How Identity Theft Affects Your Credit Score

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What (all-too common) crime can happen to you without your knowledge, making virtually everything in life more difficult? Two dreadful words: Identity Theft. Unlike some medical diseases, identity theft doesn’t discriminate; it can strike anyone at any time. The worst part about being a victim of identity theft is that it can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score and it can prove to be difficult to fix.

More people than you realize have been severely impacted by identity theft. When an impostor uses another person’s identity to make a purchase and fails to pay the bill, a storm cloud rolls in. The scammer has zero intent to ever pay the debts they accrue under your name; therefore, you’re left to clean up the aftermath. You may not even realize that your identity has been stolen until a credit agency contacts you. By this point, your credit has likely already taken a major hit.

Your credit score is your representation as a responsible individual regarding money matters. Unpaid bills can have a lasting, damaging impact on your credit report, which can then snowball to affect other areas of your life (obtaining housing, buying a car, getting a decent job). Because payment history makes up about 35% of your credit score, late or nonexistent payments have a momentous effect on your “credit worthiness.” In addition to unpaid bills, identity theft can leave other negative marks on your credit report. Here are five ways that identity theft packs a punch:

1.      New Accounts

Adding a new account to your credit report or getting a new loan shouldn’t affect your credit score as long as you aren’t adding a plethora of new accounts all at once and you’re making regular payments. However, when an impostor opens a new account in your name and fails to make any payments, your credit score will slowly begin to tank. Every month that passes without payment received will lower your credit score further.

2.      Inquiries

If an identity thief is applying for new credit with your personal information, the lender is going to check your credit report. These are known as credit checks, or “hard inquiries” – each of which show up on your credit report. Each inquiry will affect your credit score by dropping it a couple of points. Your score will drop because credit scoring models regard “hard inquiries” as a sign that the consumer is shopping for credit.

3.      Collections Accounts

After no action occurs for 6-12 months on an unpaid debt, the lender will turn it over to a collection agency. This causes a “second action” to be taken, and a collection account will appear on your credit report. Unfortunately, this will have an extremely harmful effect on your credit score. Often, medical identity theft leads to the appearance of a collection account. This occurs when an impostor uses your identity to obtain medical services or treatment, but has no intention of paying the bill(s).

4.      Greater credit utilization ratio

Another significant piece that counts toward your credit score is the amount of debt you carry. When the scammer “goes shopping” and adds charges to your account (unnoticed), your overall amount of debt rises. Even if the scammer opens a phone plan or house utility but doesn’t pay the bill, the provider will report it to the credit bureau. A negative ding will appear on your report, damaging your credit score. A continuously increasing amount of debt will continuously drop your credit score. The higher your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of your available credit that you use, the lower your credit score will fall.

5.      Higher Auto Insurance Rates

In every state except California and Massachusetts, auto insurers utilize your credit score to set rates. A low credit score can cause a 20 to 50% increase in auto insurance premiums. Even if you have a depressed credit score, an insurer can’t reject you, but they do have the ability to hike up your premiums without an explanation.

Nobody wants to find out that their identity was stolen, but it can and does happen. Being knowledgeable and prepared as to how it can affect you is crucial. If you’ve been the victim of an identity thief, Veitengruber Law can help you deal with the emotional and mental frustration as well as the financial damage that has been done. No matter how low your credit score has gotten – we will guide you through getting it back to a respectable number again.

6 Steps to Repairing Your Credit

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In today’s economy, it is imperative to maintain a decent credit score. There are many reasons why you simply must work to repair your credit if it is currently less than fair (below 560-580.) A higher credit score will allow you to obtain a higher credit line. Also, if you have an excellent credit score, you will receive offers for credit balances with lower interest. A better credit score will also empower you with more buying power, so you can purchase a house, car, or make other large purchases. There are a multitude of things you can do to improve a low credit score. Six of the most important steps are detailed below.

 

  1. Pay your bills on time. While this may seem like an obvious course of action, it is extremely beneficial to improving your credit score. Conversely, if you do not pay your bills on time, your credit score will take a significant hit. Some people falsely believe that making late payments will not affect their credit score as long as they aren’t MISSING payments. It’s important to realize that late payments will incrementally drop your score.

 

  1. Maintain an appropriate debt-to-credit ratio. This is a way for creditors and lenders to see that you are able to use your credit responsibly. Your debt-to-credit ratio is essentially how much money you owe creditors compared with your overall available credit. For example: If your overall debt (money you owe creditors) is $10,000, and your total available credit is $20,000, your debt-to-credit ratio is 50%. A low debt-to-credit ratio indicates that you are not overspending. It also shows that you are closer to being able to pay off your debt than if you owed a higher percentage of your available credit line.

 

  1. Pay more than the minimum balance due each month. This shows that your income is steady and you have more purchasing power. Plus, when you make more than the minimum payment each month, you will be able to pay more on the principle amount due as opposed to simply paying off interest.

 

  1. Avoid opening too many accounts in a short amount of time. The rationale for this step is that more inquiries indicates to creditors that you may be in serious financial trouble. Even if you aren’t approved for every account you apply for, there will be credit inquiries made each time you apply that will ding your credit report.

 

  1. Pay off your balance instead of transferring debt to other credit cards. Not only do most balance transfers typically involve a fee, but this can lead creditors to view you as a volatile debtor who simply shifts debt around rather than actually paying it down.

 

  1. Keep a keen eye on your credit report. If you discover any errors, you should immediately report the issues to the reporting agencies and have them rectified right away. This should be completed at least once per year. If you find errors on your credit report that the agency(ies) refuse to remove, take legal action in order to prevent false information from dragging your score down unnecessarily.

 

Following these steps to repairing your credit score are excellent ways to start planning for the future. Knowing that you have financial security will improve your overall health and well-being. While there are many other steps you can take to improve your credit score, this list is a basic overview of the most trusted ways to achieve your goals.

How to Raise Your Credit Score: Hire a Trusted NJ Attorney

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When hear the word ‘credit’, a number of images may pass through your mind. Maybe you think of a situation in which someone owes you money or perhaps you picture a bank. You may consider your education and the credit you received for each assignment or even a situation at work where you deserved credit for your hard work or a good deed. If you’re involved in the financial world, your mind might immediately jump to credit scores: good credit, bad credit, and everything in between.

No matter what you envision when the conversation turns to ‘credit,’ toss in a bit of everything mentioned above and you’re on your way to completing the puzzle of what’s known as a ‘credit score.’ A credit score is a three-digit number that is computed using an algorithm and is based on information gathered from your credit report. Its purpose is to predict risk. Ultimately, your credit score represents the likelihood that you will neglect your credit obligations in the next 24 months.

Though there are a multitude of credit-scoring models that are utilized, the most well-known is the FICO credit score. According to myFICO.com, 90 percent of all financial institutions throughout the United States use FICO credit scores when making a number of important decisions. The three-digit number ranges anywhere from 350 to 800, with the lower number representing a less-desirable credit score.

How do you avoid ending up with a low credit score? What factors play into the algorithm? There are five categories that influence a credit score. The percentages represent the weight of each factor in determining the score.

·        Payment history (35%): Paying your bills on time is crucial. By not paying your bills by the deadlines, you will cause your credit score to decrease. Also involved in this category are any delinquencies or public records.

·        Amounts owed (30%): The amount that you owe on each of your credit accounts heavily affects your credit score. Also, the amount of possible credit that you have on accounts is strongly considered.

·        Length of credit history (15%): The amount of time and number of accounts you have open will boost your credit score, as long as you’re paying the dues on time.

·        Types of credit used (10%): Having a variety of types of accounts will help you out. Two examples are revolving and installment.

·        New Credit (10%): How often you pursue opening new accounts and new credit, including inquiries (whether you’re approved or not), will have an impact on your score.

Now that you know what goes into a credit score, you realize how malleable it really is. If you don’t give the three-digit number a little bit of TLC, it can quickly bottom out on you. On the other hand, if you are careful with your finances, you shouldn’t have a real issue keeping your credit score in line.

We know that establishing or reestablishing good credit is key to a secure financial future and we want to help you move toward that goal. As you read before, many financial institutions use credit scores and reports to make decisions, manage risk, and increase profits. On the downside, they don’t have any interest in looking out for your personal credit score and overall financial health. That is where Veitengruber Law steps in. Our holistic approach to building credit is at the center of everything that we do. The guidance we provide doesn’t end with a negotiated debt solution or court case. Instead, our goal is to set you up to be a successful financial consumer with well-rounded money smarts.

When your credit score drops following a short sale, a bout with bankruptcy, settlement, or other issue(s), we will walk with you to educate and counsel you. A sturdy financial foundation will give you the power to develop and maintain financial health.

The only way that you will mature in your knowledge of money is to work with experienced professionals. Credit scores and financial health is nothing to mess around with. Your confidence will rest in how well the professional counsels you along this path. With years of experience working successfully within a multitude of situations, we know that we can help you no matter what kind of financial “mess” you may have landed in.

Planning a Wedding After You’ve Declared Bankruptcy

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Planning a wedding is a time of excitement and joy, but it can also be a time of significant stress. With the average wedding costing upwards of $25,000.00 in 2017, planning and paying for a wedding can be overwhelming for even the most financially stable couple. For couples going through bankruptcy, affording a wedding can seem nearly impossible. It is important to understand how bankruptcy will affect your ability to pay for a wedding, but also how it will affect the overall financial health of you and your future spouse. Fortunately, with the right planning you can still have the wedding of your dreams, even after declaring bankruptcy.

Financial stress is the leading cause of divorce, so it is important to get a handle on your finances before you decide to tie the knot. In declaring bankruptcy, you’ve taken the first step towards managing your debt to ensure a brighter financial future for you and your spouse. Keep in mind that bankruptcy exemptions are very specific and none of them cover expenses associated with a wedding. Because of this, and the potential stress and uncertainly that comes with bankruptcy proceedings, it is advisable to wait to plan a wedding until after a bankruptcy claim has been fully closed. That way, you can start married life with a clean financial slate.

Open communication and honesty about your financial history is very important as you plan your wedding. Whether you have liquidated your assets to eliminate your debt (Chapter 7) or reorganized your payments to creditors (Chapter 13), after declaring bankruptcy you will be able to get a good understanding of your new financial situation. Sit down with your future spouse and create a detailed budget including your income, expenses, and your expected payments to creditors if you have a Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan. Figure out how much you plan on spending on your wedding and create a detailed wedding budget. Keep in mind that post-bankruptcy, it may be harder to obtain a loan to finance wedding purchases. Cut costs where you can so you can focus your financial resources on the aspects of your special day you couldn’t imagine going without.

It is also important to understand how a bankruptcy can affect your new spouse after you say I do. Contrary to popular belief, your credit—even if you have declared bankruptcy—will not directly affect the credit of a future spouse. Every person has their own credit score and these scores are not combined after marriage. However, bankruptcy may affect your future spouse in indirect ways. The only time a declaration of bankruptcy will affect a future spouse is when you apply for credit as joint account holders (like applying for a mortgage) OR when adding a spouse to an existing line of credit. It may become more difficult for you and your spouse to acquire joint loans, or you may have to pay higher interest rates on those joint loans.

Filing for bankruptcy can be a difficult and complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t let bankruptcy get in the way of your happily-ever-after. Contact the qualified legal team at Veitengruber Law help you plan your debt free future.

Planning Ahead Eases Death Anxiety, Say “Death-Positive” Activists

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For most people, the thought of death can be frightening. No one likes to think about what will eventually come at the end of their life, but it is a fact that we have to face. Life on Earth does not go on forever. Knowing that, it’s crucial to plan ahead at least a minimal amount, especially when it comes to financial matters. Not only will you be assured that money and assets will go where you’d like them to, but your family will be thankful for your initiative as well.

For the big events of life, we make lists and try to be as prepared as possible. College. Weddings. Babies. Jobs. Retirement. The end of life should be no different. Of course, we have those things like skydiving, going on a cruise, swimming with a dolphin, and visiting Italy on our bucket list, also known as things to do before we die. Just like these things compose one of life’s most important lists, so does writing a will, appointing a power of attorney (POA), and considering options for long-term care.

Innumerable, weighty decisions have to be made within just hours of a loved one’s death. With the already existent burden of anxiety and grief, a family doesn’t want to have to think about making all of these decisions after a loved one passes. In addition to financial matters, a family also needs to plan the funeral. Though we don’t want to think about it, making burial arrangements before death exemplifies concern and care for your family members. Over and over again, family members have shown gratitude and confirm the relief and comfort when a family member has pre-arrangements.

Any decision that has to be made after a person passes has the potential to cause disputes between family members. Some family members are going to feel that they have a stronger say in the decision-making process, while others will argue their point of view. Unfortunately, you won’t be there to give them your opinion. Again, by making arrangements before you pass, you eliminate the potential for many issues, before they arise.

There are a few clear-cut steps you can take to side-step some of the issues mentioned above.

1.      Power of Attorney (POA). The first and most crucial decision that you need to make is to appoint a reliable POA. It’s key that this individual is trustworthy, financially intelligent, and is someone that knows you well. When you are sick or unable to do so yourself, this person will deposit checks, take care of bills, and any other financial matters. In the United States today, people are living longer, which means that there’s a higher chance that more individuals will be living with chronic diseases as they age. Some of these diseases can impair a person to the point that they cannot take care of their money. That’s the point where a POA steps in; an individual that can take over for someone in order to ensure the highest quality of life for as long as possible.

2.      Write a will. Since estates worth up to $3.9 million are tax exempt, a will is usually sufficient estate planning for most individuals. A trust is can be produced to cut down on estate taxes and circumvent probate, but taxes aren’t as much of a concern in the current day. Also, the procedures are simpler, so probate is not as common either. Usually a will and a steadfast POA will get the job done.

3.      Living will. Since you’ve already appointed a POA, this step only involves writing a living will, or an advanced-care directive. Your POA will implement your wishes at the end stages of life. Again, when you name a POA, it needs to be someone you completely trust. If you don’t create a living will, your loved ones may run into some horrific problems. If a person is brain dead, a family needs to decide whether or not the individual should be kept on life support. If you’ve already delineated this in a living will, there will be no questions about it.

In addition to these 3 major points, as well as the funeral arrangements, there are a few other minor choices you’ll want to contemplate. Consider the option of donating organs when you pass. Also, look into life insurance if your partner or kids will need financial support without you. Finally, consider long-term care. If possible, it’s best to stay out of nursing homes, as they are incredibly expensive, but if it is a necessary possibility, then you should give it some serious thought.

The most important concept: start planning sooner instead of later (the way we should approach all aspects of life). None of the above steps will happen without conversations with children, spouses, and maybe even your own parents. It’s a tough topic to broach, but it’s absolutely necessary. A few early and simple conversations can save a lot of headache, broken relationships, and hurt feelings in the future, as well as ease your own anxiety about death.

How Does Inheritance Income Affect NJ Bankruptcy Rulings?

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When preparing to file for NJ bankruptcy, it is very important to take a full and detailed account of all of your assets. This does not just include current assets, but future assets as well, e.g. any potential inheritances. Knowing how your inheritance income affects bankruptcy filings in New Jersey is important to understanding your rights while filing for bankruptcy.

You may have advanced notice of an inheritance if you are aware of your inclusion as a beneficiary in a will. Otherwise, an inheritance could come as a surprise. You could be included in a will without your prior knowledge or you could receive the inheritance through normal operation of law in the event that there was no will at the time of death. Regardless of how you came to receive the inheritance, it is important to understand if the inheritance income is part of your bankruptcy estate or not so you can make sound financial decisions.

Typically, after bankruptcy is declared, all assets and liabilities become part of the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy estate is then administered by a bankruptcy trustee. There are four ways to file for bankruptcy in NJ, but most bankruptcy claims fall under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Under Chapter 7, the trustee is responsible for determining which assets the debtor can liquidate (sell) to pay their creditors. Under Chapter 13, the debtor is not required to give up personal property in order to pay off debts. Instead, the debtor will be required to make monthly payments that will be split between all of their creditors. How much a debtor pays under the Chapter 13 payment plan will depend on the amount of non-exempt interest in real and personal property.

That being said, there are certain exemptions when it comes to whether or not an inheritance will be included in the bankruptcy estate. Debtors are entitled by law to exempt a certain amount of property from their bankruptcy filing. Under Chapter 7, a debtor is entitled to keep some specified property from being liquidated to pay creditors. Under Chapter 13, a certain amount of the debtors’ assets can be exempt from inclusion in determining a payment plan. There are different exemption amounts depending on the type of asset in question. Congress periodically makes changes to these amounts to account for changes in inflation so it is important to keep up with these changes. While there is no separate exemption for inheritances, debtors can include any inheritance income under their designated “wildcard exemption” (11 U.S.C. §522(d)(5)).

Is your inheritance eligible to be included in your bankruptcy estate?

All assets owned at the time of filing are part of the bankruptcy estate. Pursuant to NJ bankruptcy laws, property of the estate includes “all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.” The timing of when an inheritance becomes part of a bankruptcy estate is crucial to understand and varies depending on what kind of bankruptcy the debtor is filing.

Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, an inheritance is considered part of the bankruptcy estate if the debtor becomes entitled to the asset within 180 days of the date bankruptcy was filed. This is to include property which the debtor becomes entitled to acquire by inheritance. The 180 days starts the day bankruptcy is filed and ends with the date of death. The time frame in which the debtor receives the inheritance does not matter. The date of death is legally considered the date on which the inheritance enters into the debtor’s possession and therefore enters into the bankruptcy estate. This is to deter preemptive bankruptcy filings where the debtor intends to rush a bankruptcy claim in order to avoid having the inheritance affected.

Under Chapter 13 bankruptcy, any inheritance received after the bankruptcy filing date but before the case is closed or dismissed is considered property of the bankruptcy estate, regardless of the time it takes to close a case. Under Chapter 13, there are specific legal statutes designed to expand what is considered bankruptcy estate property in order to include inheritance that is acquired beyond the 180-day limitation observed under Chapter 7. Any inheritance acquired during the entirety of the bankruptcy case will be subject to the terms of the repayment plan.

It is essential in any bankruptcy case to determine which assets are protected and to acquire adequate pre-filing planning and analysis for your specific bankruptcy case. Whether you need to eliminate your debt in its entirety under Chapter 7 or you need to reorganize your payments to creditors under Chapter 13, the qualified and experienced attorneys at Veitengruber Law are here to help. If you are unsure of your rights, please call us for a consultation.

Attorney vs. Debt Settlement Services: Which One Protects Your Interests?

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans facing a large amount of personal debt, you may have been tempted by the numerous ads you’ve seen for debt settlement companies. Debt relief sounds like a miraculous shortcut to a fresh financial start, but is it too good to be true?

In a word? Yes.

Like the deadly Venus fly trap plant, debt relief companies and consolidation services put up a beautiful, welcoming front, but once you’ve given them your trust and access to your finances, they’ll slowly devour you. This article will show you the truth about debt settlement services and outline the reasons a personal attorney will protect YOUR long-term financial wellbeing at every opportunity rather than using your troubling financial circumstances to endanger you even further.

 

First, let’s take a look at the methods debt settlement services will use to lure you in and subsequently destroy you financially.

 

Emotionally Manipulating Advertising

Debt settlement services rely on their aggressive advertisements to attract individuals who have poor financial literacy and are in dire straits regarding their current personal debt. They know that people who are paying attention to their ads are desperate for help and feel like they have no one else to turn to.

Dishonest Sales Pitches

Once they entice you to make contact, they’ll bombard you with an emotional sales pitch that will purposefully attempt to break down any critical thinking you might be using to analyze whether or not their services are a good match for you. Just when you’re at your most vulnerable, they’ll present a sales contract that seems to promise that they will arrange for you to be able to pay off your debt quickly.

Usually, these debt settlement companies will require money upfront. Alternatively, you may be asked to open a new bank account that you will be required to funnel money into. This money is supposed to pay off your debts.

No one in the financial world trusts or respects debt settlement service companies.

These companies are viewed with distain because they are for-profit. While it’s true that everyone needs to make a living, debt settlement services usually aim to siphon as much money from you as they can without actually helping you resolve your debts. This reprehensible approach is known far and wide in the financial world, so unfortunately for their customers, most creditors refuse to work with these scam services.

Worse yet, debt settlement companies won’t tell you about this huge barrier to success until you have already signed their contract. Once you’ve signed up, they have what they need. You will be left with a plan that won’t help you at all. Your creditors won’t have a good working relationship (or any kind of working relationship) with your debt settlement company, so your chances of being able to successfully get out from under your debts is actually worse once you’ve signed up.

We aren’t blaming consumers for getting tangled up with this awful companies.

Debt relief scams like this are highly skilled at spinning half-truths that we fully understand why people get sucked in. They cherry-pick information about their results and research; they might present evidence that their program helps clients at the 3-month mark. What they DON’T say is that their clients will be drowning in interest for years afterward. This unethical practice further demonstrates that debt relief services exist just to take your hard-earned money out of your hand when you need it most.

Your interest rates and credit score will be destroyed.

The first thing these companies will do is tell you not to make your minimum payments. They will instruct you to ignore any overdue notices or letters you will certainly receive. They’ll tell you that it’s all part of the plan, and that they have everything well under control.

While it’s true that after a long, hard-ball fight with your creditors, they MAY give up and reduce or write off your debts, but only at a great cost to your financial reputation. Your creditors will inform the credit bureaus that your debt has been negotiated, which will damage your credit score. A poor credit rating will raise your interest rates when you apply for credit cards, a mortgage, or a car loan. In some career fields, having a damaged credit score can even prevent you from being hired at all!

Creditors will still come after you directly, and debt settlement services can’t stop them.

The debt settlement company version of debt reduction will drag on for such a long time that creditors might decide to pursue legal action against you. Even if you do everything your debt settlement company has directed you to do, your creditor can gain a court order to seize your home, your vehicle, valuable belongings, and even garnish your wages directly.

If this happens, a debt settlement company cannot defend you in court, or help you with any legal proceedings. They aren’t lawyers. They don’t provide access to legal counsel, and they are not on your side.

Hire a consumer debt relief attorney to represent you.

Debt settlement companies, credit counseling and debt consolidation businesses cannot represent you in court when you are sued by creditors, they can’t give you legal advice, and they can’t represent you in court when you have the opportunity to sue creditors and collectors for violating your rights — ONLY lawyers can do so.

Why Should I Avoid Debt Settlement Companies?

Non-attorney companies that offer debt settlement services have a poor reputation in the U.S., particularly with the very creditors with whom you need to negotiate and who may sue you. And the industry is, unfortunately, plagued by scams.

A debt settlement company may commit to contacting your creditors on your behalf, but fail to do so. They may even succeed in having the debt frozen, but actually fail to negotiate the debt to an amount you can afford and then just withdraw money to pay themselves.

Assuming the debt negotiation company does as promised, they will still face many obstacles that affect you. To begin with, a creditor, most of whom are represented by a large team of attorneys, may up their game when they discover you are working with a debt settlement company instead of a law firm. This means the creditor could accelerate their collections process and file a lawsuit against you more quickly.

What makes an attorney different?

An attorney will represent you in court if your debt negotiations escalate. Your attorney will be able to give you accurate information about your legal options, your rights, and the risks you face during litigation.

Your attorney’s entire focus will be protecting YOU. Your attorney only cares about your immediate and long-term financial well-being.

Furthermore, your attorney will guarantee total confidentiality. Every communication with your attorney, their firm, and any member of their staff is protected. Only attorneys are bound by this confidentiality ethos.

Veitengruber Law can help you resolve your debt. Come in and meet with us at zero cost to you. Let us analyze and assess your current financial situation. We’ll give you the truth about whether hiring an attorney is in your best interest. If we aren’t sure that you need us, or if we aren’t sure we can help you, we will tell you up-front.

If we think there’s a high likelihood that we CAN help, then we will begin to protect you immediately. We will do everything we can to prevent your creditors from dragging you into court. We will carefully and skillfully negotiate and document each settlement to stop creditors from suing you.

In the event that you are sued, we will be prepared to ferociously defend your interests in court. You will not be alone at any stage of negotiation, litigation, or settlement.

Give us a call today to set up an appointment. The stress of mounting debt can start to take over your life; before you lose any more sleep or waste another hour fretting, allow us to step in and take action on your behalf. We can turn the tide and start taking back your life one negotiation at a time.

Image: “Broke” by Christian Schnettelker – licensed under CC 2.0

How Owning a Home in NJ Affects Your Net Worth

When it comes to numbers, especially finances, some of us become easily overwhelmed, which is totally normal. There are so many important numbers involved in staying afloat financially. Many of us keep close tabs on our various accounts such as our savings account, checking account, retirement accounts, and investment accounts. Though we attempt to use these accounts to prepare for the future and try our hardest to ensure that we will be financially safe, there is one critical number that defines how successful you will be at building your assets for the future. That is your net worth.

Net worth is probably a term you’ve heard before, but may not fully understand what it means. Your net worth is equal to your total assets minus your total liabilities. Your liabilities are the total amounts of money that you owe to any creditor. They are easier to calculate, as you most likely receive a reminder at the end of each month that lays out the exact amount you owe to creditors. On the other hand, it can be more challenging to accurately calculate your assets. You don’t want to give yourself a dishonest sense of financial security by overestimating your net worth, so always err on the conservative side.

Your house is probably the most valuable asset that’s in your name, so its monetary value will have the most influence on your net worth calculation. To estimate your home’s value, work with an experienced real estate professional. In general, it’s best to be conservative when estimating values of assets such as vehicles, jewelry, home furnishings, etc. Instead of basing figures off of how much you paid for it or how much you wish the valuable was worth, base it off of what you could sell the item for now.

As mentioned before, your house probably holds the most value of anything you own. Therefore, your net worth will be determined by how much equity you have in your home. When you calculate your net worth, you must subtract your liabilities, and that includes your mortgage. For example, if your home is worth $350,000, but you owe $100,000 on your mortgage, then your home will increase your net worth by $250,000 ($350,000 – $100,000 = $250,000).

Unsurprisingly, there is disagreement as to whether or not a home’s value should be included when determining net worth. Those in favor think that since a home is someone’s most valuable asset, it should absolutely be included. Those against argue that if you sold your house in order to actually use the money from the sale, then you may not have somewhere to live. To consider both opinions, many people will create two net worth calculations: one including a home’s value (as an asset and liability if a mortgage still exists) and one without it (continuing to include the liability if there is still a mortgage to be paid).

In New Jersey, depending on where you live, the value of land may be high, low, or somewhere in the middle. Depending on land value and the current market in the area, home prices are going to fluctuate. Remembering what you’ve learned so far, if a house is valued at a higher amount, an individual is going to have an increased net worth. If you purchase a home in a wealthier area, this will add more to your net worth opposed to if you bought a home in a middle or lower class area.

Another thing to take into consideration is a vacation home or rental property. These can actually have a positive influence on your net worth. Condos are usually purchased as vacation homes and are bought with cash. Good news: your net worth will increase by the same amount that the home is valued at, if you paid in cash.

Hopefully, net worth makes a tad more sense now and you know how owning a home will affect it. Since it’s a critical number to consider in the realm of finances, it’s important to know what goes into calculating that number. If you have more questions, or are looking for help with calculating your net worth, reach out to a real estate team near you.