The Best Tips for Paying off Student Loans Quickly

At the time you applied for and were granted a federal student loan, there’s very little chance that you were thinking about how long it would take you to pay it back. We’re all a bit naive and wet behind the ears when just starting our college studies. Buoyed by the prospect of a “well paying job” after your time at university, you, like many others, most likely figured that paying back your student loan debt would be a piece of cake.

As we all know, student loans are a whole lot less fun after college ends. No one likes the harsh reality of knowing that a large portion of your (newly acquired) paychecks will go toward paying back your student loans. Real life take home pay is usually a lot less than you thought it would be, and subtracting even more money from your net income can feel almost physically painful.

On top of how depressing it can be to fully realize just how much you owe, it can feel like you’ll be paying for your student loans forever. However, there are things you can do to make sure that feeling doesn’t become your reality.

Stop deferment as soon as possible

As a general rule, most student loans, both federal and private, will continue to accrue interest while in deferment. This means the longer you put them off, the more you’re going to owe.

Avoid income-based repayment plans

Also known as ‘pay as you earn’ or ‘income contingent’ plans, these repayment methods are geared toward college graduates who can demonstrate at least a partial financial hardship. In theory, limiting how much borrowers have to repay each month based on how much money they’re earning might sound like a good idea. The problem with dramatically lowering your monthly loan payments again lies in the staggering amount of interest that will be tacked onto the total amount due.

Be aware of income taxes if considering loan forgiveness programs

There are currently a number of federal and New Jersey loan forgiveness programs available for borrowers who have made a set number of payments over a given time period (usually 10, 20 or 25 years). While just knowing that the remainder of your loan will eventually be forgiven can be a light at the end of a tunnel, you may have to pay income tax on the amount that is forgiven.

If you’ve deferred your loan several times and then paid the lowest payments possible via income-based repayment, the interest will have been compounding for a long time. That interest will be added to the remaining balance, which may be a significant sum by the time you qualify for forgiveness. While you will be able to celebrate the debt forgiveness, you’ll still need to foot the hefty NJ income tax bill.

Refinance and consolidate your student loans

One of the best steps to take when trying to get a handle on your student loan debt is to lower your interest rate. You should first consolidate (combine) any loans that are eligible for refinancing. If your original student loan interest rates were high, you’ll save a lot of money over the course of your repayment plan by refinancing to get a lower rate. This can also shorten the length of time required for you to pay back your loans and, in turn, lower the amount of income taxes you’ll owe on any remaining balance if you qualify for forgiveness.

Earmark your yearly tax refund for student loan repayment

Each time you receive extra money, whether from your tax refund, a lawsuit settlement, an inheritance, etc., resist the urge to spend it frivolously and instead apply as much of the total windfall to your student loan balance. You can do the same every time you receive a raise at work, too. Set aside the extra income and pay that much above and beyond your monthly minimum loan payment.

Look for employment opportunities that offer loan forgiveness

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives student loan debt in teaching and certain public and nonprofit jobs. You’ll have to meet a whole host of requirements in order to have your loans forgiven through your job, but it is something extremely well worth looking into.

In addition to the above strategies to get out of student loan debt quickly, you should consistently re-work your budget so that you can trim as much excess spending as possible. This will allow you to put more of your income toward repaying your debts faster. Your budget will only be stilted temporarily – so remind yourself that the end justifies the means.

 

Image: “Calculator and Money” by Reyner Media – licensed under CC by 2.0

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Asset Planning for Seniors in New Jersey

Seniors today are remaining spry, exceedingly physically fit, and overtly healthier than our predecessors of decades and centuries past. Although extended life expectancies mean more time to make memories with family members and loved ones, they can also mean that your finances have the potential to expire before you do.

While you may have created an estate plan in your 30s or 40s, it is important to reevaluate the details and all components of that plan if/when you live so long that parts of your plan become null, void, irrelevant or outdated.

At Veitengruber Law, we can provide you with long-term planning guidance for all stages of your life. Even if your current estate plan (Last Will and Testament) was drafted by someone other than our firm, we are more than happy to help you protect your assets.

Medicaid rules are numerous and complex. As you approach age 65 (or if you are currently receiving SSDI and are younger than age 65), we will make sure that you understand all of the rules and eligibility requirements.

Medicaid is associated with something called the “five-year look back period,” which can often be confusing and problematic without the help of an experienced New Jersey asset protection attorney. Although we cannot predict the future (yet!), we do have extensive experience in all of the necessary legal areas that relate to the five-year look back period. These areas include: real estate law, foreclosure law, estate planning and credit repair.

You have undoubtedly worked for many years to support your family and to develop a savings/retirement plan that is very important to you. Whether or not your finances will be enough to support you with an extended life expectancy is something we can help you plan for.

As you age, you may need to address potential for long-term care. While this certainly isn’t something that anyone wishes to contemplate, the necessity for nursing home care is a reality as you age. This need may double if your spouse is also still living. We will help you estimate your potential longevity based on your family history and your individual health history in order to come up with the best plan to protect your assets in the event that long-term care is in your future.

If your original estate plan was completed several decades ago, you may need to revisit the designee for executor of your estate. It is possible that your original designee is no longer living, is in poor health, or is no longer part of your life due to divorce, relocation, death, or other circumstances.

In addition to reviewing your estate executor, we will help you to re-evaluate the beneficiaries named in your will. We will also help you assess all components of your estate plan (and determine if they need to be updated based on your current health and that of your spouse) including: your living will, advanced medical directive, power of attorney, your will and any trusts that you have set up.

To find out how we can protect your property and other assets from potential future events, sit down with our professional asset protection team today for a free consultation.

 

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Can I be Evicted Due to my Roommate’s Poor Credit?

Moving in with a roommate can be a great way to split expenses – both rent and utilities. It can also be an extremely fun time in your life as you venture out on your own and begin to explore the world as an adult.

Naturally, deciding to live with someone, whether in your early 20s or later in life, is a big decision and one that must be taken seriously. It’s in your best interest to make sure that the person you choose to live with is trustworthy and easy to get along with. Failure to take the time to find a roommate who meets these criteria can lead to a very miserable living situation.

However, the single most important trait to look for in a potential roommate is financially responsibility. The following “red flags” indicate a deficiency in the money department and should give you significant pause in selecting your cohabitant:

  • Poor credit score (under 620)
  • History of being evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities
  • Frequent moves from one rental to another – This indicates that they may be more likely to break the lease they sign with you.
  • Tells “horror” stories about all past roommates – The whole “it’s not me, it’s them” scenario – if it keeps repeating itself in someone’s life, this is probably not a person you want to live with.
  • Poor references – Ask potential roommates if you can get in touch with someone they used to live with. Today, this can be as simple as a Facebook introduction and a five minute online chat. Look for answers about paying rent, utilities and security deposits as well as paying for any damages that occurred during the length of their lease.
  • Doesn’t hold a steady job or is only employed part-time – Make sure that they pull in more than enough income to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
  • Inability to put down a deposit

If you plan to apply for a joint lease once you find the right roommate, the property owner (landlord) will almost certainly check both of your credit scores. Even if you have a sparkling credit history and a high score, a landlord can decide not to rent to you if your roommate has dings on their credit report.

Typically, landlords won’t turn away potential renters who only have a few dings in their credit history, but if your roommate is saddled with a significant amount of debt, their credit score has likely suffered because of it.

Perhaps you already have an apartment rental and you want to take on a roommate without adding their name to the lease. Depending on the language of your specific lease agreement, you may be required to add any official occupants’ names to the lease. If this is the case, your new roommate’s credit score can prevent them from joining you in your rental.

Knowing that your possible bunkmate has a dubious financial history, you may be tempted to lie by omission and have them “move in” without officially telling your landlord. While this may temporarily avoid a credit check, it may end in disaster if your landlord discovers your covert roommate. If this happens, you and your undisclosed roommate will likely be evicted for failure to follow the rules set out in the lease agreement.

If you feel that you have been evicted unjustly, you should make yourself aware of your rights as a New Jersey tenant.

 

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Should I File for Bankruptcy Before or After my Medical Procedure?

If you plan to file for bankruptcy and you also have plans to undergo a medical procedure, you will most likely benefit from delaying your filing until after you have had your procedure. Bankruptcy only discharges debt incurred prior to filing; if you first file for bankruptcy and then add medical bills incurred at a later date, those medical bills will not be covered by your existing bankruptcy agreement, even if you are unable to pay your medical bills.

Medical debt is eligible for forgiveness under both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, which are the two most common types of individual bankruptcy filings. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a complete forgiveness of debt, whereas Chapter 13 bankruptcy includes a plan for partial repayment of the debt and forgiveness of the remainder. Which type of filing is best for you depends on your income, amount of debt, and types (and the value of) assets you have in your possession.

It is generally inadvisable to generate debt with the intention of having it forgiven through bankruptcy; it can be determined that the additional charges were incurred fraudulently, and such debt will be exempt from the bankruptcy agreement. If you’re about to petition for bankruptcy, it would be unwise to go on a shopping spree or take off on a blowout Vegas vacation, for example. However, medical bills are not subject to this type of scrutiny. There’s no cap or limit on how much medical debt can be forgiven in a bankruptcy.

There is, however, a limit on how often one can file for bankruptcy. The number of years varies, depending on the type of bankruptcy filing and how the debt was discharged. If you have previously had debt discharged in a Chapter 7 filing, you must wait eight years from the date you filed for that bankruptcy before you can qualify to file for another Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you filed a Chapter 7 and now wish to file for a Chapter 13, there must be at least four years between your Chapter 7 date of filing and your new Chapter 13 case if you are looking to discharge more debt.

These are just a few examples, but as you can see, no type of bankruptcy filing can be arranged back-to-back to cover new debts, medical or otherwise. This means that if you file for bankruptcy, then incur more medical debt, you’ll be saddled with it until you can pay it, or until enough years have passed that you can qualify to file for an additional bankruptcy discharge.

You will have the option of filing for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy before four years have passed since your Chapter 7 discharge, but only if you are looking to reorganize your remaining debts. These remaining debts cannot be discharged for another four years.

Finally, if you are currently receiving ongoing medical care that will be resolved in a matter of months, it is most likely advisable to wait until your course of treatment is complete before filing for bankruptcy. The debts incurred during your treatment can all be included in your bankruptcy filing, and will be eligible for complete forgiveness.

 

Image: “Medical/Surgical Operative Photography” by Phalinn Ooi – licensed under CC by 2.0

Purchasing a New Jersey Home from a Bankrupt Seller

In today’s housing market, there are still a significant number of homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. These homeowners usually owe more than their home is currently worth, so they are said to be “upside down” or “underwater.” If they are unable to refinance, and cannot keep up with their payments, they will be foreclosed upon, and are likely to declare bankruptcy at that point.

Should you pursue a short sale on a home that is awaiting foreclosure?

If you already own a home, are pre-approved financially, have plenty of available cash, and at least several months to spend devoted to the complicated process that is a short sale on a foreclosed home, only to have the seller declare bankruptcy and possibly even cancel the whole thing, then yes, a foreclosure might be the right gamble for you.

Beware, though, because as stated, it is highly likely that the seller will declare bankruptcy before the sale is completed, greatly reducing the likelihood that a short sale will close. Short sales rarely yield substantial profits for the seller, so the seller was likely pursuing a short sale in order to reduce the damage to their credit that would result from a foreclosure. However, if they’ve decided to go ahead and file for bankruptcy, the negative effect it will have on their credit is likely to overshadow any benefit from the short sale.

If they were to continue with the short sale despite having filed for bankruptcy, the seller could actually be negatively affected. Their filing for bankruptcy places their belongings, including their house, into a bankruptcy estate, so they don’t have the power to close a short sale easily. If the owner is determined to complete the short sale–normally against the recommendation of their bankruptcy attorney–they will need to pay said attorney an extra fee to pursue permission from the court.

If they obtain permission to close on the short sale, the owner will need to move out of the home much more quickly than if they were to wait out their bankruptcy proceedings. The only potential benefit to the owner comes from the peace of mind that may result from having avoided foreclosure.

With all these complications, it may seem like it’s not worth it to pursue short sales in foreclosure situations at all. However, there are a number of benefits that might be quite appealing: competitive pricing, smaller down payment and closing cost, and a shorter escrow period, to name a few major advantages.

So, if you are going to attempt to purchase a house that has been foreclosed upon, or a house that is in bankruptcy court, don’t go it alone. You will need the expertise and guidance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your real estate agent will be happy to help you find advantageous listings, but consult with a bankruptcy attorney to have help navigating the complicated process to follow. A real estate agent is NOT an attorney, and can in no way fill that role.

Never skip inspections! They may be even more necessary in a short sale situation, but never less so. A 2011 survey conducted by Harris Interactive reported that 72 percent of U.S. homeowners agree the home inspection they had before they purchased their current home helped them avoid potential problems; 64 percent of respondents reported that their home inspection saved them money.

While it is a bit of a gamble to invest in an inspection when you don’t yet have signed contracts, it’s a much bigger gamble to sign papers on a home you haven’t had inspected. If a homeowner didn’t have the money to pay their mortgage, it’s unlikely that they’ve been able to keep up with regular maintenance. If you can’t arrange an inspection, and you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on potential repairs, don’t close the deal on a property, no matter how enticing the price tag.

The takeaway: if you have the time and money to spend on a home that may never be yours, and you find a house that is listed at a price that might make it all well worth the hassle, then take your attorney with you–and buckle up for a wild ride!

Image: “Mortgage Rates” by Mark Moz – licensed under CC by 2.0

 

The Role of the New Jersey Real Estate Attorney

Upon contemplation of purchasing a home in New Jersey, you may be wondering if you should work with a real estate attorney as well as a real estate agent during the process. To some people this may seem redundant, but there are several very good reasons to consider hiring a NJ real estate lawyer.

In New Jersey, state law gives home buyers and sellers a three day “attorney review period.” This three day period begins when a real estate contract is signed. The contract is not considered legally binding until the three day attorney review period has ended.

Many home buyers ignore the attorney review period and ask, “What can my attorney do that my real estate broker can’t do?” The answers follow.

Review legal contracts

During the attorney review period, your NJ real estate attorney will read through the entirety of your real estate contract, looking for any red flags and addressing crucial elements that may be missing. Having your real estate attorney review your contract during the attorney review period will increase your chances of a successful closing without any glitches and without surprises several months from now. Real estate attorneys have been specifically trained in the area of real estate contract law, and they know precisely what to look for, whereas real estate brokers are generally most interested in closing the deal.

Because real estate agents frequently use generic forms that are “one size fits all,” many special circumstances may not be addressed in your purchase agreement. An attorney will notice when crucial details are missing from your sales agreement, and they can add contingencies where they are needed.

Perform a title search

New Jersey real estate attorneys will perform an action called a title search when property is being sold from one owner to another. A title search must be completed in order to determine if a property is free of any liens, judgments, or encumbrances. An attorney can perform a title search much faster and cheaper because of his networking connections and close relationships with title companies in the area.

Legal filings

Often, real estate deeds must be filed with the county and state government. This is more true when commercial property is involved. In these cases, your real estate lawyer will easily be able to assist you with obtaining your tax identification number, establishing your business entity, securing a business license and navigating all of the state regulations surrounding any construction that you may wish to have completed on your new commercial (or residential) property.

Some people choose to move forward with a home purchase without the assistance of a real estate attorney in New Jersey. While this is within your legal rights, it is well worth the extra money and relatively short investment of time to work closely with a lawyer near you who specializes in real estate contract law.

In doing so, you will protect yourself from any problems that may arise during the property transfer process. Some glitches that may occur include: improperly filed deeds, tax issues, undiscovered liens, home inspection challenges/property defects, missing or improperly filed documentation/permits, and failure to properly register commercial property. Your attorney can also attend the closing with you to ensure that everything goes as planned.

Will working with an attorney cost you more money than if you didn’t hire one while you were purchasing a new home or location for your business? YES.

However, the potential money a certified NJ real estate attorney can save you in the long run is indeterminate and can oftentimes be exponential when compared with your initial investment in retaining your attorney’s services. The smart move is to invest in a secure transaction by making sure that your real estate contract is legally binding, in your favor, without errors, and free of encumbrances.

 

Image: “Sherwood Country Club” by Sherwood CC – licensed under CC by 2.0

Estate Planning for Blended Families

As of 2016, blended families outnumbered traditional families in the United States. In fact, the very definition of what constitutes a family has expanded so exponentially that we may wonder what a “traditional” family even looks like anymore. For our purposes in this article, a blended family is one wherein at least one spouse has previously been married. We will also focus on those spouses who bring children of their own to a new marriage.

Blended families are increasing in number due to several factors. Higher divorce rates mean there are more opportunities for single parents to remarry someone who may potentially also be a single parent. Although rising divorce rates may seem like a bad thing, the good news is that less people are staying in unhappy marriages – choosing instead to strive for happiness, which ultimately should have a positive effect on any children in the family.

With the expanded definition of what makes up a family in today’s society, any number of homes contain a new mixture of children – both hers, his, and “theirs.” Additionally, more and more divorces are amicable, with ex-spouses remaining friendly in order to co-parent. With the addition of a step-parent into the equation, the ex-spouse may wonder if their biological child(ren) will continue to be provided for in the other parent’s will.

Estate planning becomes more challenging with the addition of more family members, regardless of how happy everyone is at the time of the wedding. The hard truth about estate planning for blended (or “step”) families is that planning for the well-being of two sets of children can easily escalate into an argument between the new spouses.

It’s critical to remind clients who have recently become part of a blended family to make sure that they make the necessary changes to the beneficiaries listed on their insurance policies and retirement accounts. No matter what a will says, the named beneficiary will take precedence over the will. Failure to remove a former spouse as beneficiary can prove quickly disastrous to a new marriage. Arguments aside, if you pass away while your ex-spouse is still named as beneficiary on your retirement account(s), guess who’s going to get all of that money?

In order to ensure that you’re not missing any crucial components of a solid estate plan after you’ve grown into a blended family, you’ll need to work with a New Jersey attorney who has significant experience working with complex estate plans. Your attorney will be able to advise you on:

  • Reciprocal wills (and how they can be problematic for blended families)
  • Non-reciprocal wills
  • Life insurance in addition to a will to provide for everyone in question
  • Testamentary trusts
  • QTIP trusts
  • Pre-marital agreements
  • Health care power of attorney
  • Living wills
  • Support obligations
  • Real property

The ultimate goal when working to set up an estate plan as a blended family is open communication between everyone involved. By maintaining open conversations about the details of your estate plan, no one will be left with an unexpected outcome.

 

Image: “Mike & Carla’s Wedding” by Jason Meredith – licensed under CC by 2.0

Can I Receive Hurricane Sandy Forbearance if I Filed for Bankruptcy?

Homeowners in New Jersey and all along the Atlantic coast will be hard-pressed to ever forget Hurricane Sandy – a deadly “superstorm” that hit the eastern seaboard in October of 2012. Assessed as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the United States, estimates of Sandy’s damage (in the US alone) are approximately $72 billion. The only hurricane in US history to cause more damage was Hurricane Katrina.

New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit states, with gale force winds that reached 90 mph and heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some locations) which led to flooding and significant structural damage of homes, businesses, beaches, boardwalks, roads, and more. Power outages were widespread and lasted for weeks in some places. For the first time since 1888, the New York Stock Exchange closed (on October 29 and 30) due to weather. Even Halloween was postponed in New Jersey, much to the chagrin of kids across the state.

As we hyper-focus on the damage done by Hurricane Sandy to New Jersey alone, we know that nearly 400,000 homes suffered damage from the storm, many were without power for an extended period of time, and 37 people died.

Relief efforts to clean up and rebuild the damaged areas of New Jersey were impressive, and some (but not enough) federal aid monies were approved for the state. Some of that federal aid was disbursed extremely slowly which means the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is still felt today, nearly five years after the storm.

Residents along the New Jersey shore sustained the most damage – both from flooding and high winds – to their homes and properties. The fact that five years has passed should mean that everyone in NJ has recovered from the storm; unfortunately that just isn’t the case. Although many people and organizations dedicated extraordinary man hours and donations toward the recovery effort, there are homeowners who still remain displaced and/or are facing foreclosure.

The good news is that Governor Christie recently signed a bill (S-2300, A-333) that will potentially offer some much needed help to those who are still struggling post-Sandy. The bill specifically grants Sandy victims with a mortgage forbearance period of up to three years. In order to receive the forbearance, homeowners must have been approved for help via the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program OR the Low-to-Moderate Income Program.

Affected NJ homeowners struggled for years trying to rebuild their homes after Sandy. Without enough funds to make their homes habitable again, a multitude of these residents had to rent alternative housing. Paying rent while still paying the mortgage on their now damaged property pushed many homeowners into bankruptcy.

Many homeowners filed for the protection offered by the Automatic Stay in the hopes that funding would be released before their bankruptcy case was finalized. Not realizing how long it would take for federal relief funds to be released, their bankruptcy cases ended long ago, and many of the homeowners chose not to reaffirm their mortgages.

Now that bill S-2300, A-333 has been signed, those who filed for bankruptcy and didn’t reaffirm their mortgages are wondering if they still qualify for forbearance. The good news is that a lender may not require that a mortgage be reaffirmed in order for the mortgage holder to receive forbearance.

Homeowners who’ve filed for bankruptcy without reaffirming their mortgages may have to provide their lender with a letter acknowledging that the mortgage debt was discharged in bankruptcy. This protects lenders/creditors from worrying that they’ll be sued when they try to collect on the debt again.

It’s very possible that lenders will not feel comfortable discussing the matter directly with the homeowner. They don’t want to seem as though they are breaking bankruptcy law by attempting to collect on a discharged debt. In this case, borrowers should work with a bankruptcy or foreclosure attorney in New Jersey to negotiate with their lender on their behalf.

 

Image: “Crooked House” by Don McCullough – licensed under CC by 2.0