I Filed for Bankruptcy – Can I Still Use my Credit Card?

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Whether you’re filing for chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey, you may be wondering what is and isn’t allowed while your case is open. It’s a good idea to always check with your lawyer before making any financial decisions after you’ve filed for bankruptcy to ensure that you’re acting within your rights and within the bankruptcy court’s laws and guidelines.

Credit card debt is one of the top reasons people file for bankruptcy in this country. As a nation, we have become accustomed to material luxuries like big screen tvs, video game consoles, and the newest and fanciest cell phones. For many people, these items would be out of reach due to financial constraints. Unfortunately, credit cards step in where income falls short. Acquiring multiple credit cards has become commonplace in most US households.

At first, using a credit card to pay for a few things seems like no big deal. You tell yourself that you’ll pay it off as soon as you get your tax refund, or your new job, raise, etc. All too often, once it’s time to pay off the balance, something else requires your attention (and $$), leaving the credit card balance to accrue interest month after month after month.

Luckily, filing for bankruptcy is an option for people who have gotten carried away with credit card use. Bankruptcy is by no means a “free pass” on your poor decision making, though, and you must change your spending habits after your debts are discharged.

What about during my bankruptcy? Can I still use my credit card(s)?

Many people who file for bankruptcy in NJ are so far behind on their monthly bills that they want to continue to use their credit cards while waiting for their bankruptcy discharge.

As soon as you file your petition with the NJ bankruptcy court, all of your creditors (i.e. credit card companies) will be notified of your impending potential discharge. As soon as they are notified, your credit card accounts will be closed in order to prevent you from adding even to the balance only to have it “wiped clean” at the end of your bankruptcy proceeding.

How about a card I’ve never used before?

Sometimes, keeping a credit card around with a zero balance is a good idea. It’s only a good idea for people who have a firm grip on their finances and will only use that card for emergencies. If you’ve filed for bankruptcy and you remember that you have another credit card stashed in a filing cabinet somewhere, you may wonder if you can use it. After all, it has a zero balance!

The answer to that question is a resounding “NO,” for several reasons. First, you’re required to report all of your open credit card accounts when you file for bankruptcy, even one that has no balance. If you didn’t report it, you’ve essentially committed bankruptcy fraud and you need to amend your petition immediately.

In the event that you did report the account in question, the credit card company will have closed your account upon learning of your bankruptcy. Yes, they will close the account even if you had no balance on the card.

You are prohibited from acquiring new debt when you have an active bankruptcy case unless you get express written permission from the court or in a literal emergency. To find out what constitutes a true emergency in this situation, get in touch with your NJ bankruptcy attorney before charging anything to a credit card, even if you discover that your account has yet to be closed.

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Can I File for Bankruptcy to Delay Foreclosure on My Home?

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Filing for bankruptcy isn’t only helpful for alleviating excessive debt, although we primarily associate the two together. Sometimes, filing for bankruptcy can be used as a strategy of sorts in order to allow you and your attorney enough time to formulate an effective foreclosure defense strategy so that you can keep your home.

Another good time to file for bankruptcy is if you’re attempting to sell your home as a foreclosure defense strategy, but the real estate process is dragging on interminably. Bankruptcy’s automatic stay* feature will stall a foreclosure long enough to allow your real estate transaction adequate time to proceed.

I didn’t know I could sell my house during foreclosure!

Oftentimes, we hear stories of homeowners devastated and displaced because of lenders foreclosing on them and then selling the property after evicting the (former) homeowners. The typical foreclosure story involves people who’ve fallen on hard times financially. Because of significant money struggles, homeowners being foreclosed upon typically don’t want to leave their homes because they do not have the means to acquire a new place to live.

Due to the overwhelming stress that most foreclosed homeowners are under, many of them simply don’t take the time to learn about all of their options. Some people wait out the foreclosure, staying in their home as long as possible without paying the mortgage, yet failing to put a plan of action into place for their future. While it’s true that burying one’s head in the sand is an ineffective solution, for some, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

At the end of the NJ foreclosure process your home will be sold at Sheriff’s Sale if you do nothing. Foreclosed homes typically sell for a lot less than is still owed on the homeowner’s mortgage. What this means for you as the homeowner is that your lender can seek a deficiency judgement that orders you to pay the difference between the Sheriff’s Sale price and the amount you still owe on the mortgage.

How can I avoid a deficiency judgement?

As soon as you start having money trouble that looks like it will likely end in foreclosure, list your home for sale! Yes, your home can be sold even if you aren’t making mortgage payments right now.

Selling your home before the bank has a chance to foreclose gives you a chance to achieve a higher sale price that will allow you to pay back any arrears and late fees, ensuring that your lender is paid in full. Doing so will cause a dismissal of the foreclosure and potentially put some of the equity (if you had any) into your bank account.

If your home has an offer from a seller when your lender is about to foreclose, filing for bankruptcy will activate that automatic stay* we mentioned earlier, giving you enough time to close the deal on your property before the bank has a chance to sell the home at a foreclosure sale for much less money.

Should I file for bankruptcy just to stall a foreclosure?

We don’t recommend that you file for bankruptcy if your only purpose is to delay a looming foreclosure sale, however most people facing foreclosure also have other debts that have gotten out of control.

If you have excessive medical debt, credit card debt, past-due personal loans and/or a second mortgage or home equity loan AND you’re looking a foreclosure square in the eye, filing for bankruptcy can help you hit the trifecta: discharge of your debts, foreclosure dismissal and successful sale of your home with potential equity in your pocket!

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Namesake Credit Mix-ups and How to Repair the Damage

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Although not as common as it once was, naming baby boys after their fathers is still a custom that is practiced in this country. Proud fathers naturally want to continue a family tradition that may have existed for centuries. In fact, some women also choose to name their daughters after themselves, however this is a much less common occurrence.

Aside from the cultural aspects that are intertwined with baby naming practices, giving your child the same name as one of his/her parents may be setting them up for a lifetime of headaches.

In addition to everyday confusion related to which person is being referred to (Are you talking about Big John or Little John, Junior?), sharing an identical (or nearly so) name can lead to financial mix-ups that are much more inconvenient.

Especially as the child grows into an adult and begins to acquire his own assets and credit rating, it’s unfortunately common for fathers and sons with the same name to have some co-mingling of their credit information.

How does this happen?

As much as we’d love to think that every financial institution and lender is doing their due diligence when processing loan applications and other important identifying documents, mistakes are made every day. Incomplete information leads employees to fill in the blanks of their own accord, which is where the errors begin.

Employees who are unfamiliar with the people involved are often on the paper-pushing end of financial transactions like loans. Given the task of ensuring that all documents are complete, these employees may have to search for a person’s social security number, for example. In a situation where a father and son share the same name (and suffixes have been dropped), matching up the wrong social security number is an easy mistake.

Will I have to change my name to fix my credit?

Although it may help in your future financial endeavors, changing your name won’t do anything for the errors that already exist in your credit report. You’ll need to be in close contact with all of the credit bureaus to dispute every instance of the wrong identity being used. As long as you follow through with your dispute(s), you should be able to have all of the incorrect information removed, which will improve your score if it was negatively affected.

In order to prevent this from becoming a never-ending problem that keeps coming back to bite you, take the following steps:

  • Always provide your social security number and give complete information when filling out any type of financial documentation, especially loan applications.
  • Sit down with your father (or other person with whom you share a name) in order to educate him about the situation at hand. Encourage him to fill out applications in full as well.
  • Be consistent with the name that you use on applications. If your name contains a suffix, like Jr., Sr., or III, use it without fail when you apply for anything. If you have always used a nickname, continue using the same name for all financial transactions into the future. Consistency is the key.
  • Check your credit report annually for any new errors that may pop up, and deal with them promptly to avoid serious consequences to your credit score.

 

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Can a Commercial Lease Survive a Residential Foreclosure?

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Aside from home-based businesses, there are many companies (typically small businesses) that have office(s) located in a residential building. The residential property in question may be a single family home, condominium, apartment, or townhome whose owner is paying a mortgage loan and renting the property out to the business owner.

A question arises if and when the residential property in question enters foreclosure. What is to become of the commercial lease and the company owner who is running a business at the location?

Can a business be evicted due to a residential foreclosure?

Unfortunately, commercial leases differ quite dramatically in comparison with residential leases. The most significant difference is that there are far fewer consumer protection laws in place to protect commercial lessees compared to residential lessees.

A company doing business in a residential building (that is, of course, zoned for permission to operate a business) will have entered into a commercial lease with the building’s owner, who then effectively becomes the company’s landlord. If the landlord falls behind on paying the mortgage and the property is foreclosed upon, what will happen to the business owner and his employees who work in the building? Will they be evicted or do they have the right to stay on after the foreclosure sale with the bank essentially becoming their new landlord?

There are two distinct possibilities that can result in eviction of the business owner:

  1. If the commercial lessee (tenant/business owner) was made aware of (and a party to) the impending foreclosure, and the lease was created before the property owner defaulted on the mortgage, the lender has the right to evict the commercial tenants, but they must obtain a court order to do so.
  2. Any lease that originated after the property owner had already defaulted on the mortgage becomes null and void on the official foreclosure date. No court order is necessary for eviction of the commercial lessees.

Because of the above two scenarios, commercial tenants must advocate for themselves when they are signing a lease. Specifically, commercial renters should scrutinize something called the SNDA (Subordination, Non-disturbance and Attornment) provisions that exist within nearly every commercial lease.

How can SNDA provisions save me from having to uproot my business?

Subordination, non-disturbance and attornment provisions are included in commercial leases specifically to protect commercial renters in the event of a foreclosure on the property. Unfortunately, many commercial tenants have a tendency to “skim” the SNDA sections of their rental agreement due to their excessive length and confusing legal jargon.

Despite the investment of time, commercial tenants should always certify that their lease agreement contains favorable SNDA provisions – specifically the Non-disturbance Provision. Although negotiating a Non-disturbance agreement that both parties agree with can take several months, in the end it will leave the renter protected against eviction in the event of default by the landlord on the mortgage.

If you are a business owner renting a commercial space in a residential building that’s in foreclosure, find out what rights you have by consulting with a real estate attorney in New Jersey. Conversely, business owners just beginning the process of locating rental space should do the same to ensure that your business location will be safe in the event of foreclosure.

If you want to learn more about commercial leases in relation to residential foreclosures, call Veitengruber Law for your free consultation meeting with one of our experienced real estate and foreclosure attorneys. We now have offices in Wall, Bordentown and Marlton, NJ. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you.

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Can I File for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 at the Same Time?

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“Sometimes one bankruptcy isn’t enough.” – George Veitengruber, Esq.

As we’ve discussed before on our blog, there are time limitations put into place that prevent a debtor from receiving a second chapter 7 discharge unless at least eight years have passed since their first chapter 7 discharge. You also cannot be granted a chapter 13 discharge unless at least four years have passed since you filed for chapter 7, so where on earth can we possibly be going with this?

Bankruptcy law disallows back to back bankruptcy discharges in order to avoid people abusing the bankruptcy system. With no restrictions, any debtor could theoretically bounce from one bankruptcy discharge to another, and that wouldn’t be fair to creditors, nor would the debtor learn any valuable lessons regarding their finances.

There are situations, however, wherein a debtor can file consecutive bankruptcy cases, but only when the desired outcome is not a second discharge.

Most people associate bankruptcy with ridding themselves of all of their debt, the closest thing to a financial “do-over” that exists in the real world. While a bankruptcy discharge can indeed be akin to a capital tabula rasa, giving debtors a clean slate isn’t the only function of the bankruptcy system.

For example, one of the most beneficial (and immediate) effects of filing for any type of bankruptcy is the automatic stay:

Automatic stay \noun\  a judicial order known as an injunction that halts any and all lawsuits as well as actions by creditors attempting to collect money from someone who has filed for bankruptcy

Many people file for chapter 7 when they have a significant amount of unsecured debt.

Unsecured debt \noun\ a debt that doesn’t have any collateral attached to it that a creditor could take for payment if the debtor defaults
Examples of unsecured debt: credit card debt, student loans, utility bills, medical bills, some taxes, and most personal loans

In filing for chapter 7 relief, many or all unsecured debts can be discharged at the end of the bankruptcy case, as long as the applicant meets the filing requirements and no fraud is at play.

Frequently, a discharge of all unsecured debts so significantly reduces the financial strain on the debtor that they are then able to resume paying their monthly living expenses without difficulty.

Sometimes, though, even after a chapter 7 wipes out a huge chunk of their debt, some people are still left facing a significant amount of non-dischargeable debts.

Non-dischargeable debt \noun\ money owed that can almost never be discharged via any type of bankruptcy proceeding
Examples of non-dischargeable debt: child support, alimony, student loans, income tax debt

Still other people, after filing for chapter 7 and receiving a discharge, are left with secured debt(s) that they want to continue making payments on in order to keep the property that secures the debt(s) in question.

Secured debt \noun\ a debt that has collateral attached to it that a creditor could take for payment if the debtor defaults
Examples of secured debt: home mortgage, auto loan, valuable personal property loan (mechanical equipment, furniture, tools, etc)

Whether the debtor is left with substantial non-dischargeable debt or secured debt(s) that hold important value (usually a mortgage and/or auto loan), filing for chapter 13 immediately after a chapter 7 discharge will allow for a reorganization of any subsequent arrears owed, allowing the debtor to bring the loan(s) current.

Veitengruber Law can navigate your path through multiple bankruptcies! If you thought your financial situation was too “messed up” to be fixed – think again. Even better – we want to help you. Please give our office a call if your debts have gotten out of control. Your consultation won’t cost you thing, so you’ve got nothing to lose.

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Divorce and the Stay-at-home Mom: Your Financial Rights

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Although we are not a family law firm, a number of our clients are recently divorced. Divorce can do a number on anyone’s finances for a variety of reasons, and many divorcees eventually file for bankruptcy in order to get a fresh start.

Today, let’s take a step back from bankruptcy and take a look at how to get through the divorce process itself. If both spouses are wage earners who then move into separate residences, the financial burden on each person suddenly becomes much higher than it was while supporting only one household with two incomes.

Even more challenging is the experience of the stay-at-home mom who has heretofore relied on the income of her spouse. Naturally, the stay-at-home mom (or dad) is, by definition, not employed outside of the home and therefore has no income of her own.

What rights does a stay-at-home mom have during a divorce?

When a couple makes the collective decision for one parent to stay home to raise children rather than work a traditional “job” with a paycheck, the stay-at-home parent becomes entitled to part of the working spouse’s income. Giving up years of work experience and potential earnings to care for the couple’s kids is worth something if and when the marriage fails.

Although a parent who has been out of the work force for many years may need to explore employment once the divorce is final, this will not happen during the lead up to divorce. The working spouse will be required to continue paying all of the household expenses throughout the duration of the divorce negotiations.

Non-working parents can also petition the court for temporary spousal support before the divorce is final. This money is paid by the wage earning spouse so that the stay-at-home parent can afford food and basic necessities.

Once your divorce case reaches the court system, many financial decisions must be made regarding child support, alimony, equitable distribution, the marital home, joint debts and more. During this time, a judge will determine if the stay-at-home parent is “employable,” and if so, what her earning potential is.

If the stay-at-home parent has never been employed and has always been dependent on her spouse’s income, alimony is likely to be granted. This is especially true if the unemployed parent has no college degree and zero work skills.

A stay-at-home mom with a college degree may still receive alimony along with child support, but the amount of alimony awarded will likely be lower because her degree gives her potential to find a decent paying job.

If you are currently a stay-at-home mom who is facing divorce, know that you will not be left on your own with no money to support yourself and your children. Dedicating a number of years of your life to raising your children is an important decision that you and your husband likely made together. Regardless of who filed for divorce, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there are laws in place to ensure that you’ll be able to pay your bills.

Been all the way through a divorce and are now looking to improve your overall financial outlook? Filing for bankruptcy post-divorce is often a good decision. To learn more about whether bankruptcy is right for you, shoot us a quick message. We’ll consult with you free of charge.

 

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Will a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Reduce My Child Support Payments?

Several decades ago, it was possible to have at least some of your child support arrears discharged by filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey. In the 80’s, Congress made changes to some bankruptcy laws because not all debts are created equal. Since then, child support debt can no longer be discharged via bankruptcy of any chapter.

Priority vs Non-priority Debts

Whether you are filing for chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy, New Jersey bankruptcy laws categorize all of your debts into two main lists: Priority Debts and Non-priority Debts.

Those debts that fall into the Priority category include:

  • Child support
  • Alimony
  • Money that you owe due to a court order
  • Money owed to the government

Priority debts are deemed such because of their great impact on others, and they are considered nondischargeable. In addition, child support is given precedence over all other types of priority debts due to the fact that the welfare and well-being of the debtor’s children are dependent on it.

Will the Automatic Stay Allow a Pause in Child Support Payments?

The normal course of action during a NJ bankruptcy case is that as soon as the case is filed, something called an ‘automatic stay’ immediately prevents any creditors from collecting money from the debtor. The stay is a legal injunction that was put into place to protect debtors from falling further into debt.

Relating to child support, the automatic stay has no power. In both chapter 7 and chapter 13 bankruptcies, the debtor is required to continue paying child support in full and on time throughout the entirety of their bankruptcy case. Failure to do so will actually risk a complete lift of the automatic stay, giving creditors permission to attempt collections again, potentially resulting in a huge mess.

If child support payments are a significant problem for you, filing for a chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is definitely a wise choice. While you must continue making child support payments (including any arrears), doing so will make your overall debt picture look much more promising.

How Will Paying Child Support Ease my Debt Load?

You may be asking yourself how you’ll be better off financially due to the high priority of making all of your child support payments. The courts look fondly upon debtors who take responsibility for and recognize the significance of their child support obligations. Therefore, as long as you are paying your child support on time, your other debts will be reduced in order to help you continue to pay that support.

This is great news for debtors with child support responsibilities because the amount of money you owe in credit card debt, medical bills and personal debts will be reduced. Chapter 13 bankruptcy will also help you reorganize all remaining debts so that you can afford your monthly payments.

Most debtors would naturally much rather support their children than pay off extraordinary medical bills or credit card debt. Filing for chapter 13 will help you do the right thing while reorganizing your payments, ensuring that you can do so without drowning in debt.

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Have You Been a Foreclosure Scam Victim?

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We’ve talked about foreclosure defense scams before – these happen to homeowners who realize they’re facing foreclosure but don’t think they can afford a foreclosure attorney to help them save their home. Desperate, they look for the cheapest option available to them, which usually comes in the form of a company that claims to be able to save any home from foreclosure for much less than the cost of hiring a lawyer.

Foreclosure defense scam artists lead homeowners to believe that they are working hard at saving their home from Sheriff’s Sale, requesting additional fees time and time again, drawing out the “process” as long as possible in order to suck as much money out of you as they can. Usually, little to no process is being made to keep your home out of foreclosure, and by the time you finally discover the truth, the fraudulent “company” will have vanished and moved on to another city with new homeowners to take advantage of.

Coming at this from a different angle, some homeowners are victims of foreclosure scammers with a twist. Instead of falsely claiming to help struggling homeowners to stay out of foreclosure, these fraud artists target those homeowners who are nearly or already in foreclosure.

Falsely claiming to have purchased the home at Sheriff’s Sale, this type of foreclosure scam has several red flags that should go up loud and clear. Firstly, if someone really did buy your house, you would have been notified that your home’s foreclosure sale was coming up.

Because New Jersey’s foreclosure process is judicial, every step of the process must be completed via the court system. As the homeowner, you will be served with official forms alerting you to your lender’s intent to foreclose, the actual foreclosure complaint and a final offer allowing you a chance to bring your defaulted mortgage current. Even if you do not respond to a single court document that you receive and foreclosure goes through, you will still be notified regarding the date of the sale of your home (BEFORE it takes place).

Therefore, if someone calls you on the phone or physically shows up at your door claiming to be the rightful owner via Sheriff’s Sale, be on high alert. Unless you have been out of the country or for any reason have not been retrieving your mail, there is absolutely no way someone could have purchased your home without your knowledge. Again: they couldn’t purchase your home because no sale will be held without you receiving notification.

If one thing’s certain, it’s that scammers are often quite persistent in their quest to deceive and make money. Some con artists will reappear multiple times, insisting that the home is now in their possession. They may present you with a set of demands, such as:

  • You can continue to live in the home as long as you pay them rent money.
  • The property taxes and HOA dues (if any) must be paid by you.
  • You must find a new place to live (AKA eviction) if you don’t meet their demands.

As you can see, this type of scheme allows the scammer(s) to get rich by scaring homeowners into paying them rent. There have been reports of homeowners who unfortunately fell for this type of conspiracy because the scammer produced official-looking documents. A little checking would have shown that none of the documents were signed by a judge, making them invalid in the judicial foreclosure State of New Jersey.

If you feel that you may potentially be the victim of a New Jersey foreclosure scam, you must take action immediately. Do not sign any papers presented to you without a NJ foreclosure attorney at your side. If possible, obtain copies of the “documents” that you were shown and bring them all with you to your first consultation with your New Jersey real estate lawyer, who may be able to help you recover any monies you’ve lost and will definitely be able to legitimately assist you in saving your home.

 

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Chapter 13 Bankruptcy & The Confirmation Hearing

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Filing for chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is a good idea if you accumulated a lot of debt because of temporary circumstances that no longer apply. For example: divorce, job loss or lay off, death of a wage-earning spouse, temporary disability/disease, or a serious injury that prevented you from working for a substantial amount of time.

As long as your circumstances have now righted themselves, you shouldn’t have a problem with a chapter 13 bankruptcy. You should hold a job that provides you with a steady and reliable source of decent income and have your life in order physically, mentally and emotionally (for the most part – none of us is perfect!).

Even with all of these factors in place, you may still be facing a wall of debt that you accrued while your life was upside-down. Rather than filing for a chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, in which you’d put your assets at risk, a better option under these circumstances is a chapter 13 bankruptcy.

A chapter 13 will help you to reorganize your monthly payments so that they are more manageable. This will be accomplished by lowering some of your debt totals, reducing interest rates, eliminating past due amounts and other compromises that your bankruptcy attorney will be able to negotiate for you. The end goal of a chapter 13 bankruptcy in New Jersey is to prevent you from losing any of your assets while satisfying your creditors, too.

What is a Chapter 13 Confirmation Hearing?

In order for your chapter 13 bankruptcy to be considered approved and finalized, it must go through a process called ‘confirmation.’ The New Jersey bankruptcy court will hold a Confirmation Hearing in order to determine whether or not your plan will be confirmed.

Who Attends the Confirmation Hearing?

  • NJ bankruptcy judge
  • Any of your creditors who wish to attend
  • Your bankruptcy trustee
  • Your New Jersey bankruptcy lawyer
  • You (depending on the requirements of your local NJ district court rules)

Who Can Object to the Confirmation?

Any of your creditors (people/companies to whom you owe money) and your bankruptcy trustee may object during the confirmation hearing. If there is an objection to your chapter 13 plan, the objecting party will explain to the presiding judge why they object and how they feel your plan should be changed.

If there is an objection, it will typically come from your mortgage or auto lender. These are almost always the largest loans owed by debtors. Objections from these two parties usually occur when your proposed chapter 13 plan doesn’t allot enough money to be paid to your mortgage or car loan.

What Happens if an Objection is Made?

Each party attending the Confirmation Hearing will have a chance to share their proposed plan for your chapter 13 bankruptcy. The judge will hear all arguments before making any decisions. Additionally, some NJ bankruptcy judges have concerns of their own during Confirmation Hearings.

If you and your creditors cannot agree on the terms of your chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, your NJ judge will almost always set a second Confirmation Hearing, giving ample time for everyone involved to come to an agreement. If there appears to be no possible reconciliation between you and your creditor(s) even at a second Confirmation Hearing, the judge will most likely make the decision for you.

You should never attend a Confirmation Hearing alone. While objections are often related to repayment amounts, complicated and confusing legal issues may also be raised that you may not understand. Be sure to retain a respected, experienced and reliable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney to ensure that the outcome of your hearing is beneficial to you.

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