How to Achieve Financial Success with a Criminal Record

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A staggering 25% of Americans have a mark on their background check that is preventing them from being gainfully employed. In fact, for those with a criminal record, finding any kind of work has become next to impossible.

We’re not talking about murderers or bank robbers, either. Naturally, those more serious offenders are busy spending many years in prison. Meanwhile, one in four Americans is dealing with a criminal record from many years ago – sometimes even decades. These dings on their background checks were often petty crimes that took place when they were young and immature. Many who are affected by their past crime(s) say they haven’t been in trouble with the law since, having learned their lesson and lived a clean and honest life after a run-in with the the police. Regardless, they are still repeatedly turned away from job openings, have lost their homes, and many can’t even rent an apartment.

New Jersey, along with many other states, have recently passed legislation that prohibits employers from asking potential employees up-front about their criminal history. This Ban the Box law is aimed at reducing discrimination against applicants based on the fact that they have a criminal record. Employers are still allowed to inquire about criminal history, but only after the initial application and interview stage has passed. Even with the Ban the Box law in place, many employers will simply drop an applicant the second they find out that they have a criminal record.

What is a person to do if they’re dealing with an event from their past that they can’t seem to get out from under?

If the crime took place a long time ago and the applicant has maintained a clean criminal history since, it might be best for them to be up front about the event with potential employers. This is especially true if the crime was relatively minor, and most importantly, non-violent.

A good example of this is a man who fell behind on child support payments due to a cost of living increase. He was not made aware of the increase and was subsequently arrested. Upon arrival at his front door, the officers attempted to detain him, but the man had no idea what he had done wrong so he resisted. Now he is dealing with a count of Resisting Arrest on his criminal record. Employers who hear the whole story will be more inclined to understand rather than discriminate.

For those who still struggle to get work even when taking the honest approach, try applying at a temporary work agency. It may not be your ideal job, and it may not provide work every day, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s important to get some work history under your belt after the date of the criminal event so that when you do apply for a steady job, employers can call your reference person (your temp agency coordinator or someone you worked for through the agency) to find out that you’re a hard worker who stays out of trouble these days.

If your financial situation has become dire due to being unable to find work, you might benefit from filing for NJ bankruptcy. This can give you a fresh start by eradicating your debts so that when you do finally land the right job, you’ll already be on the path to financial success.

 

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When to Break Up With Your Financial Advisor

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An important indicator of your overall financial wellness is how well you balance spending with saving and investing. You should always keep the end game (retirement) in view while simultaneously being able to enjoy life while saving for your children’s college education, if applicable. In order to coordinate all of the pieces of your financial puzzle most effectively, many people choose to work with a financial advisor.

Unlike many other professional partnerships you may form, your relationship with your financial advisor or financial planner can become more like a friendship. Because many people stay with the same financial planner for years, you can easily feel connected on more than a professional level. This feeling increases if you are also in the same circle of friends or live in the same town.

No matter how much you enjoy the company of your financial planner, if your needs simply aren’t being met, you have some decisions to make. You’ll either have to explain to your advisor exactly how he’s letting you down and what he can change to retain your business, or you can start looking around for someone new.

Reasons to consider leaving your financial planner:

  • Distrust – Being able to trust your financial advisor with your money is extremely important. If you’re asking questions and not getting answers that feel authentic, that’s a red flag.
  • Poor communication – While it’s true that financial planners are often very busy, if your phone calls and emails go unanswered for lengthy time periods, you’re paying for a service that’s sub-par.
  • Unclear expectations – The best financial advisors will lay out a plan when you first team up with them. The plan should include input from you regarding your specific goals for your assets and what you’d like to see happen. If your advisor never created an investment policy statement for you – it could signal that he’s skimping on his other duties as well.
  • No contract – As with any professional who provides you with a service that you will be paying for, your financial planner should present you with a clear contract at the beginning of your relationship that outlines his duties to you and what he needs from you as well. Without a contract, you have no way of knowing what to expect.
  • Distance – If you’ve been working with a financial advisor from afar and have recently decided to take a more active role in your finances, letting go may be your only option.
  • No fiduciary standard of care – In other words, if your advisor (or his firm) doesn’t put your interests ahead of their own, you have a very good reason for finding a new firm.
  • Fees – If you’re currently unhappy with your advisor’s fee structure and this is set by his firm, you may not be able to get the arrangement you’re looking for without finding someone new.
  • Additional services – Many people today are interested in working with a financial advisor who goes above and beyond making sound investments for them. Tax planning and basic budgeting advice are two services cited by clients who were unhappy with their current financial planning firm.

At Veitengruber Law, we pride ourselves on our vast network of professionals and we attend networking meetings every month to stay immersed in the financial, legal and real estate markets. We are more than happy to assist you in finding the NJ financial advisor that meets your needs. Give us a quick call [(732) 852-7295], or fill out the contact request form on our website. We’re always here to help!

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For SSI Recipients, Does Inheritance Spell Disaster?

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What is SSI?

SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income, and it is a financial assistance program offered by the US government to low-income United States citizens who are blind, over the age of 65, or otherwise disabled. SSI benefits are available to children who are blind or disabled, as well.

SSI is not to be confused with SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), which is available to people who have been working for a significant number of years and have paid “their dues,” so to speak, in the form of Social Security taxes that are deducted from an employee’s paycheck. SSDI can be received by anyone who becomes disabled and is no longer able to work, regardless of their current assets. In comparison, SSI funds are provided by the US Treasury, and recipients must have limited incomes and assets along with specific disabilities.

Can an inheritance affect Supplemental Security Income?

If a family member or loved one bequeaths money to you when they pass away, it’s important to know the possible ramifications so that your financial stability remains intact. Receiving an inheritance does not affect SSDI, as it is based on your earnings as an employee in this country. SSI, however, is distributed on a needs-based system, and because of this, anyone who receives an inheritance can become ineligible for SSI benefits.

Those receiving SSI must be intimately familiar with the strict rules that surround Supplemental Security Income so they don’t risk losing their benefits, which not only provides them with much needed financial assistance, but may also provide them with health care coverage through Medicaid.

Although an inheritance is usually viewed as a positive financial windfall, if it causes you to lose your only steady income and health care coverage, it can definitely spell disaster.

Should all SSI recipients refuse an inheritance in order to avoid losing their benefits?

It would seem unfair to exclude SSI recipients from accepting any inheritance money. After all, people who receive Supplemental Security Income are by definition financially distressed and living with a disability.

In order to help SSI beneficiaries from losing their benefits in order to accept the financial windfall of an inheritance, a Special Needs Trust can be established.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

A Special Needs Trust allows a person with disabilities or special needs to accept their rightful inheritance without jeopardizing their government benefits. Typically, parents or caregivers of a disabled person will create a Special Needs Trust when they are establishing their estate plan (will), although one can also be set up after a person dies.

Instead of inheriting their portion of their parent’s money directly, a person with a Special Needs Trust in place will have a trustee to manage the trust for them. In this way, no (or limited) SSI benefits will be lost due to accepting the money that was left to them.

Special Needs Trusts are complex and have many intricate timing details that must be followed to the letter for them to work as they were intended. Also, each family’s financial situation will determine the type of Special Needs Trust that will best meet their needs.

In order to ensure that your special needs loved one receives their rightful portion of their inheritance, you must work closely with an estate planning attorney who is familiar with all of the details surrounding Special Needs Trusts.

 

Image credit: Chris Dlugosz

Can a NJ Lender Foreclose for Late Payments Only?

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Like millions of Americans who own their own homes, your largest monthly bill is most certainly your mortgage payment. This is especially true if you’ve wrapped your property taxes in with your mortgage loan. Paying your mortgage each month can feel physically painful at times, especially if you have to write out all of those numbers on a paper check. OUCH.

Nonetheless, you obviously knew what you signed up for when you applied for your current mortgage, so its appearance each month doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Why, then, are so many Americans habitually late in paying for this particular loan?

The answer to that is simple. A large percentage of homeowners in this country are living paycheck to paycheck – earning just enough money every month to fulfill their financial obligations. This leads to tense moments when there simply aren’t sufficient funds in the bank to make the huge mortgage payment without fear of bouncing a check.

Nobody wants to bounce a check – we all know that. The hassle combined with added fees from your bank AND your lender mean that bouncing a check is an extremely costly mistake. Instead of potentially writing a check that can’t be cashed, many homeowners simply wait until their bank account has enough money to fulfill the mortgage payment. Sometimes this means the mortgage payment gets sent in a few days (or weeks) late.

The question here, is: Can a lender foreclose on a homeowner if they are chronically late with their mortgage payment? To clarify, we’re talking about a borrower who hasn’t actually missed any payments and technically isn’t “behind” on their mortgage – only slightly late with nearly every payment.

The short answer is that almost no lender will move toward foreclosure if the borrower isn’t actually behind on payments. That’s not to say it has never happened, but if it has, it’s exceedingly rare. In most cases, lenders don’t send out ‘Intent to Foreclose’ notices until a borrower has missed 3 full mortgage payments. Some lenders will threaten foreclosure after one missed payment, but as long as you can bring the mortgage current, they back down.

What can happen to you if you consistently pay your mortgage (or any other monthly bills) late is that your credit score can drop. Even though you may avoid foreclosure, late payments are often reported to credit reporting agencies, and each late payment will ding your score a few points. If you’re late every month for a year, your score may have dropped over 100 points.

If you’re currently struggling to pay your mortgage in a timely manner, there are some things you can do. First, check your credit score to see how much damage you’ve done. That gives you a good starting point. Next, get in touch with your lender and tell them why you’re having trouble paying on time. You may benefit from changing the time of month that your payments are due, paying online, or paying via telephone when your bank account is primed and ready.

If none of the above options is enough to alleviate your tardiness, you may benefit from applying for a NJ loan modification. You can apply for one on your own, but many times a real estate attorney can negotiate with your lender much more effectively, working to extend the life of the loan, reduce the principal amount due, erase late fees, and maybe even lower the interest rate on the loan. One or a combination of these modifications can make paying your mortgage on time much more manageable.

 

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NJ Bankruptcy Forms: The Creditor Matrix

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If you are weighing the pros and cons of filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey, you’ve likely realized that there is a large amount of paperwork involved in the process. This is true whether your past due debts would be best resolved with a chapter 7 bankruptcy or if your unique financial situation lends itself better to a chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan.

Although there are additional bankruptcy chapters, chapter 7 and chapter 13 are the two most common types filed by individuals and small business owners. Because bankruptcy filers are already in debt, it isn’t uncommon to contemplate foregoing an attorney. While it may seem like an easy way to cut corners, a bankruptcy attorney’s fees can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

With that being said, if you choose to move forward without a lawyer, some of the required forms may confuse you, leading to critical errors in your bankruptcy petition if you aren’t careful. Always do your research before filling out any of your paperwork that you have questions about.

What is the creditor matrix?

While it may sound like something more complex, the New Jersey bankruptcy creditor matrix is a list of everyone to whom you owe money. The creditor matrix is also referred to as the creditor mailing list, because throughout the duration of your case, the court will use the matrix to notify your creditors of important case information.

Why is the creditor matrix so important?

Every debt that you wish to have discharged must be listed on your creditor matrix. Omitting a creditor can lead to that debt not being discharged. Even listing a creditor’s information incorrectly is reason enough for them to object to your bankruptcy discharge of their debt.

Creditors who aren’t notified about your bankruptcy will be entitled to continue collecting money from you. This is simply because they weren’t included in your creditor matrix; therefore, they never knew about your bankruptcy petition.

What do I need to know about filing a creditor matrix?

Every individual bankruptcy court has unique filing policies and formatting procedures for the creditor matrix. You can work with an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney who will prepare and file the matrix for you. This eliminates any possibility of error, which is one of the huge benefits of hiring an attorney to file bankruptcy for you. Misfilings and omissions can cost you large amounts of money – much more than you would pay in attorney fees.

If I make a mistake on my creditor matrix, can it be fixed?

Making a mistake on your creditor mailing list won’t necessarily cause your case to be thrown out, but if you realize you’ve left off a creditor (or several), you’ll need to add them via matrix amendment. Each time you make changes to your bankruptcy petition, you’ll be charged another fee, and you’re required to notify all of your creditors about any changes.

Amending any part of your bankruptcy petition must be done according to the specific rules of your bankruptcy court. Creditors who are added to the creditor matrix will also need to be added to other sections of your bankruptcy petition, namely Schedules D, E or F.

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How to Start a NJ Business When You Have a Poor Credit Rating

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If getting out of corporate America by becoming your own boss is your main goal as we roll into 2017, there are a lot of steps you’ll need to take to make it a reality. Starting your own business is without a doubt a challenging undertaking, but it has been done by many before you, so take heed that it can be done! However, if you’re starting the process with a low credit score, you’re already a bit behind the eight ball. Rest assured, though, that this does not mean entrepreneurship can’t happen for you.

Facing the fact that your credit score is less than ideal can be difficult, especially if you’ve managed to “get by” for years without giving it too much thought. By taking no action at all and simply burying your head in the proverbial sand, your score will never improve. Since starting a business is important to you, you’ll have to make smart borrowing choices that will enable you to launch while increasing your credit score simultaneously. In turn, you’ll have access to more financial resources later when your business expands, because your score will have gone up. It is more important to have a good credit score as your business grows, so you have that on your side. You’ve got nowhere to go but up!

In order to get your business off the ground, try these approaches to getting the start-up cash you’ll need:

  • Phone a friend. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Shark Tank, you’ve probably noticed that many of the entrepreneurs on the show report getting a large percentage of their start up costs by asking friends and family for loans (or investment in the company). While it may be difficult to ask loved ones for financial help before you have established your new company, this is one way you can avoid your low credit score prevent you from borrowing money.
  • Apply for grants. Although it can be very challenging to find a grant program that is willing to donate money to your new start-up, it is possible. This is especially true if your company is in the healthcare field or is a retail business in a struggling geographical location. Downtrodden areas with lower-income residents are frequently looking for new businesses to give a boost to their current economic status.
  • Look for a microloan. It is what it sounds like – a tiny loan, but if you have exhausted all other options, something is better than nothing. Lenders that are not affiliated with a bank do exist, and for many of them, their main purpose is helping entrepreneurs with low credit scores. Not only are they more likely to lend you money than a traditional bank or lender, but borrowing from them will also cause your score to rise! Naturally, that will only occur if you’re making your required payments on time, but with microloans the payments will be much more manageable.

The most important thing to remember if you dream of starting your own business is this: don’t give up just because of a low credit score. Today’s society revolves around the buying and selling of goods and services – now more than ever before!

Additionally, for those who are contemplating starting a business in New Jersey – our state welcomes you and wants to help you find the resources you need to succeed. More business in the Garden State means a better NJ economy! To learn more about special financing and incentives available to you, visit The Cornerstone of Financial Justice, where you’ll receive full service solutions to your credit score and business loan challenges.

 

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I Received an Insurance Settlement: Can I Still File for Bankruptcy?

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If you recently received a substantial insurance pay-out, you were undoubtedly involved in some kind of accident. Perhaps you had a car accident, obtained an injury at work, or were hurt during a mishap that took place on the privately owned property of an individual or business. If your injuries were significant enough to file a lawsuit, it’s likely that you were unable to work very much (or at all) after your accident or injury.

Assuming that your injuries have prevented you from generating enough income to satisfy your bills, you may have quite a few overdue utility payments, car payments and/or past due mortgage or rent payment(s). Waiting for an insurance settlement can feel interminable and never-ending during the waiting process. Trying to get by on next-to-nothing is not only highly stressful; it’s usually virtually impossible.

As your situation deteriorates more and more, you may begin to contemplate filing for bankruptcy. After all, you have no idea how long it will be before you receive a settlement check from your insurance company, and your creditors are getting very impatient! Learning about filing for New Jersey bankruptcy, you may start to feel that it is the best option for a fresh start, eliminating many of the debts that are preventing you from being able to live any kind of normal life.

You’ve done your due diligence in making an appointment with a NJ bankruptcy attorney and have gathered all of the necessary financial paperwork. Essentially, you’re ready to open your bankruptcy case when….. you receive your insurance settlement money.

A rush of mixed emotions – should I use the insurance money to catch up on late bills and cancel my bankruptcy case?

Most debtors who are so deep in debt simply because they were injured are afraid to file for bankruptcy for fear of losing the insurance settlement money they received. For example, if you were injured at a local store when a heavy item fell, crushing your foot and eliminating your ability to work at your cashier job, can you still file for bankruptcy if and when you receive the insurance pay-out that you actually deserve?

New Jersey will allow you to decide whether to use the state or federal exemption laws to protect your settlement. You must choose one or the other, though, and cannot piecemeal an exemption plan that uses both state and federal exemption laws.

If you take a look at the NJ exemption that would help you protect your settlement money, you’d be looking at the New Jersey wildcard exemption, which allows debtors to keep up to $1,000 of any property or settlement money.

Conversely, the federal bankruptcy exemptions are much more beneficial when it comes to protecting settlement funds. If you decide to use federal exemption laws, you’ll be entitled to keep up to $22,975* in personal injury settlement payments. Additionally, you’ll be able to protect damages for lost wages, wrongful death awards and can use a federal wildcard exemption that protects any property or money of your choosing up to $1,225*.

There are many more details involved in filing for NJ bankruptcy when you’ve been injured and are anticipating an insurance settlement or other financial windfall. As every bankruptcy case varies so widely, you should direct case-specific questions to a local bankruptcy attorney who is willing to discuss your case with you free of charge.

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*As these numbers are subject to changes, please clarify specific exemption amounts with your attorney.

I’m Disabled and in Debt: Can I be Sued for the Money I Owe?

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Maybe you were plugging along with a solid debt-snowball plan that was going swimmingly, effectively reducing your overall debt bit by bit before you became disabled. Disability can happen to anyone, at any time, and can come in an endless number of forms. Whether you were in a vehicular accident, had a serious fall, or if you have been diagnosed with a serious illness or disease, the effect on your finances can be simply devastating.

Regardless of the cause of your disability, if you also have a large amount of debt you can’t repay, you may be feeling helpless and afraid of what will happen next. Will the credit card company sue you? Will you go to jail? Will your family be responsible for your debts?

The bad news is that you can be sued for unpaid debts, however, it’s the best kind of bad news you can get. If your disability has caused you to be unable to work, you probably don’t have very much money in your bank account. The good news, then, is that you have no money for your creditors to take, even if they do sue you. You don’t have to worry about going to jail, either, unless your creditor is your ex-spouse and the unpaid debt is child support. Even then, a change in life circumstance (your disability) can be entered into your family court case, which will reduce your support payments while you are disabled. And your family will not be responsible for debts taken out in your name only.

What if I collect Social Security disability benefits?

If your creditor sues you for a debt you owe them, they can have your bank account levied if you refuse to pay the judgement amount (your refusal would make sense if you actually can’t pay it due to lack of money.) However, some debtors do find themselves with at least some money in their bank accounts if they receive payments from Social Security due to their disability. The good news here is that disability funds are exempt from collection by creditors or collection agencies.

For those of you who are receiving disability benefits, it is of the utmost importance that you keep your disability money distinctly separated from any other monies you may receive. It is best to open a new bank account that will only receive deposits from Social Security. If you commingle your Social Security funds with any other funds that may trickle in while you are not working (gifts from family, yard sale money, proceeds from selling stuff on eBay) – you can risk losing some of your Social Security money if a levy is placed upon your bank account(s).

While many disabilities are short-lived, some are not, and still others are difficult to predict. Because of the unpredictable nature of so many disabilities, illnesses and injuries, your best bet is to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This will rid you of the debt that is currently hanging over your head like a dark cloud and will release you from worrying about it. Your ability to focus on healing physically will undoubtedly improve with the weight of your debts lifted.

Your credit rating will take a hit if you decide to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. The same is true if you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. However, the benefits of wiping out your extensive debts while you’re disabled are much greater than the effects of a lower credit score at this time. Your bankruptcy attorney will be able to help you improve your credit score after your bankruptcy discharge, so that you can get it moving back in the right direction, just as you will be able to improve your mental and physical health without the stress of owing so much money.

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