Better Networking Strategies for the Modern Small Business Owner

Every small business owner recognizes the importance of networking. You can’t be an entrepreneur today and not hear or read the buzzword “networking” at least several times a day.

However, this doesn’t mean that every small business owner is equally adept at reaching out and working the circuit. If you need help or ideas when it comes to your personal networking plan, you’re not alone. Networking can be one of the more challenging aspects of owning a business because it involves stepping out of your comfort zone.

Difficulty level aside, reaching out to other entrepreneurs is a crucial part of how successful your small business can be. It’s a great way to generate leads which can increase your customer base, and it can also help you to learn and grow as a person and business owner.

Give the following networking tips a try – you might be better at networking than you thought!

Focus on forming relationships

Instead of going into the networking process with the mindset of striking a deal at every turn, commit to the concept of forming friendships with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

The traditional approach to networking through formal meetings and conferences can still be effective ways to hook up with other business owners, but you should also constantly be thinking about making authentic contacts as you move through your workday. You never know who may end up being your next great connection.

Knock the pitch out of the park

No matter where you do most of your networking, you have to make an incredible first impression. With only seconds to impress upon someone why they should want to continue connecting with you in the future, have an elevator pitch prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Naturally, work on honing your go to introduction so that it sounds less like a pitch and more like a good reason to get to know you better.

Be honest about your intentions

Even as you work to change your mindset towards building relationships that last, leading with honesty is always the best policy. If you’re looking to expand your company‘s reach into a new geographic area, a good tactic can be reaching out to friends of a friend. Reveal your motives as you give your elevator pitch and then quickly transition into committing to the “slow burn” of long-term relationship-building.

Use social media

Small Business Trends Magazine reports that, as of November 2016, 97% of adults who use the Internet either utilize or visit a social networking site regularly. The most popular social networking sites include: Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Cyber-networking has actually proven to be quite successful and prosperous for many modern small business owners. Connect online with local entrepreneurs in your industry as well as those who may complement your business. Often, online connections can prove to be as fortuitous in business as they are in romantic comedies.

Leave an impression (and your contact info)

As you work to grow your networking circle, remember to always have plenty of business cards on hand. Even if you make a lasting impression, it will mean little if your new connections don’t know how to contact you. Many business owners today still favor traditional business cards, while others have transitioned to the digital business card. It’s a good idea to be familiar with how to create, share and exchange the more modern e-business card while still carrying paper business cards, so that you are prepared for the preferences of anybody you meet.

 

Image: “Cheers” by Jakob Montrasio – licensed under CC by 2.0

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What is an Involuntary Bankruptcy?

A little-known type of bankruptcy is the involuntary bankruptcy. Most people have never heard of it because it is quite rare. With that being said, it’s still an important facet of bankruptcy law that debtors with substantial assets should be aware of.

The involuntary bankruptcy exists to protect creditors who are owed significant amounts of money. In fact, creditors are the ones who file for involuntary bankruptcy against the debtor who owes them money. This type of bankruptcy almost always applies to businesses rather than individual debtors.

Who can creditors force into bankruptcy?

While it is legal for creditors to file an involuntary bankruptcy against an individual, the creditor would be hard-pressed to squeeze any money out of a debtor with no assets and no cash. In fact, filing for an involuntary bankruptcy against a single debtor would almost always be counter-intuitive, leaving the creditor with even fewer options through which to recover their money.

On the other hand, sometimes a creditor is owed money by a business or corporation that is able to repay their debt. When a business has the assets that would allow them to repay their debt but they choose not to, their creditor(s) have the right to file for involuntary bankruptcy.

How does involuntary bankruptcy work?

The majority of involuntary bankruptcies are filed jointly by more than one creditor. This is because this type of bankruptcy typically applies to business owners, and they often have a number of creditors. For debtors (business owners) with more than 12 creditors (unsecured), at least 25% of them must agree to file for an involuntary bankruptcy.

The creditors who collaborate to petition for involuntary bankruptcy will file for this action with the court. Debtors can respond within 20 days if they do not agree to move forward with a bankruptcy. Failure to respond means the debtor will be forced to move through the bankruptcy process.

A hearing will ultimately decide either in favor of the debtor/business owner or the creditor(s). If the bankruptcy judge decides in the favor of the creditor(s), the bankruptcy will be approved and the debtor will be ordered to pay the creditor(s) the monies owed.

When an involuntary bankruptcy hearing settles in the debtor’s favor, the bankruptcy case will automatically be dismissed and the creditors responsible for the filing of the case may also be ordered to pay the debtor for their court costs and fees.

Can a single creditor file for involuntary bankruptcy against a business owner?

Involuntary bankruptcy can only be filed by a single creditor if they are owed a significant amount of money. As of 2016, that amount is $15,775. Again, this is only possible if the debtor in question does not have more than 12 unsecured creditors.

For debtors with more than 12 unsecured creditors, at least three of them must collaborate, as mentioned above, in order for an involuntary bankruptcy to be heard at trial. These three creditors together must be owed a minimum of $15,775.

Can an involuntary chapter 13 bankruptcy be filed by creditors?

As of right now, the only types of involuntary bankruptcy that are permissible are chapter 7 and chapter 11. Also noteworthy: an involuntary bankruptcy may not be filed if the debtor is a nonprofit organization, bank, insurance company, credit union or farmer.

 

Image: “Bankruptcy” by new3dom3000 – licensed under CC by 2.0

5 Expert Recommended Methods to Raise Your Credit Score

If you are researching how to raise your credit score, regardless of the reason, we give you major kudos. Perhaps you are trying to repair a credit report that was damaged due to years of poor financial choices. On the other hand, maybe your credit score is fair and you’re getting ready to make a big change in your life that will be much easier with good to excellent credit, like buying a new house or starting a family.

You should always strive to have the best credit score possible, but many people experience dips in their credit score just as we experience ups and downs in life. Such is the nature of the beast. In order to raise your credit score effectively, we’ve gathered some expert-recommended tips that can make a significant difference in your overall credit report and number.

Before making any changes, you’ll want to make sure you pull your own credit report and have a good look over everything listed on it. Comb through each credit report from the three main credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) very carefully to check for any mistakes that may have been made like debt that is being reported that doesn’t actually belong to you.

You can contact the reporting agency about any errors on your own or you can work with a New Jersey credit repair attorney to help you make the contact and clear up any errors that may be unnecessarily dragging your credit score down.

After you have determined that there are no errors currently weighing down your score, take the following expert-recommended steps to boost your score higher than ever before:

Pay monthly credit card bills before their closing dates

Even if you are managing to pay your credit card bills in full each month, you may be paying after your lender has already reported your balance to the credit bureaus. This will make it seem that your balance is high every month. What you must do is contact your credit card company or lender and ask when they make their monthly credit bureau reports. Henceforth, make your monthly payment well in advance of that credit card company’s closing date so that your balance will be reported to the bureaus as zero.

Create a debt paydown strategy

In order to optimize your credit utilization ratio (which means keeping it lower than 30% but optimally under 10%), work hard to pay down the balances on your card(s) that have the highest balances first.

Pay your debts every time you get paid

Most people pay their bills once a month, but there is a better way! Since it is common practice for most employers in the US to pay their workers on a biweekly basis, make it your new practice to make two payments on your credit card debt per month. Pay your monthly minimum as soon as you receive your first paycheck of the month, and then pay a little bit more with your second paycheck of the month. This will nudge your balance down much more quickly than only making one payment per month.

Lower your credit utilization ratio by requesting a higher credit limit

Although this is something that should not be attempted if you don’t trust yourself to stay within your own self-imposed spending limits, requesting a higher credit limit from your credit card company can lower your overall credit utilization ratio. Naturally, this will only work as long as you refrain from racking up anymore debt.

Consolidate multiple credit cards from the same issuer

With the ultimate goal of keeping your total credit limit the same, if you have more than one credit card with the same institution, consider requesting a consolidation of those cards. The goal of this is to increase the average age of your overall revolving credit, so request that your newer card be combined into the older card. This will eventually eliminate that newer card from your credit history and your debt will have an older overall age, which will help improve your credit score.

 

Image: “5” by Steve Bowbrick – licensed under CC by 2.0

Is My Bankruptcy Trustee Entitled to My Upcoming Financial Windfall?

When you file for chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey, your bankruptcy case will be assigned to a trustee. The bankruptcy trustee works independent of both your bankruptcy attorney and the NJ bankruptcy court. The trustee’s job is that of bankruptcy case “inspector,” if you will. Their duties are essentially: to review all paperwork, hold the 341 hearing (also called the Meeting of Creditors), liquidate any of your assets that are not exempt, and to prevent bankruptcy fraud from occurring.

Many people wonder how bankruptcy trustees get paid. After all, who would want to take on the intense responsibilities associated with the job if it were an unpaid position?

How does a bankruptcy trustee get paid?

Filing fees

Every bankruptcy petitioner must pay a filing fee to the court system. Your NJ bankruptcy trustee will receive $60 of that fee. That doesn’t sound like much money, does it? Keep reading to learn more.

Commission

Bankruptcy trustees are motivated to find as many assets to liquidate as possible in every bankruptcy case because they receive a percentage of all of the collected assets that are paid to your creditors. They’ll make:

  • 25% of the first $5,000 they collect and disburse to your creditors
  • 10% of the next $45,000
  • 5% of the $950,000 after that, and
  • 3% of any assets collected and disbursed that total over $1,000,000

Costs

If your bankruptcy trustee incurs costs relating to your case, they can request reimbursement for those costs via the NJ court system. You will be notified if this happens, but you will not pay them directly. They will be reimbursed from any money that is freed up in your estate, but for this to happen, it must be approved by the court first.

Financial windfalls

After you file for chapter 7 bankruptcy, let’s assume that you come into some money. This could be due to an inheritance, lawsuit or repayment of a personal debt, etc. You may wonder if you’ll be able to keep this financial windfall or if your trustee will have access to it first in order to pay off your debts.

When you filed for bankruptcy, you essentially handed over your estate (all of your assets and debts) to the trustee. It is the trustee’s duty to lawfully pay back as much of your debt as possible. Therefore, any financial settlements or inheritance monies received while your bankruptcy case is active must be paid to the trustee. There are exemptions, of course, and you should always check with your bankruptcy attorney to ensure that you have the correct and up-to-date information.

If you are interested in reading more about the ‘windfall provision’ section of bankruptcy code 541, you can do so here. Section 541 of the bankruptcy code will also help you can find out exactly which property and assets will be included in your bankruptcy estate.

As always, remember that even if you are entitled to receive a financial windfall during your chapter 7 bankruptcy case, you will almost certainly never receive it in full. This is because once you have filed for chapter 7 in New Jersey, anything outside of the income you earn at your job will be subject to disbursement to your creditors, your trustee’s commission, and your attorney’s fees.

Have a specific question about a NJ chapter 7 bankruptcy case? Call or write us today! We are happy to consult for one half hour with a new client free of charge.

 

 

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Financial Consequences of a NJ Divorce from Bed and Board

New Jersey couples who want to separate but not completely divorce have the option of choosing a legal process called divorce from bed and board. This is New Jersey’s version of a legal separation.

Why not just sever all ties and get divorced?

While there are many reasons why a married couple may not be ready to commit to a final divorce (irony noted), for the purpose of our finance-focused blog, we’re going to, as usual, hone in on MONEY.

Most spouses who are interested in a bed and board divorce are generally still amiable and see the benefit of working together to end their marriage in the best financial way possible for both parties.

Health Insurance Benefits

Probably the biggest money-saving reason to consider a divorce from bed and board is so that the dependent spouse can retain health insurance benefits even after the couple separates. Oftentimes, married couples have one insurance policy through one spouse’s employer. A bed and board divorce is especially applicable in cases wherein one spouse was a stay-at-home-parent or was otherwise unemployed in the capacity that would allow them to acquire health insurance of their own.

Private health insurance coverage is expensive. Divorcing couples in New Jersey in which the dependent spouse needs access to healthcare on a regular basis (ie. those dealing with a chronic illness) can choose the limited (b&b) divorce option, allowing the dependent spouse to remain covered under their working spouse’s policy until such time that he or she is able to obtain independent coverage.

Tax benefits

New Jersey homeowners who are joint owners due to marriage may be unsure how they want to divide the marital home. Moving from one household into two is, as you can imagine, enormously expensive.

Some married couples who no longer wish to be married recognize that it is wise for them to temporarily continue owning property together. This may mean that both spouses remain living in the marital home until both parties have a better hold on their independent personal finances. Additionally, continuing joint ownership of the marital home helps couples avoid property tax repercussions because the IRS views a divorce from bed and board as identical to a legal separation.

Retaining joint home ownership also gives couples who want it the time they need to transfer the title from both spouses to one spouse. This is because there are generally no time limits on property transfers between spouses who are divorced from bed and board in New Jersey.

Survivor benefits

A limited divorce from bed and board allows survivor benefits on many pension plans to remain unchanged. This is also true of many federal and social security retirement benefits. This can be very important for older couples who are nearing retirement age as well as younger couples who have children.

Although it is true that a divorce from bed and board offers many financial advantages, it is important to work with a family law attorney who has experience in this arena. It is crucial to be sure of the language in your specific benefit package(s) before making any decisions. If your personal finances are keeping you from getting the final divorce you want and need in order to move on and be happy, you may also want to consider filing for NJ bankruptcy.

 

 

Image: “Marriage Rings” by Robert Cheaib is licensed under CC by 2.0

How will a Foreclosure Affect my Security Clearance?

If you are employed by the federal government, either as a member of the military or as a civilian working as a contractor, you may hold or need to apply for federal security clearance. Those federal employees who work with classified information will need to hold a security clearance that will be classified as either confidential, secret or top secret.

When you are entrusted with classified government information, it is important that your employer knows that you can be trusted to act responsibly. Your background will be carefully monitored before and periodically throughout the duration of your employment. If there is nothing in your history to suggest that you are a threat to national security and financial information, you should have no problems with your security clearance.

Beyond needing to know that you demonstrate solid judgement skills that suggest you can keep classified information safe, the government will also look at your personal finances when it comes to granting a security clearance.

If you have a long, sordid history of not paying bills on time, falling behind on loans, and large piles of debt, the government will naturally wonder if you have the appropriate self-control required to safeguard classified information and to turn down potential bribes.

Many federal employees who need a security clearance to keep their jobs have become very nervous during this past decade of mortgage uncertainty. As foreclosure rates have soared all over the country since 2007, more and more military employees and contractors have had their security clearances called into question.

It’s important to know that simply having a home in foreclosure does not automatically mean you will lose your security clearance. In fact, if your foreclosure was caused by factors that are mostly out of your control, you have a better chance of keeping your clearance. Things like:

  • Relocating for work (especially when you were required to do so)
  • Divorce
  • Short sale (with interested buyers) that was cancelled by your lender in favor of foreclosure

…can all be causes of foreclosure that are controlled by outside forces that go beyond your ability to handle your finances.

Your employer will also want to know that you have been making efforts to right your current financial situation. If your past financial history is pretty clear of big mistakes, and you are working to get your foreclosure settled (and pay off any remaining amounts due), you will more than likely be able to keep your security clearance.

It is crucial, however, that you take very deliberate steps to ensure that your lender is satisfied at the end of your foreclosure so that nothing can come back to haunt you when it comes time for your next security clearance review.

If you think a foreclosure is in your foreseeable future, keep your adjudicator apprised of the situation every step of the way so that they have all of the information you have. Work with an experienced NJ attorney who specializes in foreclosure and real estate matters to ensure that your security clearance will remain intact.

Image credit: Cafe Credit

Why Does Divorce Often Lead to Bankruptcy?

Money problems are frequently at least one of the factors that can lead a couple toward divorce. Often, spouses tend to blame one another for the financial struggles that have cropped up in their marriage. This can lead to a lot of fighting and distress that starts to form a wall between husband and wife. When the wall grows so high that it seems insurmountable, divorce can seem like the best (or only) resolution.

We’re not here to debate whether or not you and your spouse should or should not split up. That is totally your business, and we recognize that it is only our business to get your financial status back to where it used to be.

Regardless of the reason(s) for the demise of your marriage, the act of getting divorced itself often leads to bankruptcy of one or both spouses. If you’re counting on your divorce to wash all of your money troubles away, you’ve got a harsh reality to face. Some of the major reasons so many divorced couples end up bankrupt include:

Going from two incomes to one: Most couples who are married or committed long-term without being legally married tend to pool their incomes together in order to support their lifestyle. After a split, your spouse’s income vanishes, and you’re left to fend for yourself with only the money you make. Many times, this means attempting to continue making the same lifestyle choices with much less money. What happens is that the money runs out QUICKLY.

Legal fees: This is a factor in divorce that you actually have a lot of control over. Those couples who refuse to come together in order to create a settlement that works for both parties are only hurting themselves by racking up a ton of lawyer hours that simply aren’t necessary. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need TWO attorneys to get divorced! If you and your spouse can agree that you want to split amicably – using one attorney will save you thousands of dollars. The less in-fighting there is between the two of you, the lower your legal fees will be.

Alimony and/or child support: Naturally, you are legally required to pay both alimony and child support if you are so ordered by the court. We can only assume that you want to continue providing that financial support to your children. This means you may have to make sacrifices in some other areas of your life in order to cut down on spending. Those parents paying support who also have a plethora of other debts and high living expenses can get pushed over the edge into bankruptcy. IMPORTANT NOTE: Child support is NOT dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy of your (ex) spouse: As noted above, your ex cannot file for bankruptcy to get out of paying child support. This is not to say that they are prohibited from filing for bankruptcy; they just cannot discharge their child support obligation. If your ex-spouse files for bankruptcy, they may be granted a discharge (wipe out) of other debts, like credit cards, store cards, past due utility bills, late fees, and more. Since you were previously married, there’s a good chance that your name is included on some or many of the debts that are discharged, turning the creditors’ attention directly toward you.

Creditors don’t care about your private life. You got divorced, so sorry, too bad, is what they’ll say. “Your name is still on this account, and we don’t care if you’re single, married, or a neon green unicorn, we’d like our money please.” The bankruptcy of your former spouse can have a domino effect that ultimately causes you to file for bankruptcy as well.

If you’ve recently been through a divorce and are struggling with a similar situation, you have options. If you own your own home and don’t want to lose it, filing for bankruptcy is the perfect way to save it. Learn more at: http://www.veitengruberlaw.com/Bankruptcy-Law/.

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How Soon After my Chapter 7 Discharge Can I File a Chapter 13?

Getting your ducks in a row by filing for and successfully completing a chapter 7 bankruptcy case may only end up organizing half of your ducks. In other words, if you recently received a chapter 7 discharge and still have too many nondischargeable debts, what are your options? After all, bankruptcy law states that a debtor who receives a chapter 7 discharge cannot file another chapter 7 for at least eight years. Filing for chapter 13 in search of another discharge isn’t an option for at least four years after your chapter 7 discharge.

Given that the bankruptcy system in the United States was put into place to help distressed debtors, one would wonder if there is anything left to do should you find yourself just out of a chapter 7 bankruptcy only to discover that it simply didn’t help as much as you thought it would.

Luckily, the US bankruptcy system does have a plan for chapter 7 debtors who find that they are still saddled with too much debt at the end of their case. Sometimes, chapter 7 debtors also mistakenly jump into new debt immediately after their discharge because they think that their money problems have been “solved.” An example of this is the debtor who received a discharge and went right out and bought a car she couldn’t really afford. Her credit had been damaged due to the bankruptcy, so she was forced to accept an extremely high interest rate on her auto loan.

If, after a month of paying bills post chapter 7 discharge, you fall short financially, it is easy to panic. You have most likely been told by your attorney that you cannot file for another bankruptcy until the legal timelines have passed. So: WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO?

Even though you can’t file for a chapter 13 bankruptcy with the intention of receiving another discharge for four years after your chapter 7 discharge, you CAN file a chapter 13 after your chapter 7 if your intent is to reorganize your remaining debt so that it is manageable. This likely will not reduce the total amount of your remaining debt significantly, but it may reduce it slightly, and your attorney can help you negotiate the payment terms on your remaining debt.

If you have creditors who are threatening to garnish your wages (take money directly out of your paycheck) because you can’t afford to repay all of your remaining debts, filing for a chapter 13 will give you the benefit of another Automatic Stay. This prevents any of your creditors or lenders from setting up wage garnishment, repossessing your vehicle or other property, or foreclosing on your home.

A chapter 13 after a chapter 7 is sometimes referred to as a chapter 20, because essentially the two bankruptcies are working together to help you both discharge the debts that can be wiped out and reorganize those that are remaining so that you can really, truly begin again. If you’ve been through a chapter 7 discharge and are still struggling, ask your NJ bankruptcy attorney about a chapter 13 after chapter 7, or a “chapter 20.”

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Veitengruber Law: Working with Elder Lawyers

 

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Elder law is the legal practice that focuses on representing senior citizens in regards to age-specific issues like: estate planning, Medicaid, disability, long-term care, administration of wills, guardianship, commitment, elder abuse protection, end-of-life planning, nursing home care and contracts, and many other issues that may arise in the aging population.

Essentially, elder law attorneys have a loaded job description: representing older Americans in just about any legal area you can think of. As you can imagine, it can be a bit overwhelming if a client (or couple) has a lot of needs at the same time.

Attorneys who get the best results for their clients are those who have a narrow area of focus. This allows them to become experts in their practice area(s) in order to both expedite the processes required by their clients and to get reliable, high quality results. Elder law attorneys who concentrate solely on elder law are consistently great at what they do.

Even so, the elder law attorney may still find himself overloaded with work from time to time, when, as mentioned above, a particular client requires a lot of attention. Additionally, any attorney can get overwhelmed if they have a sudden rush of new clients.

Elder law attorneys assist a specific type of client (the aging) in a variety of areas. This makes them the perfect partner for an attorney who specializes in specific areas rather than type of client.

Example: Elderly clients Fay and John come to your elder law practice wanting to set up their estate plans. They have a lot of assets (but not a lot of money), numerous beneficiaries and stipulations, and present a rather challenging and time consuming case. In addition to estate planning, Fay is also having issues with Medicaid that need attention, and John’s sister has just entered a nursing home wherein they suspect she is being neglected and/or abused.

On top of all of that, Fay and John stopped paying their mortgage six months ago and are about to lose their home to foreclosure. Although they knew foreclosure was inevitable, they’ve now realized that renting or buying another home will cost more than they were already paying their mortgage company each month. They want to know how they can save their home, which is scheduled for Sheriff’s Sale in two weeks.

The best option for their elder law attorney in this situation would be to connect them with a local foreclosure defense attorney who has significant experience in “last minute” foreclosure saves. By working together, both attorneys can provide everything Fay and John need so that they can continue living comfortably in retirement.

Other reasons to consider taking a “tag team” approach to an elder law practice include: clients who need to file for bankruptcy, real estate contract review, landlord/tenant disputes, credit repair, debt resolution and elder fraud.

Veitengruber Law is a full-service real estate and debt relief solutions law firm in New Jersey helping clients with foreclosure defense, bankruptcy, credit repair and other debt relief problems. We welcome any elder law attorneys who’d like to collaborate in order to give our joint clients the best results possible through retirement and beyond. We have offices in Monmouth, Burlington and Camden Counties and also serve Ocean, Mercer and Gloucester county clients.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, shoot us an email or give us a call. Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer Counties – (732) 852-7295; Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties – (609) 297-5226 or (856) 318-2759.

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