods have saved many, many clients from financial ruin. We can often help you avoid bankruptcy if that is something you desire. On the other hand, we can help you through bankruptcy as well. Bankruptcy is a great way to get a fresh financial do-over.

Negotiating with banks and lenders is our specialty. We can often knock significant amounts off of your overdue balances. We’ll help you formulate a debt payoff schedule and we’ll be with you every step of the way until your outstanding debt is eradicated. Contact us to learn more about how we can help!

 

Image credit: The Comedian

Negotiate Your Way Out of Medical Debt!

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Undoubtedly, one of the most stressful types of debt to deal with is that which you have incurred because of your health. Medical debt can be so frustrating because of the high dollar amount that doctors, hospitals and other medical providers charge for their services. And, although medical debt is typically experienced by those without health insurance, even insured individuals can find themselves in debt if they require a procedure that insurance won’t pay for.

In fact, medical debt aside, you may very well have a really great credit score. If you have large medical debt(s) that you can’t even afford to make a dent in, they’ll end up multiplying astronomically due to late charges, leaving you with an even bigger problem in time, and a very low credit score.

The most important thing you can do when attempting to rid yourself of medical bills is to become as familiar as possible with what the actual costs are of any procedures you had or will have in the near future. You’ll want to determine an average of what the hospitals and physicians nearby would charge for the same procedure.

Armed with the actual costs of the procedures in question, you will then be much better equipped to negotiate with your physician’s billing department. However, it is also essential that you use a confident yet kind approach. Explain your situation and don’t be afraid to make it personal so they understand your struggle. Ask if you can pay the same amount that an insurance company would pay for the same procedure.

If you are able – offer to pay the discounted amount in full. You can offer this before you’ve even had the procedure to avoid medical bills from piling up in the first place, or you can offer to pay in full (at a negotiated discount) if you owe money on a past procedure.

In case you meet with resistance regarding your request to pay less, press onward and upward. By that, we mean find out who the billing manager’s boss is, and call them next. If you still meet resistance, go even further up – even as far as the hospital’s financial CEO or the equivalent.

When you do arrive at a discounted rate that appears to be the best deal possible, set up a payment plan and get the details of the plan in writing. Be sure to stay on top of making your agreed-upon payments on time. This will make it more likely that the provider will forgive the remainder of (or at least a portion of) your bill later on down the road, when you should revisit the situation and attempt once again to ask for debt forgiveness.

Should you be unable to come to a discount agreement with your physician, hospital or other provider, it’s time to reach out for help. Veitengruber Law specializes in helping our clients find debt relief solutions of all kinds, including medical debt. While it may initially seem scary to owe someone else money while attempting to reduce your debts, your return on investment in our team is well worth it. The money we’ll be able to knock off your medical bills will make our fees look like chump change. Bonus: We’ll consult with you FREE of charge!

Image credit: Army Medicine

Estate Planning Basics: What You Need to Know to Get Started

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The term ‘estate planning‘ can make preparing your will sound a lot more daunting than the process really is. In fact, some of our clients come to us without understanding that your estate is simply everything you own. So, estate planning is essentially just making plans for what will happen to your real estate property, personal items, investments, life insurance policies and anything else you own after you pass away.

The process of setting up your estate plan is commonly referred to as ‘writing your will.’ Along with the fact that not very many people enjoy thinking about and planning for their own death, the process in itself can seem like it might be complicated.

The good news is that the reality of estate planning is quite simple for most people. At Veitengruber Law, we like to start getting to know our estate planning clients by having them fill out a questionnaire. Ideally, clients will return the questionnaire to us before their consultation so that we have time to get a feel for your overall financial details. Alternatively, you can bring the (completed) questionnaire along with you to your first appointment.

We will help you to determine which of the following documents that are appropriate for your needs:

Last Will and Testament – Also referred to as your ‘will,’ this document’s purpose is to let all of your survivors know how you want your property to be divided after your death. You’ll need to name someone to carry out your wishes (an executor) and you will have to decide who should get what. One of the tougher decisions to be made in your will involves custody of your children (if applicable).

Durable Power of Attorney – Another extremely important facet of your estate plan, your Durable Power of Attorney names someone to make decisions for you regarding your finances if you become unable to make sound decisions for yourself. This document will name someone as your ‘agent’ in case you become ill and/or incapacitated. Your agent is automatically your spouse if you are married. If you aren’t married, you definitely need a Durable Power of Attorney to ensure that your finances will be responsibly managed if you become unable to make smart decisions for yourself. This document expires when you do, so your agent will not make any decisions after your death unless s/he is also your executor.

Living Will – This document will set out any specific health care directives that you wish to be followed if a time comes when you are not able to communicate your wishes verbally. Some things included in your living will are:

  • What (if any) life extending procedures do you wish to be carried out?
  • Do you want to be resuscitated or would you like doctors to follow a DNR protocol (Do Not Resuscitate)?
  • Are there certain situations in which you would want doctors to stop life saving treatments?
  • Would you want to be tube fed or be placed on a ventilator? For how long?
  • Do you want to donate any or all of your organs for donation or scientific study?

Along with the above documents, we will also talk to you about your life insurance coverage, especially if you have a family who is dependent on you. Call us today or fill out our quick info form to get your estate plan started.

 

Image credit: Mark Moz

Buyers’ Rights When a Seller Backs Out of a Real Estate Deal

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Finding your dream home can be a long and exhaustive search for prospective home buyers. With your list of ‘non-negotiables’ and ideal locations, at times it may feel like you’ll never find the right property.

Even more agonizing than a fruitless home search is finally honing in on the perfect place only to have the seller change their minds at the last minute. While this can cause you (the buyer) excruciating disappointment, take time to put things in perspective before taking any action.

It’s possible that the seller has a legitimate reason for backing out of the sale, in which case you may do best to move on and expend your energy elsewhere. Meet with the sellers, if possible, to determine their reason for cancelling the sale. Some potentially acceptable reasons may include:

  • Their moving plans were railroaded and they have nowhere to live if they sell
  • Job transfer(s) were revoked
  • They’ve changed their minds about moving into a retirement community
  • Unexpected financial difficulties

Sometimes homeowners have very deep emotional ties to a home that has been in their family for generations. Their sentimental attachment may cause them to feel that they simply cannot go through with the sale of the home. Another potential game changer is that the sellers aren’t sure if new owners will give their well-loved family home the proper upkeep and attention that it deserves.

They may also worry that you won’t come through with the down payment or that you will have trouble getting a mortgage loan. In any of these cases, sitting down with the sellers may reassure them that you will care for their home just as they do. You may also wish to offer them proof of your financial stability in order to ease their apprehension.

On the other side of the coin is the possibility that the seller received an offer that exceeded yours. Even though you may have already signed a contract, the seller may feel that the higher offer is worth backing out of the original deal they made with you. It’s definitely not a very honorable thing to do, but it does happen.

What are my rights as a rebuffed buyer?

If the seller decides to unethically cancel the real estate deal you had in the works (i.e. without any of the legitimate and understandable reasons listed above), you do have some rights as the potential buyer, especially if you had a contract that had been signed by both parties.

However, first check your real estate contract for something called the ‘kick out’ clause. This clause is typically used when a seller gets an offer that is contingent on the buyer selling their current home first. While the seller waits for the buyer to sell their home, they can keep their home on the market. During this time, if a new buyer makes an offer without a contingency, the seller can ‘kick out’ the first buyer in favor of selling to the buyer without contingency.

Check through the contract closely, because sometimes very specific language will be used in the ‘kick out’ clause, which may allow the seller to cancel the contract for other reasons.

Barring any legitimate ‘kick out’ clauses, you can send a letter to the seller (via your attorney) demanding that they cover any expenses you had already paid related to the sale. Home inspection, property survey, appraisal, title services and credit report fees are some of the expenses you should ask to have the seller repay.

Your attorney will be able to help you decide if you are satisfied with demanding return of your expenses thus far in the process or if you wish to be more aggressive and sue for specific performance of the contract.

 

Image credit: Mark Moz