Should I Pay my Debts or Hire a Bankruptcy Attorney?

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When you are face to face with a huge pile of unpaid debt, you might wonder if it would be more cost effective to put a pay-off plan into effect or to make an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney. Naturally, both options are going to cost money – but there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine which option will end up costing you less in the end.

Firstly, it must be said that there isn’t a cut-and-dry, cookie cutter answer to this question, so please take the advice herein with that knowledge. There are a number of variables that will affect the direction you ultimately choose to take, like:

  • How much debt do you have?
  • What type(s) of debt do you have?
  • What is your current income?
  • Do you foresee your income increasing in the near future?
  • Is there a potential financial windfall in your near future (like a work bonus)?
  • How long do you want to spend paying off your debt?
  • Are you ok with losing credit score points (temporarily)?

If you are currently not even (or barely) able to make the minimum payment each month on sky high credit card debt, you’re looking at a very long road ahead and you will have paid a huge amount of interest at the end of your debt pay-off journey. In this case, filing for bankruptcy looks like it would be a better decision, because your bankruptcy attorney’s fees are likely to cost you less than how much you’ll be paying in interest over the years. Also, by filing for bankruptcy, you can rid yourself of your burdensome debts as soon as you case is approved for a discharge. This will allow you to start a savings account, put your child through college, or otherwise focus more of your income in a way that you weren’t able to before.

The bankruptcy route will knock your credit score down for awhile, but if you’re working with a bankruptcy attorney in NJ who knows what he’s doing, you’ll be counseled on how to potentially bring your score even higher than it is now. This can usually happen in 12-18 months after a bankruptcy discharge if you follow the recommendations given.

On the flip side of the coin – maybe you have more debt than you’d like to have but you’re not drowning in debt. This is not an uncommon situation to be in. If your income is substantial enough to handle your monthly cost of living plus (give or take) double your minimum payments on at least one of your debts, you may be a good candidate for avoiding bankruptcy.

It’s impossible to give you a completely straight answer to this question, as mentioned earlier, because everyone’s financial situation is so unique. The above general tips are just that – general – and you should base your final decision off of the in-person advice you get from an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney. He will be able to comb through your debts and assets in order to properly guide you toward making the choice that will best fit your finances.

Get in touch with a reputable New Jersey bankruptcy attorney today – most offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose but debt!

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My Ex Is Using My Credit Cards after Our Divorce!

Unfortunately, divorce almost always brings with it some degree of contention. Regardless of what the former couple disagrees about, it usually comes down to a “he said, she said” type of dispute.

Sometimes, however, there is legal recourse for post-divorce behavior that simply crosses the line. Take, for example, a woman who, upon setting out to clean up her credit report and boost her score, discovered that her former husband had been using her credit cards quite liberally well after they split up.

While, yes, there can be a bit of ambiguity when it comes to using shared cards in the time period after a married couple decides to part but before the Final Judgement of Divorce has been entered, the law speaks loud and clear after the divorce is final.

Any use of your ex-husband or ex-wife’s credit cards (that are in his or her name only) after you divorce is specifically disallowed. In fact, it’s against the law and reeks of identity theft.

Do some married couples use each other’s credit cards while they’re married? They do – even if the credit card in question is not a shared card and only officially “belongs” to one party. This is legal if the non-card-holder is named as an authorized user on the account.

Example: Husband goes out of town for the weekend and leaves his credit card for his wife to use for shopping. As long as she is an authorized user on his account, this is perfectly legal. However, she must sign her own name on any receipts as opposed to forging her husband’s signature.

Even if you’re currently happily married, it is generally considered unwise for you to utilize your spouse’s credit card (that is in his or her name only) if you aren’t listed as a user of the credit card. Some couples do it anyway because most merchants assume that the cardholder gave permission to the spouse to use their card. Simply calling your credit card company and adding your spouse as an authorized user is easy to do and can eliminate any potential problems.

After you are officially divorced from your spouse and are holding the Final Judgement of Divorce in your hands, there should be exactly zero further use of the other party’s credit card. This is true even if you were listed as an authorized user while you were married. Should your spouse forget to remove your name from their authorized users list, this does not in any way mean that you may continue using your ex’s credit after divorce.

An ex-spouse utilizing your credit card falls under the category of a criminal offense: identity theft. It is no different than a complete stranger stealing and using your credit card(s). If this has happened to you, the next step you should take is filing a police report and sending a copy of the police report to the credit reporting agencies. Working with a credit repair specialist will help you get the debt removed from your card and you may even be successful in making your ex pay for the charges.

Fixing Your Credit to be Pre-Approved for a Mortgage Loan

If your credit score is very low (under 500), you may feel like you’ll never be approved for a mortgage. Owning your own home is a life-long dream for so many people, and luckily, it’s not one that you have to give up. You will, however, have some work to do before you will be granted a mortgage loan.

Anyone who is looking to buy a house in the relatively near future should take a good look at their credit report(s). The higher your credit score is when you’re approved, the better your mortgage rate will be. This can save you hundreds of dollars on your monthly mortgage payment. First, request a copy of your most recent reports from each of the three main credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

As an aside, it’s wise to take a look at your credit report once a year on a regular schedule even if you’re not in the home-buying market.

Once you have a copy of your credit reports, the first thing on your agenda should be scanning it with a fine-tooth comb to check for any errors. This is the easiest way to give your credit score a quick boost.

If you find any errors (debts that are being reported incorrectly, satisfied debts that continue to show up as unpaid, payments marked as late when you paid on time), filing a dispute with the agency whose report contains the error(s) is the next step. Working with a New Jersey credit repair attorney is a good idea if you have errors and a lot of negative marks on your credit report. Your attorney will negotiate with your creditors, requesting forgiveness for lesser offenses like late payments. This “goodwill letter” is frequently an effective approach to jump-starting your credit repair process.

Once you’re sure that any errors have been appropriately dealt with, the following behaviors will give your credit score further boosts to get it up to your “goal range.” Your NJ credit repair attorney will know how much your score needs to increase in order for you to get pre-approved for a mortgage loan.

Make your monthly bill payments early

Even better, if you can make an extra payment each month on your credit cards with the highest balances, you’ll be able to zap your debts faster.

Create a debt resolution plan

In addition to making more than one payment per month, create a plan to pay down all of your existing debt until it’s gone. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better.

Raise your credit limits

Related to lowering your credit utilization ratio, you can also request a higher credit limit on one or two of your credit cards. Be careful with this tip, though, and only do this if you have the self-control to keep yourself from charging even more purchases.

Consolidate

If you have more than one card with the same lender, keeping your oldest card active and transferring balances from newer cards (and then closing the newer cards), the overall age of your debt will be older, which looks good to credit bureaus.

If you are diligent about reigning in your spending, paying all of your bills early or on time, and taking the steps listed above, it is possible to boost your credit score 50-100 points in six months to one year. Your results will be dependent on your starting credit score and the type and number of dings currently on your credit report.

Before you know it, you’ll be walking out of your lender’s office with a mortgage pre-approval letter!

Will too Many Credit Cards Hurt my Credit Score?

While you may be worried that you have too many credit card accounts open, the truth is that there isn’t a magic number of credit cards that is “right” or “wrong”. With that being said, there are some important things to know about holding multiple credit card accounts at the same time.

The average credit cardholder has approximately 5 to 7 credit cards. This includes open and closed accounts. There is no cutoff number where we would tell you “You have too many credit cards,” because what we are more concerned about is your debt to credit ratio.

What Is a Debt to Credit Ratio?

Essentially, the debt to credit ratio means: how much of your total available credit (on all of your credit cards) have you used? In other words, if you have a total of $10,000 of credit available to you spread out over any number of cards and your current balances add up to $9000, you have a very high debt to credit ratio of 90%.

Why is this number important?

The reason why your debt to credit ratio number is significant is because it plays a big role in determining your credit score. Ideally, you want to keep your total credit card balances at 30% or less of the credit you have available to you.

You can have a really great debt to credit ratio with 10 credit cards (many people open cards in order to take advantage of different “points” systems), and you can also have a poor ratio with only one or two credit cards.

How Can I Improve My Debt to Credit Ratio?

While opening new credit cards would seem like the most logical strategy to increase your total amount of credit available, it is important that you don’t open multiple new accounts in quick succession.This will send up a red flag to credit reporting agencies because it may mean that you are borrowing money that you won’t be able to repay.

Try opening one or two new credit cards per year in order to gradually boost your total available credit. More importantly, make sure that you are paying your monthly minimums (or ideally, more) in a timely manner on a consistent basis. In fact, this is actually more important than your debt to credit ratio number. Your credit score is calculated by looking at a number of your financial habits, your income and your total debt. Approximately 65% of your credit score is based on how well you stay on top of paying your bills.

Additionally, your credit score will improve if you have a variety of types of credit. Credit diversity makes up about 10% of your credit score.

If you feel you have too many credit cards because the balances are way too high and you’re having trouble making payments, your problem lies in your debt to credit ratio rather than how many credit cards you have.

To reduce your total amount of credit card debt, you can choose one of many effective and proven methods. If you have already attempted to reduce your credit card debt and feel like you are drowning in debt you’ll never be able to repay – filing for New Jersey bankruptcy may be an option that you should consider.

Image: “Credit Cards” by Sean MacEntee – licensed under CC 2.0

I’m Being Sued for More Money than I Owe!

Is a debt from your past coming back to haunt you in the present? Although not ideal, sometimes it happens. Perhaps you weren’t making sound financial decisions at that point in your life and accidentally (or intentionally) ignored some past due notices until they just stopped coming.

It can feel like it’s easier to ignore bills when you don’t have the means to pay them. However, the end result is almost always going to be substantially worse than your original debt.

While it can take some companies awhile to take action on smaller debts, the bad news is that your (once) small-ish debt has had a load of time to compound upon itself, rolling around in interest rates, gathering late fees and potentially even picking up attorney’s fees. If your original lender or credit card company has hired counsel to address getting you to pay up, it is possible for them to tack their attorney’s fees on to the amount owed.

What can I do?

Your credit card company is hoping that you’ll get scared by the big number they’re asking for – as you should. If you receive a summons and complaint that says you owe double, triple or quadruple your original debt amount – now is the time to obtain counsel yourself.

How can I afford an attorney if I can’t even pay my debt?

Working with a New Jersey debt settlement attorney on a matter like this is highly unlikely to cost you thousands of dollars. In all likelihood, the right NJ lawyer will have the required negotiating skills to bring the amount owed down to a much more reasonable number – simply by making a few phone calls and/or sending some letters.

Your attorney can then work to coordinate a payment plan that is manageable for you so that you can pay off the (now much lower) balance. The lender/credit card company will almost always be happy to get some form of payment from you as opposed to nothing.

What will happen if my case goes to court?

If, by chance, your credit card company does not want to settle via your credit repair attorney, New Jersey courts will set up a mediation wherein the same kind of talks will take place. A court appointed mediator will work with you and your attorney, along with counsel for the opposing side, to negotiate a resolution that everyone can agree to.

The bottom line is: if you have been served with a lawsuit to collect a debt in a much higher amount than you originally owed, you’re probably not going to get out of paying at least part of the debt unless you file for bankruptcy. If you have the means to pay back the amount that your lawyer negotiates for you, you should do so in a timely manner so that your credit score doesn’t take an even bigger hit.

On the other hand, if you are completely strapped and cannot imagine even one dollar of your debt (and likely other debts that you owe) being repaid, it is definitely time to consider filing for a NJ bankruptcy. This will wipe out a significant amount of your total debt, leaving you much more financially stable, which will allow you to “start over” with a much cleaner slate.

 

Image: “Breaking into your Savings” by Images Money – licensed under CC 2.0

How to Tell if You’re Living Beyond Your Means

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The recent popularity of YOLO-based thinking (You Only Live Once) has encouraged many people to take life by the horns. Learning to stay in the present is beneficial for so many reasons. After all, everyone’s living on borrowed time, so really appreciating life’s little moments is a key factor in living a fulfilled life.

Some YOLO enthusiasts take the concept one step further, however – following a “Treat yourself!” mantra that goes beyond staying present and moves toward the idea that since you only live once, you might well “live it up.” This mentality can very easily lead to spending more money than you actually have on things that make you feel good – that new pair of shoes, the latest tech gadgets, getting your hair professional styled, a new car, etc.

Of course, you can find yourself living beyond your means even if you never knew what YOLO stood for until now. Even spending slightly more than you have over a period of time will eventually catch up with you. Regardless of how you’re spending too much, when you reach the point of no return, you’ll realize that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life digging yourself out of debt. THAT is definitely no way to live.

You might be wondering, “Do I spend too much?” It can be difficult to know for sure if you’re living beyond your means, especially if you haven’t hit any significant bumps in the road thus far. You’re house isn’t in foreclosure, your credit’s ok, you’re not late on your car payments, and there’s always enough food on the table. Even when it seems as though everything’s alright on the money front, there are still some signs that should send up a red flag to indicate that trouble is coming.

  • You have zero savings. Many Americans today don’t put as much effort into growing their savings as the generations before us did. The problem with this behavior is that no one really knows what their future holds. Your steady job may not last until retirement. You could become disabled or experience any number of truly stressful life events that will limit your income potential. Without any nest egg to fall back on, any hiccough in your life plan could have disastrous consequences.
  • You charge everyday items to a credit card. Things like gas and groceries should be factored into your monthly expenditures and paid for with real money. If you regularly pay for necessities by credit card, it’s time to take a harder look at your spending habits.
  • The balances on your credit cards are headed up. Ideally, you should be working to pay down anything you’ve charged to your credit card(s) recently, which should only be more expensive purchases. If, instead, you find that your credit card balances just keep rising, you’ll be heading for bankruptcy sooner rather than later.

Get back within your means by cutting back on unnecessary spending now. Take a good hard look at all of your monthly bills and expenses compared with your monthly income. If you can find several areas to reduce spending – great! On the other hand, if literally all of your monthly income is earmarked for life’s necessities – you may need a professional’s help to get back on track.

Image credit: Cafe credit

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

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

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

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

What if I collect Social Security disability benefits?

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Alexander Edward

Did I Spend Too Much to File for Bankruptcy?

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Like so many Americans, you’re realizing that you overdid it yet again this Christmas season. “Over-gifting” has become commonplace, and leaves us feeling like we have to outdo ourselves year after year after year. Common lines of thinking include:

“I bought three gifts for each of my nephews but only two for my niece. She needs another gift!”

“Last year, the pile under the tree was so impressive. I want to do that again so my kids aren’t let down.”

If you’ve caved in to the pressure of over-gifting, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans spend more money than they actually have around Christmastime, charging hefty sums to their credit cards. For some, paying off their excessive December expenditures in the new year will be doable.

However, if you were already struggling to make ends meet before this year’s holiday season rolled around, you had an error in judgement if you decided to go ahead and over-gift anyway. The Veitengruber Law mantra for all of our beloved clients is: “Do not spend more money than you have.” Keeping up with the Joneses is so….expensive.

Can I file for bankruptcy? I can’t possibly pay back what I charged to my credit cards this season!

December is often the tipping point for debtors. Once January blows in and those credit card bills materialize, panic emerges. Looking back and forth between your bank account and your credit card bill(s), you realize that you can’t even pay your new monthly minimum payments. THAT is a scary moment, and it is completely understandable that you’re now reaching out for help.

Here’s the deal. Bankruptcy laws have been put into place to prevent debtors from racking up a ton of credit card debt that they actually have no intention of paying. Therefore, if you’ve charged more than $500* on a single credit card within the past 90 days, a bankruptcy judge is going to assume that you’re trying to pull a fast one. Any large sums charged recently (within the 3 months leading up to your filing date) are likely to be considered nondischargeable. That means you can’t wipe them out in bankruptcy, and you will need to pay them back in full.

Even if you never seriously thought about filing for bankruptcy until after you finished your holiday shopping, the bankruptcy court has no way of reading your mind, so they have to make presumptions in order to prevent bankruptcy fraud.

If I charged too much and can’t file for bankruptcy, what can I do?

The best course of action is to wait to file for bankruptcy until the presumption period (ask your attorney how the presumption period applies to your unique case and debt amount)* passes. If you charged an excessively large amount to any one credit card, it’s possible that the credit card company may still object even beyond the presumption period, but the chances are much lower that they will do so.

If you consulted with a bankruptcy attorney prior to your shopping spree, the court will take that as a sign that you intended to file for bankruptcy before you made the charges. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to wait until the presumption period ends to consult with a bankruptcy attorney and attempt to make at least some kind of payment(s) toward the debt. Taking these steps will lower the chances that your credit card debt will be deemed fraudulent and nondischargeable.

Image credit: Alberto Cerriteño

 

$40,000 in Credit Card Debt – What Should I Do?

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Especially around the holidays, coming to terms with the fact that you’re drowning in debt is definitely a humbling moment. The good news is that you have acknowledged that the problem exists and that you need to take steps to get out of debt. Many people who are deep in debt feel that they have “no way out.”

A common phrase heard from severely distressed debtors (owing tens of thousands of dollars or more) is that they cannot afford to hire an attorney. Oftentimes, debtors have ignored creditors for a long time without making any payments on the debt they owe. This, in turn, causes the total debt amount to rise even higher due to interest rates and late charges.

By the time you have reached out for help and have landed on this page, you could very well be swimming in the amount of debt you’ve amassed. Overwhelmed, afraid, embarrassed and helpless, you probably have no idea how to get out of this dire situation.

“I absolutely cannot afford a lawyer.”

This line of thinking is one that we would like to abolish – not because we want more clients, but because we are here to help you. The misinformation that NJ attorneys are simply “too expensive” to even consider is nonsense, and here’s why:

There are New Jersey bankruptcy attorneys who will work with you when it comes to their fees. The most important takeaway is that you will be better off financially in the end if you work with an experienced attorney. Free consultations, payment plans, and other negotiations regarding attorney fees are available, if you look for them.

“Maybe I can take care of this on my own.”

If you are being sued by a creditor for a significant sum of money, the very last thing you ought to be doing is going into court to represent yourself. Pro se defendants are not successful in court, and no judge will show you “mercy” because you didn’t hire an attorney. The truth is: you cannot defend yourself against a mountain of debt that you’ve simply failed to pay. You need a legal strategy to get you out of the mess, or everything you own will have a lien against it, your wages will be garnished, and you will end up with nothing.

Change your line of thinking from “There is no way I can afford an attorney,” to “Can I afford to NOT hire an attorney?”

NJ bankruptcy attorneys who actually want to help you find a way out of your mess DO EXIST. If you’re embarrassed and think we’ve never seen anyone with as much debt as you – think again. We’ve seen it all before! And not only have we seen it, but we’ve fixed it and saved thousands of people from losing everything.

You do have options! No matter how unbelievably bad you think your money problem is, there is always a solution, and you won’t find it without an experienced NJ attorney’s help.

While it’s understandable that you think you can’t afford to hire an attorney, the reality is that you can’t afford NOT to.

Call, write, or read about your options. It may not seem like it now, but there is a way out of even the worst kind of debt.

Image credit: Images of Money

USPS Mail Identity Theft: What You Need to Know

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As our world becomes more and more saturated with technology, it’s now possible to do almost anything online. You can check your bank account balance, transfer money and pay your bills. Heck, you can even run a business online these days.

Even as we move deeper and deeper into the Information Age, there are still a number of people (and companies) who send and receive important information the “old fashioned way” – via the US Postal Service. Most of us still check the mailbox regularly, and it’s fair to say that the majority of Americans receive at least several pieces of “snail mail” every day.

What, then, should you make of your mailbox being empty for several days in a row? While not receiving any mail isn’t really that unusual once in awhile – if the trend continues beyond a single consecutive day, you should look into the reason.

As it turns out, there is a new identity theft scam making its way around the country that combines the use of both technology and old fashioned “snail mail” to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. The first clue that you may have been a victim is simply an empty mailbox.

While you may celebrate when there’s no mail (after all, no mail means no bills, right?) – the real reason may be quite sinister, and one that requires immediate attention. Ignoring your lack of mail may lead to a ruined credit report and a plunging credit score.

Here’s how this particular identity theft scheme works:

  • The identity thief typically applies for a credit card in your name, using your personal information, including your mailing address.
  • The thief then uses the USPS website to place a hold on your mail. The thief pretends to be you, but no authorization is ever required.
  • You stop receiving mail, as your identity thief plans to act as you and retrieve your mail from the post office when the credit card arrives. Again, no identification is required for them to pick up your mail from the USPS.
  • If the thief is successful, they will have a credit card in your name. The mail hold will be removed so that you will begin receiving mail at home again, and (they hope) you will be none the wiser.

This identity theft scheme has been just recently brought to light, and the lack of security surrounding the USPS electronic hold system is being investigated, according to representatives from the postal service.

In this technology-driven world, we all have to prove our identity online multiple times a day – even signing into Twitter can be difficult if you use a different computer or device. Accessing our most valuable personal information, (bank accounts, PayPal accounts and credit card statements) requires that we prove our identity through the use of complex passwords and security questions. Hopefully, the US Postal Service will soon have similar security measures in place in order to prevent just anyone from picking up “their” new credit card, all the while pretending to be you.

Until then, we want you to be aware of this problem so that your identity is not used by someone else. If this has happened to you (or you suspect that it has), acting quickly is of the utmost importance. Report the fraudulent activity, file a police report, and get in touch with a New Jersey credit repair attorney immediately.

Image credit: Matt